There's something happening with books that are being published for very young children -- those thick-paged, board books for babies and toddlers -- and it's something really delicious. Gone for good are those "A is for Apple," "B is for Ball" clichés that has dominated this field of first books for centuries. After all, the thinking goes, they're only babies: how good do these books really have to be?
Pioneers like Helen Oxenbury and Rosemary Wells have shown us that these early books can have humor, narrative tension, and character development. Ms. Wells' Max and Ruby books, for example, are mini-masterpieces of archetypal domestic drama -- and they're also tender, funny, and clever.
And now we have a group of highly original board books from Tricycle Press in the San Francisco Bay area -- like Karen Salmansohn's and Brian Stauffer's first book in their new Petit Connoisseur series. It's called Art, and it introduces the young reader to some key terms of modern art through witty associations of images and language. The word, "DaDa," for instance, appears across from a collage of a smiling man stretched out on a leather lounger, that's perched atop a unicycle. The picture for Dali -- that's D - A - L - I -- features a doll with the signature moustache of the surrealist painter against a landscape of receding perspective lines. And wait till you see what Slamansohn and Stauffer do with Bau Haus.
But the real pieces de resistance are the World Snacks Books by Amy Wilson Sanger: Yum Yum Dim Sum, Hola Jalapeño, and Let's Nosh! Each of these wonderful little books takes the young child into culinary experiences that are far different than the ones usually found at food courts and chain restaurants. Here are knishes and ha gau dumplings, oolong tea and horchata with cinamon, scallion pancakes and hammentaschen, frijoles negros and tsimmes. And Ms. Sanger serves up each of these tasty adventures in delicious rhymes and in the real flavors of the cultures that have created these distinctive dishes. Did you know that "Dim Sum" means "a little bit of heart"? That's what these books have a lot of, and they're subtly spreading the word about our common, global humanity by sharing this main ingredient with children through these fine international feasts.
Copyright 2004 © John Cech
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