31 Days, 31 Lists: Day One – 2017 Great Board Books
The lists begin! And as with last year we’re kicking off with the youngest of readers. This is by no means the only list you’ll find out there of best board books of 2017. However, I do like to distinguish between my age groups when I present this list. As far as I’m concerned, board books for those with a yen to gnaw and board books for kids that can actually turn the pages themselves with interest are vastly different. For further suggestions be sure to check out Chicago Public Library’s list of Best Board Books of 2017 as well.
2017 Board Books: For Babies
Baby’s Big Busy Book by Karen Katz
Never let them get you down, Karen Katz. Those of us with babies know all too well the power your large-headed children wield. I once had about ten Katz books going in continuous rotation as my children circled through them again and again. This latest book isn’t phoning it in either. It’s big. It’s beautiful. Any kid would want to gum its corners and play with its elements. Katz, now and forever.
Dance by Matthew Van Fleet
You might question why I would put this book in the section for the earliest of readers, but I’ve always found that VanFleet is magnificent at entrancing children’s attentions at a very early age. Not that this book isn’t also custom made for baby lapsit storytimes. Babies heck, I like to play with these tabs. Gotta beat and you can dance to it.
Heads & Tails by Carli Davidson
Which is not to say that Davidson’s other 2017 board book Shake, Wiggle & Roll isn’t any less brilliant. I’m just saying that of the two Heads & Tails goes far beyond your standard body parts books. The photography in all cases is excellent, however. Sometimes a board book with photos will feel as though someone took a bunch of stock images and then ascribed random words to them. Not Davidson’s books. Not by half.
Making Faces: A First Book of Emotions by Molly Magnuson
There are two things that they will tell you about early cognitive development and board books. The first is that babies like high contrast books. A lot of black and white images. Well, weird as it may sound, I found almost none of those in 2017. Very odd. The other thing they’ll tell you is that babies like seeing faces. With this book, mission accomplished! One of the best baby face books to come out in recent years.
My First Baby Signs by Phil Conigliaro, ill. Tae Won Yu
It’s not even the first pull-tab baby sign book I’ve encountered, but I think you’ll find that the tabs themselves stand up to repeated pullings. I’m not saying a determined baby couldn’t render this asunder if it really wanted to, but you’ll get at least a good ten to fifteen uses out of this before they do, so enjoy!
Peekaboo Barn Farm Day by Nat Sims, ill. Corey Lunn
When you have a baby of your very own, pulling tabs on a book becomes as cathartic to the parent as it is stimulating to the child. A parent has to read a board book repeatedly. It’s in the job description. So when you have a tab to pull, it feels like you’re actually accomplishing something. And then, when the kid starts pulling them themselves? Your job on this world is done. Pat yourself on the back and enjoy this one in particular. Tabby goodness abounds.
Time for Bed by Thierry Bedouet
Kooky that this book was created by someone entirely different from that previously mentioned Farm Day book. They pair so well together! And here’s the kick in the pants. Usually these board book lists are dominated by the French, yet this book is the first we’ve encountered so far today that’s of the French persuasion. Oh la la!
What Does Baby Want? by Tupera Tupera
That’s an easy one. It wants agency. Or is it the breast? Right, right, I always get this one mixed up. It’s the breast it wants.
What Is Baby Gorilla Doing? by Christena Nippert-Eng, John Dominski, and Miguel Martinez
Am I biased because I believe this baby gorilla may well have been one of the gorillas I love to watch at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago? Very well then, I am biased. But you cannot deny that this gorilla is a star in the making. Love its antics. Love the zoo. Love the photography that makes this fun for everyone to read.
2017 Board Books: For Toddlers
ABC Spanish by Aless Baylis
It’s not the first bilingual board alphabet book you’ll encounter in your life, but it may well be one of the best. The book takes care to acknowledge letters that may not exist in one language or another. Plus, it’s purdy.
