I’m not here to encourage you to get the scissors out (and you’d have a hard time doing so with board books).
But I am being reacquainted with certain categories of books, following in the wake of Mini Reader, who has some very definite ideas about what makes a good book.
One with holes in, for example.
We can agree on a particular one, certainly, which is the classic book with holes: The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle.
I’m sure I initially came across this in paperback – and you need to be a bit more careful poking your finger through the holes in paper. This works even better as a board book, though we have it in both versions.
The conceit, of course, is that the aforementioned caterpillar, being very hungry, needs to eat, and so there are little holes in the pages where he has supposedly chewed through them.
There is some gentle maths thrown in, where he gradually eats one more item over the course of each day of the week – plus you have the days of the week element too.
But there’s also the visual aspect: each day of the week has a food of a different colour, as you progress over strawberries, plums, and so on.
Saturday is the biggie, when the caterpillar has his blow out meal, and regrets it after.
(There may not be terribly many supermodels nibbling just one green leaf the day after breaking their diet, but surely ‘just salad’ is following in the steps of the caterpillar.)
Saturday is of course the day that sticks in my mind from reading it as a child. It is partly the greed factor of so many items of food, partly the attraction of all the different things.
I’m sure it also drew me in to notions of more cosmopolitan fare – its pickles and salami, for example – years before I sampled either.
Mini Reader doesn’t necessarily put a finger in the holes of the book. But the days of the week are flipped very fast, so that you have to read quickly to keep up with them.
And we’ve had some happy discussions about just what is going on in that cocoon to bring the caterpillar into being that amazing butterfly of the final pages.
Junior Reader and I are fans of Harry and the Dinosaurs: a small boy with a proud pudding bowl haircut, but also (importantly) a plastic bucket full of his special toy dinosaurs.
I’ve mentioned Harry before – particularly when his older sister Sam riles him – as a good example of recurring phrases. But Mini Reader has introduced me to another book with holes: a story where you see colours through a hole in the page.
Harry is hunting for his dinosaurs – and thinks he sees a different shape, page by page. You then lift the flap to see a larger object, each with its own dinosaur on it.
The book is therefore an additional way to talk about form and colour – as well as a chance for your own mini reader to test your pronunciation of Apatosaurus and Scelidosaurus.
It’s lighter on words than the conventional Harry books – but if you are looking for quickies to add to the growing pile of bedtime stories (Mini’s book total at bedtime seems to be on the increase), it’s light and fun.
I’ll add in a slightly different book with holes: a fold-out book which then forms a series of dioramas. (Mini Reader rather likes it too, at least to look at.)
I have a copy of Thumbelina from my own childhood – and am very pleased to find
a picture of the same issue, so you can admire it too.
There are I think six scenes, with not so much text per page – just enough to take you through Thumbelina’s initial escape, and the other places she seeks to find a home.
The plus side of the book is that each double spread folds out, so you can see two or three layers into each page. But the big excitement is that the covers of the book have strings, so you can fasten the whole thing into a lantern shape.
I think the notion, for the publishers, was to create some kind of mobile (think decorative hanging device, for those gentle readers who might think just of phones). There is a little loop at the top too, so you can certainly hang up the whole book.
The downside of this is that the pictures are quite small and detailed, and at ceiling height, it would be harder to admire them.
And it is worth admiring them: they are reminiscent of a do-it-yourself cardboard theatre
(I had one of those too as a child), with lots of levels of scenery to look through.
I can’t leave without mentioning Peepo again – one that I referenced before, in relation to the way the text rocks you along.
Peepo allows you to see a tiny part of a scene – then you turn the page and see the whole scene.
It is partly the fun of imagining the whole before you see it all, and partly a play on the notion of the book: the peeper is a baby, exploring his home, the park, the back yard, and so on.
Peepo is a classic too – known in particular for its illustrations that conjure up a world of baths in front of the fire, coal cellars, children making their own toys, Dad in his ARP uniform, mum in curlers.
Even as an adult, we want to look through the hole in the book – back to the world we may only just remember, or (for me anyway) recognise through stories and films.
Whether we find out more with our eyes – or whether our mini reader explores with their fingers – a book with a hole is an invitation. The world we are about to find is engaging – and safe.
As long as we don’t eat too many lollipops on Saturdays.