This article in last Sunday’s New York Times caught my eye with its cheerful cover of a board book called Moby Dick. Moby Dick? Yes, for overachieving parents there’s a new line of board books based on literary novels such as Pride and Prejudice and Anna Karenina.
I laughed at first. BabyLit – really? Board books are meant to be chewed and drooled on, not to impart literary ideas. Hopefully parents aren’t thinking this is the next Baby Einstein, delivering promises of making your infant a genius.
The article makes sense though, when it says this is just about giving kids bright, colorful books with interesting vocabulary. Parents may not know this, but the more different words children hear in the early years, the better. Brain research is showing that hearing different words, especially complex words, helps the brain develop. And preschool research shows that children who hear fewer words at home show up to school at a disadvantage.
Which is not to say that little kids need these books. They just need books, the more the better. They need board books with interesting pictures, words, and textures. They don’t need Moby Dick.
But it got me thinking. Parents get bored with books that are just colors and shapes, but if you have a warm feeling for Pride and Prejudice, chances are you’ll convey that to your child. Kids develop emotional attachments to books just like they do with blankets and dolls (some kids, anyway). Who’s to say that child won’t someday be assigned to read Pride and Prejudice, and some part of them remembers the beloved little book they carried around the house and drooled on?
It reminds me of those Illustrated Classics I had when I was a kid. They probably weren’t good adaptations, and the illustrations were pretty bad – but when you read the book later on you had a sense of familiarity with the story. On the other hand, the problem with abridged versions is that sometimes you think you’ve read the book, and you haven’t. We don’t have that problem here.
If there’s a downside, it’s that these books suggest a story, when there isn’t one. Each book has a “theme”, not a story. For example, Moby Dick has pictures of fish and other sea terminology. Wuthering Heights has examples of weather terms, and Alice in Wonderland is about colors. Still, they do seem to incorporate some of the plot and characters from the books.
Board books are about transitioning babies and toddlers to real books, when they’re ready for them. Unlike paper books, they can be played with, carried around, touched and bent and thrown around. And if it’s done well, a little bit of “literariness” couldn’t hurt.
There’s a similar line called “Cozy Classics” that have adorable pictures of little felt characters and more titles. I have to check these out.
And now I know what my one-month old niece is getting for Christmas.