April 24, 2008


Bow-Wow Hears Things. By Mark Newgarden & Megan Montague Cash. Red Wagon/Harcourt. $4.95.

Bow-Wow Attracts Opposites. By Mark Newgarden & Megan Montague Cash. Red Wagon/Harcourt. $4.95.

What’s Up, Duck? A Book of Opposites. By Tad Hills. Schwartz & Wade. $6.99.

Goodnight Moon 123: A Counting Book. Based on the book by Margaret Wise Brown. Pictures by Clement Hurd. HarperFestival. $8.99.

      Books for the youngest children – newborn to pre-kindergarten age – are at their best when there is more to them than sturdiness. The whole “board book” concept requires printing on heavy stock, usually in a size that is easy for small hands to hold, and with easy-to-understand pictures and simple text. The best board books, though, go beyond the basics to amuse, entertain and, ideally, teach very young children some real-world lessons – one of which, of course, is that books are a great source of enjoyment.

      The two new board books featuring Bow-Wow, the facially expressive but almost-silent dog whose adventures generally incorporate a touch of surrealism, will be as much fun for parents as for children, because their cleverness reaches across generational lines. Bow-Wow Hears Things is especially delightful, featuring the dog (on the right side of each page) facing a little bird (on the left) that keeps making inappropriate-for-a-bird sounds, from “honk” to “tick-tock” to “oink.” After each sound, Bow-Wow looks sternly at the bird, and the single word “no” appears on the page. It is only when, at last, the bird goes “peep” – so loudly that the page’s colors seem to explode – that Bow-Wow finally replies, “Woof.” Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash perfectly blend silly amusement with the simple lesson of what a bird and dog sound like. And for parents who know the famous RCA trademark showing a dog listening to an old-fashioned victrola (thinking he is hearing “his master’s voice”), the inside front and back covers present a Bow-Wow variation on that theme.

      Bow-Wow Attracts Opposites is almost equally good, although the word “attracts” is a trifle odd and may be hard to explain (in this context) to very young children. Here Bow-Wow chases the tail of a never-seen cat up and down, in and out, over and under, eventually losing his quarry when the cat goes indoors, leaving Bow-Wow sad. Then an amusing twist ending makes him happy – very happy indeed.

      Opposites are also the subject of What’s Up, Duck? (whose title will amuse parents who remember Bugs Bunny’s famous “what’s up, doc?” line, spoken in impeccable Brooklynese). Tad Hills here uses endearing characters from his delightful Duck & Goose and Duck, Duck, Goose to illustrate such concepts as front and back, loud and quiet, and near and far. The positions assumed by the avian characters are a big part of the fun here, as in the contrast between clean and dirty and the differing poses to illustrate heavy and light.

      Goodnight Moon 1-2-3: A Counting Book is the most advanced of this crop of board books, since counting is a skill not learned by some children until almost kindergarten age. In fact, this book is recommended for up to age five. It’s only for families that have made       Goodnight Moon a part of bedtime or storytime already, because there is no story here – just a series of illustrations of numbers one through 10, plus a page labeled “100” and showing stars, with all the pages using pictures taken from the original storybook. It can be fun to add this book to Goodnight Moon to create “counting playtime,” reading the book and finding the location within it of the objects used to illustrate counting – seven socks, for example, or nine red balloons. Kids who love Goodnight Moon will find it especially pleasant to use that book as a way to learn numbers – even at bedtime, since the board book ends with a quiet “Shhhhh” and a picture of a happily sleeping little bunny.

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