31 Days, 31 Lists: 2018 Great Board Books & Pop-Up Books
I love that we always kick off the 31 lists with board books. What could be cheerier or more inspiring? This year, I’m adding in a selection of pop-up books for spice. And, since board books don’t always skew young, I split this list into two separate categories; one for babies and one for toddler.
Now I’ve taken a little snapshot of a recent issue of Publishers Weekly. Each issue contains a look at how print sales did nationwide. See if you can find the outlier here:
You may feel that this board book uptick is fleeting. I assure you that every single week, that number goes up. There appears to be no end to the number of board books sold each week.
Warning: You’re going to look at the vast number of board books listed here and say to me, “Betsy, did you put absolutely every board book published in 2018 on this list?” The answer is nope. You have no idea how many board books I read in 2018. This is, as strange at it may seem, a tiny sampling of the whole. The board book market has exploded, and nothing makes that clearer than seeing how many titles were really quite good.
You have been warned.
2018 Board Books: For Babies
Baby Sees Colors! by Akio Kashiwara
Here’s what I don’t get. We know that babies love and need high-contrast board books. We know that well-informed parents are always looking for them. And we know that board books consistently sell. So why is this particular kind of book, the high-contrast kind, so rare? Honestly, this is the only really good one I found in 2018. Where are all the others? Why isn’t every publisher creating a line of their own? The world may never know. At least this one’s stellar. That’s something.
Ears by Flowerpot Press
Feet by Flowerpot Press
Noses by Flowerpot Press
Tails by Flowerpot Press
White backgrounds and crisp photography. What could be better? The only true flaw to this series is that Flowerpot Press refuses to credit the creators by name. That’s lame. You can do better, Flowerpot Press.
Go Baby! Go Dog! by Anne Vittur Kennedy
A mite bit cleverer than your average baby board book, so maybe I should have put it in the toddler category. Then again, babies love looking at babies, and this book runs the gamut of emotions with minimal language.
Holi Colors by Rina Singh
We’re seeing more holiday books brought out in board book form this year. Trouble is, a lot of them contain some really complex speech and ideas that little kids won’t really understand. Far better is a book like this one. It’s a holiday book, a colors book, and gorgeous through and through.
The Itsy Bitsy Spider by Hazel Quintanilla
Any board book you can sing is an automatic winner. This particular rhyme does normally require some hand gestures, which can prove difficult when holding a book. Still, I have faith in you. You’ll figure it out.
Kiss by Kiss / Ocêtôwina: A Counting Book for Families / Peyak oskan ohcih-Akitah-Masinahikan by Richard Van Camp and Mary Cardinal Collins
Sublime. Written in both Plains Cree and English, the faces are bold and beautiful. Here’s one you can read to tiny babies and larger ankle-biters alike.
Little Sunny Sunshine / Sol Solecito by Susie Jaramillo
There’s a soft spot in my heart for all the canticos books. Not only are they bilingual but they often will have ways that you can hear their tunes so that you can sing the book properly. And sturdy? You bet.
Peek-a-Who? by Elsa Mroziewicz
You have to respect any book that isn’t afraid to go triangular on you. Granted, it can lead to some creative shelving ideas. But Add in that peek-a-book aspect and you may have a baby’s favorite on your hands.
Riddle Diddle Farm by Diane Z. Shore and Deanna Calvert, ill. Stephanie Bauer
Riddle Diddle Safari by Diane Z. Shore and Deanna Calvert, ill. Stephanie Bauer
I see a lot of lift-the-flap books in a given year and it can be difficult to figure out whether they’re for older or younger board book enthusiasts. I think I chose correctly with these two, but look them over carefully yourself to see if you agree.
Toesy Toes by Sarah Tsiang
How on EARTH has there not be a book called TOESY TOES before? I’m just kicking myself that I didn’t think of it first. This is one of the more perfect board books for babies on this list. Buy this in mass quantities and distribute widely. It deserves it.
Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star by David Ellwand
Another book you can sing. Extra Bonus: It has lots of additional unexpected verses.
Watch Me Grow! by Flowerpot Press
Who Am I? by Stephanie Babin and Tristan Mory
One of my favorite pull-tab board books of the year. Babin and Mory have been extra clever in how they constructed each of the animals in this book. The design is superb.
Zoo by Lisa Jones & Edward Underwood
When my kids were babies we found the cloth board books were just super. I used to hang them off the sides of their cribs and their fat little baby hands would turn the pages on their own. Any new cloth book is cause for celebration, but it’s particularly nice to find one as attractive as this.
