Usborne Books Review and Other Book Recommendations

1000-things-that-go-2013

UPDATE: Okay, I’m a little obsessed with these books now, after many evenings watching Youtube reviews of books, browsing the catalog and placing a few orders from two Facebook parties, one of them hosted by moi. I am in love with books again. Having said that, I realize Usborne is not for everyone; I wish that it was more accessible and more affordable; however, if your budget allows, Usborne is a great investment for your children. Education in fun, interactive ways is never a bad thing and Usborne does educational books very well. Check out my Usborne website to order.

Let me put it this way: once you have an Usborne, you’ll be like me, and go browse other bookstores or the Costco book section, and realize nothing really compares. It’s really all about the “get by” mentality which as I have mentioned before, a lot of new parents have. They don’t want to get things that last but really they should, if they can, unless you’re absolutely certain you’re only going to have one kid which if that’s the case, good luck and go ahead and just get by.

A board book from Costco might run at $7.49 but it’s basic and kind of lame, whereas an Usborne might cost $9.99 with amazing durability and illustrations. If money is tight, you’ll go for the $7.49 book because it makes sense to. But then later down the line, you might turn into me: I kind of regret not buying those baby books sooner and I find myself wishing I could throw out all my old worn out lame books and replace them with Usborne, the next time around, hopefully if there is a next time). Let’s just say that I really envy those first-time moms who have learned already about Usborne and have a growing collection from the start.

LONG POST AHEAD. Just warning ya. But it’s chocked full of good information! I first learned about Usborne books when I become a mom; everyone I talk to has a great impression of their books. I am not a consultant but I am preparing to host my first online party. I have a growing good impression of this company and their products so I’ll join someday.

In the meantime, let me tell you my (mom-English teacher-reader) take on Usborne books and where they fit in my home library and some possible non-Usborne alternatives (please note I do not own all these Usborne and non-Usborne books, but I’ve perused some of these at my local Costco and Barnes and Noble, and I think they have potential, but still check them out for yourself before buying!):

BABIES

Babies need simple visual and auditory stimulation that is high-contrast and predictable or with sound pattern. The books are going to be small and (for adults, painfully) simple, usually one image and one word per page.

Because there are so many of these out in the book world, I do not normally suggest getting Usborne Books for this stage if your budget is limited/tight, a mom who just wants the average board book but I think the Usborne stuff is generally great stuff, like 95% are awesome, 5% are ho-hum. If you have the means and love the books, I highly recommend them because they are high quality and will likely last through multiple kids. Just know your options.

Touch & Feel (Tactile) Books: That’s Not My Series

That’s Not My Series is a huge part of the Usborne line but it’s not my favorite. I think it’s okay to have a few of these, but they’re kind of limited in text and art so don’t buy the whole series. I say this because I have That’s Not My Monkey, which is very limited in illustration compared to some of the others I’ve seen like …Puppy and …Lamb and …Dinosaur (those three are great). There is one animal/object per page with a white mouse-narrator who appears on every page. If the book is 6 pages long, there are 6 animals (including the one on the cover). I think the overall construction of these books is excellent hence the three stars but there are plenty of other less expensive options of touchy feely books out there. But one or two of these can’t hurt! I saw a few of these at my local Barnes and Noble; if you want to preview them, look for them in the Board Book section. Likely to Recommend ***

Compare With: DK Baby Touch and Feel, Bright Baby Touch & Feel (Priddy Books), Karen Katz books,

Cut Out Books aka Books with “Windows”: Look Through Series

Panda in the Park is an Usborne book for babies. This is the same illustrator as the That’s Not My series but it has some more interactive features; your child predicts which animal is coming next based off of the small part of the next animal visible in a cut out window, building skills of observation, prediction, and anticipation. The illustrations have more details than the That’s Not My books but both are pretty simple for a reason (good for newborns).

