December 12, 2013


My Lucky Little Dragon. By Joyce Wan. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $6.99.

Ten Tiny Toes. By Caroline Jayne Church. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $8.99.

     Board books exist primarily to delight, secondarily to educate. Sometimes the educational elements are exceedingly clever, as they are in My Lucky Little Dragon. Joyce Wan never tells readers outright, but what she has created here is a book using the 12 signs of the Chinese zodiac – a couple of them modified – to talk (as many board books do) about the wonderfulness of the baby to whom the book is being read. The book’s title refers to the fifth sign, which is indeed deemed the luckiest of them all. Then Wan moves to the sixth sign, describing baby as “my clever little snake,” that being an attribute associated with the snake in the Chinese zodiac – and shown very amusingly through a picture of a bespectacled snake reading a book while coiled around a tree limb. And so to the seventh sign, “my happy little horsey,” and then the eighth, “my snuggly little sheep” – although the eighth sign is actually a goat. This is not Wan’s only change: she does proceed to monkey, rooster, dog (which she gives as “puppy”) and pig, the 12th sign. But then, instead of the rat – the first sign – she offers “my kind little mouse,” mice presumably having greater cuddle potential than rats do. Then Wan works her way through the ox, tiger, and finally rabbit (she makes it “bunny”) – before ending the book with a built-in mirror and the exclamation, “Baby, I’m LUCKY to have you!” This is a delightful little board book with an unusually subtle underlying structure – one that will be clear to those familiar with the Chinese zodiac but obscure to others, who will nevertheless enjoy the sweet sentiments and delightful drawings.

     Ten Tiny Toes teaches more overtly and with every bit as much charm. Caroline Jayne Church here creates a sort of participatory rhyme, along the lines of “head and shoulders, knees and toes.” Using big pictures (on larger-than-usual board-book pages) of a small baby, she goes through baby’s body parts one after another: “Mouth, ears, eyes, nose,/ arms, belly, legs/ and ten tiny toes!” The rollicking toddler – accompanied by a teddy bear that imitates all his motions – is told to “touch your ears, make them wiggle./ Touch your belly, laugh and giggle.” And so on. And again and again, Church returns to the “ten tiny toes” refrain, until eventually ending with a rhyme about “a love that grows and grows,” showing baby hugging the smiling stuffed animal. Fun to read aloud thanks to its easy cadences, and useful in helping very young children identify body parts and start to understand the number 10, this is a very happy little book that the youngest pre-readers will enjoy listening to and handling – which they can do with abandon, thanks to its well-padded covers and very strong binding. Parents will especially enjoy the little hearts floating all over the front and back covers and the front inside cover – since love is what this book, like board books in general, is all about.

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