2018 Board Books: For Toddlers
Animal Shapes by Christopher Silas Neal
If the name “Christopher Silas Neal” is ringing a small bell in the back of your brain, that may be because he’s paired many times with Kate Messner on books like Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt or Over and Under the Snow. Personally, I’ve always loved his work on Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animal Lives. Here he’s math-adjacent with this very clever little animals and shapes. It actually pairs beautifully with the aforementioned Who Am I? by Stephanie Babin.
Animals with Tiny Cat by Viviane Schwarz
The problem with Viviane Schwarz is that I always love her art. The good thing about Viviane Schwarz is that everything she touches turns to gold. Tiny Cat isn’t going to dethrone any of those better know kidlit kittens out there (Bad Kitty, Cat in the Hat, etc.) but for board book audiences this is the cat to know. Plus, you know, it’s fun to come up with the different animals.
Arf! Buzz! Cluck! A Rather Noisy Alphabet by Eric Seltzer, ill. David Creighton-Pester
I don’t usually put the board books on the Readaloud List (coming up on December 4th) but I probably should. This book was built for baby laptimes, after all. A noisy alphabet? What could be better?
Before & After by Ruth A. Musgrave
Science! In board book form!
National Geographic always blows away the competition when it comes to their photography, but not all of their board books are created equal. Some work while others try to compress complex subject matter into a tiny package. Before & After, however, is the exception to the rule. Delightful to look at and to read, what’s not to love here?
Birds of a Color by élo
One namer élo is an artist to watch from here on in, that’s true. A colors book, I respect any cover where an animal is giving its rear that particular kind of side-eye.
Black Bird, Yellow Sun by Steve Light
There’s a reason people keep mentioning this book when they speculate whether or not a board book could win a Caldecott (something I wondered years ago when I reviewed Julie Morstad’s work on The Swing). As Elisa Gall said of it, “The stylized, simplified representations of objects allow their colors to shine, with layered paint showing different shades of the same color. Because the characters are ever-moving, they are seen in varying positions, and their settings are shown from different perspectives. On the book’s final spread, readers see a mirror of the first. Instead of a bright yellow morning sun, blues signify nighttime. Black Bird’s eye is closed (instead of open), and the tree branch is now facing in the opposite direction. The worm, once outstretched and wiggly, is now curling up. All of this offers closure and serenity, as well as a reminder that this book about colors is also about one day, which is now over.”
But Not the Armadillo by Sandra Boynton
Do you remember that moment at the end of Boynton’s classic board book But Not the Hippopotamus when that reticent hippo throws caution to the wind and joins her fellows? Do you remember the last line of the book? “But not . . . the armadillo”. Hippo was released in 1982. That means that the armadillo has been patiently biding its time for thirty-six years. Waiting for its own book. Waiting. Waiting.
Calling Dr. Zaza by Mylo Freeman
Today a doctor friend texted me. He needed books to read aloud to his daughter’s class, and he wanted them to be about a doctor. The sole reason I didn’t recommend Zaza here is that the class was of 2nd graders and this board book would strike them as too young. Otherwise, it would have been the first recommendation out of my mouth. Love the story. Love Zaza. Looking forward to seeing more of her in the future.
Car, Car, Truck, Jeep by Katrina Charman, ill. Nick Sharratt
There are a couple reasons to be excited about this one. First off, it’s a board book you can sing to the tune of “Baa Baa Black Sheep”. That means it’s ideal for Toddler Storytimes (would that it were available in a bigger size, eh?). Next, it’s illustrated by Nick Sharratt. Think of him as the Todd Parr of Britain. I tested it out and it plays fair with the singing. You’d be surprised how many books that advise you to sing to a certain tune don’t.
The Chilly Penguin by Constanze von Kitzing
A board book with a plot is a common occurrence these days, but finding any that are actually any good can be a challenge. I think we’ve hit on a winner with Penguin here, though. Do penguins get chilly? This one does, and it needs a bit of help to remedy the problem.
Ciao, Baby! In the Park by Carole Lexa Schaefer, ill. Lauren Tobia
Ciao, Baby! Ready for a Ride by Carole Lexa Schaefer, ill. Lauren Tobia
Lauren Tobia grabbed my heart with two hands years ago when she did the illustrations for that marvelous early chapter book series Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke. Imagine my delight when I realized that she’d been paired with Schaefer for a board book series. The only problem with these books is that there’s only two of them so far. More Ciao, please!
