Friday, August 2, 2013

Form and Function

Not every book is meant to be a board book.

Some board books are really for adults, meant to be given like greeting cards (think of the Urban Baby series). Some are misfired adaptations of picture books, with too much text, or ideas too sophisticated to work well for babies and toddlers. Colors and Opposites by Xavier Deneux were conceived of as board books; their form and function serve their baby and toddler audience beautifully.

What can a baby, a one-year-old, a two- and three-year-old absorb? How do you make these ideas manageable for a child who is unlocking the secrets of the universe? You have to begin with their world, the things they see and touch.

Colors gives babies and toddlers much to explore with their fingertips--raised parts of the pages that fit into indentations on the opposite page. Children start to see how a book works; turning the page completes the puzzle. Rounded edges to the pages keep them safe. Later, toddlers will understand Deneux's double entendre with orange as a fruit and orange as the color of a sunset.

A friend of mine has twin girls who just turned two. They now get the humor in Emily Gravett's Orange Pear Apple Bear. They have had enough experience with oranges, pears and apples (and seen bears in books and pictures) to see that Emily Gravett is playing with the bear's shape and color, and with its relationship to oranges, apples and pears (as one that consumes fruit).

That is the beauty of the board books that earn most favored status in toddlers' lives. There's more for them to observe, touch, and discover with each rereading. As they gain more experience and exposure to a wider world, they see more meaning in the book's pages. On that same "orange" page in Colors, for instance, toddlers will begin to perceive the bird's size as an indication that an orange is small enough to sit upon, while the sunset is very large indeed, so large that the bird can only approach and never reach it. The joy, for those of us reading with toddlers, is watching these epiphanies occur, and seeing their eyes light up with understanding.

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