It Takes Two; How Did I Begin?
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Two new titles in a picture book non-fiction series that has won several awards. It Takes Two is about mating and child rearing in the animal kingdom - not about how bodies fit together but the astonishing, amusing and multifarious business of differences between the sexes, how they attract one another and how they arrange for the birth and care of their offspring.
Yes, everybody does it: from the firefly to the mandrill; and sometimes it is the female who plays the largest part and sometimes it is the male. Brilliant, clear illustrations, accurate, vibrant and full of expression, are accompanied by a text that is fun without being facetious. The book is animated by an enjoyment of the variety of living things and will captivate pre-school and infant children.
It's so much fun that it is easy to overlook that it is also encouraging children to take their first steps in scientific observation, to categorise and to compare. This is an information book with the sense of design, the gusto, the colour and the appeal of the best of picture-book fiction.
How Did I Begin? is an appropriately reassuring explanation of the facts of life. We all began with a 'special cuddle' between mum and dad and, although the exact mechanics are hidden beneath the duvet, we are shown a diagram of the working parts in a quiescent state, all properly named. From there we are guided through conception, pregnancy and birth with a simple, direct text and bold illustrations, answering the questions posed by bright children's faces that pop up in the margins of the pages; 'What did I look like?' and 'Could I hear things in there?'
We are introduced to difficult words like chromosome and amniotic sac and these are explained at the right level. But feelings and emotions are not forgotten. I like the idea that being born 'was a bit like squeezing your head through a tight polo neck jumper'.
The book cannot, of course, guess every question that might be asked, and will give rise to more; but it establishes the right mood. It does not assume any particular family arrangement and can be used happily by single and adoptive or foster parents. The author's tone, as if he were talking to a child sat upon his knee, emphasises the unique value of each new life.