CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 5 . . . . October 6, 2017
These board books are part of a series intended, according to the publisher's notes, "to capture the essence of a literary masterpiece". The words, just 12 per book, are simple, and the pictures, rendered in 12 needle-felted scenes, are certainly eye-appealing. Apparently the authors are twin dads (although which is the writer and which the artist is not specified). They have hit on the idea of teaching words, concepts and stories in this form to very young children. "It's a first words primer for your literary little one!" is the way the publisher's sales pitch goes. And in this fashion, the great books of Western Literature are available to infants and toddlers in a book with pages sturdy enough to resist teething and drooling and spitting up and other forms of youngster abuse.
Each "Cozy Classic" begins with a paragraph or two from the original book with a main character superimposed over the text. It is not clear whether or not the adult reader is to read the words appearing here as an introduction to the story since many of the words are obscured by the illustration. In fact, just how these books are to be shared with a child is left up to the imagination of the adult reader. Is each simple word to be "taught" in a larger context which will be provided by the adult reader? Are older readers expected to come up with a version of the story which grows out of each one of the 12 words? Assuming that the reader is well-acquainted with the story (a dangerous assumption), should that interpretation be faithful to the original? Does it matter?
An example of one title in the series is Les Miserables which consists of the following 12 words, one word per page, with an illustration taking up the entire opposing page: Poor/rich/sad/happy/run/climb/stroll/love/fire/stop/dark/together.
The illustrations will attract anyone who picks up one of the "Cozy Classics". Artist Wang's ability to depict the faces and feelings of his felt-doll characters is remarkable and will be enjoyed by readers of all ages. Whether or not the claim that these 12-word versions of the classics may be described as "a little bit serious, a little bit ironic, entirely funny and clever" is questionable. Such an opinion might apply to the illustrations, although hardly the text.
One has to wonder if these books are perhaps written to appeal to our "hurry up" generation of parents, those who would like to have their children reading before they are four and enrolled in the school most likely to prepare them for Harvard.
At $13.95 per book, the "Cozy Classic" series would not be recommended for purchase by school librarians. Parents who like the idea of early learning with an "erudite twist" may choose to spend their money on these retold masterpieces, but they would do better sticking to children's literature masterpieces such as Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny.
Valerie Nielsen, a retired teacher-librarian, lives in Winnipeg, MB.