Friday, May 27, 2016

Reading with Little Miss Muffet and Little Bo Peep, May 2016

What have we been reading lately? Tons of board books! Most are physical review copies from Little Bee Books, but there are also a few digital ARCs I downloaded from NetGalley. Read on to find out which one the girls have enjoyed most.

My First Vehicles by Max and Sid (9781499801880)
My First Sounds by Max and Sid (9781499801873)
My First Animals by Max and Sid (9781499801859)
My First Opposites by Max and Sid (9781499801866)

These four small square board books are ideal for Little Bo Peep, who loves handling books. She pushes them across the floor, bangs on their covers, and coos and giggles at the illustrations. Like most word books for this age, they are also great for introducing basic vocabulary, and encouraging me to say words like balloon, rocket, and hen that might not otherwise come up in daily conversation. Each illustration has some sections that are shiny and metallic, which catch the light and grab the baby's attention, and the pictures are generally brightly colored and clearly outlined. What I had not counted on, though, was how wonderful these same books would be for teaching Miss Muffet her letters. The words on each page of each book are printed in lower case letters in a perfect font for young children who are just beginning to recognize individual letters. I am able to read these books successfully with both girls simultaneously. While Bo Peep gets exposed to new words and engaging images, Miss Muffet also has the chance to practice her new skills. Of the four, my personal favorite is My First Sounds because it has a unique onomatopoetic expression for the sound of a fire engine ("nee naw"), but My First Opposites is the one Miss Muffet has taken to her bedroom to have on hand at rest time.

Farm Animals by Peter Curry (9781499801989)
Zoo Animals by Peter Curry (9781499802610)
Cars and Trucks by Peter Curry (9781499801996)
Trains, Boats, and Planes by Peter Curry (9781499802627)

The four books in this set are larger than the My First books above, but similar in scope and content. The illustrations are a bit more generically cartoonish, and there are two or three words per page, rather than just one, but they focus on the same subject matter. Both Farm Animals and Zoo Animals are predictably similar to other books of their type, and therefore hard to connect with in a special way. There are some pages in the Zoo Animals book that lend themselves well to encouraging movement, which is great for getting Miss Muffet involved, but since not all of the animals move, it's hard to apply that technique throughout the book. The titles about vehicles were a bigger necessity in our house, as our only real books on vehicles are Stanley and Mr. Gumpy titles. I like the diversity of vehicles included in Cars and Trucks: a taxi, a race car, a delivery van, etc. and the fact that suggested sounds are included as part of the illustrations. Trains, Boats, and Planes also does a nice job of introducing different types of each mode of transportation (steam train and express train, sailboat and shop, etc.) We have not read these aloud as much as the My First titles, but because they are oversized, they would work well in a story time, and they also keep Bo Peep busy on the floor as she figures out how to maneuver such a large unwieldy object!

Look! Flowers! by Stephanie Calmenson (9781499801156)
Look! Fish! by Stephanie Calmenson (9781499801668)
Look! Birds! by Stephanie Calmenson (9781499801149)

Visually, the three Look! books we received are very appealing. Though the illustrations are not photographs, they have enough realism to make the books useful as field guides, and yet also have a sense of personality that would be absent from purely scientific drawings. Moments like a drop of water landing on a sparrow's back, or a baby seahorse wrapping his tale around that of its father also give kids something of a story to appreciate in the pictures. Unfortunately, Stephanie Calmenson's text is very uneven. Some of her four-line rhymes work really well, and others are forced, as she crams too many syllables into a single line, or uses words only because they fit the rhythm or rhyme and not because they are the best words. Miss Muffet is really drawn to these books, but I'm hesitant to read her badly rhymed text. I may need to read through the books to learn the names of the flowers, fish, and birds and then impart the information to her through dialogue over the illustrations rather than reading the author's original words.  I like having images on hand to show her what certain living things look like, I just wish the text was more carefully edited.

