A Book of Sleep. By Il Sung Na. Knopf. $6.99.
Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit: A Book of Changing Seasons. By Il Sung Na. Knopf. $15.99.
Where Do Giggles Come From? By Diane Muldrow. Illustrated by Anne Kennedy. Golden Books. $3.99.
Long before they can read, the youngest children can already start to enjoy books – if the books are written at an age-appropriate level, illustrated catchily, and filled with stories that will be meaningful to children by age one, or even earlier. Il Sung Na has a particularly good sense of how to create enjoyable books for the youngest age group. Her 2007 work, A Book of Sleep, is now available as an attractive board book with a super-wide-eyed owl on the front, and is clearly designed for bedtime (or naptime) reading. The pictures are just slightly whimsical, but not too complex for very young children, and are uniformly enjoyable. On most pages, the owl watches as other animals sleep: koalas, for example, or fish, whose nonblinking stare is duplicated by the owl keeping watch. Even when the text indicates sound (“Some make noise when they sleep,” referring to elephants), the illustrations are pleasantly restful. Parents get to show children animals that sleep standing up (horses), while moving (whales), alone (giraffes), or in groups (penguins), all of them cute and very nicely drawn. At the end of the book, the sun rises and “everyone wakes up” in a picture showing all the animals smiling (including penguins sliding down the whale’s head). But then the final page shows that one animal – the now-tired owl – sleeps when all the rest awaken; and that lets parents use the book to get young children peacefully to their own rest.
The same author’s Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit includes elements of sleep, too, showing bears settling in for the winter as a snow rabbit watches. But this is a more elaborate book, using the rabbit as a silent narrative connection (much like the owl in A Book of Sleep) in a story that shows birds flying to warmer places, turtles swimming to warmer waters – but other animals staying put in the cold, including thick-coated sheep and nut-gathering squirrels. One especially lovely contrast is between the rabbit watching alligators as they “stay very still” and, on the next page, observing mice “moving fast and staying warm” as they scamper through a network of underground tunnels. And just as the sun ends the animals’ sleep in A Book of Sleep, so the coming of spring ends the story here, with the white rabbit now turned brown and sitting happily amid new-blooming flowers and fresh greenery. Parents who by this time of year have tired of winter will be especially grateful for a chance to read this pleasant story of the coming of spring to young not-yet-readers – and early readers, up to about age five, will enjoy going through it themselves.
Early readers will also have fun with Where Do Giggles Come From? Unlike the animals in Il Sung Na’s books, which retain most of their real-world characteristics, those in Diane Muldrow’s book are really little humans, wearing clothing, taking baths and going to the beach – and having a great time, as Anne Kennedy’s simple and amusing illustrations show. The book shows a variety of “giggle times,” such as giggling in a “bouncy seat,” when upside down, when playing hide-and-seek, and when watching a parent make funny faces. There is no real story here – just a series of scenes of animal parents and animal kids having fun together in a wide variety of ways – but for the youngest children, the non-story will be enough fun to keep them looking at the book and, most likely, giggling at all the amusing things happening within it. And parents and kids alike will enjoy seeing the expressions on the animal parents’ faces – the cats playing “piggie toes” and goats chasing butterflies are especially charming, but everything here is simple, amusing fun.