2017: Marking the Rise of the Almighty Board Book
It’s not as though board books have ever really gotten their due. Doomed to withstand the incessant chompers of teeny tiny gums, half the time they are mistaken for chew toys and the other half as portable germ factories. Here’s a test. Walk into your local library. Look long and hard at the board book section. If the section is filled with pristine board books, bereft of so much as a single droplet of baby spit then either (A) your town has no babies in it or (B) your library is rolling in dough. Most children’s librarians fight a never ending internal battle over determining just how gross is “gross”. If the rounded corners show the interior cardboard, is it still okay? Can we get away with putting a little booktape over the tear where one overzealous baby did their worst? My profession knows that in this life there are no absolutes. We know this because we deal with board books.
Without an award to their name, board books have languished for years. Sure, Sandra Boynton made a name for herself by basically redefining the genre, but I’d say she was the exception rather than the rule. Then the French came along. The French with their Herve Tullet and their fancy board books, redefining the genre altogether. Suddenly board books were cool. Sure, we’d had hipster board books for a while, but the French had somehow zeroed in on how to make a board book enticing for kids and interesting enough for the parents that would have to read the darn thing umpteen bazillion times. And generally speaking, French board books were all intended to be board books from Day One. You will not find French picture books reinterpreted into a board book format. Non, merci.
Maybe the French were the ones that convinced American publishers to believe that board books could be a profitable genre above and beyond Ms. Boynton and that board book edition of Good Night Moon that will exist on this earth long after you and I have crumbled to dust. Whatever the case, 2017 has been The Year of the Board Book, loud and clear. I know that I’ve said that 2017 is The Year of the Nonfiction Book, and I stand by that claim, but one does not preclude the other. And in some cases, you can have both at the same time! Crazy, I know.
Here then is a rundown of some of the strongest board books I’ve had the pleasure of reading this year. Please note that I have not seen all the board books for 2017 yet, so there will be books missing from this list.
2017 Board Books Worth Noting
Animals Hide and Seek by Bastien Contraire
Bastien Contraire (see, we’re even starting off with the French today) may sound familiar because Phaidon put out Undercover: One of These Things Is Almost Like the Other last year. This book is much in the same vein but was, I believe, always meant to be a board book. FYI.
Baby Loves Quantum Physics by Ruth Spiro, ill. Irene Chan
To be fair, I like Spiro’s other board book out this year, Baby Loves Thermo-Dynamics, but of the two this one has my heart. Here is the description on the back: “Play hide-and-seek with Schrödinger’s famous feline.” You read that right, except in this case the cat is both asleep and not asleep when it is in the box. Dead cats are shockingly absent from board books these days.
Baby’s First Words by Christiane Engel
Sure, it’s inclusive. But it’s actually a really good first words book to boot. AND you can get it in Spanish (Mis Primeras Palabras) if you really want to. I’ve mentioned it on this blog before.
Before and After by Jean Jullien
From the man who brought you a butt in a book comes one of the cleverest opposite-related board books of the year. I just adore this.
The Butterfly Garden by Laura Weston
I’ve seen books similar to this and they haven’t impressed. But this book is different. The black and white images punctuated by color are gorgeous and I love that it comes up with an original way of showing the butterfly’s life cycle. I think the tabs will stand up to repeated readings too.
Circle, Triangle, Elephant: A Book of Shapes and Surprises by Kenji Oikawa and Mayuko Takeuchi
A read aloud board book! Could such things be? Well let me tell you something about board books that surprise expectations. If you want to be the Ruler of Storytime, all you have to do is get the kids to laugh. This book can do that. After all, even young children can catch on to the fact that an elephant is not a shape.
Color Wonder: Hooray for Spring by Chieu Anh Urban
I’ve never seen the concept of mixing colors done as inventively as you’ll find here. As you can sort of see, there’s a little wheel on the side that allows you to “mix” the colors to create new ones. A smart board book if ever I saw one.
Dance by Matthew Van Fleet
Helloooooo, storytime’s new best friend! Isn’t it nice to see that Matthew Van Fleet hasn’t lost his touch? This thing would be a blast for any toddler or preschool program. I just love how fun it is to read.
Find the Dots by Andy Mansfield
David A. Carter better start watching his back. This Mansfield guy’s got some mad pop-up skillz. Kind of looks like what you’d get if Herve Tullet got into pop-ups. Which, come to think of it, why hasn’t he? Talk about a million dollar combo. This book is probably more pop-up than board book, but I’m including it here today because there really aren’t enough pop-up books in 2017 to justify their own list.
Flora and the Chicks: A Counting Book by Molly Idle
Aww. It’s an original Flora story. My sole objection might be the fact that the white cover looks like it stains really easily.
Flora and the Ostrich: An Opposites Book by Molly Idle
Hm. I like this one too. How to choose which one I like more? No need to do so – we’ll include both!
