board book reviews

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so. board books are weird. here are a few that are part of ramona’s regular rotation.

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a classic of the genre, right? they even had a copy of this one on the parent shelf in the NICU. i’m sure some of us were read this book when we were babies. but personally, i find this book somewhat disturbing.

it’s the tale of two rabbits–i assume that they are father & child? the child rabbit wants to tell its dad how much it loves him. every time it thinks it has found an example that encompasses the enormity of its love, the father replies with an even larger example. the baby rabbit says, “i love you all the way to the moon!” & the father rabbit says, “i love you all the way to the moon…& back.” they just keep ratcheting up the stakes, & there is some narration from the child rabbit’s perspective, as it tries to think of an example larger than the counter-example just proffered by the father rabbit.

what the fuck is up with this? why are they competing over how much they love each other? why can’t the father rabbit just say, “that’s very sweet. i love you too”? also, they are persistently described as “nut brown hares,” over & over. nut brown hare this & nut brown hare that. i do not like to say those words. 

this book sends the bizarre message that love a) can be quantified & b) is a contest.

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this is a pretty simple book, told from the perspective of a baby bird narrating the components of its nest–you know, mud & sticks & crap like that. it ends with the heartwarming information that the nest is also full of the baby bird’s family, which make the nest extra warm & loving. it’s very sweet.

best of all, the little bird on the cover is actually a finger puppet. the pages of the book are cut out so the puppet can be manipulated as you read the book to your baby. ramona just entered the “grabbing shit & trying to stuff it in her mouth” phase of development, so she goes fucking bananas for this goddamn puppet. jared has started augmenting the story thusly: “here in my nest…AUUUGGGH NOOOOOO HELP STOP EATING ME!” ramona has no clue what he’s talking about, but i find it hilarious.

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this book…is terrible. it’s not really part of the regular rotation because it’s such an awful book, but i wanted to comment on it anyway.

embarrassingly, i feel like i would have been really into this book if i’d had a baby when i was like 24 or something. it’s very earnest & kind of strident. i’ve never been the most earnest person on the block, but strident? oh yeah. i was probably the most strident anarchist on the eastern seaboard for most of my 20s. the words “absolutely unbearable” come to mind.

it would have been okay if it was like, “A is for activist, B is for banner drop,” whatever, & the parent/caretaker gets to explain the meaning of these words to the kid. but instead, the author writes these kind of incoherent little rhymes about what each letter stands for, from his own weird perspective. like, “a feminist fights for fundamental rights/choice in our future/fairness in our pay/the freedom to flourish/in each & every way.” it sounds all right, i guess, until you start picking it apart–& hello! has the author every met a child? kids pick stuff apart, it’s like their entire job description. “mommy what’s a fundamental right? what does choice mean? what’s fair pay? what does flourish mean?” how do you explain this stuff?

i also feel that this is a very limited definition of feminism. fair pay & “choice”?

or how’ bout, “healthy food is a human right/honeydew, jicama, havarti cheese, hummus, hot dogs/hot dogs?!/yes! healthy hot dogs please! (& pizza)” what? what’s jicama? what kid is eating havarti cheese? healthy hot dogs? look, i have a weakness for hot dogs & will eat them at barbecues or baseball games, but even the “healthiest” versions are not really all that healthy.

but one of my least favorite pages is “T is for trans/tulips, tassels, tigers/tractors & tiaras/trust in the true:/the he she they that is you!” what. the. fuck. does that even mean? tassels? tractors? huh? i guess these are things a child might like to play with, but which may be considered gendered? but…tigers? i really don’t get it.

but one of the most confusing things about this book is that it’s a board book. board books are designed to be chewable, & kids usually learn to stop putting their books in their mouths by the time they are like two or three. what two-year-old is going to understand the stuff in this book? some of it is very esoteric. i get that a lot of it is probably more for the pleasure of the adult doing the reading, but shouldn’t the child be able to comprehend it to some degree? & sure, an older kid might still enjoy looking at/reading board books from when they were little, but some of this shit would still probably be confusing for a middle schooler, & there is no middle schooler that is still paging through their board books.

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another classic of the genre. a zookeeper is making his last rounds for the night, checking on the animals & saying goodnight before heading home to bed. but he doesn’t realize that the gorilla has stolen his key ring & is following behind him, releasing each animal as he says goodnight. they then follow him home & into his bedroom, where they attempt to go to sleep. the jig is up when the zookeeper’s wife says goodnight to him & all of the animals reply in kind. she marches them all back to the zoo…but doesn’t notice that the gorilla has escaped yet again & is following her home!

very cute, but damn. this zookeeper is like the worst zookeeper ever. it’s truly staggering how much he sucks at his job. the animals also appear to be shut in cages, rather than in habitats, which is sad & old-fashioned. but i have a theory: when the zookeeper heads home, he leaves the zoo gates & walks across a small park area & then directly into his house. so…there’s no parking lot? how do people visit this zoo? if the only people that can visit are people who live within walking distance, the zoo is probably struggling with its revenue stream & must not have the financing to build specialized animal habitats. no wonder the animals are so hot to sleep in the zookeeper’s bedroom.

the gorilla is also constantly being followed by a mouse carrying a banana. is the mouse a manservant to the gorilla, toting around his snacks? is the banana a peace offering the mouse keeps on-hand in case the gorilla ever starts to looking like maybe it wants to kill the mouse? is the banana a snack for the mouse? that’s a pretty big snack.