Keep in mind this book has a regular board book cover, not the heavy-duty type like That’s Not My Series. Still, it’s affordable and cute and I love giving it as a gift.

I would totally be interested in other books of this series, but as of writing this post, this is the only one of the series in print.

It is basic in story but remember all books of this level will be. What I like about this is the drawings are beautifully done and it’s a little more complex than other baby books with peek holes. Highly Recommend ****

Compare With: My Little World Series (Tiger Tales), Look & See Series (La Coccinella)

Lift Flap Books: Animal Hide and Seek, Muddle and Match

Flaps are great fun for older babies and toddlers but monitor their use because they will get torn! Likely to Recommend but check other options:

Compare With: Cottage Door Press Peek-a-Flap or chunky First Lift a Flap (thick flaps = durable) , Karen Katz flap books (thought I feel they’re kind of girly, lots of pink), Dear Zoo (short but sweet), My First Lift and Learn Series (Tiger Tales), Little Friends Home Sweet Home (Priddy) (this book is super durable although girly in color scheme), Really Decent Peekabooks (check Costco)

I also love Muddle and Match series from Usborne which uses three different parts of the pages interchangeably, like flaps (but not the traditional lift flap). These board books contain alliterations and exchangeable characters with actions. It’s very innovative, creative, and humorous. Highly Recommend****

Compare With: Really Decent Flip Flap Books (check Costco)

 

Little Library and Noisy Series Book

These are books with one word and one picture per page which is great for babies and especially toddlers. The Usborne version has cute (like super cute!) illustrations and it has Usborne standards of durability, but again, consider other options. Essentially you’re buying it for its aesthetic qualities at this stage of reading. For some moms, the beautiful drawings aren’t enticing enough. Others who lean to the Montessori view, would prefer photos instead of illustrations, which Usborne does not have (I’ve never seen photos for babies or toddlers) . There are so many little word books out there that are much more affordable and babies will quickly grow out of these books. If you have the means and love the illustrations, then go for them but they’re not required material in my opinion.

These would be great gifts if you are supporting a new mom’s baby shower and have more disposable income.

Compare with: My 1st Board Books series (DK), Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (Rescek, Tiger Tales)

Textures, Flaps and Sounds: Very First Big (Musical) Playbook

I like the Very First Big Playbook which is great for babies about 12-20 months, but again, text is limited. The current offering by Usborne is the Very First Big Musical Playbook. If it is anything like its predecessor (sans Musical), the visual is stunning and bold with lift flaps and textures and the music is really nice quality. I feel like this is a larger combination style book of the other Usborne titles, so I’ve passed on all other (simpler) books of the Very First Words series. If I were just starting out building my baby’s library, I might look into those, but since I’ve already amassed a lot of texture books, I didn’t feel the need to pay Usborne prices for books I feel are super basic. Don’t buy this for the “story” or “plot” because there isn’t one.Highly recommend****

Compare With: My First Touch and Feel Sound Book (Tiger Tales) — more real-world, uses photos, has more text

TODDLERS

Around 2 is when babies and toddlers really start to develop language skills, so reading is ever important. This is the age the public library becomes an amazing resource. In my town, we have an awesome library. They have iPads with educational activities, touchscreen-tables, puzzles, storytime, and free dvds (for a week). It’s an amazing resource and luckily we live within walking distance to our local branch.

Be VERY careful about which books you select at this age, because if they are anything like my child, your children will ask you to read over and over and over again. Better choose ones you like. A LOT!

I’ve used Richard Scarry’s books in the past year, as it incorporates animals and cars both of which are Baby’s obsessions. But they are kind of old school, they’re kind of outdated and hence the search led me to Usborne which led me to writing this post and hosting a party (which I’d never do in normal life). We especially Cars, Trucks and Things that Go and any book with Huckle the Cat and Lowly the Worm. I’ve read these like a thousand and one times. Tread carefully, my friends!

