31 Days, 31 Lists: 2022 Great Board Books
It is time, as they say, to get this party started.
But before I get into the meat of the matter, let me tell you a thing or two about the children’s book releases of 2022. As with every year, I conduct a book committee at my library (Evanston Public) to determine 101 “Great Books for Kids” (notice that we never say “best”). And every year cutting the books down to a mere 101 is deeply painful. My own personal consolation, whenever a book is removed from the potential list, is to know that at least I can honor my favorites with these 31 Days, 31 Lists.
However. This year presented the most painful final meeting I’ve experienced in years. I don’t know if it was the makeup of the committee or just the sheer quality of the output, but this year it was HARD to cut down our books.
Today, I kick off a series that acts as a salve. Know, though, that there are a LOT of magnificent books for children out this year and even in my position as a librarian and reviewer, I only see a certain number of them.
Board books have always been my pet favorites, of course. I just love the little buggers. Who could blame me? They’re fun and original and often very inventive.
As you might expect, this year there are more books for toddlers and preschoolers on this list than there are books for actual drooly babies. That’s just the nature of the game. Even so, I was happy with the number of titles for the youngest of ages, in addition to the more prolific titles for the older ages.
And in case you need more suggestions, be sure to check out my previous years’ lists:
2022 Board Books for Babies
Babies Love Animals by Susanne König
Just to clarify, if you make an accordion-style book in black and white with babies and the art is good, I’m going to be on board with all of that. I was honestly surprised to see that this book was coming out with Philomel. Why? Because I don’t usually see the big publishers taking the time and energy to create quality board books. I just don’t! They usually leave that stuff to the little pubs. And this one isn’t particularly groundbreaking or anything. It’s black and white images of animals in family units, their bodies in the shape of hearts. Some of the art is quite artistic and some is downright cartoony, but all of it is very pleasant en masse. Backgrounds alternate between black and white, and everyone in the pictures is very happy. One of the lovelier accordion books to come out. It was probably marketed a lot around Valentine’s Day, what with the hearts and all, but would work well in any home any time of the year. Bonus Fact: Susanne König is an acclaimed tattoo artist. Care for a heart shaped koala on your bum?
Boop the Snoot by Ashlyn Anstee
I always feel a little silly when I counsel parent readers to practice their board books before debuting them with . . . y’know . . . babies. But I also truly feel that if you’re gonna read to your kids, try getting it right on the first try. Now 100 points to Ashlyn Anstee for the very idea behind this book. How have we never seen a boop the snoot board book before? It boggles the very mind. It’s not always an intuitive book in terms of when you should do the booping, so that’s why I advise you to give it a couple practice runs first. Still, I love the plethora of boops, and I particularly like the part of the text that reads, “boop-a-doop-doop, a-boop, boop, blep!” This is great stuff. Interactive board booking (teach those tiny fingers motor control with ample boops!) at its best.
Calm by Jillian Roberts, ill. Santi Nuñez
Any day you find a board book filled with photography is a day to celebrate! Awww. Just look at that cover photo too. The baby! So tiny! The book consists of a series of calming techniques for babies and toddlers, with appropriate photos with each. Are there faces? There are lots of faces. Are there emotions? Boy howdy there are emotions! And along the way there are also grandparents, and kids with parents of different races. There are kids of a wide range of ethnicities and just babies babies babies. Always a pleasure to see a book of this sort well done.
Crack-Crack! Who Is That? by Tristan Mory, translated by Wendeline A. Hardenberg
Look, I’m not made of stone, people. If you didn’t want me to fall in love with this board book then you shouldn’t have found a way to allow it to make cracking sounds every time you pull the (sturdy, easy to grab) tab. Different types of animals that emerge from eggs are revealed by the reader. Of course, if you want to get technical about it, I’m not sure that turtle or fish eggs actually crack when they open, but that’s neither here nor then. As a note, the book does end with an Easter egg cracking open, so don’t be too surprised when you get to that part. Interestingly, this is a French import as well. I suspect you’ll have trouble wrenching this from your babies’ hands, once they get ahold of it.
