May 11, 2017


Bob and Flo and the Missing Bucket. By Rebecca Ashdown. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $7.99.

Bob and Flo Play Hide-and-Seek. By Rebecca Ashdown. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $7.99.

     It is not unusual for books for young children to be transformed into books for the youngest children – that is, into board books. But some transitions seem easier and more natural than others, and the “Penguin Friends at Preschool” books by Rebecca Ashdown are particularly well-suited for board-book transformation. Really, the original hardcover versions of Bob and Flo and Bob and Flo Play Hide-and-Seek will appeal (and do appeal) to pre-readers and very young readers already. The penguin preschool and the readily understandable, mundane adventures that Bob, Flo and the other penguins have there are fun not only for preschoolers but also for children too young to be going to preschool – call them pre-preschoolers.

     However, in their new board-book format, these little penguin adventures are even easier to hold, and follow, and enjoy, for children too young to read the stories on their own, or perhaps just learning to recognize a few words here and there. Bob and Flo and the Missing Bucket introduces the title characters, as Flo starts preschool by bringing her lunch of raw fish in a red bucket. Flo meets several other penguins, including Bob, who admires her bucket – which soon turns up missing. For the rest of the book, Bob has the bucket (wearing it on his head, using it to climb on, filling it with sand to make sand castles, and so forth); and Flo, diligently searching for the bucket, does not notice that Bob took it and is playing with it. Or perhaps she does know what is going on: she eventually finds it at the bottom of the slide, with Bob stuck at the slide’s top. “Flo knew what to do,” Ashdown explains, and so Flo fills the bucket with water and uses it to “whoosh” Bob off the top of the slide’s ladder and down the slide itself, after which Flo and Bob play for the rest of the preschool day – until, on the way home, Flo reminds Bob not to forget “our” bucket the next day. The adorable penguin drawings and the gentle formation of friendship – in a situation that could have caused anger and hurt feelings – make Bob and Flo and the Missing Bucket a charmer of a story, and one with a lesson that is quite suitable for pre-preschoolers.

     Bob and Flo Play Hide-and-Seek has the two titular penguins more used to preschool and each other. The hide-and-seek game starts because it is a rainy day, and the other penguins at first do not recognize Bob when he walks in underneath an umbrella. There is some lovely age-appropriate writing here as the hide-and-seek game – involving Bob hiding and Flo and a penguin named Sam searching for him – begins: “Counting to twenty is hard. So Flo and Sam counted to ten. Twice!” The small problem in this book is that Bob does not quite understand what it means to hide. He stands in plain sight and covers his eyes, as if that will prevent others from seeing him; then, told to hide behind something, he holds up a pot from the play stove in front of his face – but again leaves his body fully visible. Bob is puzzled at being found so easily, but promises to try once more. And this time he concocts an elaborate plan to build a sort-of-penguin-shaped-and-colored stack of blocks and hide behind it. Now Flo and Sam cannot find Bob at all, until he choose to burst out and reveal himself – again, a small and simple lesson learned enjoyably and at just the right level for kids who will be attracted to these prettily illustrated, nicely paced and well-plotted books. The board-book changeover here is complete and completely successful.

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