Contrary Dogs by élo
Oh, élo, you fancy lower-case one-namer, you. I do love your impudent charm. And it wasn’t until I compared this to the aforementioned Birds of a Color that I realized that the side-eyed glance is definitely their metier.
Dot, Stripe, Squiggle by Sarah Grace Tuttle, ill. Miriam Nerlove
I give extra points for cleverness. This is a concept book that goes beyond its concept. I like very much using sea creatures as a way to convey the ideas of dots, stripes and squiggles. There’s great grace in how Tuttle and Nerlove tackle their subject here.
Duck’s Ditty by Kenneth Grahame, ill. Alex Willmore
Darndest thing. Note the tiny type at the bottom of the page here that reads, “An Adaptation of Everyone’s Favorite Song From, The Wind in the Willows”. Admit it. You can’t think of a more famous song from that book, can you? You might worry that the sheer loquaciousness of Grahame’s classic book would render the song inappropriate for a board book, but bizarrely enough this works here. I don’t know how, but it does.
Find Colors by Tamara Shopsin and Jason Fulford
I can’t believe that we got this far into the board book list without encountering a Shopsin/Fulford title. In 2018 this duo has gone on to dominate the clever-but-fun-for-kids board book genre. Though this book was originally published in association with the Whitney Museum of American Art, it’s great! You know what I mean. How many times have you looked at the children’s books in a museum gift shop and saw the sheer number of (what I like to call) coffee table board books in there. Taking a page out of Herve Tullet’s manual, this book actually doesn’t have any colors in it at all. Instead, readers have to go on a color-seeking mission. You hold up the book and find the color it’s asking for. So it’s interactive AND gets you off your butt. Kirkus suggested that if you go to a museum with a small child, you could take this along and find the colors in the paintings and view them through the book’s lens. Clever clever.
Guess Which Hand by Hans Wilhelm, ill. Ilaria Guarducci
Oh, I LIKE this one! See that little wheel along the side? Well, the idea here is that you turn it and the object that you’re looking for will end up randomly in each character’s hand (or paw, or wing, etc.). The child reader really, truly, and honestly doesn’t know where it is. The select the hand and lift the flap to see if they’re correct. It’s incredibly simple, effective, efficient, and smart.
Hello Birds: What Do You Say? by Loes Botman
I’m not the genius at identifying bird sounds that my mother is. As such, I hope we see more books like this one in the future. It’s basically a nonfiction board book, telling you which sounds each songbird makes. The fact that it’s also gorgeous to the eye is just gravy.
Here Come the Helpers by Leslie Kimmelman, ill. Barbara Bakos
Whenever a terrible disaster happens in the world, people like to quote Fred Rogers, who said to look for the helpers. Such helpers are highlighted here for those kiddos that dig cool vehicles and emergency workers alike.
Hi-Five Animals! by Ross Burach
This pairs rather beautifully with the aforementioned Guess Which Hand. In this book you hi-five a load of different animals. The size of their palms is perfect for young children. Kind of funny that I’ve never seen a book for the young do this before.
I Thought I Saw a Lion! by Lydia Nichols
It was the Busy Bear books that first introduced me to this kind of slider in a board book. Here you have to find the lion in each scene, but the slider is the key to discovery. I’m happy to report too that it slides with the greatest of ease back and forth. Young kids shouldn’t have to struggle with it.
I’m a Mail Carrier by Brian Biggs
Biggs continues to rattle the throne of Richard Scarry with his community workers board book series. I like very much that this book features a working mom who takes great pride in her job. Parents will recognize the whole drop-your-kids-off-before-work routine she goes through.
Jibber-Jabber by Randall Enos
Because once in a while I like to include a peculiar book. First off, you have this beautiful linocut art, which just doesn’t come up all that often in board books. The animals here are put into sound-alike pairs. I can describe it no better than Kirkus who said, “Infused with an unsettling energy, this might make for a raucous read-aloud with carefully chosen audiences.”
Let’s Go Outside by Kate Riggs, ill. Monique Felix
I’m no dog person. I take a canine as easily as I can leave them, but I’m not made of stone. This book is adorable (baby Bernese mountain dogs are, by definition, cute incarnate), but also highly informative since it’s technically an opposites book.
Let’s Make Music by Ruth A. Musgrave, design by Sanjida Rashid
When my kids were small they got very interest in instruments as objects. I’m not sure the degree to which they could actually pair up an instrument from a book with one in real life, but that was sort of beside the point. I know for a fact they would have loved this book (yet another nonfiction picture book in the National Geographic series).
