January 09, 2014


A Book of Babies. By Il Sung Na. Knopf. $15.99.

Little Frog’s Tadpole Trouble. By Tatyana Feeney. Knopf. $16.99.

     Playful and endearing, Il Sung Na’s A Book of Babies is intended – well, for babies. Targeting children up to age three – a group usually reached with board books rather than oversize hardcovers like this one – the book is meant to be read by an adult, with Na’s pictures enjoyed by the child as he or she listens to the simple story of animal parents with their new babies. The animals are drawn anthropomorphically, with human-like gestures and expressions, although Na’s text mostly gives accurate scientific information about them. For example, when it comes to babies, the text points out, “some can walk right away” – and the illustration shows adult zebras with a baby. “Some are carried in their mommy’s pouch,” writes Na, showing a kangaroo mom smiling at her wide-eye joey. “Some are carried in their daddy’s pouch,” Na adds, showing a seahorse family – portrayed in an unrealistic but very pleasant rainbow of colors. The book ends at the end of all the baby animals’ “very first day,” as all settle down to rest. A Book of Babies is a pleasant foray into the animal kingdom, showing very young children creatures born with fur (polar bears) and scales (lizards, shown – inaccurately – with the mother lizard tending the hatchlings), in a nest (ducklings) or in water (fish), and giving parents a chance to introduce very young children to books as well as to non-human infants.

     Na comments that the fish in her book “have lots of brothers and sisters,” and that is precisely the issue in Tatyana Feeney’s Little Frog’s Tadpole Trouble. This book, for the slightly older age range of 2-5, features the same sensibility and simple, amusing drawings found in Feeney’s Small Bunny’s Blue Blanket and Little Owl’s Orange Scarf. The primary color in Feeney’s new book is, of course, green, although it is not mentioned in the title; even the text is green – but bits of red enliven the otherwise all-green illustrations in some very clever ways. Little Frog and his parents really do not look like frogs at all, except in the vaguest way; but that scarcely matters in a book that features Little Frog jumping rope, playing a drum set and otherwise doing all sorts of un-froggy things. The topic of the book is only frog-related on a superficial level: the subject is the difficulty inherent in becoming a big sibling. Little Frog is happy that the family consists only of himself and his parents, but then he learns that he is about to become the big brother of nine – count them, nine – tadpoles. And he is not happy, since the only thing the tadpoles do is “take up all of Mommy’s and Daddy’s time.” Busy Mommy cannot read a bedtime story to Little Frog, and infant-focused Daddy cannot give him a good-night kiss, because of those “stupid tadpoles,” as Little Frog calls them. But Daddy points out that Little Frog was once a tadpole himself, and the tadpoles will one day turn into frogs just like him – and sure enough, that is what happens, so that Little Frog soon enough finds himself with “nine new playmates,” to whom he is “the best big brother.” This is an even bigger simplification of big-sibling-hood than is usual in kids’ books, but it works well for the targeted age range, and the illustrations are so amusingly silly that the message should go down easily. Little Frog’s Tadpole Trouble can be a wonderful book for a child who is destined to become a big brother or sister perhaps a little before he or she is quite ready to face the reality of what that means.

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