Grow Up!

by Nina Laden

Published by Chronicle Books

26 pages, 2003

The Lily-Pad Race

by Simon Morse

Published by Innovative Kids

8 pages, 2002

Billy Bunny

by Maurice Pledger

Published by Silver Dolphin

8 pages, 2002

Yo Baby!

by Roslyn Schwartz

Published by Annick Press

24 pages, 2002

C is for Coyote

by Andrea Helman

Published by Northland Publishing

32 pages, 2002



When Babies Read

Reviewed by Monica Stark


Fact: Babies can not read. No matter how bright, how advantaged, how advanced, I've never heard of a baby who climbed from the womb with one hand extended for a book; as interesting as that may be to contemplate.

Babies are, after all, simple little creatures. Barely -- just barely -- sentient. Sentience for them is a thing that grows. So they don't read and they certainly don't shop. Not on their own, at any rate. Zero buying power and not-quite-functioning illiterates. Hardly a promising potential for an important market segment. And yet, publishers know that, though babies may themselves be interested in little beyond the breadth of their toes, the dryness of their diaper and the proximity of their next meal, the fully sentient adults surrounding most babies are hoping that their little bundle of joy will develop into a keen and devoted reader. So are the books aimed at this growing market segment meant to appeal to the hopeful readers with no taste (beyond one for their toes) and no pocketbook, or the adults that keep the aforementioned babies in disposable diapers and reading material? Or, when you get right down to it, does it matter one way or the other? We already know that kids who grow up surrounded by reading material are more likely to develop a taste for books as entertainment than ones that aren't. All that needs to be decided, then, are what books to surround them with.

Grow Up! by Nina Laden is meant to actually be handled by chubby fingers that have yet to be taught that books aren't meant to be roughed up or eaten... unlike toes. Laden is the author of several charming children's books, including Ready, Set, Go! and Peek-A-Who? Like Peek-A-Who?, Grow Up! is a boardbook, intended for babies to pre-school. Laden's illustrations are vivd and bright. This is a book intended to entrance with its colorful paintings, not the dexterity of its prose.

A kitten grows up to be a


A chick grows up to be a


And so on. You can pretty much guess the progression. But it's a book intended to charm the self-directed baby, with cut-out holes and mirrors and all of Laden's clever and somewhat interactive artwork.

The whole concept of books that babies can fully interact with by themselves is taken a step further with The Lily-Pad Race by Simon Morse. The Lily-Pad Race is a Build & Float Soft Shapes book. Many of the book's illustrations actually pop out and assemble -- in simple puzzle style -- to transform into a floating bath toy. (No. Really. I'm not making this up.)

Here again, the prose isn't meant to dazzle as much as the ingenuity of a book that not only floats but turns into something else altogether.

The English version of The Lily-Pad Race was first published in 2002 but the Spanish language edition, La carrera de lirios, is new for 2003.

Billy Bunny is a book that you'll definitely want to keep dry. Maurice Pledger's illustrations are realistic interpretations of forest creatures. Each two-page spread in the 10 page book has at least one element that requires a child to touch it, as well as enjoy the lovely pictures and the simple story:

Freddy Fox has found a lovely bird in the forest. Stroke her soft feathers.

Her feathers are actually some sort of soft, green velour, but as an unadvertised bonus: Freddy Fox' nose is made of black vinyl. The illustrations are engaging and the textured bits an added bonus for babies, who like to touch everything anyway. Pledger's Oscar Otter Board Book came out at the same time. Similar story, similar illustrations, similar textures, just as charming and a slightly different thread.

Yo Baby! by Roslyn Schwartz is for the more sophisticated infant: the type that demands the faintest hint of plot along with their happy, colorful pictures. Schwartz' illustrations are practically framable: gorgeous, rich and oozing fanciful charm.

Schwartz is also the author/illustrator of the Mole Sisters series of books, currently being reimagined as a children's television series.

Though the Lois Ehlert's story In My World is so simple it almost doesn't exist, the art is -- in some ways -- so complex it requires no work (or sophistication) to appreciate it fully. The same can not be said for the book's execution. Each page is a single, vibrant color: primaries, secondaries and tertiaries: important colors, the kind that other colors are made from. The cover is blue and -- beyond the simple white type of the author's name and the title of the book -- the cover holds only a single die-cut in the shape of a hand. The impression, however, is bold and complex. From beyond the die-cut -- the hand-shaped hole in the book -- we are given the impressions of sunsets and trees and clouds. Whole worlds beneath that hand, each color and shape, it turns out, resulting from the colors and shapes cut out on other pages.

In that way, Ehlert's work here is more than a book: it's a carefully-wrought art project that works on every level imaginable.

The Arnold Lobel Book of Mother Goose

illustrated by Arnold Lobel

Published by Knopf

176 pages, 2003

While many of the books in this omnibus review are intended to be handled and somehow interacted with by youngsters, The Arnold Lobel Book Of Mother Goose is meant to be something of a family affair.

Arnold Lobel was considered to be one of the most important children's author/illustrator of the 20th century. Originally published as The Random House Book of Mother Goose in 1986 -- the year before Lobel died -- the book became the illustrator's swan song. He spent three years illustrating the 306 classic nursery rhymes that comprise the book. Though all of the rhymes -- the same ones you remember from your own childhood -- may not be entirely suitable for babies, there's enough here that you can graze through the book with your child, adding unexplored rhymes into the mix as she ages.

If all the world was apple pie

And all the sea was ink,

And all the trees were bread and cheese,

What would we have to drink?

I love C is for Coyote: A Southwest Alphabet Book for the skillful way it blends National Geographic-quality nature photos (and both of the photographers involved with this book -- Art Wolfe and Gavriel Jecan -- have contributed to that magazine) with gentle geography and nature lessons.

B is for Bobcat

Peering out from a rocky den, this bobcat awaits the night, his favorite time to hunt. A solitary animal, the bobcat may look like a sweet pet, but is really quite fierce. His g-r-o-w-l is very deep and scary.

The book is intended for babies to preschoolers but, truly, this is one of those books that just about anyone can spend an enjoyable half hour with. | March 2003


Monica Stark is a freelance writer and editor.