As easy as ABC?

A Board Book Every Week: No 14

Jane Foster's ABC, board book, Templar Publishing

Jane Foster’s ABC (Templar Books 2015)

‘As easy as ABC…’?

Well, ABC isn’t actually that easy if your brain gets lost in those dubious middle regions – JKL anyone? And why on earth does P come after O? RST seems logical, yet U V and W afterwards are pretty random. Of course, this may just be me. But we can probably all agree that XYZ is the perfect ending.

Alphabet books has been around for centuries. Even if, quite frankly, we don’t teach the alphabet like this any longer, ABC is a handy way of organising a picture book. There have been some fabulous versions over the years…

A Peacable Kingdom, the Shaker Abecedarius

Delicate animal images from ‘A Peaceable Kingdom, the Shaker Abecedarius’


Z for Zip, Paul Thurlby's Alphabet (Templar)

Z for Zip from Paul Thurlby’s Alphabet


Ladybird Books ABC

The oh-so-familiar style of vintage Ladybird Books

…so have I broken my rule of book-selection for babies and gone for one that pleases me more than it suits an under-1-year-old? Erm – I think Jane Foster’s ABC will please us both. The stylised images probably won’t mean much yet to tiny readers but their vivid colours, sharp black outlines, and high contrast graphic patterns will definitely grab them. This book is sturdy and well-produced and should withstand lots of love.

Some words are simple and familiar – T for tree, H for house, I for ice cream  – and many of them darned exciting – dinosaur, octopus, rocket! We still have the perennial problems of K (kite) and X (xylophone) (YAWN!) but Y is for yoyo and not, thank goodness, for the unspellable and improbable yacht. Then W is for wolf and Z for zebra. I just wish both these two had been given more space to play in.

Jane Foster's ABC, Templar Books, board book

And – yippee! – a gorgeous end page with a summary of every letter from A-Z, which lets us grown-ups see how clever the choices of colour and image have been. And lets babies look and find.

The first-page image is a beautiful A for armadillo, curled into a circle and looking at the reader with big black eyes. So maybe I fell in love with this book and then found justification for buying it. Armadillo is not the go-to favourite animal of most babies. (Yet.) But I do collect ABCs – so can I be forgiven?


Start them early!

sharing a picture book


Just three months old and already engaging with books – really looking at the pictures and trying to turn the pages. And loving the hug time.


Sharing a picture book


The book is Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes which I blogged about here.

Where – and when – the wild things are…

A Board Book Every Week: No. 13

One Ted Falls Out of Bed - Julia Donaldson, Anna Currey, Macmillan books

One Ted Falls out of Bed by JuliaDonaldson, illustrated by Anna Currey (Macmillan 2012)

This story falls into the classic category of What the Toys get up to while the Humans Sleep. Published as a picture book in 2004, it now (like so many) makes its appearance as a board book but (unlike many) it isn’t too wordy for this stage. There’s mostly just a line per page, and Julia Donaldson’s exemplary way with rhyme carries it forward beautifully.

One Ted Falls Out of Bed - Julia Donaldson, Anna CurreyIt’s a simple counting book. One ted falls out of bed while his owner sleeps – ‘two eyes shut tight’. He gets caught up in play with three mischievous mice and various other inhabitants of the bedroom. It’s wild fun at first but then Ted misses his bed, and builds a way back up to it with toys, which gives us a chance to reprise the counting all over again. Needless to say, while there’s a bit of exciting reversal, all ends very sweetly. The numbers are slotted so neatly into the plot that it can be simply a story about teddies and bedtime with a teeny dollop of anxiety and then a comforting conclusion.

One Ted Falls Out of Bed, - Julia Donaldson, Anna CurreyThere’s something delightfully old-fashioned about the child’s room with dolls in traditional ‘costumes of other lands’, a tiny china tea-set, and trolls. I had this stuff when I was little! Anna Currey’s gentle, witty illustrations give the dolls, trolls, mice and Ted great character with a light touch.

Julia Donaldson is the default picture book author in so many bookshop children’s sections. You can understand why – she’s reliably brilliant, and she sells! It’s just a pity that when there is limited shelf space, one name takes up so much of it, leaving little room for the many other amazing authors out there.

One Ted Fals Out of Bed - Julia Donaldson, Anna Currey

(And, yes, Ted is a he. I looked through again, hoping the gender was not referred to, because it hadn’t struck me. There are only two mentions and the rest is meticulously imprecise, but Ted is yet another lead character in a picture book who happens to be male, without needing to be.)

Babies United!