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we have all the touch & feel books. i really like them. my favorite page in this book is, of course, the white cat. it’s so soft! however, this is obviously a book for babies who are learning about touch & different textures & what-not (& colors). ramona is a non-stop drool machine. that soft white cat isn’t going to stay soft & white for long with lady mcdroolfingers hanging around. it’s going to get all gray & matted pretty quickly. & if ramona doesn’t decide to give the cat’s fur a little trim with her safety scissors sometime around age 2, i will be shocked. so…let’s just say this book maybe won’t make a great hand-me-down. it probably would have helped to make the white cat black–hide some of the inevitable baby stains.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. mshannahw says:

    Excellent post, it made me laugh – some of these books are pretty messed up when you think about it. I review books my baby reads sometimes too, but not in such a funny way (unfortunately) – but, he does have a book from the library that I plan to write about soon as it’s completely surreal (about dinosaurs building a swimming pool…).

    1. ciara says:

      i remember when one of my friends had her first baby, she was reading him some book about dinosaurs & there was a bit in there about how some dinosaurs are ugly because they’re bumpy. & she was horrified because she didn’t want to send her kid the message that bumpy people (ie, people with troubled skin) are ugly.

      kid books are complicated. they really are full of so many weird messages. at books & babies today, the theme was birds, & the librarian read some book about a chick who “eats a lot of barley & that’s why he has a big fat tummy!” i wasn’t sure what to think about the overeating = fat thing. luckily ramona was too busy trying to slither off my lap & throw herself on to the floor to really pay attention to the story.

      1. mshannahw says:

        They are definitely complicated – not only does “one” have to consider the story, artwork etc. but there’s also the issue of the messages they’re sending out, as you say. I try to be pretty careful with what I pick for Freddie, but it’s not easy and things can easily slip in – for example I get out library books about princesses and fairies for him as well as the “boy” ones about construction and pirates and although the “boy” ones often include female characters I’m yet to meet a male fairy!

        I would feel the same about the bumpy skin thing, and just labelling people as ugly, or fat, like in the second book you mentioned.

        1. ciara says:

          well, to be fair, there wasn’t necessarily any judgment attached to the words “ugly” or “fat”. maybe it’s not a bad thing to teach kids to use those words in a judgment-free way. or (more likely) i am deluding myself. even if ramona didn’t pick up the negative judgments from me, she’d get them somewhere.

          i’ve been reading ramona the harry potter series & not breaking into the board books too much, but we’re almost done with “deathly hallows” & she’s finally at an age where i can’t really just get away with reading her whatever i like to read anymore. so i’m going to have to venture more deeply into the weird world of board books. yikes!

  2. MKell says:

    Never have truer words been spoken. I actually gave away yet another copy of “Guess how much I love You” last week because it’s so betlittling to the child. Like love is not just a game of one-upsmanship, but – just so we’re clear, little darling – a game of one-upsmanship that children always lose. I put my foot down on that one when Alex was reading to them still in my belly. We have “In my tree” with an owl puppet. Similarly mauled. Which must be more than half the point, because it’s really hard for them (or anyone) to turn the pages with the owl sticking through, so you might as well just eat it’s head.

    1. ciara says:

      well, if the love between a parent & a child is in fact a contest, i would kind of hope it’s a contest the child will always lose. which is to say, i hope the child always feels that the parent loves the child more than the other way around, you know? but yeah, not a great book.

      i’ll have to keep an eye out for “in my nest”! i love owls. there was an owl walk in boston right before we moved away & i really wanted to go, but we were just too busy with packing & everything. they have an annual eagle walk here but it’s not the same.

  3. Hope says:

    I’m a big fan of Goodnight Gorilla, but I’m also a fan of the Carl books and it really is irresponsible to leave your baby in a dog’s charge. :p

    Have you seen the baby lit books? I got all excited when I first read about them, because they’re based on classic literature. But they’re all just counting, colors, etc with pictures that take themes from the books. Which I guess makes more sense, because it would be pretty hard to tell the story of Jane Eyre in a 10 page board book. I still like them, though. The pictures are great.

    1. ciara says:

      i haven’t! i looked for them the last time i was at the bookstore, but ramona was starting to fuss so i aborted the mission. next time!

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