February 13, 2012

White on Black

Black on White 
By Tana Hoban; illus. by the author
No Author Website
0-2, Preschool Greenwillow 10 pp.
978-0-688-11918-8 Board $6.99

Tana Hoban's Black on White is something of a rarity - a picture book for the youngest of young eyes that contains no color, no rhymes and no written text. In fact, this slender board book is as spare as a book could be, and yet, it's oddly captivating. The cover art is the reader's only introduction to the book's contents. With no end papers and no title page, one is immediately confronted, upon opening the cover, with a crisp white background and a very large, glossy black bib. The bib is both iconic, (it has a typical U shape with strings tied in a bow), and curiously realistic. This is not a cartoon bib. It has tiny irregularities, a barely noticeable roughness in the lines, that makes one feel like one is looking at a real bib, just as the spoon and fork on the opposite page feel like a real set of baby utensils. The contrast of the relatively matte white background and the glossy black shapes, does much to draw the eye. The forms literally catch and bounce back light.  This design element is both subtle and deliberate. Just as children under the age of one have an easier time seeing objects in high contrast colors like black, white and red, the glossiness of the dark shapes helps them stand out even more for an audience that is naturally near-sighted. Also intriguing are the shapes that Hoban chose. The objects on each page are loosely linked but in no consistent way (the bib and spoon and fork might be obvious, but the elephant and the bucket  demand more creative connection-making), which is why Black on White is a book that will grow with an infant into toddler-hood. For babies, it simply offers a way to see and learn new shapes, but as the baby grows up and becomes verbal, Black on White encourages the child to name objects, trace shapes and form their own theories as to how the objects are related. For a deceptively simple book, Hoban manages to offer the infant-reader a tremendous amount of depth. While I would say that Black on White's appeal will most likely wan as a child leaves toddler-hood, for those critical first two years, it packs a developmental punch.

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