Review of small press and independent books.
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Usborne Flip Flap Farm
Usborne Publishing, 2008
Written by Katie Daynes, illustrated by Simone Abel; agricultural advisor George Hosford (a Dorset farmer).
This is the most astonishing lift-the-flap board book I have ever come across: it is to books like 'No Bed without Ted' and 'Where's Spot' what the opening scene of the first 'Star Wars' film is to 'The Clangers', and it's actually quite difficult to describe. It's big, and contains five double-page spreads that are detailed pictures of farm life - the 'Springtime' spread has a field of cows and calves, a field of sheep and lambs, a field being sown, a cowshed and part of the farmyard. The captions are in biggish print - about sixteen-point, at a guess - but quite complicated, such as 'The shepherd helps a sheep to feed her newborn lambs' and 'The farmer's wife comes out to meet the vet', so it's clearly aimed at fairly confident readers. It should be way over Pickleblossom's head, since she's not quite two and can only read her name, but she adores it, and this is because of the flaps. They're more like origami than flaps: sometimes a whole piece of field lifts up to show the crop ripening or the tractor working; the door of the vet's little red van opens to show the man about to get out; cowshed and henhouse doors open, as do the door and window of the farmhouse; a tiny little flap in the vicinity of a cow's lifted tail opens to show it doing what comes naturally... but the best bits are the flaps under other flaps, so, for instance, you open the cowshed door and there's a cow in a pen inside, but the cow is printed on a flap as well, so you can move her aside to find her newborn calf lying in the straw behind her. Where the shepherd is about to drive sheep into a pen to be shorn, he, the sheep and his sheepdog are printed on a big flap, which folds down to cover the interior of the empty pen, and its other side is printed with sheep, so the pen is now full of sheep while the sheep outside the pen are gone, and under the big flap is a little flap, which you lift up again to show the shepherd taking one sheep off to the shearer.
For the really intellectual reader, there are two further spreads that just give you information about farming and agricultural produce. The 'Milking' spread gets seriously biological with a double-flapped picture of a cow that shows her outside and various internal workings underneath, and there are further interactive pictures of the milking parlour and the dairy, while the 'Farm machines' spread, as well as the flaps, has a rotating wheel picture that shows the harvester, baler and loader working through a cereal crop. Just to pop a cherry on an already copiously iced cake, attached to the back page is a little pocket containing a tiny booklet of 'Farm animals to spot'. I cannot get over this book: we've had it since Christmas and I'm not sure we've found everything it does yet!