Lean mean hunting machine: I’m Not Cute!

A Board Book Every So Often! No. 25

I'm Not Cute! by Jonathan Allen

I’m Not Cute! by Jonathan Allen (Boxer Books 2008)

 

This is a book for everyone who’s had their cheek pinched, or been patted on the head, or even had their pushchair stopped in the street to have their cuteness commented on. Shout it out: “We’re not Cute!” …or at least, only when we want to be.

Baby Owl sees himself as a huge, sleek and scary hunting machine. Like every self-respecting owl, he has see-in-the-dark eyes and big soft and silent wings. Unfortunately, the other residents of the wood think he’s small, fluffy and cute, with big baby eyes. They just want to give him a hug.

But Baby Owl’s mum understands. She acknowledges his amazing skills, and he allows her to hug him. Then he rethinks the cute thing and throws a bit of a tantrum. His mum says he’s tired. The book ends with a bedtime story and Baby Owl tucked up to sleep, knowing that it’s all right for a scary hunting machine to seem cute to his mum.

Owl Babies, Martin Waddell & Patrick BensonI have to say this Baby Owl isn’t totally cute. Not as cuddly as the baby owls in Owl Babies, or as sweet as Little Owl in A Bit Lost, or as gorgeous as Wow Said The Owl. He’s got bandy chicken legs and currant bun eyes. He stamps, and frowns, and cringes when he’s patronised by Fox. He’s real. He’s EveryOwl. I'm Not Cute! Jonathan Allen

This simple story is a lovely way to explore toddler frustrations and a burgeoning sense of identity. Jonathan Allen has written and illustrated many delightful picture books and Baby Owl runs up again in I’m Not Scared, I’m Not Sleepy etc. exploring other familiar situations. This one will run and run.

Sleepy Baby for a non-subversive bedtime

A Board Book Every So Often! No. 24

 

Sleepy Baby, Fiona Watt & Catherine-Anne Mackinnon, Usborne Books

Sleepy Baby by Fiona Watt, illustrated by Catherine-Anne Mackinnan (Usborne 2006)

A touchy-feely book about bedtime.

I love Mick Inkpen’s Wibbly Pig books, but the bedtime one, Is It Bedtime, Wibbly Pig?, revolves around our eponymous pig’s joyful attempts at avoiding going to bed. Noooo – not what you want when you’re struggling to establish a smooth end-of-day routine with positive outcomes for all.

Sleepy Baby is just the thing. A simple line of text per page beginning with ‘It’s time…’ takes us through undressing, bath, brushing teeth, looking at a book, and finally saying ‘night night’. By the penultimate spread Baby is looking pretty sleepy, and in the final one is lying down, eyes shut, blissfully snuggled up with a soft blanket.

The cover and each double page has a textured something to explore – socks, nappy, towel, fluffy bunny ears, and Baby’s own snuggly. There are a few familiar toys and objects on each page to talk about, too. The colours are softly bright (that’s not impossible, right?), the pictures are large and clear, and the baby is not obviously a girl or a boy so is perfect for any family to identify with.

It’s a pity that the author and illustrator only get a mention on the back cover in rather small print.

This would be a lovely book to share every night to reinforce a calm, settled routine. Good luck with that, that’s all I have to say!

Arf! and Wow! A board book every week – or two

Computer problems meant that I couldn’t post for a couple of weeks, so here’s two for the price of one…

A Board Book Every Week: 18 and 19

Wow! said the owl by Tim Hopgood, Macmillan Children's Books

Wow! Said the Owl by Tim Hopgood (Macmillan Children’s Books 2012)

I know parents who are very very tired of reading the line ‘Wow! said the owl’, but come on, guys, it only turns up seven times in the book, not on every page.

This book isn’t perfect for under-ones: it’s another example of a large-format picture book (published 2009) turned into a board book, and Booktrust give it an interest age of 2+ . The text is not that gripping for real tinies, with some long complex sentences and a lot of words way beyond their comprehension. There’s no rhyme or rhythm to help, either. But I’ve chosen it because…

‘Wow!’ was just about what I said when I first saw it on the bookshop table. It has real eye-appeal.

It is gorgeous! Illustrations and colours to make your mouth water – a beautiful mix of line and wash and collage. The night-time pages are exquisite. I love the idea of exposing tiny children to a wide and wonderful world of images and styles.

The curious little owl is a female lead character – hurrah!Wow! said the owl by Tim Hopgood

She looks like an owl, not a ‘girl owl’. She has a really appealing face, with big owl eyes, but not a girly eyelash in sight!

There are lots of colours – and a rainbow – and a colour palette at the end to recap the colours seen.

The owl’s there to spot and point to on every double-page spread except for one, where you’ll have to settle for butterflies instead.

Any you do get to chant ‘Wow! said the owl’ over and over. We might not like the repetition but babies love it and learn best from it.

Can You Say It Too? Arf! Arf! by Sebastien Braun (Nosy Crow 2015)

Can you say it too? Arf! Arf! by Sebastien Braun, Nosy Crow Books

Now this is age-appropriate. Billed as ‘With BIG flaps to lift’, it’s simple, tough and fun, and the latest in a range of animal noise books from Nosy Crow. It has just five spreads, beautifully bright and sturdy, where different animals are hiding behind rocks, sandcastles and beach-balls.

I’m lucky enough to live at the seaside and I love seaside books. Seagulls, jellyfish and crabs are commonplace – sand not so much, on this stony bit of the south coast! And we would be very lucky if we were to spot seals, puffins or dolphins, though I live in eternal hope. But I like books that reflect some of a child’s own experience; they usually find this much more thrilling than even an exciting but unfamiliar setting. If this goes down a treat, we’ll be getting more ‘Can you say it too?’ books.

