September 27, 2012
(++++) BOARD BOOKS AND BEYOND
Where’s Ellie? By Salina Yoon. Robin Corey Books. $6.99.
Mine! By Shutta Crum. Pictures by Patrice Barton. Knopf. $6.99.
Dinosaurs! By Matthew Reinhart. Robin Corey Books. $6.99.
A Princess Like Me. By Matthew Reinhart. Robin Corey Books. $6.99.
Monkey Play. By Alyssa Satin Capucilli. Illustrated by Ariel Pang. Random House. $3.99.
Fox and Crow Are NOT Friends. By Melissa Wiley. Illustrated by Sebastien Braun. Random House. $3.99.
Wedgieman: A Hero Is Born. By Charise Mericle Harper. Illustrated by Bob Shea. Random House. $3.99.
The cleverness that goes into creating attractive books for the youngest children changes form as books are developed for kids learning to read for themselves. But pictures continue to play a big part in all the best early-reading books. Board books such as Where’s Ellie? and Mine! are essentially all pictorial, but they are also very clever in design – Salina Yoon’s book particularly so. Ellie is an elephant, and the book’s cover shows her body, with her trunk appearing on the last page – visible because of a semicircular cutout in all the pages. The fun here comes from seeing things that look as if they have Ellie’s trunk but really do not. Is Ellie hiding behind a plant? No, that is a teapot whose spout looks like her trunk. Is she behind the flowers? No, that is a garden hose the same color and shape as her trunk. Could she be behind a cactus? No, that is a hat whose turned-up gray brim looks a bit like Ellie’s trunk. Eventually Ellie is found, and kids will likely go along with the final-page suggestion, “Let’s play again!”
Mine! is a longer and more straightforwardly designed board book, with more of a story and fewer words – in fact, only one: “Mine!” This is a toddler-playdate book in which one friend says “Mine, mine, mine,” picking up everything, then dropping everything, and then getting into a delightful splashing contest that involves the dog’s water bowl, the dog itself, and the fun of getting toys and socks and pretty much everything that is movable really wet. There is no harm done, though, and the dog has a great time, too, wandering around on a route shown by a dotted line like the one from The Family Circus newspaper comic. Eventually the toddlers’ moms, seen only from the legs down, show up to disentangle their little ones from all the wet toys, while the toddlers themselves smile happily at the mess in a show of camaraderie that will likely have kids insisting on reading the book again – and again.
Two books by Matthew Reinhart go somewhat beyond the board-book stage, but design is important for them, too: there is “a pop-up on every page!” – as both covers proclaim. The pop-ups, pull tabs and lift-the-flaps here are too delicate for the youngest readers, and some are slightly complex: in the dinosaur book, an arrow shows where to pull on the picture of a tree to reveal an Apatosaurus walking and eating, while a cloud must be pulled down to show a flying Pteranodon. Reinhart does quite a fine job of creating 3D sculptures: pulling the tail of a Tyrannosaurs rex causes its tooth-filled mouth to open and shut, while pulling the head of an Ankylosaurus on the next page causes its tail to strike out at the would-be predator. The princess book is considerably milder but just as much fun in its own way. The princess wakes up in a huge 3D bed, with a big stretch, and kids get to open a jewel box to reveal her crown, pull a stable door to discover her pet unicorn, pull down the hem of her party dress to show how fancy it really is and how elegantly her hair is made up, and finally open a page to show the whole front of the castle and 10 other princesses, all lined up for a royal tea party. Both of Reinhart’s books also include pages to color – they are a very clever combination of design elements with simple, entertaining and well-presented stories.
For kids a bit older than the very youngest, the “Step into Reading” series offers books that are more traditional in appearance and structure, driven by story and intended to help children actually learn to read on their own. Monkey Play is a Step 1 (“Ready to Read”) book for preschoolers and kindergartners, while Fox and Crow Are NOT Friends and Wedgieman: A Hero Is Born are Step 3 (“Reading on Your Own”) books for grades 1-3. Well-told stories and attractive illustrations are a must for success in books of this kind, and all three of these have them. Monkey Play features three mischief-making monkeys at an outdoor bazaar, playing and hiding and dressing up “in shiny hats and sparkly shoes,” then eating a banana pie and coconut shake, then visiting a tent filled with other animals such as cows, goats and parrots. Slightly exotic-looking drawings, a simple rhyming story and sentences in large print make the book fun to look at as well as to read. The Step 3 books are, of course, more complex. Fox and Crow Are NOT Friends, which is tied very loosely to Aesop’s fables, has the two title characters playing tricks on each other until Mama Bear, from whom both have been taking food, catches the two of them and puts them to work making cheese. Wedgieman: A Hero Is Born starts with Veggiebaby making “broccoli bears, tomato tigers, spinach spiders, and even giant green-bean gorillas,” then growing into Veggieboy and having difficulty mastering his superpowers (among other things, he finds out that he can’t shape-shift, no matter how hard he tries, except to turn into vegetables). Eventually he grows up and gets named Wedgieman because of a misunderstanding that turns out to provide a very amusing twist ending. Light-years past the “see spot run” early readers of the past, books such as Monkey Play, Fox and Crow Are NOT Friends, and Wedgieman: A Hero Is Born entice young readers into the enjoyment of books through bright and funny storytelling and amusing illustrations, deftly preparing them to read more-complex works as they continue further into, one hopes, a lifelong love of reading.