Touchable Books


This week Susan reminds us all that there is something to be said for a good old fashion book:

When a new gadget appears on the market, I don’t race to the store. I’m just too lazy to be an early adopter. I like to know that a product has been through thousands of hands, and multiple versions, so all the kinks have been ironed out.

Then I saw the Kindle and the iPad. I bought both of them immediately. Why? Quite simply, to save my back. I’m a fast reader, which means that for a one-week vacation, my books outweigh my clothes. With the new electronic readers, I just need to carry one skinny device. Or, rather, one for each person in my family, as the iPad is also a wonderful stand-in for those surprisingly heavy children’s books.

But, sadly for my aching muscles, there are certain things a Kindle just can’t do. For children’s books especially, three dimensions are sometimes absolutely necessary — you must be able to pat, scratch, unfold, or even smell them to get the experience the author intends.

So even if you go electronic, keep some room on your shelves for the following paper masterpieces.

Pat the Bunny, by Dorothy Kunhardt. Published in 1940, Pat the Bunny was the first touch and feel book. The book may look like a parody waiting to happen, with its stilted language, prissily-dressed children, and too-perfect nuclear family: “Judy can play peek-a-boo with Paul. Now YOU play peek-a-boo with Paul.” But while I giggled, my kids were entranced. Children need to touch, smell, and taste the world around them. They don’t just read Pat the Bunny, they interact with it. The activities in the book are exactly the things toddlers crave – seeing their own faces in a mirror, feeling “Daddy’s” scratchy sandpaper face, and smelling flowers. Lifting a flap to find a hidden boy even prepares a toddler for an essential developmental milestone. But be warned – you’ll need to buy more than one copy, as the binding doesn’t stand up to a toddler’s grip. My favorite part of the book? The post-modernist touch, a tiny book pasted within the book for the characters themselves to read.

Too Many Bunnies, by Matt Novak. In the beginning, one hole is too full of bunnies, while the other is invitingly empty. But when one bunny leaves, the rest get lonely, until the second hole is as full as the first. As a child turns the pages, the hole cut all the way through the book seems to let the bunnies hop back and forth between their favorite holes. A bonus laugh comes from the ladybug that tries to clean up all the footprints.

Alphabet, by Matthew Van Fleet. A slew of animals illustrate the alphabet and let kids pull tabs to make birds’ mouths open, poke alligator scales and squishy clams, and flip flaps to find shimmery dragonflies. As in his other book, Tails, Van Fleet likes to portray unusual animals, so this is a great chance for your child (and you) to see skinks, robberflies, and opahs among the more familiar alligators and hummingbirds.

Pop-Up: Everything You Need to Create Your Own Pop-Up Book, by Ruth Wickings, illustrated by Frances Castle. No type of book makes the Kindle and iPad seem so, well, flat, as a pop-up book. Even adults have to stifle an “ooh” when a book’s spine cracks and a dragon – or spaceship, or castle – rises up out of the pages. There are thousands of amazing pop-up books on the market, but in the interactive spirit of Pat the Bunny, I wanted to suggest this book as a project to help kids understand exactly how easy – and how difficult – some of those pop-up books are to create. The book takes a young paper engineer through projects ranging from simple to difficult, with clear instructions and pretty results. Kids can make their own pop-up dragon, castle, and jungle, learning basic pop-up techniques along the way. This book is also the perfect travel companion, as no glue or scissors are required – all the papers are press-out with sticky backs. Parents will have to help younger kids.

Susan Fry is a writer and mother in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s written for Stanford Magazine, salon, the San Jose Mercury News, and many other publications.

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