Sunday, 9 March 2014

Nurturing a new reader - Anne Rooney

First successful book! our version
doesn't have the touchy-feely stuff
I have a tiny grand-daughter who has just started taking an interest in books. She is 12 weeks old. My first success at grabbing her attention with a book came at 10 weeks (have to nurture new customers!) We'd been to the garden centre and looked at the tropical fish. When we came home, I showed her a book by Lucy Cousins with a picture of a fish in it. She loved it. We're on the way.I showed her some picture books and while she can't follow the story she liked looking at the pictures - all vigorously waving arms and legs and gurgling!

The best of the cot books
So in town yesterday I looked at board books for small babies. Oh my. There are the usual rather dreary picutres of objects, colours, numbers, etc - and some livelier ones such as the much-favoured Lucy Cousins series about animals. There are 'cot books' which unfold into a strip to fasten up inside the cot so the baby has something to look at. That's great, but not for sharing. Still, it's important for a baby to develop skills in independent reading, so we'll get one of those.

You can't be too young for Judith Kerr
Board books for the youngest children don't have a narrative. They are theme-based: animals, vehicles, number, colours, etc. - like our Farm Animals, Pet Animals and Garden Animals titles from Lucy Cousins. But there are some that introduce characters the child will encounter when she starts on stories. These are rather a cunning marketing move - the toddler who recognises Mog from Mog's Family of Cats will want to read the Mog books. No complaints from me - the Mog books are excellent.


On the whole, board-book prequels tend to be of the Peppa Pig &co merchandising category. I'd be wary of buying into something quite so commercial, but I guess if the baby has an older sibling who has Gruffalo and Peppa stuff around it makes sense. Here's a Thomas the Tank Engine title that introduces the engines that will feature in the child's coming Thomas TE experiences.

I think I might get the Moomin introductions to colours and numbers, though. Fostering an interest in moomins is, like fostering a liking for vegetables, a good investment in future health.

Here's the surprise discovery: board books for the children of literary parents. Now, it's one thing to introduce your baby to Peppa and Mog, protagonists of stories they can engage with pretty soon.

More for the grown-ups than the babies

But how about Pride and Prejudice? Anna Karenina? Moby Dick? Pride and Prejudice turns out to be a counting book (four stately houses, etc). Not a fan: how to build an interest in the trappings of capitalism and elitism.

Might well buy this one

Moby Dick I rather liked. It calls itself an 'ocean primer' and introduces ideas such as whale and anchor. I don't recall there being a harpoon page, fortunately.

Seriously? Clothes to die for?

Anna Karenina? Wow. Adultery and suicide for the under-twos. But it's massively disappointing. Look closely. It's the Anna Karenina fashion primer. Can you identify Anna's earring? Where is her hat? FFS. Does her handbag hold a one-way train ticket...?

I can understand that Pride and Prejudice and Moby Dick might appeal to parents who like those novels. It's a bit far-fetched to suggest that they will lead young readers to those titles 14 years later, but if they did there would have been no serious misrepresentation. But if you turned to Anna Karenina expecting fashion to be a big part of it, you'd be in for a shock. (I do remember some referenc to Kitty's striped silk dress; but I don't think fashion was a theme, as such.)

I'm going back to town to look for more boards books - any favourites to suggest? Without a narrative, for now.


My lovely editor at Templar saw this post and sent a copy of this amazing book called Art for Baby. The baby loves it, I love it. If you know a baby, buy it! It has simplified black-and-white versions of art by famous artists. The Bridget Riley page is a hit - we're taking her to the Fitzwilliam to see somem real BR.


Elen C said...

I love, love, love The Baby's Catalogue. It has no narrative, as such, but frequent readings allow a narrative to emerge. Well worth a look.

Stroppy Author said...

Oh yes, I remember that! Thank you, Elen. I have all the books from when my girls were tiny, and they are slowly emerging but at the moment the library is still a zone of post-builder chaos.

Clémentine Beauvais said...

Barefoot Books have got some nice and cute books for babies

There's more and more interest in academia in how much babies can get from being read to even at a very young age! such an interesting topic.

C.J.Busby said...

Love your description of Anna Karenina and Jane Austen for babies! Honestly, what were they thinking?!

Favourites in our house were the Ladybird toddler books - My Day and The Farm and so on. Lots to point at, familiar scenes. And of course, Where's Spot? is pure brilliance.

catdownunder said...

Turn and Learn have some nice good clear pictures of objects in their ABC and 123 - I just looked and they also do a "shapes" and "colour" books. If the photographs are as good in those then they might be good too.

Kate said...

My daughter's favourite was a Dorling Kindersley board book with straightforward pictures of animals on a white background, each one named beneath. There were a dozen or so on each page, and not just the obvious (pig/duck etc.). We spent hours with her finger moving from picture to picture, me reciting the names and her telling me as she learned each one. She has wanted to be a zookeeper since she was tiny, and now plans to study zoology, and I always think back to her fascination with this book!

Emma Barnes said...

Loved this, and astonished to hear about Anna Karenina for babies! I'd recommend Goodnight Moon, Goodnight Gorilla and the Sandra Boynton hippo books. Enjoy!

bookwitch said...

Can you write your own?

Stroppy Author said...

Bookwitch, I will anyway. But while we need board books that are robust, I'd rather hand over the dosh. But yes, I'll make a board book. Good plan.

Emma, mine loved Sandra Boynton, too - I'd forgotten those. Thank you!

Kate - snap! Big Bint loved picture books with animals. Then she did zoology at Oxford and is now a marine biologist. Early books matter SO much!