Friday, January 8, 2010

Karen Katz

Anyone with children knows that kids love lift-the-flap books. Unfortunately, most lift-the-flap books don't long survive the loving attention of most kids. I have a couple of large Sesame Street/Elmo books that bear mute (and torn) witness to this fact. That's why Karen Katz's books are such a welcome addition to the family library.

I discovered Karen Katz when my oldest was just a baby and immediately fell in love with her bright, sunny pictures and the gloriously large flaps on her lift-the-flap books. Where is Baby's Belly Button became an instant favorite at our house, one that our eldest daughter would drag around and offer to anyone sitting down -- "Read? Read?" She still asked for it long after she was technically too old for the simple text.

Many of her books are truly suitable for babies -- great choices for 6-18 month olds. The pictures are colorful enough to capture their attention, the flaps are ample enough for those little hands to lift easily, and the text is usually concerned with the sorts of things babies love -- peekaboo, lost objects that need finding, what babies say, etc. And they are well-made; Where is Baby's Belly Button survived all three of my children and lives to be read another day.

These two shots show just how generous the flaps are --all of my children loved lifting these big flaps to see what was underneath. When my oldest was a baby there weren't many books like this available. Now, of course, there are many more, including a nice line of books from DK (Dorling Kindersley), but I think Katz's books blazed the trail in this area.

Another nice feature is the multi-ethnic character of her work. Most of her books include children of many races, which is something I look for in children's books, particularly in picture books. It is my entirely unscientific opinion that the more "ethnic" faces children are exposed to as babies and toddlers, and the more they are taught that these faces are "pretty," "beautiful," "nice," whatever positive descriptor fits, the better off they will be when they encounter children or adults of other races in real life. Such faces are are normal to them. Or so I think.

Mostly Katz is the writer/illustrator of these books, though in a few cases she illustrates someone else's text. Toes, Ears, & Nose! is one such book, great for toddlers, which is a fun look at clothes and the body parts they cover.

Katz' collection of works has expanded to include books which are not lift-the-flap, but these often have an interactive dimension to them, like Counting Kisses, in which all the members of the family (including Grandma and the dog and cat) are giving a series of kisses to the cranky baby just before bedtime. We used to read this one to our kids, kissing the appropriate body part (tiny toes, chubby yummy knees, etc.) as we read.

She also has a line of books for toddlers/preschoolers dealing with manners (No Hitting!; No Biting!; I Can Share; Excuse Me!) and of course, the obligatory potty training book. These are all in lift-the-flap format.

If you've got an infant or toddler and have never tried Karen Katz's books before, they are highly recommended. They are often (almost always) available at TJ Maxx and Marshalls for a discount, though you won't get the range of selections available at a bookstore. If your kids are past this type of book, they make great shower gifts -- consider tucking one or two in a basket with some onesies and baby socks for a quick, cute, li'l bit different baby gift. Sturdy, bright and appealing, they will absolutely entertain little ones and provide a great incentive to reading.

all pictures courtesy of

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