Because I’m a librarian I like to slot books into distinct categories. Alphabet book. Concept book. Emotions book. So on. Other people like it too. That’s why I keep a file of different lists of books by topic at my reference desk. There are some books that don’t fit into any category, and that’s fine. They’re cool. They prove that the publishing industry today allows for creativity. Then there’s a third category; books that belong to categories where they are the sole occupants. Meet Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow by Susan Shea. If I were going to label its category it would be “Interactive picture books that set up false pretenses so that kids can knock `em down”. That’s a lot of words, but that’s okay. I like books that make you work a bit, and the delight of this title is that aside from the great art, it’s an original and fun premise. The lift-the-flap meets the concept book.
“If you look around you’ll see, / Some things grow like you and me.” Kids know that they’re growing but what else does so? With rhyming text Susan Shea asks kids if one thing grows, will another? For example, “If a cub grows and becomes a bear can a stool grow and become . . .” Lift the flap and the stool elongates as the text finishes with “a chair?”. Time and again living things are paired with inanimate and the readers are asked if they will grow. Finally at the end of the book all is made clear (“Yes to cows. Yes to snakes. No to plows. No to cakes.”) With great panache the book is an entirely new look at growing things and what it means to be more than just big.
We generally associate lift-the-flap books with the very youngest of cogent readers. When I do a toddler storytime, I like to include one lift-the-flap book, partly because there’s no replicating the look of sheer surprise on a kid’s face when they see a page shift and change. I get a kick out of that. Yet there’s nothing saying that the magic of lift-the-flap leaves a kid when they enter preschool and beyond. The act of reading a paper book is an act of continual discovery. With every lift of a page, you have a story progress in time. Lifting a flap is very much the same kind of activity, except in this case you are revealing a truth that is both part and not part of that particular page. In the case of Shea’s book, the flaps reveal untruths, in a sense. The flaps sometimes reveal something true, but generally they’re showing things that are false.
Is this a problem? That’s the real concern with the book, I guess. Some parents might worry that the book is teaching their kids that caps grow into hats and all that. Sure, there’s a portion at the end where all becomes clear, but by the time you get back there, wouldn’t “the damage be done”? Not as such. It’s important to note, though, that the book isn’t telling you that a shovel will become a plow or a watch a clock. Rather they’re asking the reader. It’s allowing a certain level of interaction between the parents and their children. A kid is asked “if this, then this?” And as the parent goes through it with the kid they can correct them themselves. Some people feel that a book for kids has to do all the work for you. Really interesting children’s books, however, allow for the child to be more than just a passive consumer. They’re actively engaged, particularly when they get to reject something. Why do you think books like Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus do so well? Because at long last the child reader gets to do to a book what is done to them regularly; they get to say “no”.
Then there’s this Tom Slaughter fellow. When you read his short biography on the back flap of the book you can see that amongst his many accomplishments “his prints are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art.” Makes sense. Looking at the cover of this book it resembles those children’s books you see cluttering up the shelves in fancy museum gift shops more than anything else. You wouldn’t necessarily think it was going to please anyone much beyond the trendy parental shopper. Yet Slaughter has a style that actually makes anyone and everyone happy. His lift-the-flap reveals are clever, sure, but they’re also uniquely colorful. Primary colors are the name of the game in this little outing. One is reminded of fellow children’s illustrator Laura Vaccaro Seeger (she of such books as Lemons Are Not Red, which this title resembles to a certain extent), though the cut paper style Slaughter utilizes is very clearly his own. So really, it’s the ultimate creation. The title that pleases both adults and kids equally.
Functional insofar as any picture book can be said to have a function, Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow? really is one heckuva quality product. Fun and attractive. Consistently interesting with enough interactive qualities to engage even the most lethargic of kids, the pairing of Shea and Slaughter really knock his puppy out of the park. If you’re looking for something to engage a clever kid and a bored adult, this may be your best bet. It fires on all cylinders. A keeper.
On shelves now.