Star Bright Books sent me two upcoming books from their Small Talk Books collection. These are picture books written by Ellen Mayer, an early literacy home visitor. They are unusual in that they seem to be written more for adults than for kids. They are sort of manuals (complete with instruction sections at the end of the books) for talking with preschoolers in a way that will enhance their vocabularies.
The first book is Rosa's Very Big Job, illustrated by Sarah Vonthron-Laver, about a little girl who decides to help her mother by putting away the laundry, and in the process engages in some fantasy play with Grandpa. There's definitely some preschool-friendly humor here, as Rosa is able to put away the (previously folded by Mama) clothes neatly, while the lazier Grandpa struggles. Rosa has to teach Grandpa how to keep a jacket from slipping off the hanger ("Zip it up").
The transition into fantasy mode (when the laundry basket becomes a boat) is seamless, though reality remains in the details (as when they fish for a striped sock, using a hangar for a fishing rod). Rosa is very cute, and demonstrates the classic drive of a preschooler to help Mama. It's a nice bonus that the family is brown-skinned, though no other multicultural details are included. It's also nice, in both books, to see grandparents included as day-to-day caregivers.
The second book is Cake Day, illustrated by Estelle Corke, about a little boy who helps his grandmother make a cake, which turns out to be for his own birthday. There's a recipe at the end. The tasks undertaken by Grandma, vs. the ones delegated to the boy, are realistic (she measures, he pours, etc.). His sentences are quite short - I suspect that he's younger than Rosa, but Grandma expands on his statements, and explains things to him step-by-step.
The note for parents, grandparents, and caregivers at the end of the book, written by Dr. Betty Bardige, explains Grandma's efforts to build the boy's vocabulary and encourages caregivers to do the same thing. In a nice touch, Bardige notes that it doesn't matter what language you speak when you are talking with your child, just that you keep talking interactively.
I'm not generally a fan of books that are written for some overt purpose like this. But I do think that there's a place for these particular books. I think that they would be a good fit for doctors' office waiting rooms, and for giveaways by early literacy programs like Reach Out and Read. They would make good new baby gifts for parents not aware of the importance of reading and talking with kids, particularly if handed to those parents by a pediatrician or other trusted adult.
I did read these two Small Talk Books aloud to my six-year-old, and she liked them reasonably well. I don't think that we'll be re-reading them on a regular basis - they skew a bit young for her interest - but they do have a certain cozy charm. They also show an understanding of things that preschoolers are interested in. Rosa's Very Big Job and Cake Day are worth a look from libraries and literacy organizations. These two books will be published on July 31, 2016. There are two other books in the series that are already available in both English and Spanish board book editions.
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