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Zoe and Beans: Hello Ladybird

Zoe and Beans are two characters from Chloe and Mick Inkpen who appear in a small collection of books, aimed at young babies and toddlers, all telling of the adventures of Zoe and her scruffy dog, Beans.  In this book, Zoe has found a ladybird, and put it in a jar.  But as soon as she comes to show it to us, it disappears.  Zoe and Beans then hunt everywhere for the ladybird and find a lot of other lost things in the process.

Look closely at the picture above.  Can you spot it?  Yes, there is is; a tiny ladybird on Zoe’s head.  And that is the premise of the book – the ladybird appears in a slightly different place on every page and can be found with a little bit of hunting.  Although the ladybird is tiny it is actually reasonably easy to spot, even for quite a young child.  This was extremely popular with the fifteen month old who chose it for a bedtime story most nights it was on loan from the library.

It’s a very simple book but lifted out of the ordinary by a few important details.  First, the drawings are delightful, and the characters of Zoe and Beans are instantly appealing to young children.  Secondly, instead of just being a ‘spot the ladybird’ book, there is a narrative thread that runs through it as Zoe finds other things to put in the empty jar.  And thirdly, the language is not neglected (as it often is in books driven by illustrations) but well-crafted and fluent – note the alliteration when Zoe finds “an old penny, a purple pencil, and a soggy pink party popper”.

This is a simple but well-made book, ideal for toddlers just beginning to cope with stories with sentences rather than single words per page.

You can find out about Zoe and Beans on their website, here.

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Kiss Goodnight, Sam

It was a dark and stormy night on Plum Street

The wind is howling outside the little white house on Plum Street as Sam goes to bed.  Mrs Bear is putting him down for the night and asks him if he is ready to sleep.  “Oh no,” is always his answer, “I’m waiting!”  He has a story, a glass of milk, has his blanket tucked round him and all his toy friends popped in with him, but still he is not ready.  Mrs Bear is (or pretends to be) confused, until she finally remembers.  “Oh I know.  Kiss goodnight Sam.”

This is a story about security, safety, love and ritual at bedtime.  The noises of the rain and the wind outside serve to heighten the sense of warmth inside the little house, and Anita Jeram’s rich illustrations in cosy gold, red and brown complement that perfectly.  The text, by Amy Hest, is lyrical without rhyming, and its undulating rhythm captures the tenderness of Mrs Bear.

Mrs Bear poured milk in two glasses and they both drank milk and it was warm sliding down.”

When she finally remembers what he is waiting for the story becomes almost interactive.

And she bent way down, kissing Sam once, and twice, and then twice more.

“Again!” cried Sam.

And she bent way down, kissing Sam once, and twice, and then twice more.”

It is almost impossible not to suit the action to the word at this point, and for children who are reluctant to go to bed this walk-through of the process may be especially effective.  And nearly all toddlers will love being kissed in kind as they hear the words!

As a bedtime story this is ideal: short, gentle, on topic, and ending with a kiss.  Nothing fancy or clever, but perfect for its purpose.

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Where’s Spot?

Spot the dog was created in 1980 by Eric Hill, and Where’s Spot? was the first book in which the little yellow puppy appeared.  Hill was given the idea watching a television advert in which his son laughed at the funny pictures hiding behing flaps.

In Where’s Spot? Spot’s Mum Sally goes around the house looking for the wayward dog, whose dinner is ready.  It’s laughably simple: each page asks a question about where he is, and when you open the flap he is very definitely not there.

The humour comes from the unlikely nature of the animals hiding in the various places.  Would anyone really expect to find a hippopotamus in the piano?  All the animal says is ‘no’ which leaves plenty of room for first adult and then child to fill in the description of what’s there.

All young children love flap books and this one is no exception.  There is a reason it’s still popular after thirty-one years!  The unexpected nature of what’s behind each flap and the simplicity of the text and drawings make it very appealing even from a very young age.   There is even a twist at the end when we think we have found him but it turns out not to be.

