December 16, 2010


The Robot Book. By Heather Brown. Accord Publishing/Andrews McMeel. $16.99.

Stick to It: Pets—A Magnetic Puzzle Book. By Milena Kirkova and Jeff C. Cole. Accord Publishing/Andrews McMeel. $16.99.

     Books don’t come any cleverer than these two. Very simple words – texts so minimal that they almost fade into nonexistence – are combined with such delightful visual and tactile elements in both these books that even the youngest children will be absolutely entranced. Parents will, too: the books are participatory, not at all passive, and will stimulate kids’ cognitive abilities as well as their physical ones. The Robot Book harks back – not overtly, but in a way that all parents will recognize – to the Tin Man’s plea for a heart in The Wizard of Oz (both the L. Frank Baum book and the movie). Gorgeously created in three-dimensional, multicolored glory, Heather Brown’s book takes children through a robot’s body, part by part, with every page having something to lift, turn, move or rotate. The super-heavy cardboard pages show a robot’s gears, nuts and bolts, connectors and more – and everything slides up and down, moves back and forth, rotates, or otherwise invites kids to a hands-on delight. But that is not all: the book has a message, one that is simple and truly heartfelt. For Brown explains that, despite all the wondrous things on the outside of the robot, it is what’s inside that really counts – and the final page displays the robot’s heart, within which are three gears (one large and two small) that interlock, moving together as children turn any one of them. This is a book that young kids will want to explore again and again – and it is sturdy enough so they can do just that. Well crafted, well thought out and just, well, delightful, it makes a wonderful gift for any child who is just waking up to motor abilities and story comprehension.

     Stick to It: Pets is a great gift item, too, and it too challenges young children’s motor skills. It is both simpler and more complicated than The Robot Book – simpler because there is no story at all, only the names of various pets (cat, dog, hamster, turtle and so on); more complex because kids create the shape of each pet by attaching magnetic puzzle pieces to a graphic outline with a metallic core. Educationally aware parents will recognize what Milena Kirkova and Jeff C. Cole have done here: used the Tangrams concept in a new and very attractive way. Each two-page spread shows a picture of a particular pet – say, a fish – on one side, and a schematic of the same pet on the other side, indicating exactly what puzzle-piece shapes need to be placed in which position in order to assemble the “pet puzzle.” There are seven pets included in the book (the five already mentioned plus a rabbit and a parrot), but they are only the gateway to further magnetic enjoyment, because by the time children have worked their way through all the pages, they will likely start putting the magnetic pieces together in their own unique ways – creating blobs and geometrical shapes and (who knows?) maybe a whole different set of animals. Thus, Stick to It: Pets lets kids find out about shape placement and puzzle solving at their own pace, then move on (also at their own pace) to turn the magnetic pieces into whatever their own minds can imagine. Both this work and The Robot Book are tactile delights, wonderful to touch and feel and play with – and to look at, too. And unlike far too many gifts given to kids at this time of year, both should continue to interest children through and well past the holiday season.

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