A Board Book Every Week: No. 12


Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury, Walker Books

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes

by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury (Walker Books)


No apologies for featuring another book illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. The puff quote on the cover says ‘Delightfully exuberant and endearingly sentimental’, and for once I agree. This book has to my personal knowledge made one strong man cry.

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, by Mem Fox and Helen OxenburyThe story tells of babies born all over the world into different circumstances, united by the fact that ‘as everyone knows’ they have ten little fingers and ten little toes. Cities, hillsides, deserts and snowfields, houses and tents, all feature. Oxenbury’s gently varied babies should mean children of every skin and hair colour can find themselves in here. There’s even a ginger one! But none with, for example, hearing aids or glasses…maybe because they are still very tiny? Is that an excuse? Some very small children need to use them and are fitted with the things. It would be ideal to show that these babies have so much in common with others, too.

The babies here are exuberant in their shared play, waving hands, crawling, swinging swings, rolling about laughing, in a way that will be familiar to fans of Helen Oxenbury. Others follow chickens, watch the snow, help each other, and struggle over ownership of a blanket.

Mem Fox’s text is simple and direct, rhyming and repetitive, and ends with the perfect prompt for a shared book ‘…and three little kisses on the tip of its nose.’

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox & Helen Oxenbury, Walker Books

Arty, but not too arty…

The latest addition to my library of stimulating and diverse baby books…

A Board Book Every Week: No. 11

Guess What - Flowers? by Yusuke Yonestu, minedition.

Guess What – Flowers? by Yusuke Yonezu

(Michael Neugebauer Publishing Ltd 2012)


This is the first proper lift-the-flap book in my selection and I love it because it’s visually very clever. Flaps in board books usually lift on to a ‘what’s inside?’ reveal – or a ‘who’s hiding behind the door/tree/etc?’ In this little book when the flap is lifted colourful flowers morph into animals, very convincingly and inventively. Each one is a surprise. As the back cover says, ‘Now you see it, now you don’t’.

Okay, so I spotted it in the shop at Tate Modern and it is rather arty – but it works. Arty, yet not too arty. The images are clear enough for most children, with lots of glossy snow-white space around them. The colours are vivid with high-contrast black outlines, so it should appeal to young babies too. The flaps are sturdy and easy to manipulate.

Guess What - Flowers? by Yusuke Yonezu, MineditionI’m not expecting a toddler or baby to tell the difference between a tulip and a daisy (though we’ve had botanical accuracy in I Am A Bunny) so we could just call them all flowers. But a snake, a sheep, a bear, a lion and a butterfly are pretty exciting finds. A couple of the animals named in the book as a ‘kitten’ and a ‘cockerel’ could easily be called ‘cat’ and ‘chicken’ if those are more familiar words to your child. The thing is not to be afraid of using a book in the best way for you, certainly at this stage.

And the final double-page spread – the icing on the cake – shows all the animals and flowers featured in a mad flowery meadow, looking remarkably amicable together. A great chance to practice the words all over again.


Folk art farmyard rhymes from Clare Beaton – a Board Book Every Week

A Board Book Every Week: No. 10

Clare Beaton's Framyard Rhymes, Barefoot Books

Clare Beaton’s Farmyard Rhymes (Barefoot Books 2012)


This is a collection of seven nursery rhymes all about farm animals. Some, like ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’, ‘Horsie, horsie, don’t you stop’, and ‘To market, to market to buy a fat hog’ are familiar, alongside others that are new to me. They feel like old traditional ones, but everyone’s repertoire of nursery rhymes is different, and sadly some people’s is non-existent. This is a nice gentle introduction.

Here’s a good post about the value of singing nursery rhymes with babies. While I was trawling for some information to back up what I knew (from work and home) I came across, as usual, too many articles earnestly espousing something because it will help the child be a better reader etc etc. It is sad to see so much child development information couched in these terms, as if that’s the only worthwhile justification. Not everything in childhood should be about improving your child’s SAT score sometime in the future! There are more immediate skills to develop, and total value in just having a nice time, bonding with whoever is holding the book. School is a long way off and explaining everything in these limited terms is to disregard the wonder of being a very small baby to whom everything is new, and much of it pretty amazing.

But back to the book… Hens, cows, ducks and donkeys are all present in delightful felt appliqués with a folk art feel. Every page is like a simple home-made cushion, with a touch of embroidery or fancy braid (though I guess how you view that depends on the level of your sewing skills!) Clare Beaton's Farmyard Rhymes

The animals are bright and recognisable and there are some, but not too many, small details – flowers, trees, worms, butterflies – for pointing out later. There’s a bit of counting, a bit of animal noise-making, too. The whole thing is as gentle and fresh as the colour palette. And, as with all good baby books, you don’t have to stick to the text; you can just talk about the pictures.