For Your Smile by Loryn Brantz
Okay, we’re edging a little closer to the kinds of board books that, quite frankly, I’m surprised we haven’t already been seeing for years. See, we already know that babies need sharply contrasting colors. So why does no one produce such things COMBINED with other types of books that sell well? In this case, Brantz has written (as the cover tells us) “A love poem your baby can see.” Picture book love poems serve one purpose: They appeal to new parents so overwhelmed with love for their new brood that they cannot tell a good book from a poor one. You know the books I mean. Picture books with the sole purpose to be given away at baby showers. Well if you’re going to do that, why not make sure the book itself is actually more than halfway decent? This early title packs itself full of high contrast images, and does so with aplomb. We already saw Brantz’s work last year with the similar title It Had to Be You, so we know she’s got the goods. A clever amalgamation of two book ideas into one.
I Want That! by Hannah Eliot, ill. Ana Sanfelippo
Heh heh. Bit of a nightmare for parents, some of the things these babies are grabbing for in this book, but none of it is inappropriate (or unlikely). This is a book with six wheels. Turn them and you can decide what is is that a baby/toddler is grabbing for in a number of different sequences. The cool thing is that as you turn on one side, you turn the page and that same object is now in the kid’s possession on the other side. Neat, right? There’s also this slight undercurrent of ridiculousness that I appreciated as well. For example, at one point a child encounters a baby skunk in its home as part of the “stinky” section. Say what now? Later in the part where the baby can decide what to take into the tub, a cat is seen as an option. Turn the page and the cat is looking distinctly disgruntled. Don’t try this at home, kids!
The Itsy Bitsy Spider by Yu-hsuan Huang
Look. I don’t want you to think I’m easy or anything. Like you can just make any old Itsy-Bitsy Spider board book and I’ll sign on instantly. Though, you have to admit, the length of the Itsy-Bitsy Spider song/hand rhyme is the perfect length for a board book. And then there’s the fact that if that board book knows precisely where to place the interactive elements, then it’s kind of a slam dunk no matter what. I’m going to have to research how many other Itsy-Bitsy Spider board books are even out there because as far as I can tell this is the first one I’ve seen to really utilize those push-up and moveable elements to their best effect (the only comparative title I can think of being Richard Egielski’s Itsy Bitsy Spider from 2012). It’s not a flashy board book. But for a storytime that involves both the hand rhymes and a separate staff member doing the book, I think you’d get some really good responses. Nosy Crown, man. That company knows how to make a board book work.
Peek-a-You! by Andrea Davis Pinkney, ill. Brian Pinkney
Further spin-offs from the Bright Brown Baby treasury the Pinkneys produced last year. May they produce as many board books as possible over the years. Even with the focus on the need for a wider range of representation in our literature for children, too often board books get left out in the cold. Brian Pinkney’s art is, as always, on point. The interesting thing about this book is that since it’s a peek-a-boo book, you’d think it would contain the industry standard mirror at the end. Not a bit of it. Now read the words again. What you find is that this book is actually about “mirrors” as in “windows in mirrors” ala the Rudine Sims Bishop definition. So when the book says, “Here’s the pretty brown face of ME!” you understand precisely the purpose of the book. More brown faces for babies to look at. Thank god.
Peekaboo House by Camilla Reid, ill. Ingela P. Arrhenius
This isn’t my first ride on the Arrhenius board book bus, if you know what I’m saying. I’ve seen her work before and it’s always consistently strong. It can also get a bit same-y, though, so I didn’t walk into this expecting to be blown away. And I don’t think “blown away” was my final reaction, but I can say that I was quite impressed with the peekaboo elements in this book. The flaps and elements are strong and will hold up to repeated use. The rhymes work and do not cheat. A lot of what is on these pages will be familiar to a lot of kids. But the thing that really tips the balance for me is the final reveal. Mirrors in board books present any number of problems. But having the last one behind a full page covering that you pull away (and there was ZERO sticking when I did so on even the very first try), that’s really nice. A great example of solid construction that babies and toddlers will truly enjoy.
