Hop on Board: A BIG List of Board Books for Babies & Toddlers
Updated: Nov 11, 2019
On a recent trip to my local library, I found myself in the reading area for toddlers and other tiny patrons. Hung just above their child-sized shelves was a simple black-and-white sign that read: "Board Books are perfect for infants and toddlers learning to explore their world. Don't stress. Chewing on them is part of raising a reader" (my emphasis).
"Board Books are perfect for infants and toddlers learning to explore their world. Don't stress. Chewing on them is part of raising a reader."
Raising a reader. That's what we're aiming for, right? Sure, there will be a time for little ones to learn how to turn pages themselves and sit through a story in its entirety, but giving them books—books that they can explore in any way they know how—is the first, and most important, step. Gaby wrote a beautiful article on this last week, and it had me itching to expand our first list of board books.
Broken up into categories, here's a hefty list that we hope will keep even adults engaged in many, many—ahem—many repeated readings.
Black and White Books
It's become more and more widely known and proven that high-contrast books are best for infants. The stark black-and-white of these books stimulate their senses and encourage development of their optic nerves. This is most important within the first three to six months of life, during which the baby's brain cannot register pastel colors and instead needs the help of more pronounced color variation to increase brain and eye development, attention and tracking, and more. While developmentally important, these black and white books can also be really striking for grownups.
Look Look Outside! by Peter Linenthal
Linenthal's board book brings the magic that can be found just outside your baby's window: "Cars zoom. Ladybugs fly." The visuals are fascinating even to the adult eye, and no doubt will attract the attention of a baby learning the ropes of keeping her eyes in focus. Linenthal's got other titles in this vein, including the simply titled Look Look! and Look At Baby's House!
How To Be A Cat by Nikki McClure
I had no idea that any of McClure's books had a board book translation, but, oh, I am pleased to know it! McClure's bold illustrative style becomes a board book really beautifully, and since the text on this one is so spare, it was a natural transition. The reader follows a kitten through her day with a single action word per page, which invites the already wiggly toddler to move along with her. A lovely companion for Henkes's Kitten's First Full Moon.
Art for Baby compiled by Various
For fans of the Mini Masters series (Painting with Picasso, etc.), this book is one in another series of fine-art books for infants and toddlers. Art for Baby is followed by Faces for Baby and Patterns for Baby, all collected works of thematic works of art.
The Big Book of Beautiful Babies by David Ellwand
An oldie but a goodie. What could be more beloved for tiny hands than high-contrast pictures of babies from all over? The text is rhythmic and soothing, so it could technically be included in the next category of books, but it's always nice to have some black and white photography in the midst of all that pop art.
Jane Foster's Black and White by Jane Foster
There isn't much rhythm or rhyme to this one, but the language and whimsical artwork nudged it onto the list. Foster illustrates a variety of black and white animals—some found that way in nature, some not so much—with delightful descriptive words ("mooing cow," "sly armadillo"). It's got more visual interest than storytime appeal, but it would make a great addition to a baby's bookshelf.
Jungle Animals by Xavier Deneux
I gifted this one to a friend when her son was born last year and recently learned that it's a part of yet another small board book series! Deneux's work is a French import and he mostly creates conceptual books for the smallest readers. This is part of the "Baby Basics" series, most of which have that signature high contrast palette and simple name-the-object format, while somehow remaining playful.
Part of the young child's task is getting oriented with the world around him. He wants and needs to learn the names of all the objects, sounds, and creatures he encounters, and his mind is at the height of its ability to absorb new information. These books all, in one way or another, help the child to label things: emotions, animals and their sounds, vehicles, vegetables, and more.
Baby Faces by Margaret Miller
Another familiar one, but worth including all the same. It's nearly impossible to read this book without making the same face as the baby on the page; saying "Stinky!" inevitably elicits a scrunched nose and maybe a memory of that surprise from the back of your refrigerator. Fascinating for the young child because of the faces it includes, this book also has the potential to encourage the child's understanding of emotions.
On the Farm by Rod Campbell
If you look at most lists of board books on the internet, you'll see Rod Campbell on it. Dear Zoo tops many a pile of books for babies and toddlers. I'm less fanatical about his illustrated books, but On the Farm caught my attention. Its format is very similar to Montessori language materials: a single, clear image with the label just below it. This book includes everything from cows to potatoes to combines. This may be a book produced in the UK, so it could be hard to find; if that's the case, we'll do our darnedest to find an American read-alike.
Edible Colors by Jennifer Vogel Bass
Vivid, well-designed, and chock full of rich language and images. Fruits and vegetables of a surprising array of colors are arranged chromatically across each spread. As enticing to read as it is to eat! Bass also has Edible Numbers in this small series.
The Toolbox by Anne and Harlow Rockwell
Can you see the Converse sneakers on the cover?! The child narrator in this vintage gem takes your toddler through all tools in the toolbox, naming each one and, for some, how they are used. It shows its age a bit in tool technology; the manual drill "goes around and around and makes holes in the wood." Probably best for slightly older toddlers based on the longer narrative alone, but the illustrations are simply lovely.
Whose Shoes? A Shoe for Every Job by Stephen R. Swinburne
There are various and sundry books to talk about community helpers and such, but in my limited search, this is the only one to focus on the shoes required to do those community-helpful things. The book frames it as a guessing game with a picture of the shoe on one page, and a page turn reveals the person who would wear it. Another lovely book of photography in which children can see the world.
