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.
I could not agree with you more. I can see the appeal of introducing classics to your baby, but when I picked up a Jane Austen board book and flipped through it, all I thought was, that’s it? There are already so many excellent choices why would I waste time reading something that doesn’t even tell a story? I wouldn’t ban them from my house but I certainly wouldn’t spend money on them myself!
First off, I will admit I have never even heard of these books. My one year old has a basket of hand-me-down board books in the corner, but prefers the books his older brothers and sister foolishly leave within reach. One of his favorite activities is to flip through the pages like those old flip-books where the images dance on the page. When read to him, it is usually from a classic like Guess How Much I Love You or If You Give A Mouse a Cookie.
That being said, I don’t see any harm in McDonald’s versions of classics. I find it hard to believe that reading the couple words per page to your toddler will spoil their experience of the full classic they hopefully encounter when they are ready for it down the road. Perhaps these books may even prime their minds to read the full version later. I still remember the first book I learned to read – I Can Fly, a Golden Book. Just maybe, an adult will fondly remember one of these super-abridged classics later in life and be inspired to pick up the “real” book for a read.
Good point; these books probably aren t any “harm”… But I guess it’s a question of what kinds of books do we want to invest our time and money into? And I suppose to each their own in that regard so long as the material isn’t objectionable. And while KiddyLit and its like aren’t “objectionable”, I see them as gimmicks and am not interested in purchasing gimmicks. 🙂
I heartily agree! I’m hoping it’s all just some sort of cutesy fad that will fade soon. Thanks for the giveaway chance! I haven’t read Richard Scarry’s Bunny Book, but I’ve got a 3 year old who would most likely love it!
Well said, I’ve seen people rave about these books but…I haven’t purchased for the very same reason. Though my finger has hovered over the Mini Masters because that I believe could be pulled off.
You do realise now you’ll have to do a post on board books you do recommend;-)
I’ve got just such a post planned for next week. 😉
Well said, thanks for the heads up. I’ll stick to Eric Carle board books!
I rolled my eyes when I saw them. How could you possibly get Pride & Prejudice into board book form without losing the whole thing? I haven’t seen the Bunny Book yet. Our favorites are Very Hungry Caterpillar, Peek-a-Boo, and Each Peach Pear Plum. The last is a great way to get some nursery rhymes and tales into older kids as we look at the stories where the characters come from.
‘“Everything in due time” I like to say about excellent literature.’ – Beautifully said! This is true all over again when children start reading on their own.
It’s best to choose board books you can read all day long, because you just might. Many of the Sandra Boynton books were favorites of mine when they were little (Oh, the Going to Bed Book!).
I do remember peeking at a couple of those Babylit books when they first came out. At the time there were only a few, and they weren’t intended to be baby versions of the stories — rather, they were counting or shapes or opposites types of books, including people/places from the original classics. Cute and harmless, and mostly pointless… something I wasn’t interested in for myself, but I might pick up for an expectant friend whose absolute favorite book is Pride & Prejudice (for example). To an infant, counting along with Lizzy and Mr. Darcy isn’t all that much different than counting along with Elmo and Grover — it really means more to the parent at that point.
In board books, it seems silly to me to try to condense an adult classic into board book form, because the amount of condensing required would pretty well render it meaningless. Honestly, I’m more bothered by children’s books that are condensed when put into board book form (Dr. Seuss, Jan Brett, to name a few), and by many classic stories I’ve seen ruined by translation into picture books or chapter books. Dumbed-down picture book versions of The Wizard of Oz or A Christmas Carol, for example. Or movie tie-in I Can Read! versions of books like The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Or most “Classic Starts” type books. I would rather let my toddler have a board book version of Great Expectations, which she probably won’t understand or be very interested by, than some of these others geared at older kids.
That’s a good point. I had to return some board books I bought for a friend with her first baby when I got them home and realized they were missing pages–I think one was You Are Not My Mother. So disappointing!
Love the old fashioned books! I really try to avoid the overly commerialized twaddle that seems to dominate the kids’ section these days.
Yes! I agree! I’m so glad I found your blog. Looking forward to reading more of your posts.
I’m so glad my parents saved all of our Little Golden Books! I’ll take Scruffy the tugboat, poky little puppy, shy kitten, and the saggy baggy elephant any day over Jane Austen for my babies;)
I sort of fell for the fad and checked one out from the library to put in my baby’s book basket. But when it comes time to read to him my hand always reaches past the Baby Lit book and grabs Runaway Bunny, A Children’s Garden of Verses or an Eric Carle title.
Thank you for the giveaway!
Congratulations Elizabeth! You won the contest…