Board books are small little books made out of thick cardboard published for babies and very young toddlers. They will often be thrown in baby bags for quick trips to the park, the grocery store, or a doctor’s visit. They are also likely be chewed and drooled on until the cardboard corners get nice and gummy!
For many people, board books are simply an adorable baby shower gift, but they don’t really give them too much thought.
But I happen to think board books should be given the same scrutiny (and recognition) as any other example of children’s literature.
Whenever I read a children’s book, I always view it through my reading teacher lens, so in my opinion, some baby board books are better than others!
Why is it important to be discriminating about baby board books?
Because board books are a baby’s first exposure to books! That makes them incredibly important!
So what should you look for in a good baby board book?
Okay, well for today, let’s just focus on board book examples of fiction, rather than non-fiction.
The best baby board books should have a good story.
Just like any other example of children’s fiction, baby board books should still have a good story (with a beginning, middle & end).
But a good story doesn’t actually require words.
A good wordless picture book will:
- teach a sense of story (beginning, middle & end).
- encourage talking with your baby about what’s happening in each illustration, which helps develop baby’s language.
Some of the best baby board books started as a picture book. There are several examples of excellent children’s picture books that have subsequently been published as board books.
Not all children’s picture books lend themselves to becoming great baby board books, but the ones that do are simply stellar. (Example: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, Good Dog, Carl)
The best baby board books likely have rhythm, rhyme & repetition. Board books with a pattern of repetition & rhyme are fabulous for language development and phonological awareness (hearing & discriminating between sounds).
The best baby board books will contain complete sentences (unless they’re a poem). I much prefer baby board books with complete sentences over ones that simply label objects. Again, it’s because sentences encourage richer language development.
The best baby board books will have colorful & engaging illustrations. Books for babies should be colorful with easy to see images. Some artistic detail is fine, but this is not the place for highly detailed images taking over the page like a Where’s Waldo? book.
The best baby board books will have an easy to read text & font. The text should be clear, simple, and short.
I personally prefer the simplicity of a sans serif font, however board books are really for pre-readers, not early readers, so the font is less important. It does need to be large enough and easy to read for parents (and other caregivers like grandparents).
I give bonus points for a well thought out text placement on the page. As a former reading teacher, I always pay attention to how the text is laid out for the most fluent, natural phrasing.
Which baby board books should you avoid?
Label books: These are the board books with one object on a page with a simple word label: apple, dog, jet, fish, etc. Ugh!
They might be bright and colorful, but they don’t do nearly as much for a baby’s language development as the previous books above.
It’s like going to the grocery store with your baby and only saying, “Apple, soap, toothpaste, banana, chicken, etc. rather than expanding your child’s receptive language by saying, “Wow, these are some really delicious looking juicy, red apples! I think we should get some to bring home with us.”
The more you can talk and expand your baby’s receptive language using full sentences (in context), the better.
Label books are just incredibly boring and there are much better choices available. I do recognize that they’re incredibly popular and sell extremely well, but I’m still not a fan.
Famous trademarked character books: Disney characters, Nickelodeon characters, Sesame Street characters, etc. These books are all high on glossy appearance, but low on literary content (in my opinion).
I kind of think of them as the delicious looking, but non-nutritive fast-food version of children’s books.
At some point, your toddler will likely fall in love with one of the characters from Frozen and you will be treated to some of Disney’s finest literature.
But until that day arrives, select from the very best baby books you can.
Books with too much text. I’ve seen several baby board books that simply have way too much text for this age group.
It’s quite difficult to write well for babies and young toddlers because when there are only a few words, each one becomes so much more important.
Just a few examples of some of the best baby board books:
- Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (Board Book) Every single baby on the planet should have this board book version in their home library. I’m pretty sure every preschool & Kindergarten teacher has one in their classroom. This classic story has it all: big bold collage style illustrations, repetition & rhyme and it’s a very appropriate length. LOVE it!
- Good Dog, Carl This is a (mostly) wordless picture book by Alexandra Day about a Rottweiler who takes care of the baby. The outstanding illustrations provide a clear story with a very clear beginning, middle and end. There is a plenty to talk about with your baby in each picture.
- Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (Board Book) You simply can’t help but read this book as a chant. Alphabet letters are the star in this longtime favorite.
- I Love You to the Moon and Back (Board Book) A sweet, more current story of a parent’s love for their child. Makes a nice bedtime or naptime board book.
- Yummy, Yucky (Board Book) Opposites are fun to explore with this food focused book by Leslie Patricelli. Bright, illustrations and clear, patterned language make this board book a winner.
Tip: If you’d like to see the story inside of a board book before you purchase, head over to YouTube and you might just get to see the author/illustrator read the book! Here Leslie Patricelli talks about and reads her board book, Yummy, Yucky.
Illustrator extraordinaire Eric Carle discussed his amazing collaborative relationship with Bill Martin, Jr., author of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?