Triangles by Yusuke Yonezu
I'm a sucker for a well-used die cut, and Yonezu tactfully handles a series of die-cut triangles for this one as each page transforms into a different object. He uses different kinds of triangles, too, which gives a good introduction for toddlers to the geometry of the world around them. I haven't seen his Circles or Squares, but reviews suggest that this might be his best one.
A Pile of Leaves by Jason Fulford and Tamara Shopsin
Those who have seen These Colors Are Bananas may be familiar with this artistic author-illustrator pair and will most likely be just as pleased with this title. It contains, well, a pile of leaves, separated into "layers" on acetate pages. As the child leafs (I'm sorry, I had to) through these pages, she discovers a variety of shapes, colors, and objects. A final page names all the items seen hidden in the pile of leaves. Creative, colorful, and a wonderful tool for conversation!
Freight Train by Donald Crews
It almost feels silly to include this classic on the list, but when I flipped through it at the library, I couldn't resist. It's full of rich sounds, vibrant illustrations, and combines color, number, and train vocabulary for toddlers. I'd slap a medal on the front all over again.
Repetitive and Rhyming Books
In the latest edition of the Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease, Cyndi Giorgis (who revised it) talks about the importance of rhyming and predictability in books for babies and toddlers. Not only do books with language patterns like rhyme help with future phonemic awareness, they appeal to the child's desire for repetition (which is why you're reading this book for the sixth time today). Though many of the books in other sections of this big ol' list have this quality, too, these books have either a poem-like rhythm, a clear and structured rhyme scheme, and/or a repeated question-and-answer that will satisfy your toddler's desire for patterns.
Hello Birds, What Do You Say? by Loes Botman
I checked this one out to read with three-year-old children in the classroom last spring and learned quite a few new bird names myself! (That being said, my background knowledge is minimal.) The book follows a pattern of introducing a bird and its call. This would admittedly be more well-read if you actually know how these bird calls sound in real life, but the illustrations are lush (just look at those feathers!) and lifelike. Botman also has Hello Bugs, which I haven't read, but trust to be equally admirable.
Hands Can! by Cheryl Willis Hudson
Toddlers love two things: seeing other "babies" and learning to do things on their own. A photography book about all the things a child's own hands can do? No wonder this one remains popular for little ones everywhere.
I Can Do It Too! by Karen Baicker, illustrated by Ken Wilson-Max
In the same vein as Hands Can!, it's hard to resist a book that so resonates with the child learning to help herself and participate in her family and community. A confident young girl watches the adults in her life go about their day and learns to do as they do—pouring juice, strumming a guitar, and reading a book. The refrain, "I can do it, too!" carries throughout and invites the child to do the same.
You Are Light by Aaron Becker
This is one of the newest releases on this list, and it's a beauty. Of the Journey trilogy fame, Becker gives us a board book that emanates, well, light. Spare language explores the power of our light source as it shapes the world around us: "It sips the sea to make the rain." Wrapping up with a lovely message of interconnectedness. Made for exploration, it's a striking addition to any toddler's bookshelf.
Watch Me Grow! by Flowerpot Press
Gaby and I have loved every book we've seen from Flowerpot Press, but they don't put photo credits in a very accessible place. This one is no exception on either count, and we loved the way it traces a child's growth across the first months and years of life. So much change and excitement, and a toddler reading along would surely adore tracing the milestones of the babies and toddlers in these images.
Roadwork by Sally Sutton, illustrated by Brian Lovelock
I glanced through Sutton's Roadwork during my aforementioned library trip and was smitten when I got to this page: "Roll the tar. Roll the tar. / Make it firm and flat. / Squash it down and press it out. / Squelch! Spluck! SPLAT!" Like, come on. I can only imagine the fun of reading these words aloud with a giggly toddler hearing them for the first time. Sutton's other books include Demolition, Construction, and Dig, Dump Roll.
For families that speak (or want to speak) more than one language at home, books can be a powerful way to encourage vocabulary acquisition. Babies and toddlers are particularly capable of distinguishing sounds and absorbing languages, making it all the more important to offer most language exposure early on. These are just a few that we love, and you can find a few more over on this blog post. So far we've only included books in Spanish/English, but we hope to stretch into other languages bientôt!
Besos for Baby by Jen Árena, illustrated by Blanca Gómez
Baby goes about her day to see all those she loves, giving and getting besos from them all: mother, father, perro, and more. Rhythmic and repetitive with illustrations that clearly link the person or object being named, and a lovely color palette.
Animal Talk by Cynthia Weill, sculptures by Rubi Fuentes and Efrain Broa
Real! Wood! Sculptures! What could be a typical cow-says-moo book gets the added dimension of wooden folk art from Oaxaca of a variety of animals. It's always fun to see how other languages create the written versions of animal sounds, and Animal Talk is no exception. A bold and enticing choice for Spanish-English development.
Cerca / Close by Juan Felipe Herrera, illustrated by Blanca Gómez
Herrera offers the full text of this board book in both English and Spanish, making this open to readings in both languages. The text is simple and pairs with illustrations that are at once attractive and demonstrative of the concept at hand (closeness). The companion, Far / Lejos, follows the same pattern and is equally as delightful.
A disclaimer: Any books from our previous board book list don't appear here. I also intentionally left off books that seem to appear in classrooms and homes regularly enough, like Helen Oxenbury's Going On A Bear Hunt and the Priddy First 100 Words books. There are even more kinds of books that are made to be manipulated and mouthed by little ones; cloth books and "indestructible" books are appearing more and more frequently on the market. Thought this list includes books only in board book form, those can be invaluable when little hands and gums need to have something. Picture books for toddlers are also absent here, but keep your eyes peeled for a list of those coming soon!
What did we miss? What is most popular with your little ones lately?