April 13, 2017
(++++) THE MANY FACETS OF BOARD BOOKS
Lines and Triangles and Squares, Oh My! By Zoe Burke. Illustrations by Carey Hall. Pomegranate Kids. $10.95.
Claire Winteringham’s Alphabet Parade. By Claire Winteringham. Pomegranate Kids. $10.95.
I Love My Daddy. By Sebastien Braun. Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins. $7.99.
I Love My Mommy. By Sebastien Braun. Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins. $7.99.
Intended as they are for ages from birth through three or four, board books would seem to offer little room for creativity in writing, illustration and design. In fact, however, the opposite is the case: the short, restricted form of these books frequently inspires authors and illustrators to produce very pleasant and highly creative stories and ways of communicating information. Two new offerings from Pomegranate Kids are particularly intriguing for their educational value. Zoe Burke’s Lines and Triangles and Squares, Oh My! is exceptional. Starting with straight, colored lines and using the services of a cartoon cat named Bluebell, Burke and illustrator Carey Hall show young children how a triangle is made and what sorts of things are triangle-shaped (mountains, Bluebell’s hat and ears, and so on). Then, starting with four straight lines, Burke and Hall create a square and show all the square-shaped things around Bluebell. And then they spin the square to make a diamond – using the same four lines in the same four colors, so kids can easily see what is going on – and show diamond-shaped objects. And then they stretch the diamond – the visualization here, using arrows, is quite clear and easy to follow – and now have a rectangle, which they can once again show in a number of places that kids will be able to identify (a table, a door, a bed, etc.). Finally, Bluebell is seen playing with a wiggly line that is smoothed and tied to itself to form a circle – and, yet again, there are plenty of circles to be found in the book’s illustrations. This is a lot of learning to pack into board-book format, and the final two pages – in which Bluebell appears as a train engineer in a scene containing all the shapes explained in the book – make an excellent conclusion. Both the concept and the execution here are well beyond what parents would likely expect from a board book – an impressive achievement.
Almost as intriguing is Claire Winteringham’s Alphabet Parade, which has no story at all: it simply shows attractive watercolor illustrations of various animals and objects beginning with each letter of the alphabet. The fun here is in the quality of the pictures, the unusual choices of some items to illustrate the letters, and the attractive juxtapositions on some pages. The letter E, for instance, includes elephants and egg – no surprise there – but the egg is balanced right on the end of one elephant’s trunk, and that makes the illustration quite interesting. Furthermore, this letter’s page also mentions egret and eucalyptus tree, and neither that bird nor that plant is commonly found in alphabet books (and the egret is actually perched in the tree). This is Winteringham’s approach throughout the book. The letter I has only two entries, iguana and insects, but there are 11 different insects shown, from beetles to butterflies. The letter N includes not only a nest but also the baby birds in it, referred to as nestlings – and the specific bird species is nuthatch (there is a newt in the picture, too). The letter D has a dinosaur following a duck past date palms and daisies as a dragonfly soars overhead. The letter R has the unusual combination of rabbits, rhinoceros and rocket. And the letter O is an ocean scene (“ocean” is one of the words) in which a very large octopus has one tentacle gently wrapped around an owl and two others cradling oranges. Colorful and clever, Claire Winteringham’s Alphabet Parade makes a fine introduction to the letters of the alphabet, the typical sturdy board-book format making it particularly easy for little hands to hold.
Other board books, although quite pleasant, are considerably more conventional in telling simple stories and illustrating them pleasantly but not in any exceptional way. Two by Sebastien Braun, I Love My Daddy and I Love My Mommy, fit this description. Each two-page spread of the “daddy” book shows a big brown bear and his small cub together as the cub tells, in just a few words, something that the two of them do: “My daddy wakens me.” “My daddy washes me.” “My daddy chases me.” The bears play hide-and-seek in the forest, run about in a meadow, sit looking out at a mountain vista, play a tickling game, cuddle, and more – and the final page, “I love my daddy,” simply shows the cub curled up in the sleeping big bear’s arms, about to fall asleep himself. I Love My Mommy follows a somewhat different path: here, the basic narrative is similar, but every two-page shows a different animal-mom-and-child scene. “My mommy watches me while I play” features rabbits; “my mommy takes me swimming” has river otters; “my mommy helps me to climb” shows squirrels; “my mommy works really hard” uses beavers; “my mommy cuddles me” features foxes; and the final “I love my mommy” shows a mother bird with two little ones, one tucked within each wing. Braun’s books are simple, straightforward, warmhearted and designed for reading aloud to children who are too young to read themselves. They are sweet and cozy, even a little overdone in their determined delicacy – fine for the very youngest infants, but likely of less interest as babies start becoming interested in reading on their own and are ready to absorb the more-complicated concepts found in Claire Winteringham’s Alphabet Parade and Lines and Triangles and Squares, Oh My!