August 25, 2016


Mustache Baby. By Bridget Heos. Illustrations by Joy Ang. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $7.99.

Hooray for Hat! By Brian Won. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $7.99.

I Love Music: My First Sound Book. By Marion Billet. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $9.99.

     This is a welcome trend: take kids’ books that were highly entertaining in their original picture-book format and re-release them as board books so that even-younger children can enjoy them. This will not work with all picture books, but when it does, the results are absolutely delightful, as they are with Mustache Baby and Hooray for Hat! Bridget Heos’ thoroughly silly story of a baby born with a great big mustache – with his parents warned to be on the lookout to see whether it is a good-guy type or a bad-guy type – translates wonderfully to board-book form. Billy starts out with a “noble and just” mustache, using his power of goodness to take care of the household pets and fix things for his big brother; then the mustache, in some of Joy Ang’s funniest illustrations, accompanies Billy as he becomes a pint-sized Spanish painter (a la Salvador Dali), a circus ringmaster (called “ringleader” here for some reason), an aviator, a veterinarian, a sword fighter, and a no-nonsense lawman – oh, Billy does all sorts of wonderful mustache-y things! But then – uh-oh – Billy’s mustache starts to curl up at the ends and turns into a “bad-guy mustache,” making his parents cringe and cry. Now Billy misbehaves in all sorts of ways, even becoming “a train robber so heartless that he even stole the tracks” (toy trains and toy tracks taken from other kids his age). Finally, Billy’s mom has had enough, and she throws him in jail (his crib), where he stays until he can behave properly and his mustache reverts to good-guy form. So all ends happily, with Billy getting ready for a playdate – which turns out, on the last page of the book, to be with a little boy who sports a full-face beard. The silliness of the whole story will appeal even to very young children, and parents will enjoy acting out some of the good-guy and bad-guy parts of the book while having fun with Heos’ word games – as when Billy becomes a “cat burglar” (running around carrying the cat) and “cereal criminal” (sneaking cereal out of his older brother’s bowl). Originally published in 2013, Mustache Baby works just as well in its new board-book form as it did in its original layout.

     So does Hooray for Hat! Brian Won’s book first appeared in 2014, and its story is even simpler than that of Mustache Baby. It is merely the tail…err, tale…of animal fiends who are in grumpy moods and are cheered up, one and all, by getting to wear hats. It all starts when Elephant wakes up in a bad mood, stomps downstairs, and finds a box on his doorstep – containing a hat so tall and elaborate that “it was hard to stay grumpy now.” Actually, this is a hat made up of lots of hats, as soon becomes clear when Elephant walks over to see Zebra, who is equally grumpy but is soon cheered up when Elephant gives him a hat from the hat group he is wearing. “They both cheered,” writes Won, and both shouted “HOORAY FOR HAT!” – with the word “hooray” in multiple colors. Now Elephant and Zebra move on together, this time to Turtle, whose grumpiness is relieved by yet another of the hats that Elephant is wearing – each hat being quite different from the others. On and on the friends go, but when they reach the cave of Lion, it turns out that he is not only grumpy but also sad, because Giraffe is not feeling well. Clearly something hat-related must be done to resolve this, and so all the friends take off their hats, reassemble them into their original multi-hat form, repack them in the box in which Elephant found them in the first place, and go to visit Giraffe. And of course all ends hattily…err, happily. Won’s book, like Heos’, is one that young readers and pre-readers will enjoy on their own, and also one that parents will have fun reading to children, especially ones who might themselves feel just a tad grumpy from time to time. Getting kids to listen to this book when they feel grumpy may be a bit of a challenge, but parents who can do that will find Won’s writing and illustrations to be a great antidote for everyday moodiness. There is just no way to be down in the grumps after reading Hooray for Hat!

     Nor can anyone be downcast after experiencing Marion Billet’s wonderfully clever I Love Music, a board book that dates to 2011 in a Gallimard Jeunesse version in French but is an original as an English-language board book. It is original in other ways as well. With 14 pages of text and illustrations, it is even shorter than many board books, but it does not seem short, because it is genuinely interactive. Parents lift a flap in the book’s inside back cover – a flap designed to be difficult for little fingers to open – and set the switch inside to the “on” position; again, the switch is not for little fingers, being tiny and even a bit tough for adults to maneuver (which in this case is all to the good). When the switch is thrown, a battery-operated music chip is powered up, allowing kids – yes, with their little fingers – to hear musical instruments played by animals in half a dozen pleasantly drawn cartoon scenes. All it takes is pressing a small round spot located on each animal’s instrument: Pig’s recorder, Elephant’s piano, Cat’s violin, Zebra’s guitar, Bear’s drum, and Mouse’s xylophone. The music generation is pretty good – much better-sounding than in those ubiquitous musical greeting cards – and the musical tidbits run from four to nine seconds and include a nice mixture of jazzy and classical sounds (the violin even plays a bit of Brahms). After the individual-instrument pages, a final page shows all six animals and instruments and asks kids, “Which one would YOU like to play?” That is an invitation to go back and try all the instruments again and again. Yes, the batteries powering the sounds will eventually wear out, but they are replaceable (getting to them requires removing two tiny screws – no chance kids will be able to do that). And the notes are realistic-sounding enough so that very young children who become acquainted with the instruments here for the first time will readily identify the way they sound when they hear them later in recorded or played-in-real-life form. I Love Music really can help engender a love of music, and that is quite an accomplishment for any board book.

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