I’ve had some people gush to me lately on how wonderful they think the new lines of baby board books are… you might have seen them. The franchise names are “BabyLit”, “Cozy Classics” and “Mini Myths”. There might be more but these are the ones I’m familiar with. All are very highly reviewed on most book sites. The idea is that these books take a classic piece of literature from Jane Austen or Leo Tolstoy or a Greek Myth and distill it down into a board book. Next thing you know, little Suzy will be writing a thesis topic on Gender and Disability in American Literature, before she’s out of diapers!
I am not a fan. At all. Here’s why:
While I have to give points to the attractive, graphic design work on some of these books, I can’t help but think (hope!) that this is just one giant marketing fad that will come and go, a la the (mostly discredited now) Baby Einstein abomination in the late 90s. (Don’t feel bad, I got into Baby Einstein with my firstborn before I knew better too.) It’s not that I don’t love the classics or adore myths, it’s just that I find the idea of dumbing them down into a few pictures and a couple words, fairly repulsive. I imagine parents can only be thinking one of two things if they buy these books: 1- That they themselves must find the concept as endearing or charming as a child size, functional tea set. But the reality is that you can’t make a child-size extraction of War and Peace, nor should you want to! Or 2- They imagine themselves to be offering their child some sort of intellectual head start on literacy or bibliophilia… which I would guess to be nonsense. These books often have almost nothing to do with the originals and are just clever pictures with one or two words that correlate to what the child sees or maybe a quote from the book. Here is the banner description from one of the main authors, Jennifer Adams’ website:
And there it is in a nutshell. These books are fashionable. At BEST, I can hope that the books are SO attractive to parents that they’ll want to read more frequently than normal to their child. If they can’t stand to be bothered with something so “unhip” and “banal” as The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by all means get an enfeebled version of Great Expectations if that’s what it’s going to take to sit down and read. Maybe that’s all this is. But please don’t be under any illusions that your two year old’s IQ is going to shoot above those poor saps still looking at Richard Scarry books.
One last point, it IS possible to bring some refinery of the adult world into a board book, so long as the original isn’t tampered with. Babies don’t need dumbed down words or pictures to develop a love for beauty. True beauty is timeless and age-less, but there is certainly something to be said for waiting for the perfect moment of maturity before exposure. I don’t read The Lord of the Rings books to my 5 year old, because she won’t fully appreciate it yet. Like throwing seeds unto a rocky ground… her soil hasn’t been properly cultivated yet. And there is no need to rush that. But I’m not going to search for a Happy Meal version of this literary achievement because it would be an insult to Tolkien. James and the Giant Peach is sufficient, thankyouverymuch and this is how board book classics should be viewed also. “Everything in moderation” I like to say about excellent food… and “Everything in due time” I like to say about excellent literature. So if parents want to get a head start on the appreciation of what is beautiful and true, begin at the beginning. Feel free to enjoy lovely things like the Mini Masters Boxed Set to get a toddler familiar with great art; but please just remember that books like Goodnight Moon are sophisticated and noble in their own right.
In fact, leave a comment before this Friday giving me your thoughts (and they don’t have to agree with mine!) on these kinds of books and I’ll choose one of you to be sent a good, old-fashioned, very fad-proof, classic book that was just released in board edition this year… I like putting my money towards the types of books I WANT to see produced for toddlers and towards what I consider to be important, quality literature! Richard Scarry’s Bunny Book would be lovely tucked into a special someone’s Easter basket this year… Contest Closed! While my contests are still delightfully small, I always stick to highly unscientific methods of choosing a winner: asking one of my children to pick a number or draw a name from a hat or such. 🙂 Congrats to Elizabeth!
PLUS, a special bonus book giveaway just for my email subscribers that’ll begin next week when I get into what are some of the better choices in newly published board books.