Book Reviews: Books for the very young
Early concept boardbooks and picture books are essential as a way to both teach children language and begin their lifelong love of books. Early Childhood teacher Sara Croft reviews six recent titles, four of which are bilingual in te reo Māori / English.
A day at the beach & A day at the zoo, by Donovan Bixley
These New Zealand board books are a beautiful addition to a little one’s library. Each book introduces two languages - te reo Māori presented alongside English - with bright images, before we are encouraged to find the objects in an action-packed scene on the last page.
The kids at my Early Childhood centre loved the emotive and cheeky facial expression of all the animals in A day at the zoo. We meet lots of different animals before a map of the zoo appears for us to find the animals in. A day at the beach is filled with pictures of what you will see at the beach. It has a uniquely Kiwi feel, with jandals and a silver fern flag on the sand castle!
The best part of each book is the scene on the final page. It is a real treat and makes these simple board books a delight to read as an adult. Instead of just reading a list of objects, we are invited to use all the new language. This is where the kids and I spent lots of time talking together about what we could see, and spotting things in the picture. Early literacy is all about the conversations between the reader and their child, and this book is a wonderful provocation for discussion. The kids and I talked about sun safety and things we do at the beach. We made animal noises as we visited the animals in the zoo.
Early literacy is all about the conversations between the reader and their child and this book is a wonderful provocation for discussion.
Well done to Donovan Bixley for providing us with a meaningful opportunity to use the language and ‘read’ together. Our older children love his interactive ‘looky’ books and this series encourages younger readers to be enchanted by Bixley’s animated drawings too.
A Day at the Beach by Donovan Bixley Published by Hachette NZ RRP: $17.00 Buy Now
A Day at the Zoo by Donovan Bixley Published by Hachette NZ RRP: $17.00
At the zoo I see, by Joshua Button & Robyn Wells (Magabala Books)
This Australian book pairs beautiful illustrations with poetic language which elevates the simple board book into a piece of art. They cover familiar topics but these books are for a more advanced listener.
In At the Zoo I See, we are taken to a zoo where we see some exotic animals. The illustrations of animals are textured paint layered over with black ink. The black ink gives each animal character a life-like quality – the anteater is eating ants and the elephant is with her baby. The illustrations are placed on a white background which places the emphasis on the animals and makes them look as though they are moving on the page.
The illustrations are placed on a white background which places the emphasis on the animals and makes them look as though they are moving on the page.
It was a joy to find the creators challenge the norms of a zoo book for children. The animals featured are not your usual zoo fare (a quoll or a jaguar, for example) and each animal is paired with an adjective: a curious wombat, a surprised lion, a devoted elephant. It is refreshing to hear such rich descriptive language in a child’s book! Research has shown that the language a child hears at a young age impacts their vocabulary up to a year later, so the inclusion of poetic adjectives is fantastic.
I expected another cookie-cutter 'first concepts' book and instead discovered a gem for both children and adults alike! The language provoked us to slow down and look closely at the illustrations. What makes the lion surprised? How is the cassowary queenly? This book encourages children to play with language and express themselves in creative ways.
At the Zoo I see by Joshua Button and Robyn Wells Published by Magabala Books RRP: $13.00
At the Beach I See, by Kamsani Bin Salleh
This Australian book is another from the Young Art series, which I discovered when I fell in love with At the zoo I see. It follows a similar format of beautifully layered paint and ink images on a white background – allowing the art in the illustrations to speak for itself.
From the title, I knew we were going to the beach. Each object is paired with a poetic descriptive word (for example, scattered shells, drifting seaweed). The language makes this book stand out from our crowded children’s book shelf and really encourages the reader’s mind to imagine.
The language makes this book stand out from our crowded children’s book shelf and really encourages the reader’s mind to imagine.
The illustrator has drawn realistic shapes but filled them with earthy watercolour tones. There are layered patterns in different blocks to accentuate shape, form and movement. Multiple illustrations of each object bring depth to the pictures, so the book reads less like a child’s first picture dictionary, and more like a first art book.
As a teacher, I am the ambassador of beauty for young children. I know I am putting beauty into the world when I share the Young Art series with my children and I can’t wait to see their own art, which I’m certain these books will inspire.
At the Beach I see written and illustrated by Kamsani Bin Salleh Published by Magabala Books
Te Whare nā Ngaere Roberts rāua ko Christine Dale
This gem of a book follows a baby as it crawls through a home. The te reo Māori text makes it simple for beginner speakers to engage with the book, making it perfect for nurturing all young ones in their language. And, at the end of the book, the objects are labelled in te reo Māori, to support kōrero as you explore the book further.
Each page flows into the next and the repetitive language creates a rhythm as we journey past objects in the home. My class and I loved the illustrations which tell the story by themselves. We see the baby’s movement and gestures as well as household objects (for example, gumboots, poi and the family cat) as we follow their adventure.
Each page flows into the next and the repetitive language creates a rhythm as we journey past objects in the home.
The creators of these books have created calm, uncluttered illustrations which reinforces vocabulary and allow young children to connect the words to what they are seeing. The stylised pictures are instantly recognisable and quintessentially Kiwi.
Te Whare has a beautiful climax, with the young baby finding her special teddy bear and snuggling up close for bed. The pictures celebrate the excitement of finding her treasured toy – colour is added and emotion displayed to the reader. This book is a taonga which deserves to be read aloud often and will soon become a favourite bedtime story.
Te Whare nā Ngaere Roberts rāua ko Christine Dale Published by OneTree House RRP: $20.00
Ko kiwi mā nā Ngaere Roberts rāua ko Christine Dale (OneTree House)
At first glance this is a counting book of New Zealand animals, but as my class and I turned the pages, we discovered it was much more than just a ‘counting book’. The creators use simple, repetitive language to expose young readers to language structure – soon they will be able to read this book by themselves!
We find animals from the sea, the sky and the forest. The text introduces positional language in te reo Māori so each animal is located on or in their environment – the kahawai is in the ocean; the shell is on the beach; the kea is in the sky. For beginner speakers, if you are unfamiliar with a word, you are likely to understand it in the context of the illustrations.
The modern illustrations place black stylised objects on block colour backgrounds. Colour is kept to a minimum throughout the book and the muted backgrounds allow for high contrast to the illustrations. Research tells us that young children see these black and white contrasted illustrations best.
My class and I read this book once, we read it again to count the objects, and we read it a third time to talk about the different animals. Then we went outside to count and locate animals in the environment ourselves!
Ko Kiwi mA nā Ngaere Roberts rāua ko Christine Dale Published by OneTree House
Sara teaches young children and it is a great excuse to indulge her love of picture books and to pass on a love of words, reading and stories to the next generation. She has an extensive library which is forever growing (often quite literally with a hammer and nails to add a new shelf!). Her children and young adult collection sit alongside cookbooks, a wide range of non-fiction, and books which make her laugh or think. She is always seeking out the perfect picture book to share with her young audience – preferably books which tell Aotearoa’s stories.