Books That Captivate Babies and Toddlers


Sometimes I, a full-grown adult, see a so-called lift-the-flap book, meant for babies and toddlers, and become almost tingly with the desire to feel those cardboard tabs under my fingers and discover what’s hidden behind each one. It makes me suspect that interactive board books hit some primal sweet spot — and literacy research, it turns out, backs up my instinct. Our brains evolved to seek out and benefit from “multisensory” experiences, especially when our cognitive abilities are still developing. Young children exposed to books that engage more than one sense tend to have better comprehension and enthusiasm for reading down the road.

Interactive books also stoke the desire to solve a mystery. Some hidden thing waits on every page. Peekaboo! Freud famously described the conceal-and-reveal game babies love as an attempt to master, through repetition, the emotional distress of a parent’s occasional disappearance, then reappearance. Sure, but let’s not forget the motivational power of plain old curiosity.

Readers of all ages: I am happy to present a new batch of interactive books that play masterfully with a baby’s or toddler’s — well, with all of our — desire to swing open that closed door, pull back that curtain, charge over to the other side of that hill to see what’s waiting there.

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Elsa Mroziewicz has followed up one terrific lift-the-flap book, “Peek-a-Who?,” with another, PEEK-A-WHO TOO? (Minedition, 16 pp., $11.99; ages 1 to 4). With simple but colorful and richly decorative illustrations a cut above the usual board-book art, both of these triangular-shaped books hide a different animal under large flaps. Each spread opens out from the center with flaps that lift either up or down to form two diamonds, and Mroziewicz uses the book’s unusual shape to position the creatures in interesting ways and add surprise: A crocodile’s jaw opens on either side, a monkey spreads his arms over his head, a hibernating bear reclines.

But before you get there, a question must be answered involving the animal’s sound: “Who says whooo whooo?” or “Who makes a whoop whoop?” Asking babies or toddlers to make or identify animal sounds is a foolproof way to engage them in the back and forth of a conversation, and this book combines that pleasure with clever visual and tactile problem-solving.

The cover of Sam Boughton’s adorable HELLO, DINOSAURS! (Templar Books/Candlewick Press, 16 pp., $12.99; ages 2 to 5) announces that it is “full of flaps and facts!” and for some toddlers, enough said. Something about dinosaurs spurs on many children to some rather advanced learning. (I may never again equal the feeling of achievement that came from spelling “archaeopteryx” at the dinner table for my parents’ astonished friends.)

This book emphasizes that all things dinosaur are well within the reach of a 3-year-old by strewing its pages with whimsical, collaged images of diverse, stylishly dressed children frolicking with gigantic, friendly-looking beasts. They climb the ankylosaurus’s scaly back like a staircase, or ride a pteranodon like a flying horse. Under flaps of varying sizes are interesting facts — the stegosaurus’s “brain was the size of a plum.”

My one quibble is the “party’s over” tone of the very last words: “All dinosaurs lived during the Mesozoic Era, long before the first humans. However, the dinosaurs in this book did not all live in the same place or at the same time.” Understood.

Lately publishers have been trying to capture and update the Richard Scarry vibe with books that feature a more contemporary-looking bustling town, as in Raúl the Third’s fantastic “!¡Vamos! Let’s Go to the Market,” which gives the concept a Mexican-American spin. ALPHABET STREET (Nosy Crow, 16 pp., $17.99; ages 2 to 5), by Jonathan Emmett, illustrated by Ingela P. Arrhenius with groovy, buoyant art in a softly tropical palette, is another excellent one for the youngest flap-lifters.

Shaped like a building with a triangular roof, the book has two flaps per page: The lower level is a store, the upper level a residence. We proceed alphabetically, beginning with Aardvark asleep in her bed, above a bakery where Bear bakes bread. For many parents the key will be the subtle diversity and modern feel of the creators’ choices. Dads as well as moms cook, clean and care for children; the clothing is not gender-stereotyped; someone uses a wheelchair; and the animals’ fur colors range from dark to light in ways that do not evoke (as, alas, some children’s books using animals do) human skin-color prejudices. Another plus: The whole city folds out accordion-style, so you can stand it up to play.

Nicola Slater’s delightful WHERE IS MY PINK SWEATER? (Abrams Appleseed, 22 pp., $8.99; ages 2 to 5) has flaps and tells a story — and counts down from 10 to 1. A blue creature called Rudy adores his pink sweater, even though it’s “a bit too small and showed his bellybutton.” But he can’t find it. As he travels around his house searching, he encounters numbered packs of animals doing silly things: blackbirds in the shower, crocs waiting in line for an outdoor toilet. Some pages have flaps, some have peek-through die-cuts. When he finds his sweater on his little sister, Trudy, whom it fits, there’s a bonus lesson in graciously forking over the hand-me-downs.

Finally, a shout-out to those interactive books — brought to best-sellerdom by the brilliant Hervé Tullet’s “Press Here” — that have no flaps or mechanical action, just an invitation to touch the pages and use your own magic. THE BUTTON BOOK (Tundra, 16 pp., $16.99; ages 0 to 5), written by Sally Nicholls and wonderfully illustrated by Bethan Woollvin, borrows and expands on Tullet’s concept, though I’m sure he wouldn’t mind. On each square page an animal gang gathers around a different colored button. The narrator asks, “I wonder what happens when you press it?” The blue one is a singing button: Everybody sing! The pink one is a hug button. And so on.

The last one is a sleep button. Good night, children. More confirmation that children’s book creators are unsung geniuses.



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