Can ANYONE make an elephant noise? A Board Book Every Week No 9


Honk Honk! Baa Baa! by Petr Horacek Walker Books board book

Honk Honk! Baa Baa! By Petr Horáček (Walker Books 2013)


A book of animal noises is a must-have for babies. Lots of animal noises are much easier to try out than real words*, and more fun. There’s a great post here explaining why that is: ‘As a paediatric speech-language therapist, I often spend my days mooing. And baaing…’

I chose Honk Honk! Baa Baa! because the animals are big and bright and it’s utterly straightforward. Each double page simply says ‘Baa baa goes the sheep’ or ‘Moo moo goes the cow’. All you need, really. No extraneous stuff about what the animal eats or does or where it lives. Just an animal to pat or point at and a noise to make.

The front cover announces that this is a ‘flip-flap fun’ book but as there are no flaps to lift and peep under, just graduated-size pages inside, the fun is pretty much up to the baby reader and their tame adult. So don’t hold back with the baaing and mooing!

Honk Honk! Baa Baa! by Petr Horacek Walker BooksThe illustrations are endearing – clear and full of character. They look like collages on vivid paint and crayoned backgrounds. You can still see the pencil lines around the cut-out goose on the cover. Wax-resist gives the sheep texture to its fleece. The cat looks cool and the dog eager.

I’d rather have a duck here than a goose, but that’s a quibble. Ducks seem to be infinitely fascinating to little children, and more familiar. Most baths have ducks floating round them and approximating a Quack-quack is easy.

Also there’s no recap page at the end featuring all seven animals – but with the graduated pages it’s easy to flip back and forth and revisit your favourites.

*One exception is an elephant noise. I’ve never managed to make that one, but my hopeless attempts – along with much arm/trunk waving – have always resulted in major giggles. It’s worth making a fool of yourself if you get children and parents on side. I wonder if the speech therapist mentioned above can help me out?

Get those jazz hands ready: The Wheels On The Bus Go Round and Round

Week-by-week I’m building a stimulating and diverse library of baby books.

A Board Book Every Week: No. 8

The Wheels On The Bus, Annie Kubler, Child's Play books

The Wheels on the Bus illustrated by Annie Kubler (Child’s Play 2001)


“The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round…The – [deep breath] – wheels on the bus go…” You get the picture. I must have sung this hundreds of times in my former professional life. It was a standard song with our local speech therapy groups, which used a plastic ring off a ring-stack to represent the song. I used this object of reference in a song bag when I went out on home visits – children would know what was coming next, and, if they were at that skill-level, could choose which song they wanted by choosing the object that went with it.

Wheels On The Bus is a favourite with small children and this little book from Child’s Play is a lovely version of it. The pages are quite busy and there’s lots to look at, plus various peepholes at window-, wheel- and other levels – I’m just noticing more and more. But reduce it to its simplest elements and you’ve got easy actions and sounds – beep, beep, beep; wah, wah, wah; ssh, ssh, ssh – to repeat and copy. And my fave: swish, swish, swish, with its slightly jazz-hands action. Even the child who has never been on a bus (not impossible these days) should be familiar with windscreen wipers. So adults with no sense of embarrassment can really go for it with these sounds, and have baby readers in stitches – they tend to love the idea of other babies wailing.

As for narrative, the bus gets more and more crowded, with a new character running to catch it on each page. The bus’s passengers are ethnically diverse. When I first knew this song, it was the stereotypical “mummies” who went “chitter chatter chatter”. Now it’s parents who chat, chat, chat. Phew. There are clues (presents, balloons, cake) that they’re all heading off to a party, and this is depicted on the last page, so again lots of chance to recap vocab and look-and-find-and-point.

In fact, each page has an accumulating recap of the sounds that have gone before – that is, if you’ve got the stamina for all this! (If you’ve got the sort of child who never ever lets you leave out any bit you’ve read before, just “don’t notice” this in the first place.)

The Wheels on the Bus, Annie Kubler, Child's Play

Little animals like frogs, birds and mice scamper about the page margins. Rain comes and goes. Faces change: there’s laughing, shushing, sleeping, licking lollies, even a few tears. Then party food and activities. Although I’m not fond of overcrowded pictures for babies and little children as it can all just get too confusing, I think in this case it gives the book great staying power, with more to focus on as a child’s experience grows. Fun for tinies, it should go on giving interest for several years.



If you’re happy and you know it… read a book!