Tummy Time! by Mama Makes Books
Red Comet Press isn’t playing around. Oh, you can have your simple accordion books all you want. This one’s cranking up the volume to 11. Basically, it’s going all all ALL in on baby brain development. And it isn’t just content to give you stuff for babies either. Right at the start you get this kickass statement to parents specifying PRECISELY how much babies can or cannot see developmentally. After that it shows thumbnails of all the images inside and asks, “Which image will excite your baby the most?” A worthy question since not only are we talking about high-contrast illustrations but also baby faces and even a mirror. Some of the pictures even give the babies little instructions that parents can do with them. “Happy Baby Touch your nose,” reads one. Boop! I’m always shocked we don’t see more books like this one on the market. A must for any new parent.
2022 Board Books for Toddlers and Preschoolers
Animals (Slide & See First Words) by Helen Hughes, ill. Isabel Aniel
I’m always up for a bit of cutting edge board book technology. This little title is an interesting combination of elements. The entire premise rests on revealing a wide array of words as they relate to animals. What’s interesting is that you’re not revealing the animals themselves. They’re right there! Bold as brass. So instead, sometimes you see the animals on the left-hand page and then reveal their names on the right-hand side. So the joy of the whole endeavor comes in the reveal and the recognition. I’m intrigued by this notion of words being the treat itself. Other times there are questions on one page that are answered in the reveal. It’s a little more sophisticated than your usual reveals, and the tabs are significantly smaller, indicating increased fine motor control. Chalk this up as a board book better suited for a preschool than for the itty bitties, I think.
Animals Move by Jane Whittingham
Photography! Baby animals! Now that’s the kind of board book I like to see. Though, come to think of it, “board book” isn’t a strictly accurate definition of the kind of book you’ll find here. This tough little book comes with reinforced pages that would be awfully difficult to rip and tear (though notice I didn’t say it would be impossible). On the endpapers you get these really nice photos of animals with their parents (the frog and tadpole one is particularly amusing since they’re rarely together in nature) and it lists what those babies are called. Then, as you go through the book, you watch each baby animal doing something on one page and kids doing those same things on the other. All Shutterstock photos, of course. Since the kids in the pictures are clearly preschoolers, this is possibly a title for slightly older littles. Still, I very much appreciate how thick those pages are. A good transitional book from board to picture book.
Bear Has a Belly by Jane Whittingham
It would take a soul blacker than mine to resist a cover like this. It’s a friggin’ baby bear, people. I’m not made of stone. Now what we’ve got here is a stock photo situation, and I’m fine with that. I’m also putting this in the board book category though, I must admit, the impossible-to-rip pages are of a thinner variety than the cardboard you’re so very used to. This is a body parts book where you find out about a portion of an animal’s anatomy and then see a human with that part as well. And, naturally, when reading this in a lapsit or in a storytime you can make sure the toddlers are pointing to their own faces or hands or ears or what have you. As charming as its cover implies.
Bedtime for Duckling: A Peek-Through Storybook by Amelia Hepworth, ill. Anna Doherty
Small children love photography. Love it. Then, at some point, it gets downgraded in their books. Illustrations get precedence from then on. Me? I love illustrations but I love love photography. That’s probably why I find this otherwise innocuous series with Doherty integrating Shutterstock photos rather fascinating. You are in a completely illustrated world until you lift the flaps and discover the photographed animals underneath. Cool, right? Now, there was a book released in tandem with this one called Looking for Mommy. Why isn’t it on today’s list? I docked points for that when its “mommy” bunny was quite clearly a baby, and that’s just weird, folks. Duckling is clearly the superior title.
The Big Scream by Kristi Call, ill. Denis Angelov
Meltdown time. You know, there are aspects to my children from when they were very young that I miss. Not the meltdowns, though. Do not miss those. Nope. Not a jot. But children’s authors have done a great job over the years replicating the nuances of the true toddler tantrum in all its thumpy glory in picture book and board book form over the years. In this particular title, the tantrum is merely a means to an end. Working on the assumption that it’s never too early to get some calming techniques into your child’s personal mental and emotional toolkit, all the deep breaths and counting techniques are on display here. That would be great alone, but it’s Angelov’s art that tips this from being merely good to truly great. A color palette of umber, yellow, and blue with wide swaths of black keeps everything interesting to the eye. Bonus points for the mom’s expression as she drags in the time out chair.
