If you haven’t experienced one of these books already (unlikely, but possible), That’s Not My… books are the best-selling, virtually indestructible, and now iconic board books first published in 1999 that play a game of conceptual – and textural – seek-and-find with babies.
So thank you Fiona Watt, thank you Rachel Wells, and thank you Usborne. After all, where, oh where, would we be without these sense-sational books! And I do mean sense-sational, for these books invite even the littlest of literati to discover the magical connection between tactile sensations and those wonderful things called words.
Each small, square tome holds five double page spreads showing a simple drawing of the book’s subject, an elephant, for example, along with some text that explains: “That’s not my elephant…” because “its tail is too…” well, whatever it is just too, too much of! And there on the page, the corresponding part of the animal/object flaunts a textured fabric or paper that demonstrates just what that texture feels like, helping your baby make the connection between the word and the physical sensation.
All manner of gorgeously descriptive adjectives are given real and immediate meaning to your little semanticist, who makes her way from page to colourful page by scratching, grabbing, pulling, tugging, banging, licking and biting the relevant parts
With a cast of 42 different characters (at last count) there is something or someone to pique every baby’s interest, whether it’s an angel, pirate, lamb, lion, plane, princess, tiger, kitten, robot, fairy… Forget it – just take a look at all the pretty covers on the That’s Not My… Book Series Collection here to find the winning title for your baby.
The subject of each title of course shapes the concrete nouns introduced in the next ten pages. Some exemplary favourites include Santa’s sleigh, boots and beard, Dinosaur’s teeth, horns and flippers, Car’s headlights, hubcaps and radiator, Pirate’s cutlass, eyepatch and hat, and Pony’s mane, saddle and hooves. Meanwhile the adjectives range from the regularly touted fluffy, squashy, shiny, rough, smooth, squashy, ridgy, smooth, fuzzy, soft, velvety, hairy and bumpy to the less regularly visited prickly, slippery, rubbery, shaggy, silky, slimy, tufty, glittery, sparkly, knobbly and scaly.
Explaining the process of creating a new book for the series, conceptual author and Usborne publishing executive Fiona Watt says: “When we start a new That’s not my… book, I think of at least six attributes that relate to the subject which also work as touchy-feely patches. I [then] send initial ideas for each spread to the illustrator Rachel Wells, along with accompanying photographs and picture ideas.” Rachel then draws up initial sketches, and the team work to and fro to perfect the finalise the image, at which point Fiona selects the touchy-feely texture and decides on the sensory adjective. “I have a large folder with sample fabrics that have been used in other Usborne touchy-feely books,” Fiona explains. “I try to use one of them as I know they have passed the rigorous safety tests they have to undergo.’ You can read the full story of the process here…
As something of a fascinating aside, there are some who voice concerns that these books may imbue babies with an early sense of appropriation – after all our generation didn’t grow up voicing “That’s not my Santa”, Santa was just plain old everyone’s Santa. And others who worry about the ‘collector’ status. Is it the observing baby who is seeking out a prized possession? Or perhaps the parent-as-reader? Then again, there is that little mouse who pops up on each and every page of each and every book who might know a thing or two about what’s going on here…
Plus, there is that repeating negative – “That’s not my…”, which, funnily enough does start to creep into conversations. Down at the playground: “That’s not my Oliver… his screams are too shrieky”, or on a playdate, “That’s not my poppet… her mood is too grumpy”, until “Ahhhh, That’s my Oliver… his manners are so perfect!”
Nonetheless, fact is, these books are up there with change bags and sippy cups as life-enhancing essentials for the parenting tool kit. After all, what sleep-deprived parent can find the time – let alone the intellectual vivacity – to seek out all the textures and objects in the world one would like to explore with one’s ever-curious baby? So we applaud the iconic status of this ever-growing series and await the inevitable That’s not my Mummy… That’s not my Daddy… We’d love to hear what title you would be clamouring for – leave a comment and we’ll pass it on to the fabulous Fiona!
DAY OUT NOTES If you are in London from July through September 15, 2014, sit down with the meerkat, piglet and panda at That’s not my… BookBench on the St Paul’s Cathedral side of Millennium Bridge, see details here. One of the 50 BookBenches being featured around London this summer, it’s part of the National Literacy Trust’s Books About Town campaign. Other BookBenches to visit include Dr Seuss, The Gruffalo, We’re Going On A Bear Hunt, Elmer and Clarice Bean as well as How To Train Your Dragon, The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe and Peter Pan.
FUN AT HOME There are two free colouring sheets you can download for children to colour in and either keep or send away to enter a competition to win a That’s Not My book… (for a younger sibling obviously!).
Author Notes After graduating from Exeter University with a B.Ed. (Hons.), specialising in Psychology and Art and Design, Fiona Watts worked as a researcher and writer for a publisher of educational material for children’s school visits to places including zoos, museums, stately homes etc. She joined Usborne in 1989 and became an editorial director in 2003, largely responsible for writing baby and novelty books, as well as art and activity titles. She has written over 100 titles for Usborne Publishing, perhaps most notably the, ‘That’s not my ….‘ touchy-feely series. One of her proudest achievement is being shortlisted for the Children’s Book of the Year in the Galaxy Awards in 2008.