Pushing the Right Buttons

The Button Book – Sally Nicholls and Bethan Woollvin, Tundra, 2020


As soon as you open The Button Book to read with a young child, you will probably be reminded of Hervé Tullet’s innovative Press Here.


Certainly, Sally Nicholls and Bethan Woollvin have created an homage to that modern classic, but their new book stands on its own. The Button Book is an invitation to participate in a funny and tactile experience where words and images allow kids to create meaning.  While the book shares a basic premise with Tullet’s, its crazy and colorful sequences of instructions and results is also quite independent, a kind of Rube Goldberg mechanism of momentum ending in a soothing wind-down of sleep.

clap button

all button dancepng

The premise of the book is the unpredictability of what will happen when you “press” a particular button.  For example, what will be the result of pushing a blue pentagon? You probably won’t be asked to clap, because that action has already been connected with a triangle of a different color.  Will children figure out that each button has its own consequence, and, if so, how long will it take for that reasoning to kick in?  One thing you will predict is the entertainment value, especially as the whole journey takes place among an endearing group of animals drawn in simple shapes and heavy black outlines, each with its own distinctive splash of color.


They are all curious; just look at that fox, an animal known for craftiness. He seems rather tentative poking that red button.  Children will identify with the sense of mild insecurity, and then relief and laughter.  The purple-induced tickle attack involves turning a turtle upside down, but everyone seems to be having a great time. Adults may find themselves becoming as drawn into this world of cause and effect as much as the kids.  What might pushing a green button produce? The answer might surprise you about this soothing color!

tickle button

The Button Book is not a mere novelty. Parents and other caregivers will share with their children a sense of reassurance that one button calls for hugs. (image) The very human interactions among the book’s animal friends lends it a different dimension from Tullet’s inspired visual game.  The book is about actions and their results, but also about the social meanings of play.  Even children realize that games have to end; they, along with their parents, find this fact reassuring.  The Button Book includes this happy transition  in a picture where white has become the calm darkness of bedtime, but the animals’ pink feathers and red fur remind readers that the cycle of activity will begin again.  The Button Book will bear reading again and again.


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