April 23, 2009


Pajama Mamas. By Kate Spohn. Random House. $4.99.

Momnesia: A Humorous Guide to Surviving Your Post-Baby Brain. By Shannon Payette Seip & Adrienne Hedger. Andrews McMeel. $12.99.

The Wonderful Man. By Edward Monkton. Andrews McMeel. $9.99.

I See Stupid People and They Are Getting on My Last Nerve! By Cheryl Caldwell. Andrews McMeel. $9.99.

     A revelation: when board books grow up, they become…gift books! Short, small-format books for the youngest children that convey basic emotions and information become short, small-format, easy-to-read books that convey expressions of concern and a little humor to lighten the toils of everyday adult life.

     If you doubt this, start with the lovely Pajama Mamas board book by Kate Spohn to get an idea of the basics of this form of expression. Here are mothers and babies in matching or complementary bedtime clothing, with very simple six-word statements for each mom-and-baby pair. For example, one right-hand page says, “Strum strum Mama,” opposite a picture of a mother playing a guitar; open the right-hand page – the entire page is a flap – and you see baby smilingly sleeping, with the words, “Hum hum baby.” Another right-hand page says, “Happy hug Mama,” opposite a picture of a mom in flowered pajamas holding a baby whose nightcap sprouts antennae; again, open the flap that is the right-hand page, and there is blissful baby with the words, “Happy bug baby.” This is a gentle and lovely little bedtime book for ages 2-4.

     But how about a book for the moms? Well, that’s where the grown-up version of a board book comes in, in the form of Shannon Payette Seip and Adrienne Hedger’s Momnesia. There’s a lot more text here than in a board book for babies, but not too much, because women with momnesia wouldn’t be able to follow all those words – so allege the authors. In fact, when “a mommy with momnesia attempts to explain momnesia,” she rouses herself from exhaustion only long enough to get distracted from the topic. The authors, whose previous work was a humorous book about breastfeeding, remind moms that even if a baby has taken “your brain, your milk, and all your time,” at least he or she hasn’t taken the hairdresser’s phone number, Internet connection or extra-strength Tylenol (but just wait until that baby gets older!). Unfortunately, Seip and Hedger point out that babies do not take your credit-card debt, upper-leg cellulite or premature gray hairs. Throughout this little book, using bright colors, engaging design and amusing illustrations (as any good board book should), the authors offer ideas about “what to do if you start crying in public for no logical reason,” “times when it’s good to be in a fog,” and “times not to fall asleep,” and they provide multi-cartoon-panel looks at nights and mornings in Mommyland, plus a couple of pages of “proof you were once smart.” No flaps here, but women with momnesia would probably just tear them out anyway, then wonder where they came from.

     Even closer in appearance to board books for adults – they are just about the same size as most board books for kids – are The Wonderful Man and I See Stupid People. The first of these could make a good companion for (or antidote to) Momnesia. It is the latest little gift book from “Edward Monkton” – pen name of British poet Giles Andreae – and includes his usual mixture of uplift and fairy-tale silliness. The man of the title is just an ordinary male, not a with-it singer or built-up beach bum or wealthy limousine owner with “a ladyfriend with overly large BREASTS and overly tight outfits.” The ordinary man is one thing those other people are not, though: he is nice, and that includes being nice to the very people who are not nice to him. And so he is rejected, reviled and abandoned by the world – just kidding! This is a Monkton book! What happens is that “small WISPS” of the ordinary man’s niceness – that is, NICENESS – spread “like seeds in the wind” and cause “twinges of NICENESS” in the impressive-but-not-nice people, who become so happy with their changed natures that they call the ordinary man “The WONDERFUL Man.” Hey…it’s a fairy tale. It will be a little too one-dimensional and silly to please either ordinary or impressive men, but it’s cute enough and well-meaning enough for a (+++) rating.

     I See Stupid People gets a (+++) rating as well. It is an often-clever rant about the office and work in general, with delightfully ragged illustrations, but Cheryl Caldwell does not seem to realize how cliché-ridden her writing frequently is: “”How can I miss you if you won’t go away?” “I’ll help you out. Which way did you come in?” Luckily, not all her writing is like that. “You inquire about [co-workers’] lives: So when’s the Wizard going to get back to you about that brain?” “Some people are like Slinkies – not really good for much, but you can’t help but smile when you see one tumble down the stairs.” On balance, I See Stupid People is childish and petulant and sometimes very funny – sort of an anti-board book, or a testament to how inadequate the niceness of children’s board books can be for adults confronted with the everyday pressures that grown-ups face.

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