Dear Aunt Debbie,
Among the many kinds of board books out there in the world, one of my least favorite has always been the Cute for Grownups board book. You know the kind I mean: books which feel like they were written to be marketed to the hip friends of new parents who will pick them up at the counter of a trendy gift shop on their way to a baby shower. These are the books that a browsing shopper might find chuckle-worthy in the moment, but they're not really for children.
I'm talking about titles like the Baby Be of Use series, or the nine book series which started with
Urban Babies Wear Black. And of course there's Go the Fuck to Sleep, which made the rounds a few years ago, and for which you had much less patience than I.
I've been given a few of these types of books over the years, and have quietly deep-sixed them before having to run the risk that a child will get attached to one and I'll have to read it aloud twelve thousand times while feeling vaguely annoyed.
So when my mother (your sister, and generally a terrific judge of children's literature) bought us a board book version of Anna Karenina, I was skeptical.
In the BabyLit series -- of course it's a series -- Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver reimagine a number of classic works of literature as concept board books. Anna Karenina is "A Fashion Primer," and introduces dress and accessories vocabulary; Wuthering Heights is "A Weather Primer," using direct quotes to illustrate the various kinds of weather Heathcliff and Catherine are exposed to ("Breezy," "Stormy"); Frankenstein is an "Anatomy Primer."
Despite my misgivings, Will fell in love with Anna Karenina immediately. I think the attraction resides in part in Oliver's illustrations, which are attractively blocky and colorful. Will's love of dress-up, which he shares with his older sisters, may also play a part.
In the last year, I've read a number of the BabyLit titles in stores and at friends' houses (suddenly, they're everywhere!). I've found them a little uneven in quality -- some are spot-on, both funny for the grownups reading them and interesting for the kids, some less so.
Hands down, my favorite is Pride and Prejudice: A Counting Primer. Here's the entire text, with a couple of illustrated pages to give you the flavor:
1 English village
2 rich gentlemen
4 marriage proposals
7 soldiers in uniform
9 fancy ballgowns (this is Eleanor and Isabel's favorite page)
10 10,000 pounds
When I got to 10 the first time I read it, I laughed out loud.
Have I been bamboozled by the hip nerd feel of these books? Are they just as obnoxious as the other Cute for Grownups books I've eschewed over the years? They feel different in character to me, but I'm willing to hear an argument. What's your take on this genre?