Bumblebee Grumblebee by David Elliot
Okay, so this one definitely requires that the audience be a bit sophisticated to get what’s funny about the book. I consider this a kind of transitional title between board books and picture books. Its super simple concept is that you have a normal animal on one page, and then it does something that changes its name. So a “Buffalo” in the bath becomes a “Fluffalo” when it turns on a hair dryer. That’s cool, but what I really liked about the book was its end. After you’ve gotten used to the form, the last four pages go “Turtle”, with a turtle taking a hose. “Turtle?” as it gives you a cheeky grin. “Squirtle” as it starts hosing down everyone else in a final two-page spread. It’s hard to stress to you how difficult it is to write something this simple but also with a successful capper at the end. Sticking the landing in a board book is an art. David Elliot? A master.
Busy Baby Animals by Suzi Eszterhas
I think I’ve talked a fair amount about how torn I feel when I encounter a really good book full of excellent photography and then find that it’s all stock photos. I dunno. Maybe I’m naive but I like knowing the name of the photographer, y’know? Suzi Esztrhas is the kind of person I like to hear about. She’s a wildlife photographer and this board book of hers is full of precisely the kind of inventive, innovative photos of parents and child animals that you wish you could see more of. Her photography? It can’t be beat. Throughout the story you’ve got this text that says what different babies do. So, for the page reading “Babies bugging” you see this baby cheetah fully enveloping its parents’ head, looking to be gnawing on an ear while the now blinded adult sits there, casually. The book is a little less capable when it comes to actual rhyming. Soft rhymes like “Babies swimming” alongside “Babies chilling” aren’t dealbreakers, but for those sticklers like me out there, lower your expectations. A fun, visual eye-popper of a book with a decent if not outstanding text.
Button! Snap! Zip! by Nicola Edwards, ill. Thomas Elliott
I’m a true sucker for a truly clever board book. This isn’t the first book to try and teach kids basic everyday skills, like how to button and unbutton or how to snap things, but it’s certainly one of the more sophisticated. Montessori-inspired, it calls itself a “fasteners book” and links itself to Montessori’s focus on “hands-on learning that engages imaginative young minds and helps children to reach their full potential”. Pretty neat. Of course, nothing in this life is perfect. If I had my way, the zipper portion would be less about simply moving the darn thing up and down (any baby could do that) and be more about fitting the bottom of a zipper into its necessary groove. THAT is where the frustrations come out, my friend. Even so, with its bright colors and wonderful photographs of little kids’ faces, this should be a necessary purchase for every preschool in the nation. As for libraries, nothing about this comes apart. I’m sure it’ll get a little grimy over time (what doesn’t?) but it appears to be plenty sturdy. Just remember to tie that shoelace before you put it away. 😉
Eat Together by Miguel Ordóñez
Don’t let the back cover copy lead you astray. This title isn’t a “shapes” book in the traditional sense of the word. Rather, it’s a rather clever look at putting something together out of many parts and then, when necessity dictates, taking it apart again. The reader is show a page of disparate pieces of … something. The first time it’s a red body, a little green line, and a green looking bridge thing. What happens when you put all three of these together (this is a numbers book too, in a way)? You get a strawberry! This idea is repeated with a cupcake, lettuce leaves, and more. Eventually the reader is allowed to guess too, and all the while clever ants are walking off with the spoils. When we finally catch up with them, we can see that these huge food items won’t fit in their anthill. The solution? Take them all apart and put them in a space together. All 33 of them. And what happens when you put the 33 together in a different order? That’s when you get . . . a feast! With exceeding simple illustrations that allow a bit of personality to shine through (the ant that regards you with a hooded eye and skeptical expression is delightful) this is definitely one to place into the sticky hands of a clever toddler.
The Ghosts Went Floating by Kim Norman, ill. Jay Fleck
I love to be surprised. Board books, while not as prevalent as they might be, still come to me on a regular basis looking very much like this little title. And since this was included in a batch of Halloween-esque titles, I wasn’t particularly overwhelmed by it when I looked at it. When I discovered that it was a creepy take on “The Ants Go Marching” (a.k.a. “When Johnny Comes Marching”) I had to give it some points. Then I liked the fact that each verse ends with “by the light of the moon, moon, moon, moon.” And THEN I started looking at some of the lyrics. You have to really admire the fact that for all that the book looks cutesy as heck, there are verses like, “The zombies lumbered, five by five, / You’d never guess that they weren’t alive.” The rhymes consistently scan perfectly. I’ll go on and say it: This is my favorite Halloween board book to date. Super adorable for the kids but with enough interest (and a great tune) so that parents will actually want to read/sing it over and over.