Animals Hide and Seek by Bastien Contraire
Oh, I’ll grant that it’s a bit of a cheat to include this. After all, many of Contraire’s titles like this appear to be the same. That said, I just love how this is done. It’s the rare board book that that manages to incorporate both good design and kid-friendly elements. Meet one of the few.
Baby Loves Quantum Physics by Ruth Spiro, ill. Irene Chan
I know. I know. You thought the slot was going to go to Baby Loves Thermodynamics. But I’m sorry, any book that dares to invoke Schrödinger’s Kitten (the kitten in the box is both asleep and awake) has my instantaneous love from the get-go.
Baby’s First Words by Christiane Engel
Hope you like this book because you’re going to be seeing it on a lot of these 31 Days lists this year. It’s bilingual (there’s a Spanish edition), it’s LGBTQIA+ friendly, and it’s honestly a really good stuff-around-the-house type of book.
Before and After by Jean Jullien
Jean Jullien had a bit of a magical year when it came the 2017 American publishing scene. Between this, his illustrations for John Lennon’s Imagine and I Want to Be In a Scary Story (penned by Sean Taylor) sometimes it felt like you couldn’t go two steps without running into his work somewhere. And yet, for all that, I’d argue that his best work was on this board book, presented by Phaidon. Though not as cheeky (forgive the pun) as his previous book This Is Not a Book, I’d argue that this is the superior title.
Black Bear, Red Fox: Colours in Cree by Julie Flett
Flett makes a reappearance on our lists and well that she should. Cree-Métis Flett is probably the most prolific American Indian board book creator working today, and she may also be the most prolific Canadian as well. Check out her other books here if you get a chance.
The Butterfly Garden by Laura Weston
Ah! There’s that black and white contrast we were missed on the baby board book list. And yet, you wouldn’t actually want to hand this book to an actual baby. Not with all those tiny tabs and complexity. It’s an unusually beautiful look at a butterfly’s life cycle, but I’d still certainly classify it as a “board book” thanks to the material.
Circle, Triangle, Elephant: A Book of Shapes and Surprises by Kenji Oikawa & Mayuko Takeuchi
A board book that you can read aloud to a group? Tell me more! This book (hope you like the name “Phaidon” on the cover because it just keeps coming up) will depend almost entirely on the reader’s sense of humor. Kids love it when you hit them with a “wrong” answer, and this book is chock full of elephants that dare to pop up where they really shouldn’t. Funny. Kooky. Odd.
Clive Is a Nurse by Jessica Spanyol
Here at A Fuse #8 Production we know that you have a lot of Clive books to choose between. Why in 2017 alone there was Clive Is a Teacher, Clive Is a Waiter, and Clive Is a Librarian. Yet when all is said and done, this is the Clive book nearest and dearest to my heart because in it Clive is once again breaking down gender stereotypes left, right, and central. You go, Clive!
Color Wonder: Hooray for Spring! By Chieu Anh Urban
Now this is a bit of clever mechanical engineering not seen in a board book format before. In truth, what we have here is a straightforward display of color mixing but for very young children. You see, on the right-hand side there are two wheels of color (this image does them a great disservice as they have very distinct hues). If you turn one of the wheels to blue and the other one to yellow, the inside of the flower will turn green. Do the same with red and blue and you’ll have purple. Isn’t that awesome? There’s another one in the works called Color Wonder: Winter Is Here! but for now this will tide me over.
Find the Dots by Andy Mansfield
I don’t really have a pop-up category but if I did you can bet your sweet bippy that this book would be there. I was reminded of David Carter in his heyday as I read through this. Clever and concise, it’s probably better suited for personal gifts rather than library shelves, but I love it all the same.
Five Cars Stuck and One Big Truck: A Pop-Up Road Trip by David A. Carter
Again with the pop-ups! You’d think it was a trend or something. Admittedly when I first saw this book I was reminded of the Kevin Lewis classic My Truck Is Stuck! (illustrated by Daniel Kirk). This one’s a little different since it’s all dog drivers, there’s a pop-up element, and that hot rod (which you can juuuust make out on the top of the jacket there) is killer.
