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.

A toddle by the seaside

I’m definitely behind with this project, for all sorts of reasons. The baby is now nearly 7 months old and yet the board book numbers haven’t yet reached halfway through a year! So…

A Board Book Every Week: No. 23

 

Toddle Waddle by Julia Donaldson and Nick Sharratt

Toddle Waddle by Julia Donaldson and Nick Sharratt

(Macmillan Children’s Books 2015)

 

Another pairing made in heaven – or in publishers’ heaven – picture book superstars Julia Donaldson’s charming way with rhythm ‘n rhyme and Nick Sharratt’s lovely, lively illustrations.

In Toddle Waddle a waddling toddler takes a walk with a mum in flip-flops – ‘Toddle waddle, flip flop’ – on the way gathering more and more characters all with their own distinctive noise. Until the toddler reaches some railings, where we get ‘Stop!’ (always a useful word to know). Over the page the early uncluttered scenes are replaced beyond the railings with a busy beach and all the fun actions and sounds that go with it: boing boing, splish splash, slurp slurp, and so on.

The next page features a bright red train with mum, toddler and friends aboard which delivers them to the pier and finally the end-of-the-pier show with more wonderful noises. The walk and the day finish with a pier beautifully silhouetted against the night sky and everyone waving bye-bye.

I love this book for all the potential in it. You can stay with the easy sound-making text or talk much more about what is going on. And there is a lot going on to talk about and find, but mostly things that should be familiar to a toddler – ducks, dogs, bikes, balls, horses, frogs, slides, trampolines, drums, and more. But at base it’s a simple story of taking a walk and seeing what’s going on all about you. An added extra for me is the bouncy seaside setting.

Diversity gets a mild look-in – the toddler is not obviously boy or girl so you can choose, there are people of different races including a glamorous black lady saxophonist (though I have to say most characters are white) and a boy on the beach is in a wheelchair (love to know how he got across the sand!)

There’s a sunny colour palette and although some pages are busy it still has a great uncluttered look about it – not too hard to find individual people or animals, even the tiny bee or snail.

Altogether this is a delightful book which should have plenty to interest for a long time.

Toddle Waddle by Julia Donmaldson and Nick Sharratt

Where’s Teddy? Bedtime angst addressed…

A Board Book Every Week: No. 22

No Bed Without Ted by Nicola Smee, Bloomsbury board book

No Bed Without Ted by Nicola Smee (Bloomsbury 2007)

 

A brilliant lift-the-flaps book written and illustrated by Nicola Smee, combining hide-and-seek, bedtime anxieties, and some delightfully helpful pets.

The little girl at the heart of this story is all ready for bed but can’t go until her teddy is found – but where is it? Cupboards, drawers and tablecloths are lifted to reveal a growing number of animals, but no Ted. I particularly like the flap which shows Grandpa to be sitting on a bag full of – could they be? – Werthers Originals. No Bed Without Ted by Nicola Smee, Bloomsbury board book

It turns out that Ted has been washed and is outside on the washing line – another anxiety about favourite huggies and suckies and soft toys. I recall one of my children kneeling before the washing machine, paws pressed to the glass door, while his cuddly quilt swished round inside. It had been cut in two and I was hoping he wouldn’t notice when the spare half was in for a much-needed wash.

Happy endings here with everyone snuggled up to sleep, and as the blurb says ‘loads for children to investigate, spot and count’. The little mice asleep in a pair of slippers are a lovely touch.

No Bed Without Ted by Nicola Smee, Bloomsbury Board BookReally simple text, with a rhyme on the short 4-line pages, makes for a manageable and familiar storyline, and the possibility of talking about emotions with a toddler. One flap shows our heroine with a tear on her cheek.

The colours are cheery and bright without being lurid. It reminds me of Where’s Spot?, but is a bit more sophisticated.

Bound to be a favourite!

 

Dear Zoo without the frills…

A Board Book Every Week: No. 20

 Dear Zoo Animal Shapes board book by Rod Campbell - Macmillan Childrens Books

Dear Zoo Animal Shapes by Rod Campbell

(Macmillan Children’s Books 2012)

 

This is a nice sturdy board book version of the famous old favourite. I like it for babies because it simplifies the original (pretty simple) text down to the name of the animal and why it isn’t right e.g.

‘Giraffe … Too tall’

‘Monkey…. Too naughty’

Dear Zoo Animal Shapes by Rod Campbell

We do lose some of the aspects that make Dear Zoo such an endearing classic – the fresh white space on the page, the exciting packages the animals come in, and the refrain of repeated ‘So they sent me a … I sent him back’. The build-up of excitement isn’t so great, but there’s a big bright animal on every page and a description to go with it that prompts exaggerated sounds, faces and gestures. For babies at the stage of flipping back and forth through the pages rather than following a story this is quite enough.

But that leads me to another plus of Dear Zoo Animal Shapes – because the words are pared back none of the animals is a ‘he’. Or a ‘she’ or an ‘it’. As has been pointed out before, every animal in the original is male for absolutely no reason whatsoever except that it’s the habit of writers and readers* to depict without thinking a default all-male world. Here you can choose, swap it about, or not bother at all.

Dear Zoo Animal Shapes board book by Rod Campbell

Of course, we end up with the perfect pet!

*I still find myself doing this, calling animals ‘he’ unless it’s dead obvious – dresses, names – that they aren’t. Yet in the real world, half of all animals are female even though they don’t wear dresses, and they tend to keep their names a secret.

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.

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?

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.