On that point, the nice thing about this book is that inside it doesn’t prompt the adult to demand, ‘Can you say it?’ Yes, lots of children love coming up with the right sound if they know it, but equally the pressure can be a real turn-off to any child who’s not there yet. There’s just the surprise picture and the noise to join in with.

Anyone up for a dolphin impression? Eeek! Eeek!

Dinosaurs roar for boys – and girls

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

A Board Book Every Week: No 17

Image result for dinosaur roar

Dinosaur Roar! by Paul Stickland & Henrietta Stickland (Doubleday 2015)

 

There’s a weird sort of gender apartheid amongst animals that seems to have sprung up since my own kids were little. You see it if you look at children’s tee shirts, sleepsuits and socks, birthday cards, even baby muslins. Manufacturers, designers and marketers have decided that only large, snappy, vibrant and possibly violent animals are of interest to boys, and only soft, fluffy, pale-coloured and supposedly amenable animals are suitable for girls.

Creatures in the middle of this silly spectrum create a few problems. Do children’swear companies not know that a single sweet bunny-rabbit can ravage an allotment? Badgers seem to be for boys: why? Is it that assertively stripy face, or the big digging paws? Butterflies are deemed girly, but where are we on moths? And the jury’s out on giraffes.

It’s as if no boy ever hugged a kitten, or no tiger ever came to tea with a little girl!

As for dinosaurs, they’re definitely seen as male territory, though there must be some boys who aren’t that interested.

But what’s not to love about a dinosaur for any child? (Or grown-up!) Claws, spikes, scales, tails, big teeth, tiny brains. Roaring about the landscape tearing up trees like giant house-plants. So I’m including Dinosaur Roar! here to balance out the fluffy bunnies, and for dinosaur-loving girls (and boys) everywhere.

First published in 1994 in larger paperback format, this is basically an ‘opposites’ book. Every page has a different adjective for a dinosaur – fast, slow, above, below, short, long, weak, strong. The occasional word isn’t very useful for tinies – meek, anyone? – because it is wanted for the rhyme. The dinosaurs here come in crazy colours and contrasting sizes. They have wonderful expressions. Even the fierce one looks as if he’s having a laugh. Their small eyes make them all look a bit intellectually-challenged. The two vivid spreads at the end of the book with dinosaurs, both carnivores and herbivores, eating lunch and making horrible noises, are great fun. And let us revisit all the different ones, and find our favourites again.

The book is published in association with the Natural History Museum and a percentage of the royalties is donated to this much-loved institution.

Sanguine spider spout situation

A Board Book Every Week: No 16

Incy Wincy Spider - Amazing baby Books (Templar Publishing)

Incy Wincy Spider – Amazing Baby Books (Templar Publishing 2015)

 

We might not be very fond of spiders in real life, but in children’s stories and nursery rhymes it’s quite another matter. Incy Wincy Spider has long been a favourite, with its simple story, easy gestures and virtually one-syllable vocabulary. Again, in real life we say drainpipe instead of water spout, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Sun, rain, up, down – it’s nice clear stuff, and Incy’s jolly pragmatism chimes well with little ones who are constantly falling over and getting up again. Incy Wincy – you are role model.

Incy Wincy Spider - Amazing Baby BooksThis Amazing Baby version is great. The text appears on the left-hand page, with a bright picture opposite, each with textured section – including sparkly textured raindrops (my favourite!)  The sun page is sunny yellows, the rain page is blue and grey. There are dots, checks, zigzags and spirals galore and many of the images have a thick black outline, the patterns and contrasts making this book appeal to small babies as well as older ones. The spider is glittery green, textured, and always cheerful.Incy Wincy Spider - Amazing Baby Books

The only thing I wished they had managed to include – texture on the spider web.

So – simple, effective and fun.

And I’ve just realised: Incy Wincy is neither a boy or a girl. So if it floats your boat, you could refer to our sanguine spider as a ‘she’.

Incy Wincy Spider - Amazing Baby Books

Picture book blogger Library Mice has recently written about another Amazing Baby book here.

 

Oh, I do love to be beside the seaside…

A Board Book Every Week: No 15

(Or almost every week…)

 

Deep Deep Sea by Frann Preston-Gannon (Pavilion Children's Books)

Deep Deep Sea by Frann Preston-Gannon (Pavilion Children’s Books 2014)

 

Being lucky enough to live near the sea – and having been obsessed with the seaside all my life – I like to collect sea-themed books. Illustrated books make this project even more fun. So I’ve tried to find some baby board books that feature seaside stuff that will become familiar to our baby mermaid and here is the first one.

The gorgeous Deep Deep Sea is essentially a simple colour and counting book, with a gentle palette of Deep Deep Sea by Frann Preston-Gannon (Pavilion Children's Books) sea colours – quite unusual in baby books. That may make it less than high-contrast, but there are plenty of bright beady eyes to find on the sea creatures. Okay, I concede that whales, green turtles and seahorses don’t turn up every day on the beach. And I’ve been on dolphin spotting trips and never seen a blooming one! But I live in hope.

Frann Preston-Gannon makes lovely illustrated books: subtle and mainly subdued colours, flattish images, but rich in texture. There’s something slightly poignant about it all. I definitely want more.

One aspect that appealed to me about this book is that after reaching ‘5 red starfish’ it gives up on subsequent tougher numbers and leaps straight to the exciting ‘100 colourful fish’. I haven’t counted them all. There had better be one hundred – but I’ll leave that to busy little fingers a few years down the line.

 

 

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?

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.)

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.