I have always acknowledged the danger of having a child of my own. You see, as a children’s librarian I deal with parents that truly believe that if their kid does or does not like a book, that is the final word on the matter. So if I try to suggest a book the child did not like they will curl their lips in severe distaste or, worse, try to have it removed from my collection. Likewise if I eschew a book the offspring adored they will assure me that it’s the best in my children’s room. Parents have a kind of selective tunnel vision with their heirs, which is understandable up to a point. And for eight years I’ve been a childless librarian with only my experience to call upon when reviewing books. Now the tables have turned. I find myself with a small human in my home and I become desperate to amuse her. Board books, once appreciated only in a vague theoretical way, are now for me mysterious godsends with secrets waiting to be uncovered. The danger I alluded to is that I will become one of those very parents I dislike, saying to the world that simply because my progeny likes a book, therefore all progeny everywhere will follow suit. This is not the case. With that in mind, just consider this a review that was once tested on a child of two months and held their interest. For what it’s worth.
Right from the cover onward this book works hard to suck in infant interest. Turn the cover and the wavy pattern on the boat becomes an ocean scene with a red fish cresting the waves. After that the book begins in earnest. “Rolling yarn, in a little house . . /” turn the page and, “Look! Here comes Kitty, ready to play! Meow, meow!” A checked pattern of red and white square that had previously been the makeup of the house now become a floor with a silhouette of a black cat in the upper right hand corner. Meanwhile the page you’ve just turned reveals that the house is now red and white too. This sets up the rest of the book. Patterns will appear within objects, and when you turn the page the colors of the objects will change and the patterns become something else. From black stripes to orange polka dots to green zigzags, Perrin creates patterns that seem to move when the eye takes them in. At the end of the book older children can identify the objects, colors, and animals that were spotted throughout.
Board books, those sturdy denizens of the nursery library, have never been more popular. At some point publishers realized that if they simply took already existing picture books and turned them into board book versions they could potentially double their sales. Some of these work. Many do not. Books that have always been board books from conception onward fare better with small fry, but they still need an edge. They need something enticing to creatures that have not yet figured out hand/eye coordination. Many board books go the easy route and include fuzzy tabs or parts that squeak and squeal. Martine Perrin’s solution is subtler. Children at a very young age are attracted to bright contrasting colors and patterns. With that in mind, why not make a book of such patterns taking the shape of familiar objects? And while you’re at it, throw in some animal sounds and hidden creatures. The lift-the-flap element thereby becomes the icing on the cake, made possible by Perrin’s judicious use of cut pages.
I’ve read this book multiple times but it took me a while before I figured out the pattern to the colors. Perrin uses two colors on each page. Then, when you move on, the secondary color is paired with a new one. So the colors in this book go red/black, black/orange, orange/blue, blue/magenta, and so on until you return to black at the end. They’re great colors too. Very striking to baby eyes, particularly the vibrant blue. Invariably I’ve found that a baby will be attracted to the colors first, the patterns second, and the images in the pictures third. To be fair to the baby, the pictures are the least interesting aspects. They’re very modern, containing elegant animals and objects. Sleek and well composed. In their presence the zigzaggy lines have a lot more energy to them. This is not a criticism, mind you. To a baby’s brain, energetic lines have a lot more to offer than prancing, detailed teddy bears anyway.
And yes, my baby loves this book. We’ve tried other Martine Perrin board books like Look Who’s There but they just didn’t have the lure of What Do You See? Perrin’s elegant sense of design manages to make this one of the rare board books that is as fascinating to babies as the pictures are attractive to adults. It’s rare that a grown person can appreciate something as much as a newborn, but this is one of the exceptions. You will rarely go wrong if you buy high-contrast black and white books for babies, but if you want something colorful with a good chance of success, try this one on for size. A fun read (and one you won’t mind repeating over and over again either).
On shelves now.
Source: Book sent from publisher for review.
Travis Jonker of 100 Scope Notes made this great video of the beginning of the book. Watch it to see what I was yammering on about.