In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hole-y books

Dear Aunt Debbie,

I remember discovering The Far Side at Grandma and Grandpa's apartment, right next to the Doonesburys.  Total magic, especially once I got old enough to really get the sly humor.  I don't know when or how we all got hooked on Calvin and Hobbes, but I have vivid audio memory of Michael dissolving in fits of giggles as he read them.  Good stuff.

It's interesting to see the ways in which Isabel's reading habits are similar to, and different from, Eleanor's at her age.  Some of the same books are total hits, and some that were Eleanor's favorites leave Isabel cold.  Isabel is far harder on the physical books than Eleanor was (with the exception of our chewed-up Goodnight Moon board book) -- we now have a number of picture books with ripped pages, from Isabel's active page-turning.  Violet the Pilot has had the most egregious damage, i.e. the most love.  Part of this comes from Isabel being left on her own with books more often than Eleanor was: if I'm trying to read a chapter of a longer book to Eleanor, I'll leave Isabel alone flipping pages, rather than rushing over to be part of her reading and to spare the book some wear and tear.  But I think Isabel is also a very tactile reader.  She likes books with flaps to lift and tabs to push and pull.  And she, as Eleanor also did at her age, likes books with holes in them.

You and I, and then you again, have written about Janet and Allan Ahlberg's marvelous Peek-a-boo!  The holes cut into the pages, showing what the baby sees and then enlarging to show the whole scene, are a great size for putting fingers into, and even entire small hands. 

Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar has much smaller holes, holes the size of the caterpillar as he eats his way through ascending amounts of food (mostly fruit, but then a carnival's worth of delicious junk on Saturday, and penance in the form of a "nice green leaf" on Sunday).  It's such a great book: brightly colored, funny, good for counting, with pages of varying sizes and all those wonderful holes.  I remember Eleanor finding it hysterical when I'd press my finger up against the back of a page to touch her finger on the front of the same page through the hole.  Jeff and I continue to be mildly disturbed by the fact that the wings on Carle's butterfly appear to be upside down:
 Aside from this, however, it's a great little book.

Less known, but no less tactile, is  Lois Ehlert's Fish Eyes: A Book You Can Count On.  It begins:

If I could put on a suit of scales
Add some fins, and one of these tails
I'd close my eyes, and then I'd wish
That I'd turn into a beautiful fish!

The narrator goes on to imagine what she'd see through her fish eyes: ascending numbers of different kinds of fish, all with little punched-out holes for eyes, so that the color on the next page comes through.  Again, much fun with small fingers and flesh-colored fish eyes appearing and disappearing.  There's also an almost-invisible dark little fish at the bottom right of each right-hand page, intimating what the next number will be.

Finally, a classic: Dorothy Kunhardt's Pat the Bunny, first published in 1940.  I remember playing obsessively with our copy as a kid: touching "Daddy's scratchy face" (the patch of Daddy's skin made, literally, of sandpaper), looking into the shiny mirror, and putting my finger through "Mummy's ring" (the hole in the book!).  It's one of the most pleasing tactile books I know of, and also one of the easiest to destroy, with its flimsy plastic ring binding.  But totally worth getting a second copy when that happens.

Love, Annie

1 comment:

  1. Okay, okay, I will be the first to admit that even at 18, I LOVE touchable books. I'll stop in the children's section at my Barnes & Noble just to Pat the Bunny or press a squeaky book. Loads of fun.

    I still have my old copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar from my pre-school days somewhere in my house. I actually loved the pictures; to be honest, the holes confused me even when I was five. I couldn't tell what they were there for, haha.