Have You Seen My Lunch Box? by Steve Light
Light’s style suits the board book format beautifully. Though he still rules the realm of the board books with that great “Go” series he created at Chronicle (Trains Go, Trucks Go, Planes Go, etc.) I like that he continually branches out and tries new things. This book is sort of a continuation of his Have You Seen My Dragon?, so that’s cool.
Heads & Tails by Carli Davidson
Eventually you guys are going to start doubting my whole “I don’t care about dogs” reaction to books, but this one is both cool and a pretty good body parts book. For dogs. One of my fellow librarians told me that this is their favorite board book of the year. And just look at that tongue!
Hickory Dickory Dock and Other Favorite Nursery Rhymes by Genine Delahaye
I love a good nursery rhyme book. Half the fun of reading them is finding out how many of the more obscure nursery rhymes out there made the cut.
Lines by Sarvinder Naberhaus, ill. Melinda Beck
Because at the end of the day how many board books start with a line and end with the FRIGGIN’ UNIVERSE?!? This book gets epic, fast. Bound to leave you reeling.
Little Skeletons / Esqueletitos by Susie Jaramillo
It’s awesome and with the upcoming Pixar movie Coco (novelization by Matt de la Pena) it couldn’t be better timed. The only question is whether or not you can circulate this, what with its box and all. When I stopped by Ms. Jaramillo’s booth, though, she showed me that they’re currently in the process of making some library-friendly regular board books as well.
Making Faces: A First Book of Emotions by Molly Magnuson
Kind of like Heads & Tails but so much cuter.
Monster Munch by Tobias Krejtschi
Look, I’m going to level with you here. This is a shapes book. It is also a poop book. And while the ending doesn’t quite have the same quality of surprise as, say, What Baby Wants (see below), it’s still an ending you won’t see coming.
My First Baby Signs by Phil Conigliaro, ill. Tae Won Yu
How do you guys feel about low-key pop-ups in the library? This is a bit sturdier than the pop-up baby sign book Baby Signs by Kyle Olmon from a couple of years ago. Plus it’s cleverly done.
One Happy Tiger by Catherine Rayner
There was much more of a story here than I expected in a counting book, and the art really is lush and lovely. A librarian friend said that this is stronger than Flor and the Chicks when it comes to counting. Could be.
Peekaboo Barn: Farm Day by Nat Sims, ill. Corey Lunn
Apparently Travis at 100 Scope Notes called this the board book of the year (or at least that’s what the Amazon page for this book states). I think the real lure of the title is how deceptively simple it is. The interactive elements are subtle, clever, and work very well. Or maybe I just like milking cows.
Pizza! An Interactive Recipe Book by Lotta Nieminen
And all the librarians worry about that “interactive” mention in the subtitle. There is one element of this book that gets removed at the end, but I declare that even if it were to fall out in the course of circulation the book is still a great pick for a library collection. It’s pizza! What’s not to love?
Rapunzel by Chloe Perkins, ill. Archana Sreenivasan
You can’t deny that it has beautiful art, but is it too long for its board book format? A co-worker suggested that it might be fitting for readalouds with older kids instead. This is one in a series of reimagined board book fairy tales, by the way.
Time for Bed by Thierry Bedouet
A lot of books use this sliding sort of technology, but what I like about this book is that the slides are used for a very practical purpose: Showing kids that it’s okay for the grown-up to go away when it’s bedtime. A clever answer to a common bedtime complaint. Beautifully designed.
Tinyville Town: I’m a Librarian by Brian Biggs
I love Biggs’s subtle portrayal of the librarian’s partner. He also gets extra points for mentioning the periodicals section.
What Does Baby Want? by Tupera Tupera
Hint: The answer is in the book’s design.
And now, because I do love board book reprints of picture books, here are a few that actually benefit from the changeover:
Board Book Reprints
Birds by Kevin Henkes, ill. Laura Dronzek
This is a photograph of the framed poster you’ll spot when you enter my home:
So as you can clearly see, I am not an unbiased party when it comes to this book.
Fortunately by Remy Charlip
My favorite storytime staple finally gets the love and attention it deserves. I loved reading it to kids because those bloodthirsty little monsters always want that poor boy to fall on that pitchfork. Fortunately, he missed the pitchfork. Unfortunately . . .
Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker, ill. Tom Lichtenheld
A no-brainer, if ever there was one.
Hooray for Fish! by Lucy Cousins
This isn’t even the first time this book has been in board book form. Now it’s 9″ X 7″. In 2008 it was 8″ X 7″. Interesting the changes people make. And it works better as a board book than it ever did as a picture book, frankly.
And Lest I Forget . . .
While at the most recent American Library Association conference here in sweet home Chicago, I stumbled upon a booth that was of particular interest to me. The name of the publisher is Lil’ Libros and they produce bilingual board books on a variety of Latino-centric topics. These bilingual first concept books do vary in terms of content so here are some of the highlights:
One thing I haven’t seen in board books this year? African-American kids and their families. There are a couple rare exceptions to this like In the Snow by Elizabeth Spurr, ill. Manelle Oliphant but they are the only ones I’ve seen in 2017. If you can think of others, please clue me in.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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