Series Review: BabyLit Primers by Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver

With older children off to school, parents and caregivers welcome time with littler ones still at home. It’s never too early for them to start learning, and adults can enjoy it too with the BabyLit Primer series by Jennifer Adams and illustrated by Alison Oliver.

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This smart series adapts literary classics into board book form. Great works like Jane EyreThe Odyssey, Les Miserables, and Moby Dick are not actually abridged to convey the story, but rather themes from them are used to introduce concepts (colors, feelings, opposites, and more). Each title is posed as an old-fashioned “primer” on a given subject, illustrated with references from the story.

Illuminating these classics are simple, colorful images: a mixture of vintage patterns and modern shapes that create a fun and updated look. The figures are stylized and surprisingly detailed, with contrasting colors to attract even the tiniest eyes. The art pairs sweetly with the ideas and is uniformly pleasing.

There are quite a few BabyLit titles now; as with any series, some are better than others. The strongest are the ones that provide quotes from the original work. It gives a very young child the opportunity to absorb a marvelous description or turn of phrase that relates to something they have an interest in, like animals or weather. Among these I find The Jungle Book, Wuthering Heights, Little Women, and The Secret Garden to be particularly good.

Not all of the books feature text from the original stories, but they do contain hints of it. For instance, Pride and Prejudice is styled as a counting book, with “2 rich gentlemen, 3 houses, 4 marriage proposals, 5 sisters” and so forth. These references may delight adult readers even more than the children; but it is still an effective counting book for the target age, and provides young children familiarity with of a piece of literature that has shaped human awareness for two hundred years.

This series is admittedly a bit of a vanity for parents. Babies will not catch the clever references, nor will they emerge with an understanding of the actual plots from these tales. But they will see their loved ones connecting with books large and small, and wanting to discuss it with them. Such material provides junior scholars with a platform for exploring and talking about these stories with their adults; rather than being daunted by big grown-up books, they can engage with them and look forward to them. And for parents – who may be struggling to reconcile their personal interests with their new role as primary custodian of a small soul – these delightful books are a breath of fresh air.

Hint: a BabyLit selection makes an adorable baby shower gift. There are a lot of them, so you can always add to the collection.

If you liked this series you might also enjoy: The Folk Tale Classics Treasury by Paul Galdone

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Review: Oh No, George!

It’s time to choose something for our littlest readers, and this one is just as much fun as the title suggests: Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton.

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George is a dog who is left home alone and promises to behave in the absence of his human friend, Harry. Good-natured George has every intention of keeping this promise, but his resolve is tested when he spies a cake, and then a cat, and then a bed of neatly-planted flowers. As each opportunity presents itself he remembers his pledge to be good, but each time he succumbs to temptation. When Harry returns to a huge mess and a repentant George, he forgives his pet and they go out for a walk together. Buoyed by Harry’s mercy and love, George behaves much better this time… or does he?

The bright abstract paintings in this board book are a bit of a departure from my usual preference for softer and more natural artwork. However they are a great fit for the theme, and are probably a pretty accurate depiction of a toddler’s thought process. Simple shapes and bright colors depict the contrast between the tidiness of George’s surroundings and the chaos he leaves behind. As he pauses to make his decisions the expressions on his face are adorable. Little ones who love dogs (or perhaps have a penchant for trouble themselves) will love George.

The writing in this story is equally fun. It follows a pattern so that we empathize with poor George even as we anticipate his choices, but there is a clever twist at the end that leaves us wondering what we would do if we were George. Indeed, we are George; the themes of understanding expectations, decisions, and consequences – and making mistakes despite the best of intentions – will probably be very familiar to small children. But Harry’s forgiveness is ultimately reassuring, and George makes better choices when given a second chance (or at least we hope so!). With an easy, conversational style and a speedy plot progression, George’s plight will be an easy one to read over and over with toddlers and preschoolers.

If you liked this book you might also enjoy: Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton

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