Board-book-a-palooza

Two new entries (both August) in Little Simon’s A Classic Board Book series, which repackages well-known picture books as board books, are on opposite ends of the adaptation spectrum.

orange pear apple bear2 Board book a paloozaEmily Gravett’s Orange Pear Apple Bear makes by far the more natural translation. Gravett’s spare text, ample white space, humor, and eye-pleasing illustrations in a soft palette transfer perfectly into the new format. Yes, it’s half the size of the original, but without any crowding, color problems, or content changes; everything is sized down to fit the smaller trim. It works so well one might think the story was first conceived as a board book.

cloudy with a chance1 Board book a paloozaThe decision to publish Judi and Ron Barrett’s Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs as a board book, however, is bizarre. The lengthy original text—intended for elementary-aged kids—is unabridged, so adults will need a magnifying glass just to read the print. The colors in Ron Barrett’s illustrations are garishly brighter, and his detailed hatch work gets squished when condensed, looking like TV static.

cloudy page4 Board book a palooza

Why, then, re-release Cloudy as a board book for toddlers?

If Little Simon’s series, self-described as “Classic Books for Little Hands,” was really intended for small children, then Cloudy would never have made the cut. Is Little Simon trying to cater to that present-buying audience who want to get classic books in children’s hands as soon as they’re born…even if they’re not age appropriate?

Are they hoping to attract parents who want smaller, sturdier, and cheaper versions of hardcover picture books? A paperback edition would work better; it’s lighter and, while less durable, similar in cost to the board book and in size to the original.

The board book could very well end up the last great hold-out in the e-book revolution, since parents probably won’t want toddlers chewing on their iPads and iPhones. These books provide publishers with a format to produce physical books that people will buy. But well-conceived original board books, which are suited to a toddler’s developmental needs and attention span, are untested. An adaptation of a known (i.e., saleable) quantity is a safer and hopefully more profitable bet.

The real question is whether consumers should buy them or not. What do you think?

For more on successful board books, see Betty Carter and Viki Ash’s “What Makes a Good Baby Shower Book?” from the May/June 2011 Horn Book Magazine.

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Cynthia K. Ritter About Cynthia K. Ritter

Cynthia K. Ritter is assistant editor of The Horn Book Magazine. She earned a master's degree in children's literature from Simmons College.

Comments

  1. Lesley Colabucci says:

    I’d buy Orange Bear for sure. Seems like a perfect fit to me for a board book. Pacing, minimal words, dominance of the art. I can’t imagine where all the words are in a board book of Cloudy. The whole idea of making it a board book doesn’t make sense to me. It’s a great big book, though. I suspect folks who loved the book as a child and have recently become parents will be drawn to Cloudy out of pure nostalgia.

  2. As a library Youth Services employee and expectant mother, I was VERY disappointed with the board book selection at Barnes and Noble this weekend when I stopped in to purchase a toddler gift for a family member. The bulk of the collection was Sandra Boynton (who is wonderful, but there can be too much of a good thing) and adapted picture books intended for older children. Seeing the Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs adaptation sitting there really made me want to cry.

    Thinking ahead to my own child’s birth, I couldn’t find a single high-contrast book for newborns, and I don’t recall any books showcasing chubby baby faces that I know the little ones are so drawn to. In the words of Helen Lovejoy, “Won’t somebody please think of the children?”

  3. I’ve wondered about Cloudy as a board book as well. My guess is that the intended market is gift buyers for baby showers and the like who want to share books they remember as classics. (I would happily recommend that such a customer keep the original CWACOM in mind for the child’s sixth or seventh birthday.)

  4. I have a feeling that the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs movie may have sparked the boardbook adaptation.

    Adapting classic picture books to board book format is a highly specialized art, it seems to me. We used to have a board book edition of Ezra Jack Keat’s The Snowy Day, which worked very well and was a huge favorite of our then-toddler….

  5. A thoughtful analysis, as always, Cindy. Excellent points all around. And if I had kids, I’d definitely take your advice and pick up “Orange Pear Apple Bear” (which makes me chuckle, since bears do enjoy their meat), and stick with the original version of “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” Well written, thoughtful and concise; excellent work, Cin!

  6. Yeah, I would definitely skip the CWACOM board book. (Nothing wrong with giving the full-size book as a gift to grow baby’s library, though!) The latest baby gift book I bought was Lane Smith’s It’s a Little Book, which is nicely adapted to the board book format (and happily/sadly does not contain the word “jackass”…).

  7. @Abby, yes. I think It’s a Little Book does a great job of actually being a book for babies and toddlers and engaging them with humor at their level. It does so by being basically a completely different book from the original It’s a Book, which is mostly a great picture book for grownups.

  8. I do agree with everyone about Cloudy as a board book but I want to add a new twist to the question. I attended a workshop a few years ago where the presented posited that the longer, adapted from picture books board books are useful when working with children with disabilities. Some children with cerebral palsy and other motor disabilities often find conventional books difficult to hold and manipulate. Board books can give them a way to experience some of the “good ones” for themselves. Do I think publishers are producing board books from picture books meant for older readers for this reason? Absolutely not, but whatever works, no?

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  1. […] board book release of “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” Horn Book contributing editor Cynthia Ritter suggested that publishers are catering to “parents who want smaller, sturdier, and cheaper versions of […]

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