Wednesday Book Review: Horse books for babies

Not old enough to read? No excuse! Erin McCabe goes on a quest to find books appropriate for the very youngest citizens of Horse Nation.

From Erin:

Horse Books for Babies

Occasionally it so happens that a dedicated HorseGirl figures out that it is, indeed, semi-possible to combine kids and horses.  Case in point:  I recently got invited to my best friend’s baby shower.  Apparently she saw the amazing success I’ve had in combining a kid and three horses and decided to try it for herself.  And since I like to be encouraging, I decided it was only appropriate that the little one’s library ought to be chock full of horsey books.  But my own kid is 18 months old, and despite his steady diet of board books, none of his board books are about horses.  We’ve got bunnies, and owls, and cats, and chickens, pigs, cows…  but only a few cameo appearances by horses.  What the heck?  How did this happen?

And so I began my quest: Find a selection of horsey board books for the betterment of my own kid and for my friend’s soon-to-arrive baby.

I thought I’d hit gold when I discovered Gallop! A Scanimation Picture Book by Rufus Butler Seder.  I mean, obviously, the title is awesome.  And the first page is even more fabulous.  Taking the basic idea of a flip book, Seder uses scanimation technology (whatever that is) to create a very realistic illustration of a horse galloping.  Perfect!  Except that the rest of the book has nothing to do with horses.  I was hoping for a scanimation illustration of walk!, or trot!, or canter!, or jump!, or buck!, or rear! But alas, the rest of the pages are illustrations of a turtle, a cat, a dog, an eagle, and a butterfly.  OK, OK, perhaps a baby would get bored with learning footfalls of gaits.  Truthfully the illustrations are very cool (the text could be more interesting).  Since the pictures are black and white, they’re great for newborns and once a kid is old enough to “wiggle” the page for himself, it’s pretty fascinating.

Supposedly babies love feeling all sorts of different textures, so next I turned to the texture/touch-feely books.  I found two horsey ones.  The first is Touch and Feel: Ponies.  Unlike Gallop! this book is all ponies all the time, and they are real photos, as opposed to goofy cartoons.  However, I wish the text were more accurate.  For instance, how hard would it have been to use bay instead of brown, or blanket instead of cover? But, herein lies the beauty of babies being unable to read:  Horsey parents can just substitute the proper words.  If you like goofy cartoons, That’s Not My Pony…its mane is too fluffy, which is also all ponies all the time, might be your book.  It also teaches adjectives (as in fluffy, bumpy, tufty) but as an added bonus it teaches the huge concept of comparison (you know, for people who want a baby prodigy) to go along with textures. It also sort of tells a story.  Both of these books are probably more amazing for people (babies) who don’t have access to real live ponies.  I mean, my kid gets to touch and feel ponies every day.  So maybe a book about it is overkill.  But don’t kids learn by repetition?  In which case, when it comes to ponies is there such a thing as overkill?

Now, what I love about books is stories.  So I checked out Clip-Clop, by Nicola Smee.  Now, maybe it’s because my kid is just starting to ask to ride with me (yes!!!), but this book is great because it’s all about riding.  Mr. Horse’s barnyard friends all want to ride, and the book not only teaches about manners (ask for a ride by saying please!) but also testing limits (because of course the animals want to go Faster! Faster!) and the fact-of-life of horseback riding, which is that everyone falls off eventually.  Luckily the critters fall off into a haystack so none of them gets hurt.  Now, if only the book taught kids heels down instead of “hold on tight.”  And, newsflash!  Nicola Smee has several other horsey kids’ books, they just don’t happen to be board books.

Finally, I discovered that Sandra Boynton, whose books are favorites around here because they are funny/silly, wrote one that is sorta kinda horsey:  Barnyard Dance! The book begins with the line “Bow to the horse” so that right there makes it a winner.  BUT, like all of Boynton’s books, it rhymes and has a great rhythm, which makes it both memorable and fun to read.  Boynton’s cartoony illustrations are cute, the text is silly, and it gives parents a chance to teach their kid to dance, which is a giggle-fest worth having.

So this is a pretty kick-ass baby horse library, if you ask me.  Just don’t ask me to tell you which books I actually decided to give my friend.  She reads this column, and her shower is this weekend.

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