The Hair Book by LaTonya Yvette, ill. Amanda Jane Jones
Simplicity. There’s a lot to be said for it. And there’s a lot to be said for the fact that The Hair Book is just that. A book o’ hair. It looks cool because it is cool. Now there are a lot of books out there that parade their inclusion like it’s a plot. This book doesn’t have to do that. It’s showing you hair on a wide variety of people and, occasionally, monsters. There’s nothing the least bit preachy about it. The art of Amanda Jane Jones is simple, brightly colored, and eye-catching. The text is supremely simple. Generally you’re going to just get two words per page. I dunno, I was fond of it. There’s just something open and honest about the whole endeavor. A book about hair. What else needs to be said?
Hanukkah Nights by Amalia Hoffman
I have often thought that should I ever turn to painting as a hobby, the first thing I would want to do is experiment with vibrant colors on pure black backgrounds. I can’t tell you why I find this combination so appealing. Perhaps it holds a kind of late 70s vibe for me that I dig. What I can say is that it’s particularly neat to see when it’s in a brand new board book. And a holiday board book at that! The first thing that you see when you lift the cover of Hanukkah Nights are these gorgeous red streaks just spewing out of the left-hand side of the page. On the right-hand side sits a single candle, also burning red, and the words below, “1 light. Special night.” As each night progresses, the lights increase and the colors and patterns on the left-hand page change. It’s almost trippy to watch. Which, when you think about it, means that it’s absolutely ideal for young growing brains. Colors and religion and board books all together? My kind of party!
Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes by Nicola Slater
Look, I once performed this book in a preschool storytime while 9 months pregnant (though in that case it was more “Head, Shoulders, Knees and I-Assume-Somewhere-Down-There-Are-Toes”) so this song is particularly near and dear to my heart. When I see board book adaptations I usually have only two questions in mind: 1) Is the art cute, funny, playful, and actually fun to look at? 2) Did they muck up the words? You would not BELIEVE the number of board books that think it’s a good idea to tweak the scansion on a classic song like this. Happily, you needn’t really worry with the “Beginning Baby” series. Naturally, it will be almost too difficult to both perform this book and read it, so I suggest you double up. Grab a partner and have them turn the pages while you engage in the physical calisthenics. It’ll make for the perfect combo.
How Big is Your Paw? Forest Animals by Kristin J. Russo
Am I the only one who sees this title and immediately starts singing, “How Deep Is Your Love” every time? Yes? Just me? Figured as much. Now this little board book has a lot of the same appeal as that old Steve Jenkins title Actual Size. It shows a range of animals’ paws, and you can compare how big they are to your own hand. So it starts out little (it’s really interesting that the smallest prints don’t always come from the smallest animals) and then grows to the point where your hand is pressing up against the prints of a bear and moose. Now a lot of the text pays the price of being too old for babies and preschoolers . . . but not all of it. There is, I noticed, a small part in darker print with simpler words that you could read to younger readers. The rest of it could be for their older siblings, hanging around, wanting to press their own grimy digits against the prints. Interactive and a lot of fun, I’m willing to forgive it its occasional loquaciousness.
I’m the Boss by Elise Gravel, translated by Charles Simard
Repetition in service to humor. It’s a double edged sword. On the one hand the joke can wear thin after just a read or two. On the other hand, kids LOVE repetition, particularly that of the funny variety. Elise Gravel’s ace up her sleeve with this book is that she is, in fact, Elise Gravel. That’s a huge advantage to have. In this story a little blue, let’s say monster, named Lulu has informed the larger (and presumably adult) red monster that she is the boss. “Your job is to give me everything I ask for, okay?” She then proceeds to ask for any number of wildly outlandish requests. These range from chocolate castles to monkeys to garbage trucks and they always end with, “A big one! Right now!” When it finally becomes clear to Lulu that none of her demands will be forthcoming, the big monster asks if she’d like a hug. “A big one? Right now?” And that is precisely what she gets. A perfect combination of humor and heart.