Llamaphones by Janik Coat
I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Coat’s books in the past. Previous book Hippopposites drove me batty because it kept including things that weren’t opposites on its pages. Rhymoceros was okay but hadn’t quite hit the heights I knew it could reach. With Llamaphones we finally get the Janik Coat book we all deserve. It’s funny, sly, and if you can find me a better homophone book for very young children I will eat my proverbial hat.
Mirror Play – What Am I? by Monte Shin
Sometimes a board book is smarter than the adult who’s trying to use it with a child. The board book comes with an attached fold-up mirror (which is probably why you won’t be able to circulate this in your library). After you line up said mirror, you then turn the images until you can find the correct images. You can almost hear the children’s brains expanding when they use this one. Quite the book.
My Art Book of Love by Shana Gozansky
This sort of board book is not usually my kind of thing. Just from reading the title you pretty much know what to expect. Aphorisms about love paired with classic works of art, right? And I was all ready to cast it aside when I realized how expertly curated it was. The paintings they chose to include on these pages aren’t the usual suspects and, as a result, the book is kind of amazing.
My First Book of Feminism (For Boys) by Julie Merberg, ill. Michéle Brummer Everett
I was asked the other day to help contribute titles to a list of books that would help combat toxic masculinity. The first one to come to mind? This little board book. Ain’t nothing wrong with teaching boys how to respect girls. And believe me, there is nothing else on the market like this today. For all the budding young male feminists out there.
123 by Xavier Deneux
A BIG board book, weighing in at ten by seven inches. Simplicity of design using very simple shapes is the name of the game here. And, as with many of Deneux’s books, there’s a tactile element to this. You can trace the shapes and numbers with your fingers.
Opposites by Jacques Duquennoy
You know, there aren’t many Best Of lists that come out in a given year that include board books. Yet of the few that do, this particular board book has shown up on all of them. Die-cuts help this story of a zebra and a chameleon (could you find any two more opposite creatures, color-wise, in the natural kingdom?) as they explore a variety of different opposites.
A Pile of Leaves by Jason Fulford and Tamara Shopsin
We’re past fall now, but don’t worry. I figure that this is the autumnal board book you’ll be able to pull out year after year. I already discussed this book on my Alternative Anticipated Children’s Books of Fall 2018 List, but it’s just so nice I’ll write about it twice. As I said, “This upcoming book bears more than a passing resemblance to Sam’s Sandwich by David Pelham but without the copious text. Leaves are printed on transparent plastic and as you lift them off of one another, with each page turn you reveal the buggies beneath.”
Quiet As a Mouse and Other Animal Idioms by Chiêu Anh Urban
Board books get bolder with every passing year. If you were surprised to see a book on this list covering homophones for toddlers, then getta load of these idioms. It doesn’t hurt matters in the least that the book is quite cute. Kids fill in the animals that are suggested by the idioms.
Rhyme Flies by Antonia Pesenti
Perfect for the toddler who thinks they’ve got this whole rhyming thing down. The rhymes in this book play fair but they are consistently unexpected and, let’s face it, funny. I give extra points for the funny.
Rosa Loves Cars by Jessica Spanyol
Remember the Clive books that Ms. Spanyol conjured up last year? I liked Clive because he was a kid who wasn’t afraid to break down a couple gender expectations. The same could be said for his counterpart Rosa here. Sure, she likes the stereotypical girl things, but she also likes cars and vehicles. They’re never too young to learn that you don’t have to slot into a hole.
So Far Up by Susanne Strasser, translated by Elisabeth Lauffer
So Light, So Heavy by Susanne Strasser
I’m pairing these two Strasser books together because there’s this gentle melancholy to the books that really appeals to me. Ditto the restrained color palette.
Super Pooper and Whizz Kid: Potty Power! by Eunice Moyle and Sabrina Moyle
Not a lot of potty board books are out there. This is a pity since I found during potty training that a good way to keep a kid occupied was with a board book. They could hold them by themselves while they sat there and waited. And why not reinforce good behavior with superheroes in underwear? I mean, who doesn’t love that?
These Colors Are Bananas by Jason Fulford and Tamara Shopsin
Fulford and Shopsin again. This little book is interesting because it presents a WIDE range of colors for a variety of objects. As you can see from the cover, it shows the different colors a banana might be. Grass, apples, eggs, and more are shown with all the colors they encompass.
Up, Down & Other Opposites by Ellsworth Kelly
No YOU are putting too many Phaidon books on this board book list. Nyah!
