Tug, tug, peekaboo...

29th November 1996 at 00:00
A CROOKED MAN AND OTHER RHYMES LITTLE BO PEEP AND OTHER RHYMES By Maureen Roffey Bodley Head Pounds 2.99 each

IF YOU'RE HAPPY AND YOU KNOW IT THIS IS THE WAY WE PULL A FACE By Jo Lodge Bodley Head Pounds 3.99 each

CAN YOU JUMP LIKE A KANGAROO? By Jez Alborough Walker Pounds 6.99

MY OXFORD POP-UP SURPRISE ABC MY OXFORD POP-UP SURPRISE 123 By Robert Crowther OUP Pounds 9.99 each

ONE TWO THREE, COUNT WITH ME By Sian Tucker Orchard Pounds 8.99

TUG, TUG FOOTPRINTS IN THE SNOW C By Brian and Rebecca Wildsmith OUP Pounds 4.99 each

TOYS AHOY! By Felicity Baker Bloomsbury Pounds 4.99

MY BUSY DAY By Philippe Dupasquier Andersen Pounds 8.99

THE NIGHT JOURNEY By Paul Dowling Andersen Pounds 10.99

SWAMP STOMP By Paul Stickland Ragged Bears Pounds 9.99

They may look gimmicky, but novelty books can be extremely effective tools. Susan Young wades through the seasonal pile of pop-ups, tab-pullers and slip-sliders. Christmas is coming and the novelty book market is getting fat, with a lurid collection of pop-ups, tab-pullers and slip-sliders competing for attention. Sometimes there is little more to them than an attention-grabbing format, but at their best such books can be perfect for illustrating a point or holding the attention of tiny children.

Outstanding in the current crop are Maureen Roffey's nursery rhyme books, in which the gorgeous "slip-slide" illustrations change so that Peter and Paul fly away, Sulky Sue turns her face to the wall, and See Saw Margery Daw shows just how a see-saw works. You can read these rhymes to little children until you are exhausted, but these books help them understand what they are all about. They are also durable, for overenthusiastic tab-pullers.

Jo Lodge's pull-the-tab songbooks, on the same sort of lines, show exactly how you play peekaboo or clap your hands if happy. Nicely done, but only one song (hence lots of verses) per book, which makes them rather less versatile.

Can You Jump Like A Kangaroo? makes full use of its pull-the-tab and pop-up format to show and describe how five animals move. The pop-ups are marvellous, and children learn not only what a penguin looks like but how it moves and what that movement (waddling) is called. Deceptively simple, not cheap for five double pages, but fairly durable and extremely popular with under-fives.

Oxford's Surprise pop-ups have a curious format, clearly intended for the schools concerned parents market, which looks dull but is astonishingly popular with pre- and new readers. Each page is plain, with either two words or a number, behind which a pop-up is concealed. It is craftily billed as supporting a phonic approach to reading.

However, the pop-ups - by master of the art Robert Crowther - are mostly eye-catching, with a collection of spiders concealed in the word Six and a fierce mutt lurking behind Dog which make children turn back again and again. Two minus points: each pop-up works in a different way, which is likely to lead to accidental damage caused by frustrated children, and figures rather than words should be given greater prominence in the 123 book.

Less inventive, but perhaps more durable, and with the advantage of going all the way from one to 20, is Sian Tucker's lift-the-flaps counting book, which also has a rhyming text, making it better for reading aloud.

Strictly, Tug, Tug and Footprints in the Snow do not belong in this review as their pages do not perform party tricks. Yet both have a clever novelty format, especially Tug, Tug, in which each stylishly-drawn double spread features the tail of one animal being held in another's mouth, with the simple caption (you've guessed it) "Tug, Tug". Small kids adore it.

A good one for tiny or heavy-handed children is Toys Ahoy!, an Ark-shaped board book where the point of each page is to find the naughty baby. As well as rhyming text, lovely illustrations and the game of spotting the baby - always popular with infants - the toys scattered everywhere and the homely storyline make it easy for children to identify with the book.

When it comes to storytelling, pop-ups need a point to avoid looking gimmicky. My Busy Day is a beautiful book, with pages which slide out to reveal hidden detail. This one is better for older toddlers and pre-schoolers. The Night Journey (again, for older children) is gorgeous, showing the effects of light in night and ending with a grand firework display.

However, if you are going to be gimmicky, then this format lends itself to the grand gesture. Enter Swamp Stomp, seven gloriously coloured and flamboyant pages of dinosaurs. Definitely one for the older, more careful child. Educational value? Well, if nothing else it shows that books can still be damn good fun.

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