A Farewell Ode to Board Books

March 5, 2020 § 5 Comments

We are packing up our house to move out for a renovation project. Which means I can no longer ignore the board books still on our shelves, even though my kids, at nine and twelve, are long past paging through them. Only the most beloved of our stash are left, with their faded covers and frayed edges (wait, are those bite marks?). I suppose it is finally time to retire them to a box in the attic, where they’ll sit optimistically until a time when little ones might once again grace our home.

And still. Picking up these books takes me right back to the days of spit up and babble and hair pulling and cuddles so delicious I wondered how I’d ever been happy before. To days when I was so exhausted, I feared I wouldn’t rise to get my screaming infant from her crib. Reading these books to my children sometimes felt like my only lifeline to sanity. A time when a squirming child would succumb to my lap; when the call of laundry and dishes would fade; when alongside my child, I could ride on the back of a rhyme or escape into a picturesque barnyard where everything seemed ordered and wonderful.

There were also those times when one child would be playing in the next room, and the sounds of wooden drums and plastic trucks would suddenly stop; and I’d peek in to see a mess of books, with little hands turning pages and the sweetest voice singing out remembered phrases. Like watching my heart beat outside my body.

So, before I pack up these treasures, stamped indelibly on my heart, I thought I’d bid farewell to a few specific titles, in case you haven’t happened upon them in your own quest for sanity.

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2019 Gift Guide: For The Littlest Ones

December 3, 2019 § 2 Comments

The three and under set doesn’t get a lot of love on the blog these days, probably because my own kids are aging so darn quickly. But that’s no excuse. These early years are where we plant the seeds in our children for a love of stories. Plus, if you’re anything like me, these early years are when books sometimes feel like our only lifeline to sanity: no matter how much we’ve been spit up on or yelled at, falling under the spell of a story alongside our little one makes us feel like all is right with the world. If you do have a toddler, be sure to follow me on Instagram; that’s where I first reviewed many of these and where you’ll see more.

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Rethinking Mother Goose

April 30, 2013 § 3 Comments

Mother GooseA customer once said to me, “Nursery rhymes are what parents used to have to read before better books were written.” A bit harsh, maybe, but there was a time when I could very much relate to this sentiment. With my firstborn, I quickly passed up Mother Goose in favor of reading him plot-driven stories featuring animals (my choice) or construction vehicles (his choice) or Richard Scarry (our compromise).

But then my daughter was born and my opinion of these verses—albeit old-fashioned, nonsensical, and odd—changed. Emily was born with an ear for music; she hears a song once and weeks later she’s belting out a bastardized version from her bed. Early on, her musical predisposition translated to reading material. The two Mother Goose board books on our shelves, whose spines were barely cracked by her brother, became Emily’s prized possessions (the better of the two being Tomie dePaola’s Tomie’s Little Mother Goose).

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January’s Birthday Pick

January 8, 2013 § 1 Comment

I Took the Moon for a WalkFor this month’s birthday pick, I’m doing something a little different: 1) I’m focusing on the youngest ages for a change; 2) I’ve chosen not one but two books (which make a perfect pairing); and 3) I’m encouraging you to throw caution to the wind and take a chance on books that aren’t brand new but are commonly unknown.

In short, the next time you are headed to a birthday party for a one or two year old, you’re in luck. I Took the Moon for a Walk (Ages 1-4) and Listen, Listen (Ages 1-4) are both illustrated by the supremely talented Alison Jay, whose praises I have sung here before. With their over-sized 9” by 9” format, these hefty board books mirror another favorite by Jay, her ABC: A Child’s First Alphabet Book (which tends to be well known and for good reason: it may just be the best alphabet book ever illustrated).

Alison Jay’s books are the ultimate gift. Packed with hidden surprises, layered with detail, and shimmering in vivid colors underneath a “crackle” finish, Jay’s paintings beg to be poured over again and again.

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With Babies, It’s All in the Delivery

June 22, 2012 § 1 Comment

When you’re reading aloud to babies and toddlers, never discount the Performance Factor. I’ve always considered myself a fairly compelling read-aloud-er when it comes to young audiences (I’ve presided over my fair share of story times at my old store in Chicago), but I’ll admit to being humbled the first time I attended story time with my infant daughter at Hooray for Books!, our fabulous independent bookstore here in Alexandria, VA. These bookstore gals can really hold their own against a crowd of antsy toddlers—and they do so by throwing their own inhibitions to the wind, while invoking no shortage of funny voices, animated gestures, and ad lib phrases.

Before I became a regular at these events, I had never given much thought to Lucy Cousins’ Hooray For Fish! (Ages 6 mos-2 yrs), a board book about a Little Fish who meets and greets all kinds of crazy-looking fish before swimming back to his Mommy Fish. Sure, I’ve always appreciated Cousins’ child-accessible art style: her colorful, loosely-decorated fish, coarsely outlined in black, look as if they came from the hand of a child. But, if I’m honest, the subject of fish doesn’t rank terribly high on my excitement meter (give me a farm animal any day); and I can’t say my son ever cared much for Hooray for Fish! when I read it to him on a plane trip down to Florida when he was one.