Jane Foster's Colors (9781499802566)
Jane Foster's Black and White (9781499802559)

These books are the latest concept board books from graphic designer Jane Foster. Miss Muffet likes them both a lot, and she is constantly pointing out their similarities to Foster's ABC and 123 titles which we received for review several months ago and still read regularly. Of the two, I prefer the colors book, as it teaches the traditional colors of the rainbow plus some fun additions like turquoise. Though the black and white book is good for a brand-new baby who can't see that well yet, it is not just as interesting to devote an entire book to just two colors.  Regardless, though, both books are visually striking and would be great to have on display in a library's board book area.

Once I Was a Pollywog by Douglas Florian (9781499801415)
Leap, Frog, Leap! by Douglas Florian (9781499801422)

These board books are written by the clever children's poet Douglas Florian and illustrated with bright warm colors by Barbara Bakos. Once I Was a Pollywog shows the relationships between baby animals and the adults they will grow to become, while Leap, Frog, Leap! encourages kids to move like different animals. Though books on both topics are pretty common, these stood out for me because of Florian's impeccable use of rhyme, and the interesting style of the illustrations. I have especially grown to like Leap, Frog, Leap! after its great success at a recent story time. Even kids who are theoretically too old for board books really got into it. Of all the books Little Bee sent this Spring, this pair was my definite favorite.

Little Explorers: The Animal World by Ruth Martin (9781499802498)
Little Explorers: Outer Space by Ruth Martin (9781499802504)

These two lift-the-flap books are the size of an average picture book, but printed on sturdy paper just like board books. Their target audience skews a bit older - probably up to a third grade level or so - but Miss Muffet is fascinated by them and spends a lot of time opening and closing the flaps. I was hoping to use them to teach her some more in-depth information about the animal kingdom, and to introduce the idea of outer space, but I actually think they will be better used by kids who already have some background knowledge, as there is so much to take in on every page. The cartoonish illustrations are reminiscent of graphic novels, which would have made them a very popular choice with some early elementary boys I used to know at the library. I would caution against buying these for libraries, as lift-the-flap books have a short shelf life, but for curious kids who wish to amass as much information as possible on a single subject, these are the ideal titles.

Los Pollitos / Little Chickies by Susie Jaramillo (9780996995900)

I downloaded this book from NetGalley because I like the song on which it is based, and I liked that it included the song in both English and Spanish. I read it to Miss Muffet once on my computer screen, and she seemed to enjoy it well enough. Personally, I felt that the artwork was charming and engaging, but that the pages as a cohesive unit did not really contribute to a sense of story. Each picture correlates perfectly to the line from the song which it is intended to illustrate, but the artwork doesn't bring anything extra to the book. It felt a lot like I was looking at a text version of a You Tube video intended to be shared during story time or circle time. I would use this book in story time because I think it would be well-received, but it would not be something I would re-read again and again at home. 

God Bless This Starry Night by Rebecca Elliott (9780745965581)
God Loves Little Me by Rebecca Elliott (9780745965598)
Not So Silent Night! by Rebecca Elliott (9780745965604)
Noah's Noisy Animals by Rebecca Elliott (9780745965611)

Owl Diaries illustrator Rebecca Elliott is the creator of these religiously themed board books. I loved these instantly, and when I shared them with Miss Muffet on the computer, she requested repeat readings of every single one. God Loves Little Me is a celebration of the animals God has created and how they move their bodies. Each page names a specific animal that God loves and then provides a short phrase to describe a signature motion performed by that animal. This makes the book just right for toddlers who have a strong need to be in constant motion. God Bless This Starry Night is a simple bedtime prayer in which the child reader asks God to bless everything from his pillow to his toothbrush before settling down for the night. It would be a perfect baptism gift. The other two books - Noah's Noisy Animals and Not So Silent Night - simplify the Bible stories of Noah's Ark and the Nativity so they can be more easily understood by a very young child. Both of these books are also interactive, as they invite the child to make sounds along with their characters. These were a surprising treat to discover on NetGalley. I hope Elliott will do many more stories in this way. I'd especially love one for the story of Creation.

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