Actually, this book is a bit of an exception. I don’t always jive with the fine artists that appear in board books. Again, that’s the kind of board book some parents would put on their coffee table to impress their fellow parents. That said, it works with Ellsworth Kelly and opposites for some reason. Almost as if he was planning all along to be transferred into a sturdy board book form. Whodathunkit?
Wee Beasties: Huggy the Python Hugs Too Hard by Ame Dyckman, ill. Alex G. Griffiths
Look at that face. Can you resist that face? Or the fact that that balloon is clearly mere seconds away from a dire end? I like that Ame Dyckman has turned her attention to board books. We need more funny fare in our kids’ reading diets, and she certainly provides.
What Is Light? by Markette Sheppard, ill. Cathy Ann Johnson
So Denene Millner’s imprint at Agate wins every single children’s award out there in 2017 for Crown: Ode to a Fresh Cut. The honors are so unexpected that the publisher isn’t quite ready for the thousands upon thousands of people who are suddenly asking, “What’s next?” The only books Denene published in 2018 then was this gentle consideration of the different forms of light in the world. Next year she’ll have more but for 2018 this may be enough. It’s beautiful.
Why the Face? by Jean Jullien
So much fun. It’s a guessing game with flaps. On one side you see an expression and on the next you see the reason for that expression. We’re always on the lookout for books that show clear emotions with explanations. Hard to top this.
Who? A Celebration of Babies by Robie H. Harris, ill. Natascha Rosenberg
Crazy to think that Robie H. Harris had never done a board book before. The woman behind such classic sex-ed texts as It’s Not the Stork and It’s Perfectly Normal comes at us with a book displaying a wide range of babies from diverse backgrounds.
Whose Boat? by Toni Buzzeo, ill. Tom Froese
When Buzzeo and Froese produced the books Whose Tools? and Whose Trucks? I could only pray they’d be allowed to make more titles in the series. Clearly my prayers have been answered, for lo and behold here is the same format but on the beautiful, briny sea.
Wiggles by Claire Zucchelli-Romer
Tactile alert! Lots of hand-on play is the name of the game with this eclectic little title. PW broke down precisely why this book is important too, saying, “the kinetic design encourages readers to practice hand-eye coordination, motor skills, and to develop rhythm sense.” What they said.
Will Bear Share? by Hilary Leung
Will Giraffe Laugh? by Hilary Leung
Will Ladybug Hug? by Hilary Leung
Will Sheep Sleep? by Hilary Leung
These. Are. So. Good. Earlier this year a fellow blogger that I trust explicitly emailed me to ask if I’d seen Leung’s board book series. My family members are big fans of his book Legend of Ninja Cowboy Bear, but I wasn’t sure how well his sense of humor would translate to board books. Turns out, the guy’s a natural and these are gold. If you want to buy some baby a series for the holiday season or their birthday, this would be the one I’d recommend.
Poor little pop-up books get the short end of the stick when it comes to year end lists. Here are the ones I saw in 2018 that I thought were top drawer.
See the Stripes by Andy Mansfield
This book reminds me of David Carter at his best. Definitely made with older readers in mind, the point of the book is to move, pull, turn, and lift a variety of different paper elements in the book to get the results you want. It requires a great deal of patience and not a little brainpower. Give this to the kid who likes a challenge and wants to work with their fingers on something.
Summer: A Pop-Up Book by David A. Carter
And speak of the devil, there’s Mr. Carter himself. In these early days of winter, it’s already nice to luxuriate in these sweet summer images. Plus, who doesn’t like corgis?
Ten Horse Farm by Robert Sabuda
Sabuda takes everything down a notch to do some horsies. Horses are, as many artists will tell you, some of the hardest animals to draw. Here, Sabuda doesn’t just draw them but animates them with paper. A simple book but a satisfying one.
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: Changing Picture Book by Michael Rosen, ill. Helen Oxenbury
Technically this should show up in the Reprint & Adaptation list tomorrow, but because it employs that ancient technique where you pull a table and the picture changes (I’ve actually seen Victorian era picture books that used the same technology) it goes on this list here instead.
The World-Famous Book of Counting by Sarah Goodreau
It’s math! It’s magic! It’s . . . both? We get very few math books in a given year and almost none with pop-up elements. Consider this title a true original.
Interested in the other lists? Here’s the schedule of everything being covered this month. Enjoy!
December 1 – Board Books & Pop-Ups
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 Books for Kids
December 11 – Bilingual Books
December 12 – Translated Picture Books
December 13 – Books with a Message
December 14 – Fabulous Photography
December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales
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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