When winter starts to fade into the distance, and signs of spring emerge, one of those signs of spring seems to be new babies brought out in their strollers and the sounds of children playing outside in the neighborhood more often. It’s only natural that those looking to buy gifts for babies and children this time of year, or any time of year for that matter, would turn to the idea of books. i See Me! Personalized Children’s Books offer an opportunity for children to see their own names in print — the company also commissions writers and illustrators.
According to iSeeMe.com, the company was founded in 2000 when Maia and Allan Haag, a writer and a graphic designer team, decided that the personalized book they received for their own child in 1998 could have been of better quality.
“My husband Allan and I received a personalized book as a gift for our first child eighteen years ago,” wrote Maia Haag in an email. “We loved it because it was about our child, but we thought that it could have been done better. The illustrations were poor and the overall quality wasn’t good.”
“Allan, who is a graphic designer, said that he could develop a personalized book with a much higher quality,” Haag continued. “I love to write and I was an English major in college, so I said that I thought I could write a better book.”
Haag described her creative process:
“While I was strolling around Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis with our new baby, I came up with various concepts for personalized storybooks. About a year and a half later, we introduced the first title, ‘My Very Own Name,’ in which animals bring letters one by one to spell out your child’s name in rhyme.”
Today, the company features more than 30 personalized, illustrated story books and board books as well as other personalized children’s gift items such as growth charts, placemats, lunch boxes, puzzles, and more. Seasonal and special occasion books are also available.
What about the quality that the Haags sought? Is it there?
This reviewer received review copies of “My Very Own Fairy Tale,” illustrated by Joyce Patti; the “Snuggle Bunny” storybook illustrated by John Butler, both books written by Maia Haag; and the bestselling “On the Day You Were Born” written and illustrated by Debra Frasier.
The Frasier book, published by Houghton Mifflin, is a special, personalized edition in celebration of its 25th anniversary. According to iSeeMe, the first 1,000 copies purchased will be autographed by the author/illustrator.
All of these books are sturdy in their physical presence. Both the covers and the pages are thick and glossy, and the bindings are reasonably tight — qualities families can appreciate as they teach children how to handle and take care of books through many re-readings. They are not quite library-quality in binding, but they are sturdier than many children’s books and should certainly hold up for the average family use.
The print quality is also good — images are colorful and not smudged. Print is crisp on the glossy pages, including the personalized name. The name is virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the text in print quality on most pages it is used.
To the extent that personalized stories can hold up as stories on their own, most of these three books do well. “Snuggle Bunny” is a rhyming counting book where Snuggle Bunny and the named child enjoy a day together. It is a sweet story with warm illustrations that evoke a comforting theme about friendship. The name fits right in with the story, as the bunny helps the child count spins, picnics, kisses, etc. shared together throughout their day. The book can be purchased with a matching soft, snuggle bunny to hold while sharing the story.
“On the Day You Were Born” uses lyrical prose to celebrate the earth, tide, animals, moon, etc. all preparing together for the birth of the named child. A section at the back of the book gives more information for the older child looking back through this book considering his/her place in the universe — scientific facts about the sun, rain, and trees, for instance. In this special anniversary edition, the child’s name is part of the cover, text, and illustrations. The writing here stands strong in celebration of the wonder of a child’s birth.
Of the three, this book’s writing stood out most to this reviewer. “School Library Journal” wrote of the Houghton Mifflin (unpersonalized) edition, that it is:
“a book filled with reverence for the natural order of the world and the place of the individual in it.”
The concept of “My Very Own Fairy Tale” is a bit challenging and illustrates the difficulty some readers have with the “one-size- fits-all” aspect of personalized books — the idea is to spell out both the child’s first and last name with letters representing different fairies. The letter fairies gather to nominate the princess of all fairies (the named child) by contributing attributes the princess has, based on the letter contributed (A for “Awesome,” H for “Honest,” etc.). The text here falters somewhat through forced rhymes in places, as might be expected, given the mixture of letters required to spell out both names.
In an informative section at the end of the book, the fairies, which represent actual berries and flowers found around the world, describe something about these natural items. The text presented is interesting and informative; however, the point of view in these small sections is uneven. At times, the fairy seems to be speaking; at other times the voice appears to be that of the author or narrator. Another feature of this book is a search aspect, where tiny fairies are hidden in the pictures, and readers are encouraged to search and find them throughout the pages.
All three books feature a photograph of the named child and a personalized dedication printed as part of the book itself. Illustrations in all three books are colorful and bright, each matching the tone, subject matter, and age-range of the reader or listener.
Asked about the role of personalized books in children’s lives and their growing relationship with books, Ms. Haag responded, “Children feel great reading our personalized books because the story is about them…This sparks a love of reading in the child, and it connects parents and children as they read our award-winning books together.”
Asked whether writers could consider iSeeMe! as a potential market for their work, Haag replied:
“We do review manuscripts provided by freelance writers, and Allan reviews portfolios from prospective illustrators. Our goal is to work with top-quality authors and illustrators to produce keepsake personalized books that the recipient will enjoy for a lifetime.”
According to iSeeMe, actors such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Brooke Shields, Jessica Alba, and Courteney Cox have all enjoyed iSeeMe! books with children. The reader/listener who matters most to one purchasing these books however, is, of course, the child for whom it is intended.
Prices are somewhat higher than a typical hard cover picture story book would be at your favorite bookseller; however, the personalized aspect makes the price of $34.99 for the fairy tales book; $29.99 for the bunny book alone; and “On the Day You Were Born” priced at $34.99 fair and reasonable in today’s market and given the quality of these books, overall. Due to the personalized feature of this line, books can be purchased through iSeeMe directly.
For family or friends looking for a personalized book for a beloved baby or child, iSeeMe! books are worth consideration. While personalized story books present challenges in the writing and are certainly not for everyone, iSeeMe! shows that it is possible to produce a memorable book printed with a child’s name as part of the story that families can share, cherish, and return to again and again.