July 26, 2012


Baby Faces. By Mallory Loehr. Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton. Random House. $7.99.

My Dad Is the Best Playground. By Luciana Navarro Powell. Robin Corey Books. $7.99.

Hide & Seek. By Il Sung Na. Knopf. $15.99.

Baby Listens. By Esther Wilkin. Illustrated by Eloise Wilkin. Golden Books. $3.99.

      Even though children up to age three are almost always too young to read, they are not too young to appreciate books with pictures and stories to which they can relate.  Simple, attractive board books are just right for this age group, and that is what Baby Faces and My Dad Is the Best Playground are.  But they take different approaches to the board-book format.  Baby Faces is a pull-tab book, featuring tabs that are sturdy enough so even young and not-too-nimble fingers can grasp and pull (or in one case push) them.  The text is super-simple and nicely integrated with the tabs: “Baby’s eyes can wink and blink,” writes Mallory Loehr, and a baby with wide-open brown eyes blinks when the tab is pulled.  Or “baby’s tongue is very pink,” and a tab pull leads a baby to stick out her tongue.  Short (there are only five things that happen, ending with a sneeze), brightly colored, featuring Vanessa Brantley Newton’s pictures of big-eyed multiracial babies, this is a pleasant little book excursion for the youngest kids.  Luciana Navarro Powell’s My Dad Is the Best Playground has no pull tabs but more of a story, featuring two super-happy toddlers and an equally happy-looking father who, despite being dressed for work (including fully buttoned-down shirt and tie), lets himself be used as a swing, a tunnel, monkey bars, a seesaw, even a trampoline (although he looks a bit dubious about that one).  Dad and kids practically bounce off the pages with enthusiasm, as they all play at bucking bronco and merry-go-round and other very active games, before all three settle down for a snuggle, a story and “a gentle ride to bed.”  Adults will suspect that the father is overdue for sleep himself, but kids will simply enjoy all the activity.  There is plenty of it to enjoy.

      Slightly older children, ages 2-5, will find Hide & Seek and Baby Listens fun – again, in somewhat different ways.  Il Sung Na’s work is an in-the-jungle counting book in the context of the game of the title, with Elephant counting as the other animals run and hide – urged by Chameleon, who of course has his own special hiding abilities.  The fun in the book comes from watching the animals trying to decide where to hide while Elephant counts: Giraffe looks for a suitably tall tree, Rhino chooses a rock that turns out to be Tortoise’s shell, and so on.  The jungle foliage is multicolored here, not just green, and the animals sport brightly attractive colors as well.  Elephant searches carefully and finds all of them – except Chameleon.  So he gets the other animals to help in the search, but eventually they all give up, and it turns out that Chameleon is right where we saw him in the first place…but so well camouflaged that no one could spot him.  The simple, pleasantly drawn story is quite appealing, and its counting elements are a bonus.  As for Baby Listens, it is appealing in a different way.  Esther Wilkin’s book dates to 1960 and shows its age a bit, both in the writing and in Eloise Wilkin’s illustrations of a very chubby baby hearing all the sounds of everyday life.  From “TUM TUM TUM DEE DUM/ Baby’s beating on his drum” to “Baby rides his kiddie car/ SQUEAK SQUEAK SQUEAK,” from a buzzing bee to a cow that moos from the field next door while Baby sits playing with a kitten in the back yard, these are pleasant enough sounds that seem somewhat caught in a time warp in terms of the home’s decorations, the way Mommy is dressed, and other details.  Baby Listens gets a (+++) rating for 21st-century kids: never intended as a slice of history, it now looks like one, a fact that somewhat distracts and detracts from the enjoyment of its essentially simple auditory message.

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