Review: A Baby’s Guide to Surviving Dad by Benjamin Bird and Tiago Americo

A survival guide that works both ways.

Publication date: 1st February 2016
Publisher: Capstone

A Baby’s Guide to Surviving Dad  is an amusing work, which has the air of the picture book parody, but with the ability to appeal to the child reader in a unique way. The book is structured around ‘lessons’ that a baby needs to teach their dad, in order to ensure survival. These lessons are instructive, whilst simultaneously hilarious and highly inventive.

What makes the book seem like its intended reader is an adult one, is that the child protagonist – the baby – is too young to understand the humour of the book, and an older child might not find it entertaining as they stop needing nappies changed or putting things in their mouths. The only reader who will definitely enjoy the irony of the narrator’s advice for ‘training Dad’ is an adult. That said, it’s a simple book with an entertaining premise and solid execution, so I am sure it will appeal to children

I found Americo’s illustrations endearing. They have a cartoon-like quality which gives them a crisp clarity. They complement the text perfectly and really bring the book to life. The characters stand out and the reader feels close to them as a result. The entire book looks a little like an instructional YouTube video, which gives it that vibrant edge.

I would recommend this book first and foremost as a present to new fathers. It finds the right balance between the hectic nature of taking care of a baby, and the fear of doing it wrong. For children, I think it falls into quite a narrow age group – those just starting to outgrow ‘babyhood’. It can also make a reappearance at the birth of a sibling, where the child can observe a real life Baby in all their glory. I look forward to the ‘Mom’ version.

Review: Two long ears by Jacob A. Boehne

An ‘alternative’ counting book.

Publication date: 28th January 2016
Publisher: Schiffer Publishing

Two Long Ears is an engaging, and artistically composed picture book, which seizes the opportunity to teach the reader about body art through the versatile medium of the counting book.

The portrayal of the different ways that people can modify their bodies in order to achieve different kinds of beauty is a novel way of presenting objects for teaching the numbers one to ten. It not only provides a point of conversation between the two readers, enabling understanding and the avoidance of prejudice early on, but creates a beautiful and diverse picture of the world around us.

Whilst fundamentally simple – the illustrations portray one characteristic at a time – the intricacies of the images are fascinating. A long time can be spent going over each illustration and picking out features which are not mentioned in the text, but which are equally individual. For example, the cover illustration provides the context for “two long ears” but also encourages the reader to consider the use of facial hair, and even – ignoring the obviously expressionistic use of colour – the portrayal of blue hair. Boehne has obviously given careful thought to the characters he has created for the work

Boehne also includes a page at the end of the book which provides reading suggestions for an adult reader. Although they can seem a little unnecessary – surely no one reading to a child will be able to avoid “noticing details in the text and illustrations” along the way?! – I like to think of them as stage directions. They serve an interesting purpose to both ‘break the fourth wall’ for the adult reader, but make the experience more theatrical and dramatic for the child reader. The instructions let the adult reader in on the act of creation alongside the author. Even if they are not reading to a small child at the time – as was the case for me – it reminds them of the purpose and of the full intended experience.

I would recommend Two Long Ears as a fascinating and exploratory work, with sound artistic value. For the adult reader, it is a book which takes advantage of a minimalist style to hide so many intriguing features in plain sight. For the child, aside from teaching to count to ten, it opens up a world of new kinds of people, or allows them to see the people they love portrayed in a way not often seen.

Review: Too Many Carrots by Katy Hudson

A romantic take on hoarding.

Publication date: 1st February 2016 (UK, 11th February)
Publisher: Capstone

Too Many Carrots follows the turning point in the life of a rabbit with a hoarding problem and entitlement issues. After Rabbit can no longer actually fit in his burrow, he proceeds to destroy all of his friends’ houses by bringing “too many carrots” with him when he is invited to spend the night – despite them politely reminding him that there isn’t much room. Eventually, after Rabbit’s carrots have destroyed four of his friends’ lives, he decides to get rid of the majority of his carrot collection and share his home – and some carrot cake – with his homeless friends. The reader is thus meant to understand the meaning of sharing.

I’m not saying that Rabbit will relapse, but I’m not sure there was enough character development for him to have realised the error of his ways. It takes a pretty selfish person to leave four people on the street after being the one who made them homeless, so I’m not sure it can be indicative of how Rabbit will act after they have rebuilt their homes. The message of sharing as a good thing (“sharing makes EVERYTHING better”) feels shoehorned in; Rabbit has never seemed selfish, just obsessional, and in fact when the other animals decided to share their home with rabbit, it didn’t quite work out for them. All this to say, the book is entertaining, but its plot is definitely not the tightest I’ve seen.

The illustrations, however, are delightful. Hudson – creator of the acclaimed Bear and Duck – has paid attention to detail, with careful and sensitive features throughout the work. The characters are attractively drawn, and the watercolour effect is pleasantly familiar and expertly implemented. They are wonderfully varied and vibrant, and they definitely make for an enjoyable reader experience.

I would recommend this book as a light read to anyone with an interest in illustration, and in the mood for a humorous work. I think it would be especially appealing to children with a tendency towards benign hoarding. It is a fun book to read with company, making it a good choice for a daytime story.

Review: The Story without an End by Sarah Austin and Eleanor Vere Boyle (translated from Carové)

A romantic reprint of a 19th century childhood idyll.

Publication date: 15th December 2015
Publisher: Dover Publications

Unfortunately, I have to admit that I found The Story Without an End archaic. I’m not sure if it’s because I find descriptions of a beautiful natural world trite, or because inanimate objects being called “she” is my pet peeve, but I found the work hackneyed. Understandably so, considering Dover have produced a new – and very good, I might add – edition of a translation from the mid 19th century. This necessarily results, however, in a translation as dated as the original text.

The imagery is impressive, and the detailed descriptions evoke feelings of tranquillity and  awe. The word “idyllic” springs to mind constantly, as the Child wanders parentless and aimless through its natural surroundings. However, the theme of innocence and reversion to the simplicity of mother nature is at once alluring, and overdone. There is also an undercurrent of theological significance, as the Child exhibits certain Christ-like qualities, which, again, both add to the atmosphere and make it obsolete. It has something of The Waterbabies about it, which is unshakeable.

The illustrations are traditional and highly recognisable as similar to those that accompany Hans Christian Andersen’s works. They complement the text perfectly, and portray the common conflation of unblemished innocence and childhood that riddles the text. The cherubic, androgynous Child is fairy-like as it features in stunning pastoral backdrops. They could definitely serve as classic prints in a child’s bedroom, and their retention is a definite highlight of this edition.

I believe that this book’s appeal lies predominantly in its value as a reference piece. It is a beautiful edition, so if any adults had enjoyed this as children, or are partial to Victorian children’s literature, it is certainly worth consideration. The modern child is likely to find a lot of the imagery attractive – especially the sentient flowers – however there are lulls that are not often reflected in the contemporary children’s book. This might make it a fairly difficult read.