Flora and the Chicks: A Counting Book by Molly Idle
Flora and the Ostrich: An Opposites Book by Molly Idle
Flora. She’s the gift that keeps on giving. So on the one hand I wanted to just include one Flora title here, but then I was struck by the fact that choosing only one book would be a crime and a shame. How am I supposed to choose between counting and opposites? What cruel world would place such a choice upon me? In the end, I went with both. And, if Molly Idle is listening, I would like to request a kookaburra in a future Flora book. I absolutely adore kookaburras.
Have You Seen My Lunch Box? by Steve Light
This little fella was last scene traipsing around the pages of Have You Seen My Dragon? In tone this book matches that one, but it’s much simpler and more of the seek-and-find variety. Years ago he conquered the board book field with his magnificent Chronicle series Trains Go, and Trucks Go, etc. It’s nice to see him going back to his roots.
Hickory Dickory Dock and Other Favorite Nursery Rhymes by Genine Delahaye
If you know me then you know that I’m a sucker for a good collection of nursery rhymes. This oddly vertical board book may be the bane of your short little shelves, but for kids everywhere its tall stance will make grabby hands happy.
In My Garden by Ruth A. Musgrave
National Geographic actually puts out a fair number of board books in a given year, and I always feel bad that I don’t highlight them more. When it comes to photography, they’re the top of the pops. And when it comes to basic science concepts in a board book format, there honestly isn’t any competition at all. Good thing they’re so high quality, eh?
It’s Not the Baby by J. Patrick Lewis & Leigh Lewis, ill. Maddie Frost
A sly little number. They’re rare, but once in a while you may have the pleasure of encountering a board book that has a twist ending. When you find those books, grab them. Keep them. Hold them close and tight and never let them go because they are going to save your sanity when you have to read infinite numbers of titles on cold snowy days. And in 2017, this is their natural born leader.
Let’s Go, Bobby! by Ruth Wielockx
Sometimes I wonder about the fate of tactile books. They used to be all the rage, and now I feel like I don’t see new ones anymore. Interestingly, when I read Wielockx’s latest, I was reminded of the time I worked in the Central Children’s Room at New York Public Library and a teacher of severely disabled children asked if we had any large tactile books that they could share in the library with their students. We pulled out things like the tactile version of The Very Hungry Caterpillar (which, I’d like to note, is a fine bit of bookmaking) and a title (the name escapes me) that reminds me a lot of this book. Like this book you would use your finger to trace the airplane’s path. Though not as large as a full-sized picture book, this title is bigger than most board books and could find a home with a wide range of types of readers.
Lines by Sarvinder Naberhaus, ill. Melinda Beck
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: How often do you have a board book that begins at a very small scale and then expands so far as to include the whole friggin’ UNIVERSE?!?! This book has aspirations to be more than just your average board book. I say you let it do its crazy thing. If all the kids that read it grow up to become astrophysicists, so much the better.
Little Skeletons Countdown to Midnight / Esqueletitos: Un Libro Para Contar en el Dia de Los Muertos by Susie Jaramillo
Couldn’t be better timed, right? Pixar’s film Coco is now in theaters so El Dia de Los Muertos is very much on people’s minds. Jaramillo’s series has been around for a year or so, but you gotta love anything this perfect for bilingual (Spanish/English) storytimes. The books are sturdy and you can always download the music that goes with the words.
Monster Munch by Tobias Krejtschi
Sometimes I’ll read a book at the beginning of the year, mark it with a plus on my spreadsheet, and then forget about it entirely before I put out these 31 Days lists. Other times that book will be seared into the very fabric of my soul. I’ll be 99 on my deathbed and you know what my last coherent thought with be? The joke at the end of this clever monsters & shapes book. I’ll warn you, it’s not for the faint of heart, but boy it gave me a good laugh. And yes. It involves poop. You’ve been warned.