I’m Up by Antoinette Portis
I’m Still Up by Antoinette Portis
I find it impossible to separate these two books in any logical fashion. Seems to me that they’re a set, plain and clear. One lays the groundwork. The other pounds that groundwork to pieces with a shovel. By far one of the funniest concepts for the ankle biter set I’ve seen in a while (that wink on the cover of I’m Still Up just slays me). Portis is, of course, an old hand at this and you can trust that she knows how to write for young readers. I remember years and years ago when my (now fifteen-year-old) niece saw the book Not a Stick as a toddler and was rendered helpless with laughter at the concept. In these books there’s this wonderful marriage of the baby’s tufty hair and a bird or sun or moon or whatever it’s resembling. That round theme is so enticing to the eye, even as the text is just hilarious. You know how Bank Street College established a board book award last year? Baby, this better win ALL the things. It’s a masterclass on how to create the ideal board book. It really is.
Lionel Eats All By Himself by Éric Veillé, translated by Daniel Hahn
You know, I could have just linked the two “Lionel” books out this year under a single heading. I usually do that sort of thing to save on time with these lists, but when you get right down to it, Lionel Eats All By Himself is an entirely different kind of title than Lionel Poops (as you shall soon see). Both deal with the inherent messiness of toddlers, but in entirely different ways. The throughline with this series is that Lionel is exceedingly proud of his new independence. In this book he is eating by himself for the very first time. Peas, pumpkin, cake, banana, and pudding all move in the general direction of his mouth. That said, a fair amount of the stuff congeals in his mane as well. A well timed burp (done in the form of a roar) shoots the excess from his personage. And as he walks away from the carnage all over the floor, he has this look on his face that makes it clear that he is VERY pleased by this turn of events. Can you blame him?
Lionel Poops by Éric Veillé, translated by Daniel Hahn
It’s not what you think. I mean, it kind of is, but it’s really more about the threat of Lionel’s poop than any actual poop itself. This is a French book, folks. The Europeans have a lot less hang-ups about excrement in their children’s books than we do. Even so, you get the feeling that Veillé is toying with our ingrained Puritanical sensibilities as Lionel continually seems on the verge of pooping on an ridiculous array of things (tennis balls, a bus, the Eiffel Tower) and animals (cows, cats, and some seriously nonplussed polar bears). Ultimately he poops in the potty (and you don’t even see it, people). And just like in his other book out this year, the self-satisfaction just radiates off of him. He even takes a bow. Of course he does.
Me and My Mama by Carole Boston Weatherford, ill. Ashleigh Corrin
I can pinpoint the precise moment this book won me over. Trust me, I’m a tough reader when it comes to board books. It’s not enough to do the whole I-love-you-to-the-moon-and-back schtick, cute as that may be. But this book, which just outlines all the fun things you can do with your mama, has this moment early on that reads, “We spread my toys out on the floor / and shop for fun as if a store.” The mom is there with a variety of toys all around, and the kid, wearing bunny ears for no particular reason, has this fantastic face on, like he’s really and truly considering how good a deal he’s getting for that bouncy ball. Right then, I was sold. The rhymes work consistently, but it’s Ashleigh Corrin’s art that makes the entire enterprise sing. Maybe because she knows how to acknowledge the messiness of day-to-day life. Maybe because there’s a really inventive light and life to each of these pictures. Whatever the case, this book’s a real fun read and one you shouldn’t miss. Great stuff.
Me and the Family Tree by Carole Boston Weatherford, ill. Ashleigh Corrin
It’s a bit unfair. Some authors are lucky enough to have enough talent to effectively create one kind of children’s book, be it a picture book or a middle grade novel. Carole Boston Weatherford? She’s just plowing through, effectively doing all SORTS of different kinds of books for kids. It doesn’t hurt matters any either that Ashleigh Corrin was, once again, paired with her text, since Corrin is capable of making unspeakably charming but NOT treacly art. The text is a clever mash-up of different body parts as they relate to how a child is related to different family members. So it begins, “I’ve got father’s mouth / and my mother’s thick brown waves. / I’ve got my uncle’s chin / though you can’t tell ‘til he shaves.” Oh yeah, did I mention that it also rhymes and rhymes really well? Once again, Weatherford knocks it out of the park.
