Sunday, July 8, 2012

What's Kunafa reading? (Board Books)

I've been meaning for the longest time to post a list of our all-time favorite board books, before the kids grow out of them and I begin to forget which ones we loved best. And since Kunafa (19 months) is just starting to be interested in picture books in addition to her beloved board books, I realized I should probably stop procrastinating! These are the books that both of my girls have read over and over and over again, and which I'm still enjoying myself, a million hours later. I haven't bothered to review the Eric Carle classics that every child in the western world must know and love (The Hungry Caterpillar, Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See), and both Basbusa and Kunafa enjoyed various books which just show photos of familiar objects. Other than that, here's our top ten list, in order of darling-little-baby to heart-breakingly-grown-up-toddler:

Peek-A Who? has just six peek-a-boo surprises, each one peeking through the cut-out on one page ("Peek-A..."), to be revealed completely when baby turns the page ("Moo!", "Zoo!", "Boo!" or "Choo-Choo!"). It's just the right length for the attention-span of the youngest babies, and has clear, bold but not crude illustrations. There's a mirror at the end ("Peek-A.... YOU!"), and the rhymes chosen allow plenty of scope for sound effects, which my kids always find entertaining (my impersonations of cows, ghosts and trains have reached their current level of professionalism almost entirely thanks to this book :). Plus, the cut-out in each page makes it even easier for little baby-fingers to turn the page over.

Everybody knows babies like pictures of other babies, and there are billions of books of baby faces. Everybody knows that babies like pictures of animals, and there are billions of books of pictures of animals. But Baby's Best Friend is the only book I've come across that combines the two: there are some of the cutest babies I've ever seen in this book, along with some of the cutest animals. Each picture has a baby and a baby animal, color-coordinated in some way. The pictures are clear, appealing and varied: a baby with a mouse on his shoulder, a baby peeking over a sheep, a baby with turtle climbing up his back, a baby taking a bath with some ducklings. Plus it's longish for a board book, so you can dip into it frequently without going the whole way through each time. This means it takes longer for me to get sick of reading it :) I also like that the book does a reasonably good job of showing a multi-ethnic collection of babies. There's a very small amount of pleasantly rhyming text, which I would appreciate even more if I actually read it (I stick to Arabic at this age). There are several other books in this series, all of which we have enjoyed, although this one is the favorite. 

Mommy Hugs has mommy animals, baby animals and lots of hugs. Could there be a more interesting topic for the under-one crowd? Both of my girls have liked the clear but attractive illustrations, and I like the wide variety of vocabulary used to describe each variety of hug (nuzzle, snuggle, squeeze, nibble). Or rather, it's not exactly that I like the vocabulary itself - because I'm totally not into "vocabulary-building" for tots, and we read this in Arabic in any case - but I like that it shows that lots of different words can express variations of the same meaning. The whole book is short enough for infant attention-spans, which is another plus, but our favorite feature of this one is that we can act it out. Any excuse to nuzzle, cuddle and tickle my babies is fine with me :)

I'm sure there's no need to review any of Sandra Boynton's books, but we love Barnyard Dance so much that I can't skip it. We love the dancing animals, and we love dancing along with them. I love all the motion verbs that she uses (prance, scramble, spin, twirl, trot, strut), and we all love waving back at the animals as they promenade away on the last page. "With an OINK and a MOO and a QUACK QUACK QUACK, the dance is done but we'll be back!" Oh, yes, we will. Many many many times :)
I'm not usually a big fan of "interactive" board books. Lots of books have tabs to pull or flaps to lift, but either they tear so easily that the book doesn't last, or else they're too tough for little fingers to move independently. Even when you've gotten it open, what you see underneath the flap isn't usually particularly interesting after you've opened it the first few times and know what to expect. Furthermore, in so many "interactive" books, I often feel that the novelty-factor of the tabs or flaps themselves is the only interesting part of the book, and the plot and the rest of the illustrations are nothing particularly memorable. This book, though, is different. Bizzy Bear: Fun on the Farm (and the three others in the series,  Bizzy Bear:Off We Go!, Bizzy Bear: Let's Go and Play! and Bizzy Bear: Let's Get to Work!) would be a good read even if there was nothing interactive about them. The illustrations have appealing animal characters, with lots to talk about in the illustrations in addition to whatever Bizzy Bear himself happens to be doing. And the "interactive" bits are not only incredibly sturdy and yet super-easy to move, but the scene that is revealed or the moving part itself actually adds to the richness of the illustration. Bizzy Bear's digger actually digs, for example, and the train he only just manages to catch then leaves the station. Plus, the interactive parts all move in different ways, so rather than a long series of flaps to lift or page after page of textures to feel, there are some tabs to pull, some sliders to slide (horizontally, vertically or diagonally), plus some more unusual elements like a sailboat that rocks in the waves and a rotary that spins. 

