Friday, May 8, 2015

Deceptively Simple

The most outstanding board books look simple, and reveal layers of meaning as toddlers spend more time with them. Rhymoceros by Janik Coat uses the tusks of a rhinoceros, its most identifiable features, to represent the animal in its simplest form.

An interior double-page spread from Rhymoceros
She then varies a detail or two to teach youngest children simple concepts that, with repeated readings, take on more complexity. The minimalist way that Coat represents each scene allows youngest children to notice the differences in the rhino from page to page. At first, they might only fully understand "moon/balloon" as something akin to the moon comes out at night, and a balloon means a festive daytime activity, such as a birthday or circus or parade. In later viewings and with a bit more worldly experience, they might think about a crescent as a phase of the "moon," and a "balloon" as akin to the circle of a full moon.

Similarly, they might not be aware yet of the seasons, but after they've experienced a few cycles of seasonal changes, they'll connect the word "shade" with seeking protection from the summer sun and "lemonade" with a cool refreshment that offers relief from the summer heat. They might then connect with the idea that the lemons on the tree that lends the hero shade yields the lemonade the hero sips.

Coat's choices allow for multiple entry points. At age one, youngsters might only relate to the pages with fur or bumps, but they will recognize the welcoming blue creature on every page. Gradually, they will take in more of the visual details about the rhino from scene to scene, while also enjoying the rhyme of the word pairings.

This makes an ideal baby gift because it has the (nearly) indestructible format of a board book and concepts that relate directly to a child's experience of the world. The playful language keeps them engaged as they accrue the experiences to understand more fully the meaning behind each rhyming pair.

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