August 11, 2016


You Are My Cupcake. By Joyce Wan. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $12.99.

I Love Hugs and Kisses. By Sandra Magsamen. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $7.99.

How Do Dinosaurs Go to Sleep? By Jane Yolen. Illustrations by Mark Teague. Blue Sky Press/Scholastic. $6.99.

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Bell! By Lucille Colandro. Illustrated by Jared Lee. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $6.99.

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Turkey! By Lucille Colandro. Illustrated by Jared Lee. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $6.99.

     It is never too early to get kids interested in reading, or at least in the concept of books as sources of enjoyment. That is a large part of what board books are all about – yet even they are not designed for the very youngest babies. For an age group that might be called pre-pre-readers, there are some truly adorable cloth books, basically book-shaped toys that they can crush and hug and hold and cuddle and, oh yes, open and shut just like books – and can hear read aloud to give them their first taste of the notion of words, pages and stories. Joyce Wan’s You Are My Cupcake is a delicious (sorry about that) example of this subgenre of kids’ books. On the cover, the book’s title is also the first line of the text, and Wan’s illustration shows a very simple, broadly smiling cupcake with multicolored dots sprinkled on top. The next page has the words “my sticky little gumdrop” and a picture of a smiling purple gumdrop – speaking of which, parents will be happy to know that the cloth book wipes clean with a damp cloth when a child inevitably falls in love with it and cannot resist gumming or teething on it. Then come the words “my mushy little sweet pea,” with a smiling yellow pea peeking (or pea-king) out of a green peapod. And then “my oven-baked cutie pie” with, yes, a pie, whose crust is all smiles and whose whipped topping looks a lot like a swirl of a baby’s hair. One more page turn, and there is the back cover, with the words, “Baby, I could just eat you up!” And the picture here is again of the happy cupcake, now with a slightly different expression. So few words, such simple pictures, and yet there is clearly a story of sorts here – one that the very youngest potential readers will gravitate to immediately, even if the book itself doesn’t taste quite as good as the goodies Wan has created for it.

     Board books get slightly more complicated than this, but the ones for the littlest children have much the same theme. Sandra Magsamen’s I Love Hugs and Kisses simply gives an example of the former on each left-hand page and the latter on each right-hand one, with suitably snuggly pictures. “Hug me when we’re in the car,” the book starts out; “kiss me when we’re under a star,” it continues. The first page shows big and little foxes, the second big and little frogs, none of the animals being at all realistic but all of them being doggone cute. Later pages feature owls, ducks, monkeys, pandas, bears, and rabbits, each time in large-and-small pairs and each time hugging or kissing – with red hearts decorating every picture. Simple to page through and fun to read to a very young child, I Love Hugs and Kisses is made sturdily enough so kids can grab and play with it – which they will want to do because of the cover, which features a panda with a big smile and fun-to-touch ears and arms made of felt. The cover identifies this eight-inch-square volume as a “heart-felt” book, which it certainly is both in theme and in cover design.

     Some smaller-size board books go farther into storyland and feature a lot more words. The Jane Yolen/Mark Teague How Do Dinosaurs Go to Sleep? is only six inches across and seven inches top to bottom, but it is packed with words – not only in Yolen’s rhyming story but also in the accurate labeling of the dinosaurs that Teague draws with such expertise here and in other entries in this delightful and unusual series. This really is a sequence unlike any other, using accurately rendered dinosaurs to stand in for kids being disobedient early in each book and behaving properly later on. Yolen reasonably asks whether a dinosaur, at bedtime, will “stay in the closet?/ Behind a closed door?” And there we have the very toothy, highly horned head of a wide-eyed estemmenosuchus peeking out of the closet. Yolen asks whether bedtime is the time to scream “NO NO NO!” at one’s mother, and Teague shows a brilliant-yellow, blue-striped, birdlike enigmosaurus doing just that (and disobediently pointing a claw at mom, too). A few pages later, though, in the “proper behavior” part of the book, there is a hilarious picture of a Tyrannosaur-like majungasaurus about to use one of its very small forelimbs to brush a great many teeth – using a teeny-tiny (definitely child-size) toothbrush. Still later there is an in-bed picture of “bear on his left side,/ and cat on his right,” which happens to feature a dragon-like sauropelta looking lovingly at the stuffed animals. The disparity between the huge, fierce-looking dinosaurs and their human parents and surroundings is what gives all the books in this series so much visual interest. Kids who do not yet know these books can start with any one of them, and are sure to want more of what they get in How Do Dinosaurs Go to Sleep?

     Other multi-book series are somewhat less inventive – fun in their own way, but a bit overdone. Lucille Colandro’s There Was an Old Lady… sequence is amusing enough as it revisits, updates and plays around with the old song about the old lady who swallowed a fly (and many other things) and “perhaps she’ll die.” No one ever dies in Colandro’s books, neither the old lady nor all the creatures she consumes and inevitably disgorges at each book’s conclusion. The latest of these books have holiday themes  but otherwise follow the expected formula. There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Bell! was originally published in 2006 and is now available as a board book. There is never really any mystery as to why the old lady is swallowing the bell and some bows and some presents and a gigantic sack – one reason these books are not quite as intriguing as some others for this age group and get (+++) ratings. Much of the fun here is in Jared Lee’s always-appropriate illustrations, which get especially amusing in this volume when the old lady swallows a sleigh (Lee needs two pages to show that bit of consumption). Colandro’s text is more uneven than Lee’s pictures, the words often lacking rhythm and meter and not always offering particularly clever rhymes: “There was an old lady who swallowed some reindeer./ They were in full flight gear, those soaring reindeer.” The Christmas theme of the book will make it enjoyable for kids, though, and Colandro wisely avoids having the old lady swallow Santa – he simply waits for her to give him a ride in the sleigh she has just coughed up. Kids who already enjoy this series will have fun with its holiday orientation here – and will also enjoy the Thanksgiving-focused There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Turkey! This one is not a board book, but text and illustrations are right at board-book level, and it is easy to imagine a board-book version showing up at some point. What is important to note here is that the old lady does not eat a turkey: she swallows a turkey, which remains very much alive and eventually emerges from the old lady’s stomach along with everything else that has been swallowed (a football, a huge balloon in the shape of the old lady’s ever-present and long-suffering dog, a rowboat, and more). As usual, Lee’s exuberant illustrations make up for some of the deficiencies of the text: “There was an old lady who swallowed a horn of plenty./ She could’ve swallowed twenty horns of plenty.” Kids looking forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas will find these seasonal offerings enjoyable if they have already made the old lady’s acquaintance and are curious about just what she will swallow next, and how she will look when doing it.

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