Finding a book that stimulates your toddler, both visually and verbally can be like finding a needle in a haystack. New mom Jenifer Ní Ghrádaigh sees how two books in the My Little Cities series fare.
It is hard not to like a book whose back cover proclaims that it is ‘Calling all globe-toddlers!’, and these two board books for very little ones have some nice ideas and attractive rhymes, coupled with rather charming illustrations.
The idea behind each is to showcase 10 of the landmarks of the two cities, London and New York (fans can also check out My Little Cities: Paris and San Francisco).
London includes the Tower, the Shard, Piccadilly Circus, Abbey Road and Buckingham Palace amongst other places, while New York, as you would expect, includes the Empire State Building, Central Park, Times Square and Central Park. In each case these are arranged as a series of opposites, sometimes quite imaginatively. The flocks of pigeons that beset Trafalgar Square provide the contrast with the Natural History Museum’s dinosaurs: ‘Here are many. Here are few.’, while rhyming with the more obvious contrast of the Tower of London and the Shard: ‘Building old. Building new.’
A little boy and his father traverse the cities and pages, and in some of the images are quite cunningly hidden – it takes a little while to find them in the crowd in Yankee Stadium or on the New York Subway! This is a nice touch and provides continuity over the pages and also a second narrative for a toddler having the book read to them.
My only quibble has to do with the value of such books for this age range. Several years ago now when in Bilbao I heard a little girl toddling down the street with her mother enunciating with care some of her first words, which I heard as ‘poo-pee’! Not in fact an early sign of active interest in toilet training, but expressive of her excited interaction with the enormous flower-covered sculpture of a West Highland terrier, ‘Puppy’ (Jeff Koons, 1992) which stands outside the Guggenheim Museum in the city, and is now a Bilbao landmark. This is however, in my experience, an exception, and I wonder whether children of this age are ever so actively taken with buildings and places as to make these books meaningful to them.
That said, if there was a version for Dublin featuring the Pigeon House Chimneys and the Customs House, or one for Cork featuring Shandon tower and the shaky bridge, I’d certainly be recommending it to parents in each city as a great way to introduce their toddler to specific sites before a trip into town or indeed afterwards as a way of remembering and consolidating ideas of home and identity.
These books might work rather nicely to take with you on travels to the two cities, if going perhaps not just with a toddler but also with a slightly older child, as each child might then get something different from them. Without that incentive, they work nicely as rhyming, strongly coloured board books. However, they lack both the element of whimsy that appeals to adult readers and can make constant reading repetition less dull, or the attraction of portraying familiar objects and routines that can be so compelling to a child of this age.
As such, I think they are good rather than great. But for anyone planning a trip to London or New York, pack a copy!