March 22, 2012


Under Construction. By Paula Hannigan. Illustrated by Heather Brown. Accord Publishing/Andrews McMeel. $14.99.

Chomp! By Heather Brown. Accord Publishing/Andrews McMeel. $8.99.

Bugs. By Shannon Chandler, Heather Brown, Paula Hannigan, and Jeffrey Charles Cole. Accord Publishing/Andrews McMeel. $9.99.

     Anyone who doubts that books can be made interactive needs to take a look at the works produced by Heather Brown and others for Accord Publishing. These are sturdy, inventively conceived and cleverly produced short books for pre-readers and the youngest readers – and they not only invite but also require a child’s participation in their stories. Accord calls Under Construction a “Silly Slider Book,” but it is really not silly at all – just ingenious. The book opens up from the bottom rather than from one side. The middle portion of each part of every page is a sliding panel that changes the picture and reveals more or less of the text when a child moves it. The top of the first vertically opening page, for example, says, “The UNDER CONSTRUCTION sign goes up…” while the sliding panel is in its lower position; slide the panel up and the words disappear while a crane wielding a wrecking ball gets taller. The bottom of the page shows the wrecking ball at work when the sliding panel is in lower position; move the panel up and the words, “And a wrecking ball swings to clear the way” appear, while parts of the knocked-down building show at the bottom, where the panel had previously covered them. The book is a gimmick, but it is not only a gimmick, because its design involves children from the first page to the last, and there really is a narrative here about how old buildings are taken down and new ones – in this case, a toy store – are built to replace them. A simple story told with a design that is anything but simple, but that is intuitive for young children and makes the reading experience a lot of fun, Under Construction is ingeniously involving.

     Chomp! is what Accord calls “A Pull-tab Book.” It contains only one tab, not the multiple ones usually found in tab books, but the use of that one tab is unusual and very intriguing. This is a smaller-format book than Under Construction, in traditional board-book size, with a toothy crocodile on the cover. The cunning part of this book’s design is that the pull tab is used on every page of Chomp! to help create what the few words describe. What the tab does is open and close an upper and lower set of teeth – which are made to fit different animals by use of different-size, differently shaped cutouts. Thus, “Polar Bear Yawns” shows a bear with eyes closed and oval-shaped mouth that seems to yawn when the tab is pulled; “Shark Chomps” has a much larger oval cutout, so pulling the tab makes it seem that a really big mouthful of teeth is opening and closing; “Lion Roars” also has a large cutout, but the expression on the lion’s face makes it seem to be letting out a loud sound when the tab is pulled and the “teeth” open and shut. The tab does the same thing for each animal, but the cleverly designed illustrations make it seem as if there are many activities here, not just one.

     And then there is the lenticular animation that Accord uses in books such as Bugs. Lenticular printing is nothing new – its modern form dates back to the 1940s – but it still has the power to intrigue and involve by making still pictures seem to move. Instantly recognizable by the vertical black lines on plastic that are an integral part of the printing process, lenticular pictures create the illusion of three-dimensionality and motion. That means, in Bugs, that when a closeup of a garden shows happy-looking caterpillars crawling on foliage, with the text saying, “Caterpillars MUNCH on tasty leaves,” there is one caterpillar, shown through lenticular printing, that seems actually to chew a leaf as the reader moves the page back and forth. And for “Butterflies DANCE through the air,” there is a scene of multiple butterflies, with human-looking faces, in the air above flowers – plus one that, through the “magic” of lenticular printing, appears to flap its wings and actually fly (how slowly or quickly depends on the speed with which a child moves the page back and forth). From hopping grasshoppers to load-carrying ants, Bugs shows cute-looking insects going about their lives, and encourages kids to become involved, in a small way, in what all the little creatures are doing.

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