Review of the Day: Books Are For Reading by Suzy Becker
If you are a children’s librarian then you know that aside from cheaply bound Captain Underpants paperbacks and all too popular series titles the number one item that needs to be regularly replaced in a library is the baby board book. They get gross fast, and that’s the long and short of the matter. Between the gumming and the gnawing, babies love nothing better than sticking books in their mouths. It’s how they appreciate the world. In fact, there is a lot of support to the theory that if you present children with board books from teething age on up, they will have early happy associations with books due, in no small part, to the titles they chewed on in their first few years. Board book technology has also improved a lot since I was a drooling chomper in short pants. It used to be that babies were given books like Pat the Bunny with its sharp corners and finger pinching spine. Now board books have thick sturdy pages and rounded corners. Such corners are an irresistible invite to babies, though. Imagine if you could fashion a book that acknowledged the realistic fact that baby like to chew on their literature. Enter Books Are For Eating Reading. Author/illustrator Suzy Becker (All I Need to Know I Learned from My Cat) has put together a book who’s very design is meant to aid babies and their active little mouths.
The image on the cover says it all. There sits a well pleased baby, taking a bite out of the very book you now hold in your hand. Inside the baby is given a series of general rules. “Books are for reading, not eating. Crayons are for writing, not biting. Feet are for stomping, not chomping.” And so on. The baby who is being informed of all this is singularly unconcerned by any of it, which is not surprising. As for the actual book itself, it is designed with a chewy upper right red corner and an equally chewy lower blue corner. A large hole in the upper left hand corner makes for easy grabbing by even the smallest hands. Clearly author/illustrator Suzy Becker has thought this thing through.
I get a lot of parents in my library asking for “tactile” baby books. Generally that means that they’re looking for something fuzzy or furry. Maybe something with a lift-the-flap aspect to it. I have never had a parent who says, “Give me something my baby can chew on,” because in the public library that would be considered poor etiquette. Board books operate under a sort of don’t ask, don’t tell policy. You won’t tell us if your infants attempted to devour our books for long periods of time, and we won’t ask why you returned to us a book dripping with baby spit. If we’re going to be realistic, however, then we need to acknowledge that child chewing is part of the deal. So why not include a book in the library that accepts the reality of the situation right from the start? Oh, I understand that it would probably be a good idea if libraries made the sterilization of this book a regular chore, but that’s not even difficult. When the book is returned just remember to give it an anti-bacterial wipedown and there you go. Another tiny, satisfied customer.
The true children’s book reviewer tests every possible aspect of the book before them. So I admit it. I chewed on this book. I mean how could I resist? Those chewy red and blue corner were just calling to me. I was an unapologetic chewer as a child too. I slept on a bunk bed at night and the wood of the headboard is probably to this day scarred with the tiny imprints of my front two teeth (amusingly spaced for maximum enjoyment). So to get a chance to chew on a book in the course of my research was key. Mind you, if I was going for complete accuracy I suppose I would have had all my teeth removed and then try to see how well my gnawing went, but we’ll just have to take the presence of canines and incisors in my mouth as a handicap. Now the red corner on the top is designed with a dotted pattern that gives the chewing experience a bit of pleasant texture it might lack otherwise. There was a bit of a squeaky sound problem when I chewed on it directly, but one must assume that my 30-year-old jaws were more to blame than the material. As for the blue corner on the lower right-hand side, I experienced no such sound problems. The thick wavy pattern also meant that it offered maximum biting potential. Babies, I recommend that you skip the red and move straight to the blue. No need to waste your time.
There is only one confusing design aspect to this book that will keep the adult readers confused. Because the last line in this book is “Now go give Grandma a kiss good night,” it’s not immediately apparent that this is the end of the story. In fact, it looks like three of the final pages are stuck together. They aren’t, as it happens. In fact they’re just there to keep the red and blue corners in place. But don’t be surprised if an overzealous grown-up or older sibling attempts to tear apart these “stuck” pages. It’s a little confusing and potentially damaging as well.
Reviewing board books is a difficult process and normally I avoid it like the plague. But years ago I had the pleasure of discovering Suzy Becker’s amazing picture book Manny’s Cows: The Niagara Falls Tale and I have been hoping against hope for a sequel or further publication from Ms. Becker ever since. Her illustrations in this particular book are just the right combination of seeming simplicity and fun design. The baby wears nine different colored outfits in the course of the story, all presented in clear cut watercolors and thick black outlines. The right art for the right product.
I don’t think I could have predicted this kind of book, but I’m delighted to have found it. If you have never heard of a wry baby board book before, this is probably one of the first. Delightfully chewy, remarkably funny, and just a thorough delight through and through this is a necessary addition to any new baby’s cribside collection. Be sure to give it a nibble of your own just to see what I’m talking about. Great stuff.
On shelves now.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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