Board Books 2012: What Works. What Doesn’t.
I’ve become a bit of a board book connoisseur in my old age. While my cohorts are reading speculative YA fiction and high end narrative nonfiction I’ve been getting up close and personal with books that have pages that can double as coasters. Aside from realizing just how difficult the darn things are to write (darn hard, she said cleanly) I’ve noticed that board books just don’t get a lot of credit on the interwebs. There are no board book blogs. No board book Goodreads Groups. No hashtags for #boardbooklove or #boardbookwarrior (there are hashtags for #bbforever but they have nothing to do with titles for tots). With all this in mind, I think there’s room enough in the universe for a post about some of the board books we’ve seen this year so far and what they have in their favor. Cause when you read something 500 times, you’re either going to go insane or you’ll internalize it to the point where it’s the most fascinating thing you’ve ever read. In the latter (or is it former?) category:
Bizzy Bear: Off We Go by Benji Davies – So here’s the deal with Bizzy Bear. On the outset, I wasn’t impressed. I got some of these books sent to me by Candlewick and give them this sort of cursory glance. They star a bear. He’s British (a fact you’ll notice in a couple of the driving scenes). The most striking thing seemed to be that you could move things or lift things with these strangely sturdy little circle cut outs in various pictures. So I brought some home for the small fry and didn’t think much of it. Fast forward three months and I’m part of the unofficial Yanks for Bizzy Bear Fan Club. I can even pinpoint where the change of heart occurred. It all comes down to Bizzy Bear: Off We Go. The plot, such as it is, concerns our titular bear as he hops a cab to a train to a plane to a vacation where he rounds out the story with a lovely lass he must have picked up mere moments after arriving (well played, bear). I read this book quite a few times, impressed with its ability to stand up to a baby’s beating. There must be some superior form of cardboard at work on this puppy since Bizzy take a licking and keeps on ticking. But it really wasn’t until we got to an image of a roundabout that my mind was blown.
The set-up shows a little roundabout with traffic moving. There are trees on the left and right sides of the roundabout and the traffic sort of disappears under them. Turn a little wheel on the right and the traffic circles around the roundabout. Simple, no? I’m ashamed to say that it probably took me thirty-some readings of this book before I realized something strange. Normally when a baby book contains wheels that turn n’ such the characters appear rightside up and then upside down. It’s a circle, after all. Not so with Bizzy Bear. By some miracle of modern construction there must be two separate wheels at work that make it so that the characters never appear upside down. It has been all I could do to keep from tearing my child’s beloved book into shreds in order to figure out what the internal logistics where of something that many parents won’t even notice. All the books in the series work (and, thanks to their poundability, are perfect for library collections) but this is the one that truly has my heart. Head over to There’s a Book and you can see a video of some kids putting Bizzy Bear through his paces.
Hippopposites by Janik Coat – I’ve written once before about the strange proliferation of French names in the American board book market. When I received Hippopposites in the mail I wasn’t sure if Janik Coat was necessarily French as well. So it was that I picked it up and started reading it to the small Bird. It’s certainly fun with a rather blocky red hippo appearing as all kinds of opposites. There are touch and feel elements included and it’s a nice big size. However, it wasn’t until we got to a certain two-page spread that my husband called out from the other part of the apartment “Is that book French?” You see at one point the hippo sits there, plain as all get out with the word “free”. On the opposing page it is in a small cage and the word says “caged”. It is, admittedly, a rather French concept. Say this like Godard: “We are free . . . we are caged.” Sure as shooting, Coat’s French. The book is also the first I’ve seen to use a kind of burlap inside as one of the textures. Mind you, not everything is an actual opposite. The opposite of “front” isn’t “side” no matter how funny the visual image in the book might be. You see? That’s the kind of thing a person begins to notice after a while.
Moo by Matthew Van Fleet – Slowly but surely we are growing a Van Fleet arsenal. A fleet of Fleets. With their huge spines it’s only a matter of time before all books in our home are discarded in favor of the next Van Fleet title. The latest book from the master of the touch-and-feel genre is Moo. If you’ve seen his other animal-related titles then you’ll have a vague sense of this one. Simple rhymes show various farm animals grouped by type. Pigs on one two-page spread, cows on another. Because they’re photographs they’re excellent at showing what ducks or sheep or horses actually look like. Ideally, you wouldn’t hand this to a baby. An older kid will get a kick out of a lot of this but the small Bird is, curiously, far more interested in the parts you can make move than the touchable points. The rhymes don’t always work (“stretch” rhymes with “peck”, “butt” with “up”, etc.) but that’s not the lure. The photos are the lure and there’s this section where a guy is milking a cow and a cat is catching the spray that the baby likes fine but that I personally could watch for hours on end. Awesome.
