February 21, 2013

(++++) BOARD BEAUTIES


Ma! There’s Nothing to Do Here! A Word from Your Baby-in-Waiting. By Barbara Park. Illustrated by Viviana Garofoli. Random House. $7.99.

Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit: A Book of Changing Seasons. By Il Sung Na. Knopf. $6.99.

Teenie Greenies: The Little Recycler. By Jan Gerardi. Random House. $6.99.

The Bus Driver. By Todd H. Doodler. Robin Corey Books. $7.99.

      Whether originally created in board-book format or adapted to it from traditional books, works for the youngest children are designed to delight, to be involving visually, and sometimes even to teach simple lessons – all things that the best board books do very effectively. Barbara Park’s Ma! There’s Nothing to Do Here! is a real charmer for anyone who is about to become a big brother or sister. It also makes an adorable gift for a mother-to-be, with Park’s whimsical notions of what a not-yet-born baby has not yet encountered: “Not a sandbox or swings,/ Or those monkey bar things./ Not a park or a zoo./ MA! There’s nothing to do!”  Viviana Garofoli’s delightful illustrations capture the new baby’s imagined expressions beautifully, and at least some readers will laugh out loud at the picture that goes with the words, “I’d love to go boating,/ But where’s the canoe?/ MA! There’s nothing to do.”  And that illustration is only one of the delicious ones here, some of which parallel the arrangement of words – as when Garofoli shows the baby all curled around itself on the page opposite a spiral of Park’s words about how cramped things are in the womb.  A wonderful melding of amusingly silly thoughts and equally enjoyable pictures – the one of the baby driving a big truck provides another laugh-out-loud moment – Ma! There’s Nothing to Do Here! moves seamlessly from amusement to sentimentality and ends up as an affirmation of love, which is quite a lot to pack into a board book.

      Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit is a more-modest book but is every bit as charming in its own way. Author/illustrator Il Sung Na first shows a closeup picture of a white rabbit, then portrays the bunny observing other animals getting ready for winter, from ducks flying south to turtles (their shells decorated artistically) swimming “to warmer waters” to squirrels gathering extra food for the cold weather.  Later, “the snow has melted and the trees are in bloom,” and all the animals know spring has returned, and at the book’s end we see the rabbit in closeup once again – but now with brown fur and a knowing wink at the reader.  This is the sort of simple yet informative story that goes well in a board book, teaching as it brings enjoyment.  And The Little Recycler teaches, too, even more overtly.  One of the Teenie Greenies books, it uses a series of flaps to show how recycling works. For example, one page showing used aluminum cans says, “Crush the cans – red, green blue.” Flip up the flap and there is a picture of a car with the words, “Make them into something new.”  This is a straight-out advocacy book as well as a teaching tool, directly urging children to “recycle paint, printer ink, a tub, a toilet, a kitchen sink!”  But there is nothing at all strident about it, and its suggestions on reuse – by sharing toys with other children and turning a cardboard box into a decorated make-believe boat in which to play – are practical ones that even very young kids will be able to appreciate.  Jan Gerardi’s age-appropriate ideas, combined with the attraction of the lift-the-flaps format, make the book a winner.

      The Bus Driver by Todd H. Doodler (pen name of Todd H. Goldman) is a winner, too, in a different way. The teaching here is counting – not only from one to 10 but also from 10 back to one.  And the book itself is bus-shaped for an extra bit of fun.  The story starts with the one bus driver all alone, and simply involves the passengers he picks up on his route, such as “four boys covered in dirt,” six doctors, and even “eight lively puppies…each with nine fleas.”  By the time the bus is full – the illustration showing it packed tightly is a particularly amusing one – the driver realizes he cannot add passengers, so it is time to drop them off. And that is just what he does, from “the ten teachers in front of the school” to the pups and their fleas at a convenient dog wash to five basketball players at the local arena. After dropping off “two chatty girls” who have been talking on their phones throughout the book, the bus driver is alone again and we are back to the number one – after a thoroughly pleasing journey that is even more fun for being taken aboard a bus-shaped board book.

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