Supermodel to supermom

Publishing: Cindy Crawford has leant her considerable charisma to `About Face,' a book on how babies use expressions to communicate.

November 18, 2001|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Cindy Crawford trades in her Todd Oldham dresses and Revlon makeup for a pink V-neck sweater and baby powder in her latest project, About Face, a book about how children use their expressive faces to communicate with adults long before they utter their first word.

Photogenic toddlers like then-1-year-old Presley Walker Gerber (Crawford's first-born) are shown laughing, crying and goofing around in the 32-page book. Crawford appears throughout as a playful parent, mirroring her son's looks, reciting nonsensical rhymes and encouraging other parents to follow suit.

"I communicate with my face as a model," she says. "I had this idea to create a book that was about communicating with facial language."

Crawford, 35, knows intuitively that a picture can powerfully tell a story. Hers is a face that has graced countless magazine covers, television ads and MTV's House of Style. She knows how to convey meaning in a glance.

For this project, she traded in high-fashion photo shoots and thousand-dollar outfits for a romper room filled with toys and pint-size models. She opted not to write a picture book, the format favored by other celebrities-turned-children's-book-authors. Instead, she hand-picked an author, photographer and illustrator to produce a show-and-tell book that showcases the power of non-verbal interaction.

About Face (HarperEntertainment, $19.95) is the latest sign of Crawford's transformation from supermodel to supermom. Her new role comes with two young children, a line of maternity clothes at Bloomingdale's, and now this.

"I had seen Cindy in a video diary series on Good Morning America," says HarperEntertainment vice president and editorial director Hope Innelli, referring to Crawford's 1999 stint on the ABC show depicting her first pregnancy and birth. "She made the leap in my mind and became synonymous with motherhood." Crawford achieved further clout in the kiddie arena when she founded the eStyle Web site and its spinoff, Babystyle.

At a recent appearance at Toys R Us in Paramus, N.J., it was evident that Crawford has crossover appeal. There, she was mobbed by moms. "It was amazing how many mothers related to her," says Innelli. "She held babies and posed for pictures." Crawford had given birth to daughter Kaia in September. "There was great camaraderie among them as new mothers." Innelli should know - she was pregnant with her first child during the photo shoot for About Face.

Crawford has figured out a language that goes before and beyond words. Facial expressions are to her "the first way we communicate with our child," says Crawford. "I look at my daughter's face, and she's definitely been smiling for a couple weeks now, and I know it's a smile - not gas. It kind of illustrates the point of the book."

This book, says Innelli, "makes it really easy for parents to use." It encourages adults to loosen up and use lighthearted rhyming verses and peek-a-boo-inspired games to talk to their toddlers.

Crawford sets the tone with comically endearing looks cast either directly at the audience or toward her son. On one page she hams it up as an ape while Presley, gnawing a plastic banana, looks on.

"The books I enjoy reading are fun to read, like Is Your Mama a Llama?" says Crawford. "I like lyrical rhymes and alliteration, and I wanted to bring that into this book." A portion of the book's proceeds will go to Reading Is Fundamental, the largest nonprofit children's and family literacy organization in the country.

Though Crawford did not write the book or shoot the photographs, she was present almost every step of the way. "She's what you want in a creative collaborator - generous with thoughts, ideas, time and respectful of other people's input," says Innelli. "It really helped foster a team atmosphere."

"We were all very much in concert about the basic concept, which is to encourage parents to pay attention and be open to their children's body language and facial expression," says author Ellen Schecter, a former scriptwriter for the Emmy Award-winning PBS children's series Reading Rainbow. A mother of two, Schecter also drew upon her personal experiences to decipher what goes on with youthful grins and gurgles.

"It's the language of love we're talking about here. Every parent can express that language," explains Schecter. "Coos, nonsense words, being silly and making up songs."

A typical passage from the book demonstrates this idea in action: "Now it's your turn to tell just how you feel - it's easy, it's fun - it's no big deal. Just speak with your eyes, with a smile, or a pout - a whisper, a sputter, or even a shout."

"There's this very intuitive and natural interplay that goes on with eyes, eyebrows, hands, mouths," says Schecter. "Babies pick up and deliver it. It's a two-way language. A baby will speak back to you in this way almost from birth.

"It builds confidence, self-esteem and the sense of self as a baby person."

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