recess radio program

01/23/06
Baby Books
    by John Cech

There's a category of books often called "baby books"--those chunky, square volumes with rounded corners and thick pages that can't be crumpled or easily chewed up. Babies, after all, test the value of a book (and almost everything else) by its taste. Taste is just what Tricycle Books from the west coast is trying to bring to this often neglected genre. And some real style, too. Take, for example, Amy Wilson Sanger's Mangia! Mangia! It's the sixth volume in the World Snacks series, and it features Italian foods, like pasta fresca, capellini, fettucine, and ragu. How's this for a baby's first rhyme: "Beany cannellini dot my bowl of minestrone, So many kinds of antipasti, I pick prosciutto-wrapped melone."Next stop, a quiet nursery in Tuscany.

Karen Salmansohn's Fashion, is a primer of verbal and visual puns about the world of haute couture. Miu, Miu is not only the sound two well-dressed cats make as they saché along their catwalk -- a picket fence -- it's also the name of a well-known designer. Some of these are very inside jokes, but others, like the rocking "clothes horse" covered with chemises, doesn't need a rosetta stone from 5th Avenue to be deciphered. Then there's Michelle Sinclair Colman's Urban Babies Wear Black, that spoofs the latte-infused lifestyles of the rich and famous, where babies do yoga, visit art galleries, and learn how to say "garcon" to get another order of chicken nuggets.

But my favorite of all these is Marie-Louise Gay's Stella, Queen of the Snow, from Groundwood Books in Canada. It tells the funny, quirky, unimposing story of Stella -- all curly red hair and total certainty -- and her timid, uncertain little brother Sam -- as they make their way through a snowy day. Sam has a question about everything, it seems. But Stella is never short on answers. Just listen to this exchange: "'Can you eat a snowflake?' asked Sam. 'Polar bears do,' said Stella. 'They eat snowflakes for breakfast.' 'With milk?'asked Sam. 'Yes,' said Stella. 'And sugar.' The kids explore and sled and throw snowballs and end up making snow angels together at the end, and Sam finally, happily runs out of questions and comes over to the certainty side with his big sister. What a sweet, sweet story.

Copyright 2006 John Cech

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