There is nothing to this classic but a very good sense of what keeps children entertained – and that is precisely why it’s been selling successfully for thirty years.

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Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes

There was one little baby who was born far away,

And another who was born on the very next day.

And both of these babies, as everyone knows,

Had ten little fingers, and ten little toes,”

With a page per line and a charmingly simple meter this is a great book for reading with the very young.  Mem Fox’s text has plenty of repetition and Helen Oxenbury’s drawings of babies from across the world are both cute and beautiful.  The premise is that no matter where babies come from (ice, the fields, the town, a tent) they all have ten fingers and ten toes.  It’s an easy read and an obvious book to read with your baby  – plenty of toe and finger tickling to be had.   The story turns to indirectly address the child at the end, making it a very personal experience.

But the next baby born was truly divine,

A sweet little child who was mine, all mine.”

There will be issues with this book if you dislike sentimentality but the final invitation to give baby “three little kisses on the tip of its nose” is great fun even for the seasoned and cynical.  Babies will benefit from seeing a variety of children of different races and colours and it’s a book that was made for sharing.  Both testers here at three years and one year love it.

It’s not for those who prefer edgy, humorous books, but there is no denying the simple appeal of this as a book to read to and with your baby from the very early days.

 

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I Feel Happy

This is a book from the ‘little learners’ range at Parragon Books.  The tabs that stick out are extra pull-out pages that make it enjoyable for little ones to play with and give it that bit of extra interest.

It’s a very simple book that aims to educate children about their emotions.  Each page shows a different animal or family of animals and associates a task or situation with an emotion.  For example:

“I feel happy… when I’m with my family.  I feel sad… when I say goodbye to Grandma.  I feel loved… by Mummy and Daddy.”

Alternatively

“I feel grumpy… if something is hard to do.  I feel pleased… when I learn something new.”

Although the choice of emotions and reasons does not follow any obvious pattern and they seem to have been chosen at random (‘bored’ and ‘hungry’, for example, are not the same kind of feelings as ‘scared’ and ‘proud) this is none the less a good book for promoting emotional literacy and opening the door to discussions about different feelings.  There aren’t many books that focus on this exclusively and the pull-out tabs ensure this one will hold their interest.

Not perfect, but a useful book regardless.

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T’wit T’woo!

Maddy McClellan’s bemused-looking owls tumble through the pages in a short but sweet book for babies and toddlers.

“Owls in the kitchen, owls in the hall,

Owls playing with my shoes, owls big and small.

(…)

Owls reading lots of books, owls without a care…

Owls having hoots of fun, owls everywhere!”

Each little snippet covers a double page of cavorting owls in an assortment of colours.  They are stealing biscuits from the jar, peeping out of the teapot, wearing hats, sleeping in shoes, hanging upside down from lampshade, exploring the watering can and flapping around with balloons.  Although the rhyme is very short and simple, there is plenty to talk about in the illustrations and the overall design is bright, cheerful and comical.  Every child I’ve seen with this book loves it, especially the ‘dark’ page, consisting of nothing but a few hoots and some little orange owl eyes.

This is a great size and length for small children.  Small, square and robust, it is ideal for little hands, and it’s just the right length to be worth reading whilst still holding their attention.

A delightful little book for the very young.

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Amazing Baby: Rainbow Fun

It’s time to have some rainbow fun! Let’s meet the colours, one by one”

This bright little book is part of the Amazing Baby range of books and toys.

It’s a board book, and each page has a circle cut out of it of ever decreasing size.  Each one is a colour of the rainbow, has an object and a line of a poem.

see the red flowers growing from the ground…

watch the orange fish swimming round and round”

This is a bright, well-designed and educational book.  The last page acts like a baby plenary, going back over the colours with a nice bright rainbow in the centre.  It’s got such potential, it is irksome that indigo and violet have been subsumed into a single page as ‘purple’.  If you are going to teach the colours of the rainbow, why teach them wrongly? To be fair, purple is a more useful colour and word to learn, but it is something that will need un-learning later on.

