We’ve been past the learning to crawl/nappy changing/toddler tantrum stage with our three for a long time, although now we’re at the GCSE options/£60 for a pair of Doc Martens, please/teenage tantrum stage I have to say I do feel a certain amount of nostalgia for earlier, simpler days.
Things don’t appear to have changed a great deal, but then neither have babies and toddlers - or publishers. Babies do need books, but publishers still produce too many aimed at the very young that are mediocre or unnecessarily complicated. Never in the field of human endeavour has so much effort and ingenuity been expended to such little effect.
So thanks heavens for Helen Oxenbury, whose books were a much-loved part of my children’s early years. Four of her classic ‘Baby Books’ have just been re-issued by Walker -Playing (0 7445 3713 4), Dressing (0 7445 3714 2), Working (0 7445 3715 0) and Friends (0 7445 3712 6), £2.99 each - along with a mini boxed set of four others - Clap Hands, Say Goodnight, Tickle, Tickle, and All Fall Down (0 7445 3711 8) at £4.99 for the set.
The secret of their success rests in a seamless combination of simplicity, warmth and humour, their loving depiction of babies doing just what babies do. As anyone who’s used these books with a baby will testify, the very young see themselves in the pictures and respond accordingly. Would that books for children of all ages could do the same...
I found myself rather liking the ‘Padded Board Books’ from Dorling Kindersley (four titles - Good Morning, Baby (1 85948 007 1), Baby and Friends (1 85948 004 7), All About Baby (1 85948 005 5) and Goodnight, Baby (1 85948 006 3) - at £2.99 each. Their chunky, padded covers make them a genuine pleasure to handle and, as babies are very tactile creatures, this gets the books off to a good start.
They feature bright, clear photographs of various babies involved in a range of everyday activities with other children, toys, pets, etc. so that interest level is pretty high. Another DK photographic title worth looking at is See How I Grow by Angela Wilkes (0 7513 5127 X, £5,99), a simple but beautifully produced large-format hardback which follows one little girl from birth to 18 months - fascinating for tinies and their larger siblings.
Big brothers and sisters might enjoy reading Three Little Puppies (1 85602 066 5) and Three Little Kittens (1 85602 067 3) by Nicola Smee, from David Bennett Books costing £4.99 each, to the new baby. Each of these shaped board books incorporates cosy artwork, finger puppets representing the eponymous small furry creatures, a simple hide-and-seek story to act out and even a couple of little flaps - all of which adds up to pretty good value for money in my opinion.
Nursery rhymes score every time, of course. It’s the lilt of the language and the chime of the rhymes that make babies and toddlers sit up and pay attention, although good, simple illustration can help to enhance the effect. I didn’t think you could do much that’s new with nursery rhymes, but I’m pleased to say Maureen Roffey has proved me wrong with one of the best uses of paper engineering I’ve seen for a long time.
Her two small and brilliantly simple ‘Slip Slide Books’ -Humpty Dumpty and Other Rhymes (0 370 31929 X) and Miss Muffet and Other Rhymes (0 370 31930 3) at £2.99 each from Bodley Head - feature familiar rhymes on left-hand pages, and tab-controlled reveals on the right. These show, for example, Humpty whole, then Humpty broken, or Jack and Jill going up, then tumbling down the hill. Babies will adore the sudden, hilarious transformations.
They’ll also enjoy the glorious visuals in Jan Ormerod’s To Baby With Love (Viking, 0 670 85531 6, £9.99), a book which works on the Oxenbury principle, i.e. do the simple thing well and you won’t go wrong. Five rhymes featuring animals and children are illustrated in big, bold pictures. Images and text work perfectly together to make a delightful reading experience.
I have to confess my heart sunk when I saw The Pop-Up Potty Book by Marianne Borgardt and Maxie Chamblis (Orion, 1 85881 140 6, £5.99). I opened it with trepidation, wondering what was going to pop-up... and, anyway, isn’t Tony Ross’s I Want My Potty the definitive word on this subject? What else could you say, even with the marvels of paper mechanics?
In fact, thankfully, it turned out to be a lot better than I thought. None of the flaps or tabs reveals anything that’s remotely yucky, and the simple text is bright, encouraging and relentlessly cheery. I can see this being very useful in households where a fraught toddler might be experiencing a few problems with this particular stage of development.
HarperCollins have just launched a new series for toddlers called, appropriately enough, ‘Collins Toddler’. The first batch features (among others) two jolly little books about a new character from Colin and Jacqui Hawkins - Foxy and the Spots (0 00 198146 3 hbk, 0 00 664537 2 pbk) and Foxy Loses His Tail (0 00 198145 5 hbk, 0 00 664536 4 pbk). At £5.99 in hardback and £3.99 for the paperback, Foxy is, I think, going to be very popular.
I also liked Oops-a-Daisy by Joyce Dunbar, illustrated by Carol Thompson (Walker, 0 7445 3257 4, £7.99), a picture book containing four tales about a little girl’s everyday life. It’s rare that you come across the sort of insight into a toddler’s feelings exhibited by Joyce Dunbar, and Carol Thompson’s warm pictures help to make this the kind of book which toddlers will return to again and again. You can’t ask for more than that...
Tony Bradman has one of his own books coming out in the ‘Collins Toddler’ series this month - it’s illustrated by Lynn Breeze and is called Our Baby (0 00 664510 0, £3.99).