Noodle Loves the Beach by Marion Billet – Like Bizzy Bear, Noodle is a Noisy Crow import. And like Bizzy, I wasn’t putting much stock into Noodle at first. That is, before my 10-month-old decided that Noodle was clearly the long lost sister/brother she never knew (Noodle is apparently genderless, though I suppose the swim trunks are a kind of a giveaway) and that she would adore these books above all others. The beach title in the series is amusing because it is at this point that Noodle, who pretty much loves anything you hand him/her, shows a marked preference for weird feeling foods. This is one of those books that employs sticky technology. We didn’t have this when I was a kid. When I was a child if you wanted to feel something sticky you plunged your hand in a jar of jam and were content with that. These days, though, things are getting sticky. The Van Fleets (both Matthew and Mara) like to use it and Noodle’s a fan as well. When you discover the “sticky peach” in this book you will be shocked to find that your fingers actually do stick fast to the darn thing. Can’t say it’ll be too great for circulation (our personal peach at this point is certainly of the “fuzzy” variety by now, ew ew) but I’ll credit it with this much. 500 times I’ve read this thing and the darn peach is still sticky.
Baby Loves Spring by Karen Katz – I’ve mentioned this before but insofar as I can tell if Karen Katz were to walk in my front door right now my baby would abandon me as her mother and embrace Ms. Katz as her true lifelong companion. And why not? The woman perfected the art of the lift-the-flap. I’ve noticed that the small Bird has a marked preference for Katz books where you lift something and see a face in some way, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t enjoy the new “Baby Loves” series coming out. Baby Loves Spring shows the regular springlike things out there a baby might encounter. I’ll have a devil of a time explaining to the offspring someday why frogs say “Ga-dunk” in The Noisy Counting book but say “Croak” in this one, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Pantone: Colors by Pantone – I guess SLJ had a good point when it said of this book that “while many of the names are interesting, some are confusing. ‘Lemon yellow,’ ‘daffodil yellow,’ etc., are fine, but ‘soap orange,’ ‘pillow purple,’ ‘apron blue,’ ‘Grandma gray,’ etc., seem just random.” I see where they’re coming from but I’ve noticed that the color blue is the bane of the color-based board book. Coming up with blue objects that don’t all use the word “blue” in their names is difficult. You’re fine at first with your blue jays, blue birds, blue jeans, blueberries, and blue sky. After that it starts to get difficult and weirdo color combos are called upon (that’s where you get things like “apron blue”). This particular book is eye-catching and though I admit that it just looks like they took some shades from the color wheel, slapped ’em on the pages and called it a day, they’re well done. The size is nice and the pages easy to turn.
Trains Go by Steve Light – I’m not actually going to talk about this one since I plan on reviewing it. Long story short, it’s amazing. My favorite board book of this year so far.
Are You a Cow? by Sandra Boynton – Board books are nothing new to this woman and generally speaking she’s sort of a master of the form. Even without baby faces or touch and feel elements (generally) her books have a way of capturing even a pre-toddler’s interest. With the exception of Doggies I think we’ve worked our way through every Boynton and darned if she isn’t making more all the time. Are You a Cow? continues to show off her newfound love for computer coloring, of which I do not approve. It also contains an ending that sounds more like a greeting card than a Boynton book. Granted the woman got her start with greeting cards, but it’s strange to me that she’d turn back to that format after all these years. Better that you should read the also relatively recent Happy Hippo, Angry Duck. Now there’s a book with class.
Cradle Me by Debby Slier – Finally, a face book. Star Bright Books has done a heckuva job with diversity in their board books lately. Last year’s My Face Book was particularly well done, showing a child with down syndrome amongst all the other kids. And Babies, Babies! by Debby Slier is unique because without making a big point about it, all the children in this book are African-American. Cradle Me is one of the more interesting titles, featuring different tribes of Native American babies with their own distinct cradle boards. One of these babies could be seen in the previously published board book Global Babies where she looked particularly grumpy. She’s not much cheerier here and indeed most of the babies in the book seem kinda dour at first. That’s probably a lot to do with how young they are. The back of the book explains each tribe that each child is from, which was good. More to the point, the small fry in my household is gaga over this book. She’ll read it on her own if you hand it to her and that, as far as I’m concerned, is the mark of a good book. Best of all, it has the Debbie Reese seal of approval.
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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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