Lately, board books offer much more than simple stories (though those are vital to tots' development as well). These let babies, toddlers and preschoolers touch, spin, pull tabs, listen to animal sounds and learn about fine art.
"Fly" by Xavier Deneux; Chronicle Books; 16 pages; $17.99.
This joyous celebration of natural life is the newest in Chronicle's "TouchThinkLearn" series of early learning books "with a new dimension." "Fly" is the first narrative title in the series, with movable pieces kids can place in pages like a puzzle. The theme begins when a little yellow bird lands on a tree, finds a mate and builds a nest. Pretty soon, its eggs hatch and one brave hatchling embarks on its first flight. Kids can move the birds around, empowering their story-making muscles.
Like an interactive sculpture that helps kids with sequencing, fine motor skills, colors and nature's cycles, "Fly" is pure fun for toddlers.
"Pancakes!" from Lotta Nieminen; Phaidon Publishing; 16 pages; $14.95.
This is a hands-on interactive recipe book with step-by-step instructions on making pancakes. Preschoolers can pull a tab to pour flour, turn a wheel to stir batter and even pop out a pancake from a pan to place onto a plate when it's done. Incredibly sturdy with fun colors and a cool look, "Pancakes! An Interactive Recipe Book" encourages kids in imaginary play, sequencing, exercising fine motor skills and learning about how to turn instructions with ingredients into favorite foods.
"Where's the Giraffe?" and "Where's the Ladybug?" by Nosy Crow; illustrated by Ingela P. Arrhenius; Nosy Crow/Candlewick Publishing; 10 pages and $8.99 each.
With mod 1960s pop art and colorful felt pieces, these bold books simply ask "Where's the elephant?" and "Where's the snail?" and other animal questions so tots can lift the soft flaps and find them. The books end with the question "And where are you?" On the page is a round mirror hiding behind a felt bush, on which readers can see "There you are!"
The very simple concept entices the youngest of toddlers to play peek-a-boo, but the stars of this book are the incredibly cool vintage artwork and tactile features.
"Higgly Hen" and "Cuddly Cow" by Axel Scheffler; Nosy Crow/Candlewick; 12 pages and $9.99 each.
The first of this group of books with actual stories, "Higgly Hen" is a rhyming tale that begins: "Higgly Hen was hungry. She said, 'I've simply got to eat. I've been on this nest for days with eggs around my feet.'" Then she looks for food but loses her hatching eggs. Other barnyard animals help her, and she finds them all back at her coop.
In "Cuddly Cow," a sleepy cow searches for somewhere to take a nap but finds that the horse stable, chicken shed and cow pasture are too noisy. Where does he end up snoozing? The sheep field, of course!
These books of the "Farm Friends Sound Book" series include a colorful sound button so kids can turn the cow and hen sounds on and off.
"Squares & Other Shapes With Josef Albers" by Phaidon editors; Phaidon Books; 30 pages; $9.95.
What a way to make learning about shapes fun! Subtitled "First Concepts With Fine Artists," Phaidon's series for the youngest of art fans are truly well-done board books. With humor and color and wit, Josef Albers' paintings and ensuing text tell a flowing, evolving tale of shapes. From "Square in a square in a square in a square!" to "Two little rectangles lying down for a nap" to "Hey circles, get out of that square!" this engaging book lets kids see shapes like never before.
Also available in the art-appreciation series is "Blue & Other Colors with Henri Matisse," which introduces young children to 25 of Matisse's vibrant cut-out art pieces with fun text and color recognition. And "Birds & Other Animals with Pablo Picasso" is truly awesome; Picasso's line drawings of animals should encourage children, as even masters started with simple animals.
The fun board book series "Tinyville Town" by Brian Biggs, published by Abrams Appleseed, includes "Tinyville Town: I'm a Firefighter," "Tinyville Town: I'm a Veterinarian" and "Tinnyville Town Gets to Work!" The cozy series is about all the people who make a small town great.
"Opposite Surprise" by Agnese Baruzzi is a book with flaps that reveals the surprising opposites of words and phrases.
"Hooray for Fish" by "Maisy" author Lucy Cousins, published by Candlewick, is a vivid, bright rhyming ditty about fish of all kinds, with colors and counting.
Little globe-trotters will enjoy Chronicle Books' "My Little Cities" series by Jennifer Adams. The books about London and New York are whimsical, quirky intros to the cities.
To find out more about Lee Littlewood, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.