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It's Not Just "A is for Apple" Anymore

Cover to Solar System

Birth to age five is a critical stage of development in a child’s life. Particularly in the first three years of life, babies’ brains develop at an astonishing rate. Reading and the positive experiences around reading promote babies’ development and can create a love of reading that will last a lifetime. Reading books on a wide range of topics introduces a variety of new words that children may not hear in everyday conversation, building their brain power.

Publishers have been responding to parents’ and caregivers’ desire to have board books that expand on the traditional approach by creating books for babies that introduce areas such as science and history or that take a new approach to learning ABCs, colors and shapes. 

In Solar System, by Jill McDonald, colorful but simple page layouts and illustrations support brief and memorable facts about each planet in this earliest introduction to our solar system. In phrases such as “Uranus and Neptune are dark and cold,” the author uses familiar words to explain each planet and surrounds words that may be new to children with those they will more easily understand. Dinoblock

The Planets 101: The Solar System Unfolds, by Brad M. Epstein, reveals our solar system in a board book that unfolds repeatedly to uncover a different planet on each page. The Sun is shown first, then planets in their order, with some brief facts about each on the facing page. Once unfolded all the way, all the planets are displayed in a long row, with the Sun at their head. 

In Space Walk, by Salina Yoon, a young astronaut takes the reader on a journey exploring the planets in a lift-the-flap book. Rhyming text makes the descriptions of each planet memorable (“What makes Saturn look so nice? Its many moons and rings of ice.”) and may lead to this book being read again and again. 

Bug Hunt, by Salina Yoon, has the same design as Yoon’s Space Walk, with lift-the-flap pages and rhyming text. There are other board books about bugs out there, but Bug Hunt goes beyond asking children to identify the color or shape of bugs and introduces them to bugs’ roles in nature. Under the ladybug flap, for example, we learn that “. . . these bugs feed on tiny pests. They are perfect garden guests!” 

Dinosaur books are incredibly popular with children, and Dinoblock, by Christopher Franceschelli, gives us an opportunity to get that passion started early. To help identify each dinosaur, it is paired with an object children may be familiar with, such as how Brachiosaurus stretches high like a fire truck ladder J is for Jazz: A Roaring Twenties Alphabetor how Ceratosaurus has “short front legs like a kangaroo.” There are also pronunciation tips, a big help for adults reading this aloud.  

Adults are used to reading shape books to babies and toddlers, where we help them identify red circles or blue squares. Paris: A Book of Shapes, by Ashley Evanson, has youngsters searching for shapes in stylized illustrations of city scenes in Paris. Hot air balloons near the Eiffel Tower are circles. Triangles can be found around the scene outside the Louvre Museum. This book contains lots of new vocabulary, as well as being an interesting way to introduce international cultures. 

ABC books get an update in a board book series by Greg Paprocki. Each of Paprocki’s ABC books has a theme, such as J is for Jazz: A Roaring Twenties Alphabet or C is for Castle: A Medieval Alphabet. For parents who have read enough “A is for apple,” it can be refreshing to read “A is for armor” or “Z is for Ziegfeld,” while children are introduced to those interesting new words. 

In a similar way, Baby’s First Book of Birds & Colors, by Phyllis Limbacher Tildes, takes the typical color book for babies and toddlers in a new direction, pairing basic colors (red, orange, blue) with wild birds in each hue. On the red page, scarlet tanager and northern cardinal perch on branches surrounded by autumnal leaves of the same shade. On the yellow page, goldfinch and yellow warbler sit on branches filled with yellow spring blooms. This book will be extra fun for bird lovers and those who will become bird lovers. 

Under the Sea, by Kate Riggs, brings readers to the ocean floor where “octopus waits in a dark den” and “sea turtle swims after jellyfish.” Comparing words are used throughout, introducing concepts such as bottom versus top and in versus out.

This column originally appeared in The Free Lance-Star newspaper.