A Board Book Every Week: No. 7

Clap Your Hands, an action book by David Elland

Clap Your Hands by David Ellwand (Templar 2001)


For some reason, I’ve only ever seen this small board book for sale in National Trust gift shops. First spotted by a colleague of mine, we bagged it for our toy library because it’s a great little action book for babies and small children, no matter what their physical abilities.

David Ellwand’s book has a very simple premise: it repeats the song ‘If you’re happy and you know it…’, with all the subsequent actions carried out by teddies. Sometimes one teddy, sometimes two, or lots of different ones. Some are new-looking, others are – as they say of second-hand clothes – ‘pre-loved’, and show it. So it should be possible to find a teddy resembling your own teddy somewhere in the line up. Clap Your Hands board book by David Ellwand

The teddy-bears clap their hands, stamp their feet, turn around, touch their noses, etc. etc. Some actions are more of a challenge (hop around, and jump up high) but some (flap your arms, and touch the sky) just lend themselves to being done with physical help if the child isn’t able to do it on their own.

A small format board book, just 5” by 6” (12.5 x 15 cm) with clear white or pale space around the teddies. Readers of this blog will know I’m a fan of white space in baby books! It makes it much easier to pick out and concentrate on the key image, especially if a child has any difficulties seeing or comprehending pictures.

Clap Your Hands, an action book by David Ellwand

The perfect language recap page.

As for language development, every double-page spread repeats the ‘Happy and you know it’ rhyme with just one new action, and the last one gives a clear recap of all the actions with a teddy doing each one. This is perfect for practising what has come earlier. For many years I worked with a very inspiring specialist speech therapist, and this was the kind of book she was always on the look-out for: with a last page which revisits the key vocabulary of the book. Sadly it doesn’t crop up that often. Publishers, please note!

This little book and its companion, the counting book Ten In The Bed, was reprinted in 2013 by Baker & Taylor (UK) Ltd and is ridiculously cheap – £2.99.

I love the ted who demonstrates turning around. Its expression is distinctly doubtful about the whole project. But the bear who’s happy and knows it and shouts ‘I am!’ does look convincingly smiley. 🙂

Clap Your Hands, an action book by David Ellwand (Templar)

Black and white and read all over…

A Board Book Every Week: No. 6

 My Animals board book by Xavier Deneux

 My Animals by Xavier Deneux (Bloomsbury 2007)


The point of little books in high contrast black-and-white is to stimulate a baby’s early visual development. The newborn’s retina registers only dark and light so the plethora of pastel baby stuff that surrounds them won’t make much impact. Red, black and white, stripes and concentric circles and zigzags will command a very young baby’s attention. (That, and the faces of their favourite people, of course.)

But, but, but – it’s hard to share a book of geometric shapes, and shared attention and cuddles are what board books are really about. Monochrome books get propped up around cots and prams and beside the mat when the baby’s having a kickabout on the floor. Shared on a lap – not so much. They don’t have the content that creates a beloved book you return to again and again.

For most babies whose development is progressing along expected lines they won’t be in use for very long. Like a gorgeous outfit for a newborn, they’ll soon be back in the cupboard, outgrown. So I’ve chosen My Animals because it fits the bill for early visual stimulation but has staying power too. It’s sold as ‘a black and white book for babies and beyond’ and I’d say that claim is true.

My Animals by Xavier DeneuxIt’s a fat book with glossy boards, one animal per page, and a fingertip-sized hole that leads through to the next image. Sometimes the hole highlights a witty detail: a fish, a butterfly, an eye, and my favourite – Panda’s tummy button. On other pages the hole merely shows the line of a back or a few stripes. At first I thought this a bit disappointing, but then I realised that the design is really clever and satisfying, each image echoing the last one or integrated into the next.

Okay, a baby won’t appreciate this, but we adults can – and maybe we’re training up not only immature visual skills but a future eye for art and design elements all around. I firmly believe that you’re going to get more shared attention with developmentally-appropriate books and toys, but within that you shouldn’t just stick to the cute and the bland.

The animals range from cat, bird and dog to more exotic crocodile, hippo and penguin. Never having seen a live zebra doesn’t seem to hold a small child back from getting excited about them. They have the necessary Vis. Stim. spots and stripes but being animals the interest will last longer, and the poke-a-finger-through-the-hole thing is great.

Occasional flashes of vivid petrol-blue or oranMy Animals by Xavier Deneuxge lift the monochrome palette. The cover is matte black, a slightly weird texture – to me anyway – and, judging by those on the bookshop shelf, marks easily. But any baby book that gets good use will soon show signs of wear. Like those teddy-bears you can see have been very well-loved.