But now, four years later, listening to it being read aloud by a bookseller who has obvious passion for made-up fish names like “gripy fish” and “ele-fish” and “twin fin-fin fish,” I realize that it’s all in the delivery. And, being the mindful student that I am, I’m proud to say that I have now adopted the necessary flair this book requires; lo and behold, it is now one of my daughter’s favorites. We both wave enthusiastically each time Little Fish says “Hello” to a new fish; we take our fingers and trace the spiral that is “shelly fish”; we make our scariest faces for “scary fish”; we cover our heads for “shy fish” and flap our fins like “fly fish.”

But the finale is where we break out all the stops: “Where’s the one I love the best, even more than all the rest? [turn page with exaggerated suspense] Hello, Mom. Hello, Little Fish. [more excited waving] Kiss, kiss, kiss, hooray for fish! [throw arms up in air and cover each other with kisses].” Hooray for books that make us adults remember that being silly is a sure way to get undivided attention from our little ones.

Other Favorites That Can Be Dramatically Read Aloud to Little Ones:
Cows in the Kitchen, by Arlie Anderson (Ages 6 mos-2 yrs)
Clip-Clop, by Nikola Smee (Ages 9 mos-2 yrs)
What Shall We Do with the Boo Hoo Baby?, by Cressida Cowell & Ingrid Godon (Ages 9 mos-2 yrs)
Barnyard Dance!, by Sandra Boynton (Ages 9 mos-2 yrs)
Dinosaur vs. Bedtime, by Bob Shea (Ages 1-3)
Little Blue Truck, by Alice Schertle & Jill McElmurry (Ages 1-3)
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, by Helen Oxenbury (Ages 1-4)

Make Way for “Hippopposites”

June 13, 2012 Comments Off on Make Way for “Hippopposites”

If there was ever a children’s book destined for the Museum of Modern Art, this would be it. Until then, Janik Coat’s newly published Hippopposites (Ages 18 mos-5 yrs) will find a perfect home alongside the Oeuf cribs and Tripp Trapp Chairs of today’s urban nurseries. From the thick oversized board pages, finished in an ultra high gloss, to the bold die-cut silhouettes, this book is a tour de force in graphic design. But artistic achievement aside, what impressed me most when I encountered this gem on the shelves of my local bookstore is: FINALLY, a book that actually teaches the concept of opposites. There are lots of fun rhyming read-alouds that make use of opposites to tell their stories (see my list below), but they’re equal part silliness. Until now, I’m going to bet that kids have never mastered their opposites from reading books. Enter Hippopposites, where on each double spread, two hippos are contrasted with a simple text word beneath each one; props and background scenery are used sparingly, providing just the right amount of detail to get the point across. The usual suspects are touched on in the early pages: “small” versus “large” (with the first hippo miniaturized next to a skyscraper); and “light” versus “dark” (with the second almost completely obscured by a black background). But we quickly advance into more exciting territory, with “thin” versus “thick” (denoted by the width of the silhouetted line), “opaque” versus “transparent,” “dotted” versus “striped,” “invisible” versus “visible,” and “alone” versus “together” (in this last pairing, the only difference is that the hippo in the second picture has a bird perched on its back). The book’s artsy publisher, Abrams, doesn’t miss an opportunity for some seriously cool touch-and-feel action: the “soft” versus “rough” page makes use of delicate pink chenille and a woven burlap sack. Don’t let the board book format fool you: this book will hold its own with older preschoolers, introducing concepts like “squared” versus “rounded,” as well as “left” versus “right.” Now if I could only pry the book out of my husband’s hands, I could actually read it to my children…

Other Favorites With Opposites (albeit of the goofier, less educational sort):
Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox (Ages 1-3)
Big Little and Quiet Loud, by Leslie Patricelli (Ages 1-3)
Go Dog Go, by P.D. Eastman (Ages 2-4)

A Chomp Through Berryland

May 20, 2012 § 1 Comment

Today’s excursion to pick strawberries at Shlagel Farm in Maryland was the perfect excuse to break out an old favorite: Jamberry (Ages 1-3), by Bruce Degen. Not that we need an excuse to read this rollicking rhyme of a boy and a bear romping through fields and down streams on a quest for every kind of berry. But as the kids and I were filling our buckets with the plumpest, juiciest strawberries I’ve ever tasted, our fingers and shirts and mouths stained red, I couldn’t help but hear in my head: “Three berry/ Four berry/ Hayberry/ Strawberry/ Finger and pawberry/ My berry, your berry/ Strawberry ponies/ Strawberry lambs/ Dancing in meadows/ Of strawberry jam.” We didn’t encounter any strawberry lambs (although there were goats and some very vocal chickens), and my children are likely to eat all the strawberries before I get a chance to make them into jam, but the spirit of the book was very much alive as we chomped our way through the farm. Our excitement continued to build, as we got deeper into the patch, launching ourselves into uncharted territory wherein (as we imagined it) lay the biggest berries. Bruce Degen escalates his rhyme, too, taking it further into the realm of the fantastical and the silly: the boy and the bear fill a train with blackberries, then ride it to Berryland, where they dance alongside a jazz band of rabbits, watch elephants skate on raspberry jam, and finally lift off in a hot air balloon propelled by a giant boysenberry. “Mountains and fountains/ Rain down on me/ Buried in berries/ What a jam jamboree!” Indeed.
Don’t Miss My Other Favorite Berry-Picking Book:
Blueberries for Sal, by Robert McCloskey

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