October 2008

From far and near, babies all the same

By Mem Fox
Review by
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Everyone wants to "Teach your children well," as the classic song suggests. If you know a new baby or have a favorite toddler, by all means introduce them to Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, a jewel of a picture book by Australian author Mem Fox. With minimal text, and sweet illustrations by beloved British artist Helen Oxenbury, it's truly an international treat.

The cast features eight beautiful babies from around the world who laugh and frolic with each other on every page. The book's message of acceptance is summed up on the first few pages:

There was one little baby who was born far away.
And another who was born on the very next day.
And both of these babies, as everyone knows,
had ten little fingers and ten little toes.

Fox's rhyming prose makes the perfect bedtime read – aloud, with its soothing yet profound words. Oxenbury's roly – poly children – part baby and part toddler – convey wonderful expressions, ranging from inquisitiveness and watchfulness, to welcome and glee. While hailing from places near and far, they immediately learn to play together. Readers see a child "born on the ice" stand beside a penguin, and on the next page, readers meet a child born in a tent. Soon the two are fast friends, playing a joyful tug – of – war with one boy's scarf. Oxenbury is a master at drawing appealing round – faced children, and the muted colors she uses reinforces the soft, soothing message of Mem Fox's words. Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes gently presents – but never preaches – a satisfying lesson about humanity and international harmony.

Alice Cary counts fingers and toes at her home in Groton, Massachusetts.

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