 My Very First Words Series, My First Word Book and Big Book of English Words

I haven’t checked out Usborne my first word (and farm) books because there are so many word books out there that are much more affordable. The Usborne version is has cute illustrations and it has Usborne standards of durability, but do consider other options. For example, since I am speaking Mandarin Chinese about 90% of the time to Baby, I’ve opted for bilingual word books from Taiwan.

My Very First Words series has 8 books; again, they feature cute illustrations with objects and their names in a basic scene.

The Usborne My First Word Book has 270 words, so it’s not totally basic and not completely busy either; it’s right in the middle. It’s more a word book, no scenes just one art image per word.

If you are looking for English word books, there are tons! I feel they are best for 18-36 month olds who are developing vocabulary. I would suggest looking at a brick and mortar store or previewing on Amazon first, to see which style you like best (photos vs illustration, large size or small, board book with tabs or no tabs, foam book construction, etc)

Big Book is a little more complicated (busy) than My First Word and is worth looking into! It has some bigger scenes and a lot more going on. Very Cute, Likely to Recommend **1/2 – ***

*These would make a great GIFT for a new mom, as many new moms have really tight budgets and may not buy this themselves. If you like gifting Usborne, consider gifting this to a baby for her1st birthday.

Compare With: Turn and Learn Series (simpler, cheaper and has a cool turnwheel aspect for interaction), DK My First Series (more detailed, busy pages), First and First 100 Series (Priddy Books), Baby Einstein, My First Word Book (Richard Scarry)

1000 or 1001 “Word” Books

I guess these would be considered “word books” because that is what they are, but they are a little more complex than babies words or my-firsts books. They’re kind of like my-second books; they might be too busy for some toddlers, it depends on the child. My 2-year old loves 1000 Things that Go, but we focus on a few pages of cars and trucks (his current obsession).

I think these are quite unique to Usborne books and made out of sturdy cardstock pages which I love! They also have 1000 stickers series books in paperback, but I’d wait until the child is older, when stickers are actually a joy and reward.

Highly recommend****

Very First Slide and See Books: Animals

I actually think these are BETTER for toddlers than lift-flap books (which can get torn easily) but I can’t recommend them personally yet as I don’t have this title; it is also the first of this series and I’m thinking they’ll probably add more. I do think they have a lot of potential. Recommendation ?

Compare With: Slide and Find Brown Bear and other titles (Priddy Books) — we have the Brown Bear one and the other Priddy Books I’ve seen with basic concepts look awesome, check ’em out. I’m a huge fan of Priddy Books. Another good option is the Matthew Van Fleet books Tails and Heads. They have sliding animals or animal tails etc in the books but can get destroyed pretty easily by little ones. Supervision is recommended. Costco has a DK line Slide the Beads Counting, Slide the Tab, Peek Through Rainbow; they are simplistic and not as artistic, but have some interactive features;I have not seen these anywhere else so I’m thinking they’re an exclusive; $7.49 each.

PRESCHOOLERS

Here in the Dallas suburbs, tons of kids actually start preschool a year early, at age 3, according to my pediatrician. I’m not saying that is right for everyone, but it’s just a trend of the growing, competitive world. I do not necessarily advocate formal schooling that early, but all kids should have some early childhood education of some sort around age 4. A home library can easily fulfill this requirement.

This (and the next level up) is where Usborne really starts to shine with informational or nonfiction texts in sturdy board book or hardback form. They have all sorts of activity books too for children about ages 3+.

Big Book of Series

I LOVE the “Big Book Of” series and I’m coveting pretty much all of them. They are basically large books with sturdy pages and fold outs with huge illustrations. They have good layout and the text is simple and not overwhelming. I am really excited about them, mostly because I feel they are intriguing enough for a 4 or 5 year old without having information overload. These can peak interest in a subject matter when you read them aloud to a young child and they’ll grow with your child as he/she learns to read independently and internalize even more concepts.

