May 26, 2011


The Neighborhood Sing-Along. By Nina Crews. Greenwillow/HarperCollins. $17.99.

Everywhere Babies. By Susan Meyers. Illustrated by Marla Frazee. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $11.99.

     Interpretative illustrations of babies and children are the highlight of these two delightful rhyming books – one of which reinterprets well-known songs, the other of which creates rhymes and rhythms all its own. Nina Crews’ The Neighborhood Sing-Along offers 34 traditional songs, from “Skip to My Lou” and “The Wheels on the Bus” to “London Bridge Is Falling Down” and “Yankee Doodle,” with photo illustrations that range from the straightforward (four kids, sitting on steps and looking at the camera, for “Do Your Ears Hang Low?”) to the amusingly surrealistic (kids shown in miniature size, cavorting around the breakfast table, for “I’m a Little Teapot” and “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe”). There’s a pleasantly informal game of baseball for “Take Me Out to the Ball Game!” There are closeups of bath toys for “Sailing, Sailing” and “Row, Row, Row Your Boat!” There is baking fun for “Short’nin’ Bread,” and a fireworks scene with elephants in the sky for “Miss Mary Mack,” and what seems to be an impromptu jazz session with whatever instruments happen to be handy for “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” There are even a couple of songs in languages other than English: “La Bamba” and “Alouette.” All the illustrations, entirely realistic or carefully constructed, are photographically based, so everything looks completely pictorial, even when particular scenes are impossible. What is not impossible at all is enjoyment – this whole book is full of it.

     Susan Meyers’ Everywhere Babies, originally published in 2001 and now available as a lap-size board book, offers fun of a different kind. Marla Frazee’s illustrations are drawings, not photos, but the babies and parents shown here look very realistic anyway, even when crying, screwing up their faces in complaint or yelling – not to mention cooing, giggling, laughing and generally having a wonderful time. Meyers’ writing is very clever, using large-print rhymes across page tops to carry the narrative forward while smaller-print words elsewhere on the pages tell children more about what is going on. For example, two successive two-page spreads say, “Every day, everywhere, babies make noise – Every day, everywhere, babies like toys.” The “noise” pages say “they cry and they squeal, they giggle, they coo,” and so on; the “toys” ones show them playing with “rattles, and tops, and books that won’t tear,” and more. This is a loving, lovely and lovable book that is as enchanting now as when it first appeared a decade ago. And the new edition includes a bonus bound into the back inside cover: a “Baby on Board” window cling that features a dozen of the adorable characters from the book. Those clings stopped getting drivers’ attention some time ago when they spawned imitations that had nothing to do with babies or safety – but this one is so cute that it ought to make drivers start noticing again.

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