In addition, neither the title of the series, the book, or any of the lines in it use capital letters.  Rainbow fun may be aimed at babies of 6 months plus but visually there is no need to avoid capital letters.  I suspect the argument is that when learning letter shapes it is better to start with lower case, but realistically babies of 6 months are not learning their letters.  What they will be doing is seeing the words on the page and can only be helped by seeing the appropriate large shape at the start of each sentence.  It’s a minor thing, but a niggle.

A really good little book, but could have been better.

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Counting Colours

This is a beautiful, educational book.  Published by Priddy Books, it should provide hours of entertainment for children of a wide range of ages.

The front cover shows the same style as the inside.  Each double page has a colour written across the middle (about 4 inches high), and that is surrounded (almost engulfed) by photographs at various scales of a plethora of different objects in that colour.  The overall effect is a riot in blue, and pink, and orange, and brown, and white… Visually it is arresting and effective.  Around the outside, printed on a border colour the same as that page’s theme, are a list of 55 things to find in the picture.  For example, on the yellow page, you are asked to find 1 busy digger; 2 tasty bananas; 3 buckets; 4 toy dump trucks; 5 pairs of scissors; 6 chicks; 7 sour lemons; 8 pasta shapes; 9 sunflowers and 10 rubber ducks.

There is so much entertainment to be had from this book simply looking at all the objects, but it works educationally as well.  Engaging with this book with an adult children will learn colour recognition, number skills, spatial awareness, memory, adjectives, and the names of objects – older children could even try making links between unlikely items in a story, or trying to remember what is where on the page.

An easy book to enjoy, but used well an excellent teaching aid as well.

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Where is Maisy?

Maisy is a much-loved character amongst young children and Lucy Cousins’ bright, cheery illustrations are instantly recognisable.   Her books are a hugely successful brand (including a television series, website and toys) but part of the reason for that success is the simplicity of her approach and the fact that different books are suitable for different ages.

This simple lift-the-flap book is ideal as a first baby book but would be enjoyed for a long time.  Maisy hides and you have to look for her on each page.  It’s a common concept for an early book but this one is nicely executed.  Each flap is a different shape with a slightly different angle of opening, so plenty of opportunity for older babies to practise their dexterity.  There are different animals hiding behind each flap, giving you lots to talk about whilst reading.  The question is the same on each page – “Is Maisy in the boat?” “Is Maisy in the wardrobe?” – and the repetition will therefore help with comprehension and word recognition.  The illustrations are as always: simple, bright, high contrast and charming.

Enjoy reading this by exaggerating the suspense on each page and over-dramatising ‘No, not here!’.  Young children, once they learn to speak, can start to offer the response themselves.  Knock on the door to find Maisy at the end, and encourage baby to copy you.

A simple but effective book that is ideal for babies and toddlers.

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Eyes, nose, toes Peekaboo!

This is a great baby book from Dorling Kindersley.

On each left hand page is a photograph of a baby and a question, for example, “Where are Dinosaur’s toes?”  On the right is a picture of the dinosaur with a blanket over his feet.  This partially cut-out page flips open to show his toes, which are made of padded sparkly material and very squishable.  You can see the fully unfolded page below.

After you find Dolly’s eyes, Teddy’s nose, Rabbit’s ears, and Dinosaur’s toes, on the final page is a baby with her hands over her eyes who flips open to say ‘Peekaboo!’.  The end of the book invites you to point to your own eyes, nose, ears and toes.

These are very popular with babies and toddlers and it is easy to see why.  The photos and text are on a plain white background, minimising fuss and creating strong contrasts.  The toys photographed are beautiful objects in their own right (the doll has little knitted fingers covering her eyes) and the baby pictures will encourage children to engage and interact with the book.  The flaps are also nearly a whole page in size making them robust and also easy to fix if they do come loose.  It is short, simple, and well-designed.

The simple text and questions and the invitation to point to your own features at the end makes this an idea way for babies to enjoy learning about themselves.

Dorling Kindersley rarely disappoint, and this series (there are a number of others) is no exception.  Pretty, fun, and educational: an ideal early book.