Black and White
By Tana Hoban
Greenwillow, 16 pp., baby-preschool, $7.99
School Bus Bunny Bus
Illustrated by Stuart Trotter
Boxer, 10 pp., ages 3 and up, $12.95
The Snowmen Pop-Up Book
By Caralyn Buehner and Mark Buehner
Dial, 14 pp., ages 9-12, $21.99
Circus: Over 50 FlapsPlus Seek and Find
By Roxie Munro
Chronicle, 24 pp., ages 5 and up, $15.95
There are the books that move us, and the books that move. It's nice to have a little of both in this life. "Black and White," by Tana Hoban, is a book that moves in a few different ways, all of them especially geared toward babies. Its sturdy cardboard pages can be flipped back and forth, arranged in a circle, or set up in a crib or on the floor as a fold-out strong enough to stand on its own. Scientists have observed that babies are especially drawn to bold black-and-white images, and that's just what Hoban provides here. There are no words at all, just simple black images against a white background, including a fork and spoon, bib, butterfly, keys, cat -- not to mention, when you turn the clever book around, white images on a black background, from bird to flower to banana. The cardboard stock is heavy enough to hold up even to some serious baby loving. I can hardly imagine a nicer baby gift, and please note, the price on this one is right, too.
"School Bus Bunny Bus," illustrated by Stuart Trotter, is a rare movable book designed to appeal to preschool and early-elementary-school children. As the cover brags, it has "BIG tabs to push and pull." Most movable books are so delicately and intricately engineered these days that one has to resist an impulse to snatch them out of children's hands. And often the tabs are too tiny for young children to work without being snapped right off. That's not to say this book is made of stainless steel. But it stands a fair chance of living through many affectionate rereadings.
The story line is simple -- a big yellow school bus takes a young bunny to school, while younger siblings and friends wave from strollers, swing on swings, cross (safely), or watch from library steps. Readers can help slide the bus to a tunnel, work a bulldozer, assist school-bunnies as they slip down a slide or ride up and down on a seesaw. Trotter's pictures are big, bright, and friendly. The text is a singsong rhyme with simple lyrics: "Sing bus, song bus, / school bus, bunny bus, / big bus, yellow bus, / sing-all-the-way-to-school bus." If you were expecting "Leaves of Grass" with BIG tabs to push and pull, you came to the wrong place. However, if you were hoping for a movable book you can relax about, even with 4- and 5-year-olds going at it full tilt, you may have finally found one that will work.
"The Snowmen Pop-Up Book," by Caralyn Buehner and Mark Buehner, is also a movable book designed for younger-than-usual readers. If you've ever wondered what snowmen do at night while you're sound asleep, this book has an action-packed answer. The illustrations and engineering are quite spectacular, with special effects guaranteed to draw gasps; when these snowmen pop up, they really pop. It's all done against a delicious deep-blue winter-sky background, with glowy browns, cool whites, vibrant reds and oranges. The sense of "animation" -- to bring to life -- has new meaning here, and especially admirable is the way that the pop-ups move to advance the story. When the young narrator makes the snowman, we can see his arm moving to place the carrot nose on the snowman's face. When we read that snowmen "start to slide (when it gets really dark), off the lawn and down the street -- right into the park," the moving figures seem to take their places on cue. There are also a few tabs to push and pull; one even makes a snowman's arm move as if to throw a snowball, and one helps a hidden snowman play peek-a-boo with the reader. The text on this one is often awkward for the sake of rhymes, but the graceful artwork compensates for a weak text. It's a beautiful book, full of fun and life, perfect for the when-will-winter-end doldrums of late January and February.
Roxie Munro's "Circus: Over 50 Flaps Plus Seek and Find" is a grand spectacle of a pop-up book in true circus style. Even the endpapers move: Striped circus curtains part to reveal delightful bonus lift-the-flap surprises, including, on the final endpaper, a farewell bow from the ringmaster.
The lift-the-flap format lends itself perfectly to circus antics, from acrobats to clowns, performing animals, and bareback riders who spring, dive, leap, change their costumes, and cavort in multiple flaps per page. A human pyramid unfolds to increasing heights; a lion steps out of his cage. The book is nicely interactive in another way as well: Each page sends the reader hunting for specific items, from hiding cats to baby's bottle. The text is minimal, but really, the fun is in the images and flaps. While geared for children with its bright, primary colors and find-the-missing-item activities, it might well appeal to a true circus aficionado of any age.
Liz Rosenberg reviews children's books monthly for the Globe. She teaches English and creative writing at the State University of New York at Binghamton.