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.

 

 

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.

Clap Hands – come on, it’s easy!

A Board Book Every Week – No 5:

 Clap Hands board book by Helen Oxenbury

Clap Hands by Helen Oxenbury (Walker Books 1987) 

 

Last year, on the 25th anniversary of We’re Going On A Bear Hunt, I heard Helen Oxenbury talk about its origins. She said how glad she was to have this lively text to interpret and illustrate. She had been working for ages on a very simple set of baby books – with one image per page – and was bored, bored, bored. The series of little books she referred to (Playing, Dressing, Friends, I Can etc) was one I had relied on heavily with my own babies. Before I heard this I’d been thinking of complimenting her on them as I queued up for my signed copy of Bear Hunt. Instead I kept quiet. I didn’t want to confess that I loved those books that had ended up boring her.

But they really do have their place. I used them when I was stocking a library for very young and developmentally-delayed children. One image per page, and lots of white space to keep it clear, is much more user-friendly than stylised or complex pictures. (See my post about what makes a good first book.) And I also invested in the series that this week’s chosen board book comes from. The babies who people every page have deceptively simple features which reflect a whole range of appearances in a subtle but unmistakable way, so they were good for a diverse audience. And, very cleverly, the clothing hasn’t dated, so the books work well for contemporary readers.

Clap Hands by Helen OxenburyClap Hands is a large-format board book with four double-page spreads. Big babies take up all the space, doing joyous everyday baby stuff to a minimal text. Actually just 23 words in total. Short rhyming phrases. Perfect for very short concentration spans. (You can tell it’s affecting me now!)

First published by Walker Books in the 1980s, this series includes All Fall Down, Say Goodnight, and Tickle,Tickle.  I chose Clap Hands because it has the easiest actions for young babies to join in with – clapping, banging, waving. Waving and clapping are very early physical skills – lovely and sociable, too – and it’s easy for grown-ups to help babies on laps to do the actions in this book. They may not be able literally to ‘dance and spin’ yet like the toddlers in the illustration but they can be danced on laps and even spun about.Clap Hands by Helen Oxenbury

The other titles are great, but I’d recommend Say Goodnight as part of a good bedtime routine. The soporific images of babies and grown-ups are enough to make anyone feel sleepy!

A board book every week No 4 – Slinky Malinki

 

 Slinky Malinki, Early Bird

by Lynley Dodd (Puffin Books 2014)

 

Slinky Malinki, Early Bird by Lynley Dodd

New Zealand writer Lynley Dodd’s Hairy Maclary is one of my absolute favourite books – for rhythm, rhymes that make you laugh, and names that make you laugh even more.

Instead of lots of eccentric dogs, Slinky Malinki follows one single black cat and his* (very familiar) morning attempts to wake everyone in the household and then claim the comfiest bed. The bouncy rhythms and perfect rhymes of Hairy Maclary are here, but far fewer words: a shorter, simpler story. Much more suitable for a baby board book.

There are several books about Slinky Malinki and this is the latest, first out in larger format in 2012.

All the action takes place in a house, mostly in bedrooms, so there’s limited and recognisable stuff to talk about on the page, and always Slinky himself to spot, sometimes just a bit of him peering round the edge of a door or a curtain. He bounces like a ball, plays hide and seek, sings yowly songs, and sits on heads, until everyone is awake – all (fairly) understandable for a small child.

I partly chose Slinky Malinki, Early Bird because there’s a very similar-looking black cat in the household of the baby I’m finding these books for. It is feeling a bit displaced at the moment, a sort of pet/sibling rivalry at being shut out of the bedroom at night and having someone new take all the attention. But when the baby is old enough to notice the cat, this book will come into its own.

 

*Yes, Slinky is male. Yet another boy animal as lead character in a children’s book. Ho hum. But you could subvert the whole thing and read it out loud as ‘she’ and ‘her’ instead.

Serene seasonal nostalgia with ‘I Am A Bunny’

A Board Book Every Week – my week-by-week attempt to build a stimulating and diverse library of baby books for a particular new baby.

 

  1. I Am A Bunny – by Ole Risom, illustrations by Richard Scarry

I Am A Bunny illustrated by Richard Scarry

A Golden Sturdy Book, first published in 1963.

I circled the table in the bookshop several times before I picked this one up. I’m retro myself so I’m not always drawn to retro – it can just remind me of teatime with aunties and embarrassing haircuts and clothing mistakes long-past. The book cover has a vintage colour palette: eye-watering yellow, scarlet, grass-green, and a yellow title font outlined in red – a queasy combo, and the reason I can’t eat cheese and tomato sandwiches.

But I saw the name Richard Scarry and I was curious. I associate Scarry with busy-busy pages crammed with small animals and vehicles and lots going on. Whereas this looked much less frenetic.

It’s taller than most board books but maybe that’s a good shape. The title page has realistic-looking violets, along with Bunny in his dungarees sniffing a flower. (We discover his name is Nicholas but actually he doesn’t need a name.) On the spring spread two kinds of daffodils look like actual daffodils – not just generic dear little flowers – followed by recognisable butterflies, which Bunny chases. So it goes on, with incredibly clear, colourful and calm seasonal spreads while the bunny does simple things like watch frogs and blow dandelion seeds in the air. The page filled with autumn leaves echoes the page filled with butterflies. There’s a rainy scene and a snowy scene. Finally Bunny goes to sleep and dreams of spring.

I love it.  Nostalgia for the simple life? Maybe, but I have the feeling it’s one of those books that will get requested again and again. It looks different from other baby books, not just because of the colour palette. I think it escapes being twee because of the accuracy of the nature images. Everything but Bunny looks super-realistic. As a plantsperson I really appreciate this, even if a baby won’t. OK, for UK readers there are raccoons as well as grey squirrels nesting in the trees, but we can cope.

And for the baby “reader”, there’s not too much going on and the language is simple and repetitive. For the adult having to read it a thousand times it may get boring, but there are few books at this level that won’t pall under that pressure – and its charm may just save it! There are animals and flowers and raindrops and pinecones to point out. And good old Bunny appears on every page, very cleverly the same size on each, so lots of opportunity to look and find.

 

I Am A Bunny - Richard Scarry