In Praise of Jane Cabrera

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The Wheels on the Bus by Jane Cabrera

You guys, I think there’s someone my baby loves more than me, and that someone is Jane Cabrera.

We were introduced to Cabrera’s work at our local library story time with her version of Wheels on the Bus, which was a massive hit with all the really little ones in the room. But since then we’ve read almost all the books our library has by her (and there are many). My son is absolutely captivated by these books, and I love them too, and our appreciation of Cabrera has led me to think a lot about why children’s books work when they do, especially for very small readers.

Reading to the under-1 set is a different beast entirely to reading to older and more accomplished fans of narrative. Little babies don’t really know what you’re saying or why you’re saying it, but bizarrely enough they still have very strong opinions about what is and is not captivating for them. I remember in my prenatal class the teacher told us we could read the phone book to our babies and as long as they were hearing language, it was all the same to them. This has not been my experience at all. When my son finds a story he likes, he will sit quietly to hear it over and over and over and over, but if a story doesn’t click with him, he won’t make it to the second page before he’s wriggling and fussing and trying to do anything but listen to the story.

Row Row Row Your Boat by Jane Cabrera

A page from Row Row Row Your Boat, one of our favourites.

It seems to me that the things my child loves in a book are pretty consistent:

Strong, vibrant images. He loves bright colours and large images. I’ve noticed that if he has to pick the main images out of a detailed or busy background, he loses focus quickly. It helps if the book has a simple but very bright colour palette; we did very well with Opposites and Rainbow for this reason.

Faces. He likes big, clear, but simple use of faces—the more a story can focus on faces, and the more page real estate gets given to them, the better. Cabrera’s human and animal character always have large, smiling faces with simple, clear features; Peek-a-Boo You is a wonderful example of this.

Rhythm and rhyme, or even better: a tune. My son far prefers songs and singing at this stage to storytelling, so any book we can sing along to is an instant classic. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star was already his jam, but the book version had to be read over and over and over and over and over again until I was humming it in my sleep.

For all these reasons, I’m excited to put The 12 Days of Christmas under the tree this year (I can’t wait to see him open a book for a special holiday for the first time, surely a crucial rite of passage for all bookish kids). I don’t know how long this obsession of his is going to last, but I’m sure going to enjoy it while it does!

So if you have a little one, check out Jane Cabrera if you haven’t—and please, please share with me more great under-1 choices in the comments!