Susan Young reports on books that can be chewed, bashed and maybe even read.
Babies like books. They're wonderful for chewing, throwing, banging on the table and bashing in the bath. Books are good for babies: introducing them as early as possible to the idea of meaningful and enjoyable text is a terrific idea.
But almost as important - and often ignored - is finding books that babies and toddlers really like. When I put seven-month-old Holly within easy reach of a dozen or so new board books, again and again she lunged for the same few.
Twee illustrations seem to be a feature of so many toddler books that the bold, bright, beautiful style of Satoshi Kitamura stands out like a beacon. Cat Is Sleepy and its three companions are pleasing to adult eyes, but they were also the baby's choice time after time. Moreover, she enjoys having them read again and again.
Although simple, the texts are cleverly plotted: each animal has a problem which is solved after some experimentation. Cat can't sleep because "it's too noisy here" in a room strewn with musical instruments where a small boy is playing the piano, too untidy in the lounge, too cold in the bathroom basin - but ideal on a little girl's lap.
There's plenty to explain to babies in each picture, while toddlers love pointing out the problems faced by the animal for themselves. A good bet for children from babyhood to around four, thanks to their versatility, while their jolly detailing and lack of sentimentality make re-reading pleasurable for adults.
Another major hit with babies are the padded plastic bath books by Sian Tucker, even easier than board books for unpractised hands to turn. They are ideal for chewing and play at messy mealtimes as well as in the bath. It is the bold colours and typography that makes Animal Splash and Splish Splash particularly attractive to babies. Each page has a bright picture of something to do with water - swan, penguin, whale, starfish, bath toy - and its name. Excellent for early learning about books, habitats - and lots of fun.
The third great favourite is Barney's Book of Opposites, a boardbook featuring photographs of the lurid purple television dinosaur. The colours make it attractive to grab, but it is made of very heavy board and the pages are mysteriously difficult to separate. The busy layout makes it more suitable for older children than babies. Kipper's Book of Opposites by Mick Inkpen, just published in paperback, is clearer.
Debi Gliori's Mr Bear Says series are described on the covers as ideal first books for babies and toddlers. Third or fourth books might be a more sensible description: they are very large for small hands, the vocabulary introduces creatures such as bees into a feeding story and a goodnight story, and the pages have to be turned quickly in order to make the rhymes interesting.
Here's A Happy Kitten is also intended for very young children, judging from the board pages, but seemed to please the two-year-old tester most. The fun here comes from the holes in the pages through which little fingers are meant to wiggle: however, their location appears alarmingly random at times. Why put a wiggle hole at a mouse's nose rather than its tail, for instance? Or at a kicking donkey's ears instead of its legs?
Far better on this theme was Don't Put Your Finger In The Jelly, Nelly! intended for two to five-year-olds and including some clever use of finger-wiggling holes. Younger children won't understand the awful puns - "Don't put your finger in the pasta, Jocasta! You'll wake up the Spag-yeti!" - but older ones might.
Also new from Nick Sharratt - and best loved by older pre-schoolers - is Ketchup On Your Cornflakes. The spiral binding and split pages allow the most ridiculous questions to be asked - and sensible ones as well. For instance: Do you like a woolly hat on your cornflakes? On your chips? Do you like ketchup in your lemonade? In your bed? The format and the marvellous bright, illustrations meant that Matthew, almost four, could read the book for himself after one reading with help.