January 31, 2008


Fisher-Price Infant Books: All About My Day—Baby’s First Scrapbook; Ears, Nose & Toes!—Discovering Me & My Friends!; The World Around Me—Colors, Numbers and More!; Who Lives in the Rainforest? Discovering Animals. HarperFestival. $6.99 each (My Day; Who Lives); $4.99 (Ears); $7.99 (World).

      Board books are common – usually as short versions of longer kids’ books or as spinoffs, in simplified fashion, of the adventures of popular characters from books for older children. The new Fisher-Price Infant Books series, though, is something different, designed from the ground up by a group of educators who are also firmly ensconced in the commercial world – and have a good sense both of what will appeal to adults and kids, on the one hand, and what will sell, on the other.

When a toy company (Fisher-Price is part of Mattel) gets involved in any project, there is always the danger that it will do so primarily as a marketing ploy, using apparent educational value to gets kids interested in owning a lot of decidedly non-educational playthings. Happily, that is not the case with these books, except perhaps in some very subtle ways, such as the prominence of the bright white-on-red Fisher-Price logo on all the books and the fact that these board books’ covers tie them into the trademarked Fisher-Price brands “Laugh, Smile & Learn” and “Animals of the Rainforest.”

For most parents and all infants, these commercial considerations really won’t matter, because the books are such straightforward fun – and are so well made, in age-appropriate designs. All About My Day—Baby’s First Scrapbook, for ages newborn and up, can be easily carried with the cut-out handle at the top, and is designed for insertion of baby photos on every two-page spread. This should make it nearly irresistible to parents as well as educational for infants, who love seeing themselves and develop their identity partly through perception of “self” and “other” and the eventual understanding that a picture of “me” is not “me” but a representation. No big words in this book, though, and no overt education, either – just left-hand-page observations and places to insert photos on right-hand pages. For example, “I like to splash in my bath!” (spoken by a smiling frog on the left)…“This is me at bath time” with a place for a photo on the right. Ending the book with a mirror was a wonderful idea, encouraging infants to play peek-a-boo with themselves.

Ears, Nose & Toes! is an even smaller book for the same age range. It comes with a sturdy stroller strap so it is easy to take anywhere, and it helps infants’ self-identification by juxtaposing amusing drawings of cartoon animals with photos of children. This means, for example, “two ears” on a smiling blue elephant on the left, and the same words with a smiling child on the right.

Very slightly older babies, from about six months of age, are the intended audience for the other two books in this set of new releases. The World Around Me features cleverly designed, unusually sturdy wheels that a parent (and later a growing child) can turn to find things out. For example, on a page showing a cutaway view of a piggy bank, the question is, “What color are my coins?” Turning the wheel reveals yellow, red or blue coins – with the color spelled out elsewhere on the page (a useful arrangement as kids get older). Similarly, a page shows cookies in different shapes, and turning the wheel reveals a star, circle and triangle. Who Lives in the Rainforest? uses flaps instead of wheels – in equally clever ways. A left-hand page tells a child that elephants have big, floppy ears; on the right is the question, “Do you see big, floppy ears behind the bushes?” – and they are in fact visible. Open the flap and…there’s the whole elephant! Tigers’ stripes, bright butterfly colors and more – all are first hinted at, then revealed by opening a flap. This is a very clever, highly involving approach that can help babies develop hand-eye coordination (to turn wheels or pull flaps) while teaching them about everyday items and about animals. There are lots more books like these to come – 50 are planned – and if they are all of this quality and are this lacking in overt commercialism, they have the potential to become superb entry points to reading for a whole new generation.

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