Growing Vegetable Soup. By Lois Ehlert. Red Wagon/Harcourt. $10.95.
Bow-Wow Orders Lunch; Bow-Wow Naps by Number. By Mark Newgarden & Megan Montague Cash. Red Wagon/Harcourt. $4.95 each.
These decidedly nontraditional board books go well beyond expectations for children up to age three. They’re not merely easy to hold – they’re clever, well written, informative and just plain fun.
Lois Ehlert’s 1987 Growing Vegetable Soup is a particular delight as a lap-size board book. The youngest children will be charmed by the simple story of planting and growing vegetables from seeds – a tale complemented by Ehlert’s usual distinctive illustrations. There are no people visible at all here – just hands, tools and plants. Parents can explain what is going on while children enjoy the cleverness with which Ehlert portrays the growing cycle (water, for example, is shown as a series of blue and green dots emerging from a stylized red-and-orange watering can). Parents will be helped in their explanations by Ehlert’s inclusion of small-type labels for everything. You don’t have to know what a corn seed or broccoli sprout looks like, because Ehlert does, and she labels them clearly. And as they and the other vegetables grow, she shows what the various plants look like and explains what each one is (including a weed). Growing Vegetable Soup would actually work as a simple gardening guide as children get older, since it shows plants’ appearance, the tools needed at various stages of the planting and growing process, and what to expect to see in the garden as vegetables grow toward maturity (squash buds and blossoms, for example). On the back cover, Ehlert provides a three-step process for making vegetable soup, with details on washing and cutting, getting ready, and cooking. So this book, which starts as a simple picture book for the youngest children, can stay with them as they grow and become interested in helping out in the garden and the kitchen. If it inspires lifelong enjoyment of vegetables, so much the better.
Food is also the subject of one of the two brand-new, traditionally sized Bow-Wow board books – the one that focuses on understanding patterns. Bow-Wow Orders Lunch features the adorable, nonspeaking sort-of-Scottie watching the creation of a large sandwich, starting with bread, then cheese, then more bread, then more cheese, and so on – until two slices of bread are added one after the other, and Bow-Wow sits silently watching until one slice is removed and the pattern continues correctly with cheese and bread alternating. Then the sandwich is topped off with a sausage; we see Bow-Wow’s previously unseen tail wag; and on the final page, both Bow-Wow and the sandwich are gone. It’s an amusing story, in keeping with Bow-Wow’s silent and endearing personality, and it’s a pleasant way to show children up to age three something about patterns.
Bow-Wow Naps by Number is an equally enjoyable way to teach counting up to 10. Here the sleepy dog, soundless as always, goes through interesting dreams: one bone, two angry-looking penguins that keep the bone from him, three hills over which he runs, four sausages hanging from the sky, and so on. The penguins are a recurrent irritation – they reappear for numbers six and nine, in the latter case chasing Bow-Wow into wakefulness. Then he falls back asleep with a dream of a perfect 10 – bones, that is. This entirely wordless book manages to teach, present a plot, and let Bow-Wow end up dreamily satisfied, all within a mere 18 board-book pages. It’s a real winner – as Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash’s Bow-Wow books always seem to be.