My Busy Day by Sophie Bordet-Petillon, ill. Peggy Nille
Sliders! This is such a fun book, though again I think we’re squarely in the territory of titles I’d recommend people rather than libraries buy for themselves. In this title, rather than checking each morning and bedtime activity off of a list, you just slide the sliders after you’ve accomplished each step. Brushed your teeth? *slide* Put on your pajamas? *slide* Who could resist that?
One and Other Numbers With Alexander Calder
Okay, okay, I hear what you’re saying. This looks suspiciously similar to those artsy board books museum shops like to carry, which please aesthetic adults and bore small children to tears. And actually there was a Matisse board book in the same series on the list last year that I thought was keen. But this numbers book? Aside from being nice and mathy, it’s actually quite engaging and beautiful. Who cares if it’s Calder? I just like how they play with colors and numbers all the way through.
One Happy Tiger by Catherine Rayner
And then there are those math books that are so deftly woven into the fabric of a story (in this case, a lonely tiger looking to make friends) that you forget all about those books where the numbers are shoehorned in. Rayner’s art, on top of that, is evocative and dreamlike. I could live in this board book’s world and be quite happy.
Pizza! An Interactive Recipe Book by Lotta Nieminen
To be honest, I could also have given this slot to this year’s Tacos! An Interactive Recipe Book which is also by Lotta Nieminen but of the two books I feel that this is the stronger contender. Now I’ll warn you. There are elements in this book that could be removed and never replaced. And yet, I think the book is as strong as it is because even if you lose one of those pizza slices, the book will still retain most of its value and you won’t have to replace it. So buy it up, library systems! Your patrons will thank you for it.
Rapunzel by Chloe Perkins, ill. Archana Sreenivasan
Just me, or are the board books a little on the white side this year? Scroll through this and see how many brown faces you encounter. Not enough, is the clear answer. I’d include this particular interpretation of Rapunzel no matter what, though. As you can see it’s perky, simple, fun, and it has great art. Hope I see more of Archana’s work in the future from here on in.
Sleep Tight, Little Bear by Britta Teckentrup
Board books best described as “evocative” are as rare as you can get, but 2017 was a strong year for them. The German-born Britta Teckentrup has paid her literary dues over the years, and it’s nice to see her in a board book format. This is just the story of a bear wishing various animals goodnight before it goes into hibernation, but that’s enough. You could easily work it into a hibernation storytime with little effort. Consider it.
Tinyville Town: I’m a Librarian by Brian Biggs
Yeah, he’s a librarian! And how can you not love a board book that actually works the word “periodicals” into the text? Extra points for the librarian’s male partner, seen twice asleep in bed.
Twinkle Twinkle, ABC by Barney Saltzberg, ill. Fred Benaglia
Mr. Saltzberg, I commend you. I reserve my highest praise for those picture book creators that make books that have you slapping your forehead saying, “Now why didn’t I think of that!” For example, why has no book for kids ever done a mash-up of the ABC song and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star? I mean it just makes good, clean sense. Maybe in the sequel they’ll include Baa Baa Black Sheep too.
The World Shines For You by Jeffrey Burton, ill. Don Clark
Hope you like big! Hope you like bright! Hope you like eye-blindingly shiny! This book is all those things and much much more. It’s a touch on the inspirational side, but I don’t mind. Gorgeous little creature, this is.
Interested in the other lists of the month? Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:
December 1 – Board Books
December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations
December 3 – Wordless Picture Books
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Alphabet Books
December 7 – Funny Picture Books
December 8 – CaldeNotts
December 9 – Picture Book Reprints
December 10 – Math Picture Books
December 11 – Bilingual Books
December 12 – Translated Picture Books
December 13 – Books with a Message
December 14 – Fabulous Photography
December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales
December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year
December 17 – Poetry Books
December 18 – Easy Books
December 19 – Early Chapter Books
December 20 – Comics for Kids
December 21 – Older Funny Books
December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction
December 23 – American History
December 24 – Science & Nature Books
December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books
December 29 – Fiction Reprints
December 30 – Middle Grade Novels
December 31 – Picture Books
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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