May 04, 2006


Let’s Count: A Hand-Puppet Board Book. By Josephine Page. Illustrated by Jill McDonald. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $12.99.

Peek-a-Who? By Moira Butterfield. Illustrated by Rachael O’Neill. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $6.99.

Mother, May I? By Grace Maccarone. Illustrated by Melissa Sweet. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $8.99.

      Do you suppose the Cartwheel Books line is named for the cartwheels of joy parents will take, at least figuratively, when they find out how much their very young children enjoy these little volumes? The designs of these books go beyond age-appropriate into downright clever, and the contents will fit the attention spans and interests of the youngest children exceptionally well.

      Let’s Count is the third in a particularly interestingly made book series for kids up to age three. Like the other two works in the series – Old MacDonald and This Little Piggy – the book is really a book-plus-puppet-show for a parent to play with a baby. Five animal faces adorn the fingertips of the glovelike top of this unusual design, with a board book attached to the finger bottoms and serving as the “palm” of the glove. It’s a highly innovative shape, used to make it easier to keep babies’ and toddlers’ attention while reciting simple nursery rhymes or – in the case of Let’s Count – starting kids on the road toward understanding numbers. The story and attached finger puppets are designed to go together: the first puppet, Duck, is introduced first in the story, followed by Bunny, Froggy, Piggy and Lamb. Each finger puppet has the animal’s number on it, so kids can start to recognize what numbers look like. It’s all very easy and straightforward to use – and quite creatively imagined and constructed.

      Peek-a-Who? looks like an ordinary book, but it too is very cleverly put together. This lift-a-flap book for children up to age three takes the age-old game of peek-a-boo – a favorite of very young kids – to a new level by having hand-shaped flaps covering the face of each illustration. Kids fold out the flaps to reveal the peek-a-boo face underneath. Each illustration covers a two-page spread, with one sturdy fold-out hand on the left page and one on the right – a structure making it very easy for young children to use the book themselves after they are ready to play on their own. Peek-a-boo is a developmentally significant game as well as one that most kids absolutely love. This book gives them a way to enjoy it all by themselves.

      Kids who have moved beyond the peek-a-boo stage – to ages 3-5 – will have a wonderful time with Mother, May I? This board book with spongy-but-strong covers tells a cute rhyming story of a baby kangaroo riding along in his mother’s pouch at the mall, asking for all sorts of things: “Mother, may I have a treat –/ something cold and smooth and sweet?” A pet store proves to be the most fascinating place of all, and the book shows some sweet interactions between the young kangaroo and several for-sale animals. But what he wants most of all at the end makes a nice surprise – and the pet he winds up with is a surprise, too. This is a simple story that parents will enjoy reading – and that kids will have a great time reading on their own when they are ready.

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