There are some great non-fiction series out on the mass market (National Geographic Kids is one of these) but they are really more for the older elementary school level. It reads like an introductory book but is best discovered by an independent reader. The Big Book Series feels more approachable. I will likely order this and update soon. Pending Recommendation (Prediction: Highly recommend****)

Peek Inside Series

This is the more simplistic form of the Look Inside series, so it’s meant for toddlers and preschoolers, teaching basic concepts. I’m interested in this but haven’t purchased yet. Will update if I end up purchasing it at my party.

Pending Recommendation (Prediction: Likely to Recommend***)

Wipe Clean Series

This is a pretty neat series of wipeable soft booklets and I think worth the money at $7.99 because they are reusable. They are very colorful and try to make the learning activity fun and entertaining.

Pending Recommendation (Prediction: Highly recommend****)

Compare With: Wipe Clean (Priddy Books) — these have more of a workbook feel, not as “fun”, looks like real homework,

Flashlight Books: Shine-a-Light Series

The Shine a Light series are picture books with an informational element to them. They are so fun and interactive. You use a flashlight or other small light to illuminate from behind the page to “reveal” the animals or part of nature. We currently have Secrets of the Seashore and I’m planning to get the other two Apple Tree and Rainforest. They will be so fun for that preschool/kindergarten age. Highly recommend****

Compare With: Lightbeam books by Golding & Lodge

Roll Back Wind Up: Busy Car, Busy Helicopter, etc. Wind-up Train Book, etc.

These series are more of games than books really. Each book has four tracks-on-pages. But they are super innovative and I think provide some “educational fun within a book”. The Wind Up Pirate Ship has a storyline; I”m not sure about the others. They are a bit pricey at $24.99 to $29.99. I think they are sweet but they’re more optional, rather than required material. Likely to Recommend***

Kane Miller Picture Books (Fiction)

I recommend focusing on the non-fiction side of Usborne because I haven’t been too impressed with the fictional titles for preschool-early elementary age.

Here are some examples of what I mean, maybe I’m just not a fan of Kane Miller titles:

Boy on the Page – it’s the story of a child who wonders why he is on Earth and shows him growing up, always wondering into adulthood what his purpose is. It’s kind of philosophical and illustrated beautifully but it’s kind of too odd for me. I feel like my religious beliefs answer all my questions about the purpose of life and I want to teach this purpose in life to my children while they’re young, rather than have them wonder all their lives into adulthood what their purpose is. Sorry to get preachy. But it is a feel good book for those perhaps less religious and just want the message of “We are here for the people around us in our lives.” Still a great message, just not for me personally. Not Likely to Recommend ** and 1/2 (MAYBE *** DEPENDING ON THE CROWD)

The Zoo – After checking this out at the library, I asked SG to read it to Baby and SG was not impressed with this book at all. Yes, the illustrations are beautiful but the storyline is so-so about a girl and her parents and what they see at the zoo. The book has a nice fold out at the end. It’s artistic, but not my favorite. Not Likely to Recommend **

Compare With: Caldecott winners books

My Summary of a Very Wordy Post You Just Read:

  • Usborne Books are generally very beautifully illustrated and use thick, quality printing materials for a durable collection of books which can get pricey. If it’s out of your price range, consider books published by Priddy Books, Really Decent and titles like Dear Zoo at mass market book retailers (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc).
  • Books like DK, Priddy Bright Baby and Baby Einstein will use stock photo images; on one the hand, it looks realistic but on the other hand, the books easily get outdated; Usborne books in general are illustrated and so they will look really basic and simple in drawing style but have a more classic, imaginative quality to them, making them feel less dated. Maybe it’s just me. But some people like Montessorians prefer photos.
  • Use the library, Costco and Barnes & Noble to see which books you like and hope your kid likes them too.
  • Use YouTube to preview Usborne books before buying them! Do your research!

Note: I was not paid to write this but I am an independent consultant for Usborne. If you want more information, please message me.

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