In my view, Helen Oxenbury’s old-school baby board books set the gold standard for children’s books in the infant-to-2-years age category. Here I review a board book from her delightful series about Tom and Pippo. For my review of Oxenbury’s equally delightful baby board book Clap Hands, click here.
Best Baby Board Books: Summary
Tom is a toddler with a favorite toy monkey named Pippo. On the first page of the board book—the page with the publication details, before the story begins—there is a picture of Pippo wedged between two books on a bookcase. As the title suggests, Pippo is lost, and this first illustration shows us where he is hiding.
When Tom discovers that Pippo is lost, he begins looking for him. The board book’s opening line, “Sometimes Pippo gets lost…,” suggests that Pippo has been lost before (does this bring to mind any toddlers you know?). When Tom can’t find Pippo, he asks his Mom and Dad for help, but Pippo is not where they suggest to look (Tom finds Pippo’s scarf and hat, but not Pippo himself).
At the climax of the story, Tom breaks down and worries that he will never see Pippo again. However, Mom reassures Tom and the two look together in the living room, only to discover that Pippo was in the bookcase all along! The baby board book ends with Tom gently scolding Pippo, telling him to “let him know before he goes away next time.”
Subjective Appeal: Relevant Theme, Satisfying Story
Several things make this board book appealing to toddlers. First, the theme of Pippo Gets Lost—losing something—is an experience that most any toddler is familiar with. Thus, Tom’s temporary loss of Pippo, and the distress it generates, is a theme that toddlers can relate to and find interesting.
Moreover, Tom’s temporary loss of Pippo makes for a good story. As I noted in “Children’s Books: How to Choose Them, Part 5 – Stories”, a good story generally has a beginning (where the characters are introduced), a middle (where a problem presents itself) and an end (where the problem is resolved). Pippo Gets Lost has all these elements, on a scale that is appropriate for a short baby board book. The tension created by Tom’s problem—the tension that drives a good story forward—is tempered for the young reader by the fact that we know (from the first page) that Pippo is in the bookcase. Because the reader knows that Pippo is nearby, there is never any doubt that Tom will find him, and so the reader can enjoy Tom’s struggle with the problem, rather than worry with him.
Oxenbury’s illustrations are also lovely, as usual. They are simple, colorful line drawings with just enough detail to absorb a toddler while each page is read. The illustrations capture the happy disorder of life with a toddler.
Finally, Tom’s gentle scolding of Pippo on the last page is both funny and charming. The humor is in the fact that Tom really seems to think his toy monkey “went away” on his own! Tom’s expectation that Pippo will tell him before he does it again also gets a giggle. The charm is in the fact that Tom treats his relationship with Pippo like a genuine friendship. There is much for the adult reader to enjoy here too…
Developmental Value: A Reassuring Message
In addition to its kid-appeal, Pippo Gets Lost is developmentally valuable for several reasons. First, this baby board book sends the right sort of reassuring message about losing something: not to worry, it will probably turn up.
Second, this message encourages the right sort of response to losing something important. In a non-didactic way, Tom’s experience shows toddlers to be patient and persistent in looking for the lost thing, and that it is okay to feel sad about it.
Moreover, Tom’s experience encourages individual competence, even while demonstrating parental support: Tom begins by looking himself, aided only by parental advice, but when things get desperate (!) Mom ends up joining in the search. This support from Mom affirms the child’s important parental connection, and adds to the book’s reassuring message.
Finally, the language of the board book is pitched at just the right level for a toddler’s language acquisition. The sentences are simple, with words focused on the objects, relationships, and experiences of a toddler’s world.
In short, Pippo Gets Lost is an excellent board book for the toddlers in your life. The book’s theme, story, illustrations, and humor make it attractive to a young child, while its reassuring message and encouragement toward persistence and individual competence contribute helpfully to a child’s development.
Thus, I encourage you to find this baby board book in your local library, or to support our work by purchasing it through the links in this post. Note also that Pippo Gets Lost is just one of several baby board books in Oxenbury’s delightful series about Tom and Pippo, including Tom and Pippo Go for a Walk, Tom and Pippo’s Day, and Tom and Pippo Read a Story. The Children’s Books and Reviews Online Bookstore has several additional titles in the series.
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