They’ve never much appealed to me before, but with my future spawn a-kicking in my midriff, it’s high time I started seeking out some of the better quality board books out there. After all, I ain’t reading no junk to the fledgling. So it is we begin a new series here on Fuse #8: Board Book Investigations. Today’s subject: The Prince of Preschool – Hervé Tullet.
America is experiencing a Tullet-i-zation of massive proportions. A Tullet invasion, if you will. His books have at long last crossed the Atlantic Ocean to invade our shores and force our nation’s children to read. Or so I am led to believe.
It started slowly on his part. Technically his books have been coming out here in America for years, but they hadn’t quite caught on until now. For example, in 2009 Tate Publishing brought out a strange little number called The Coloring Book. It was pretty much just that, but with a twist. Tullet isn’t content in just doing coloring books. He must do AWESOME coloring books. This 100 Scope Notes review says more on the subject, but it’s one of the rare blogger reviews of Tullet you will find. For the most part, he’s been overlooked.
So who is this guy? Well, first off, he looks like this:
Yup. That is precisely what I would envision a French preschool expert to look like. He has a website, of course, that is worth trolling through just so long as you can handle the four-leafed blobs that bounce and cavort about your screen like Lucky Charms on LSD.
This year you’re going to hear Tullet’s name primarily because of his book Press Here, coming out with Chronicle. This book trailer probably says more about the title than I ever could:
All this I knew, but his board books were a complete surprise.
Recently I received in the mail six Hervé Tullet board books from Phaidon. Phaidon doesn’t usually send me all that many books (they don’t print that many children’s titles to begin with). I was intrigued by these, particularly since board books are such a strange world. As Martha Parravano writes in A Family of Readers, “The must successful board-book creators tap in babies’ enthusiasms, attention spans, and (occasionally) senses of humor.” How does all that change when you’re facing high-end board books with a French pedigree and the Phaidon symbol staring out at you from the spine? Let’s see.
The Game of Finger Worms. If babies respond well to books that encourage interaction then Finger Worms is perhaps the most interactive of Tullet’s board book menagerie. First off, I was intrigued by the title. “Finger Worms”. Almost sounds like an inadequate translation. As it happens, the original title in France is Jeu de Doigts or Game of Fingers. The term “Finger Worms” in comparison actually is a little less mechanical, and I don’t mind it as much.
The book is one of those titles where the parent sticks their finger in the two holes presented at the front and back of the book as they read the story. One might take a cue from the finger worm on the cover and consider drawing a little smiley face on each finger, so as to make the experience more amusing (to the parent). Actually, this is even recommended on the back of the book in Tullet’s distinctive printing. There’s not much of a story, aside from the idea that finger worms have been on this earth for millions of years and will not, in fact, appear in your egg or your cake. The words are exceedingly simple then. Really, the only joy comes in wiggling one’s fingers about. Index fingers, I should say, since it’s quite hard to turn the pages with any other digits you have at hand (ha ha).
Next up, The Game of Patterns. It’s a high class version of The Memory Game, in its way. On each two page spread you’ll find that the images on the left and the images on the right look identical. Look a little closer, though, and you’ll see small difference. The happy face is now a sad face. The left arrow is now facing to the right. At first the brightly colored images, set against a white background, do stand out in such a way that tiny eyeballs will be stimulated. Then the patterns become a little crazier. The repressed modern artist lurking under Tullet’s skin comes out and colors and patterns and lines take on a frantic energy. The final spread of crazed doodles will look familiar to any parent that has caught their toddler making quick work of the formerly white dining room walls (thank YOU, Crayola!). It’s a cool book, but since it requires having enough wherewithal to know how to spot differences, this is probably intended for the older set of kids.
The Game of Mix-Up Art and The Game of Mix and Match sort of go together. First off, I’m grateful to whoever it was that came up with the phrase “Mix and Match”. I’ve been trying to find a way to describe those books where you life a flap and create a new picture with a new tab for years. There’s no standardized phrase in America, as far as I can tell. “Mix and Match”, therefore, will do nicely. In The Game of Mix and Match the pages are cut into four separate tabs. The correct top and bottom for each picture is not make readily apparent, however, so some kids will take a great deal of joy in pairing up the “right” images together. Others will luxuriate in the chaos of creating houses with rocketship bottoms. Still others will be babies, and will just like turning the flaps. The Game of Mix-Up Art acts in a very similar manner with Tullet encouraging you on the back cover to “create a whole new work of art”. If you found the chaos at the end of The Game of Patterns to be too much, this is not the book for you. For kids entranced by Tullet’s oddly cut flaps and use of bright colors, however, it could prove enticing.
The Game of Let’s Go turned out to be my favorite of the lot. Maybe that’s because I’m a texture-based kid at heart. In a mighty text-heavy opening, Tullet encourages kids to close their eyes and tell the story of where their finger is traveling as they go through the book. The green line is mildly fuzzy, you see, and something you can follow. He ends with, “But remember: Don’t open your eyes until you reach the end.” This suggests that adults will help, but since the line really does go from one page to another (almost always), it’s conceivable that a kid could do it on their own. So I figured I’d give it a shot. I closed my eyes and tried to get through the whole book that way. Tullet threw me off pretty early when he broke up the textured green line into a textured green dotted line. I had to open my eyes just to make sure I was doing the right thing. Then the line goes back to being straight, which is fine, but I found at least one point where it didn’t line up correctly from one page turn to the next. A parental supervisor is probably needed then. Still, it was a heckuva lot of fun. Probably not ideal for babies, but older kids are sure to get a kick out of it.
Finally, The Game of Light is probably the most baby friendly of the books I looked at. A sweet bedtime tale of cut-outs, it reminded me of nothing so much as Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s books. Simply talking about what happens when you turn out the light, it creates quiet dreamscapes for infants just about ready to turn in. And so, for my newborn, this will probably be the board book that is the most read right off the bat, alongside standards like Goodnight, Gorilla.
The results of our investigations? For babies, the best book of the six is probably going to be The Game of Light and The Game of Finger Worms. For toddlers I’d recommend The Game of Mix-Up Art and The Game of Mix and Match. For preschoolers, they may be ready for The Game of Patterns and The Game of Let’s Go. Many thanks to Phaidon for bringing these to my attention.