But Not the Hippopotamus is another Sandra Boynton book, so I won't got into much detail. Animals, rhyme, and a repeating pattern of text make it appealing for youngest kiddos; and then as they get older they can start to empathize with the feelings of the left-out hippopotamus. I've actually managed to tactfully remind my older daughter to include everybody at playdates by making a sad face and saying mournfully, "but not the hippopotamus!"

Big Red Barn is another one that's too well-known to need reviewing. Suffice it to say that both my girls have loved following the animals through their day from dawn to dusk.  
For these last three books, the baby needs to be old enough to grasp at least vaguely the concept of "plot." Kunafa got to that point recently, and since then, Clip-Clop has been a huge hit. The pictures are fine but nothing extraordinary. The story, on the other hand, describing four animals who go for a ride on a horse, fall off, and get back on again, is apparently one of the glittering jewels of the world of literature :) It's too funny to watch Kunafa's reactions to this one. You can see the suspense building in her whole body as the animals get on one by one, and then start going faster and faster. What's going to happen? What's going to happen?! And then the climax: they fall into the haystack! Oh, the excitement! Then she reflects the horse's concern: Are they ok? Are they ok? And the joyful relief: Yes! They're fine! They want to do it again! As, more often than not, does Kunafa.

Silly Sally is the odd-one-out in this list, in that most of the plot is way over Kunafa's head (it's not that it's all that complicated, just that it's more suited for picture-book comprehension levels rather than that of board-book readers). However, neither she nor her sister before her seem to mind. They love the refrain, "Silly Sally went to town, walking backwards, upsidedown," and we all like trying to copy her. ("Look! I'm Silly Sally!," Kunafa exclaims, peering up at me from between her own knees.) Both girls also like looking further down the road in the illustrations, to predict which animals Sally will meet next, and we all like giggling once Neddy Buttercup shows up and turns Sally's stalled walk into a tickle-fest. 

And finally, Owl Babies, which was Basbusa's favorite board book for what seemed like her entire toddler-hood, and which Kunafa has just grown into. Three baby owls wake up to find that their mother isn't with them. They even venture out of their nest to look for her, but she's nowhere to be found. They huddle up together on a branch, eyes closed, wishing and wishing that their mother would come. And then at last, their owl mother comes gliding home to them through the trees, and the joyful owlets flap and dance. (I think kids need to have both a vague grasp of plot and a vague grasp of empathy to get the most out of this one.) Both my girls seem to have found the plot enthralling, and sympathize passionately with the littlest owl who keeps repeating pitifully, "I want my mommy!" Basbusa's love for this book caused me huge amounts of guilt when she was a baby, because I was still working at that point, and was convinced that her identification with this plot must reflect her own alarm at finding herself deserted by her mother each workday. So it's a great relief to see that Kunafa, who has never been away from me for longer than about an hour and a half, finds it just as fascinating :) 

Linking up with Read-Aloud Thursday and What My Child is Reading.

1 comment:

  1. Great books! We had some of them when Anna was small and loved them all. Thanks for joining WMCIR!