Monsters Go by Daisy Hirst
Sorry, other monster-related board books. Daisy Hirst, designated queen of the under 3 set, has returned. She has returned and she has brought out two brand new board books in the year 2022. Of the two, I designate this particular title to be my favorite. It’s not hard to see why. The general idea is to show how monsters travel. And sure, there are your standards. Your scooters, cars, and buses. But there is also Rodney, who prefers to travel by rabbit (the rabbit appears to be entirely okay with this). There’s Zebedee who goes by zip line. And, of course, there’s Danni, who is “delivered with dinner”. It’s hard to determine precisely what it is about these critters that make them so darned appealing visually. Something about the amiability of their smiles, perhaps? The ratio of eyeballs to forehead? I’m not sure at all, but adding in the fact that their names go far beyond your standard Karen and Bill (I see a Skeeter, Kieron, Sadiya, and Catya amongst others) this book is just the bee’s knees.
My Hands Make the World by Amalia Hoffman
Well! I think it’s fair to say that I didn’t expect to see a Creation board book that actually, honest-to-goodness, works for little readers. Who knew it was possible? But Hoffman has just doubled down on the gorgeous paints in this, and it’s a stronger woman than I that could resist it. Its remarkably simple concept is probably why it works as well as it does. It’s written in the first person, and the story of Genesis almost equates the creation of the cosmos with the creation children do when they paint. “On the second day… My left hand made sky and clouds / My right hand made water.” There’s something distinctly satisfying about the way that these paints just pop off the page. It’s a book that looks like it was as much fun to make as it is to read. Finding books for this age range that touch on religious subjects and aren’t cloying or saccharin is an almost impossible task. At least there’s one book out there now to read with flair.
My Party / Mi Fiesta by Raúl the Third, colors by Elaine Bay
You can thank Chicago Public Library for this little inclusion. Near the end of the year there are only two library-created “Best Of” lists that I watch with an eagle eye (since my own Evanston Public Library 101 Great Books for Kids list needs to keep up with other libraries). Those two libraries are Chicago Public Library and New York Public Library. Thanks to them, this tiny jewel came to me. For all its charms, the Versify imprint of Harper Collins does not appear to send out many galleys, so I almost missed a couple of these very sweet Raúl the Third/Elaine Bay/Coco Rocho titles. Now I considered both this book and My Nap / Mi Siesta, and I gotta say that My Party / Mi Fiesta is the superior product. The text replicates the cover: “My house, your house / Mi casa, tu casa”, “My balloons, your balloons / Mis globos, tus globos.” And so on. The text is simple and many of the characters are recognizable from this whole “World of ¡Vamos!” that Raúl and Elaine have conjured up over the years. So watch out, Richard Scarry. Someone’s giving you a run for your money, at last.
Night Night Sleepy Farm by Danielle McLean, ill. Gareth Williams
While I do fear that some of these sleepy little animals may lose their heads in the course of things, this lift-the-flap title gets extra points for innovative board book construction. I’m just scratching my head over the very logistics of this thing. Each animal is slightly in front of the ones behind it. That means that with every page turn you are sending that animal to bed. BUT there are also flaps that show what their bodies are doing after every activity on the right-hand side of the pages. Make sense? No? That’s because for something that looks so simple, Tiger Tales really buckled down and decided to make this book work. As I mentioned before, I cannot attest to its longevity, but at least at first it’ll be a neat title for your shelves.
Odd Birds: Meet Nature’s Weirdest Flock by Laura Gehl, ill. Gareth Lucas
This book may be single-handedly responsible for my library rethinking its policies on not putting board books on our best of the year lists. Generally we don’t do it because at our location we don’t allow our board books to be put on hold. But this book, this amazing very young nonfiction book, it breaks ALL the rules. First off, it’s gorgeous as all get out. Gareth Lucas is just bending over backwards to make even those deeply ugly condors look like avian gods. The selection of the birds themselves is often surprising and interesting (I had no idea that oilbirds used echolocation). And THEN you get to the back of the book and see photographs of the real birds with facts for older readers. Did I mention that the text in the book is perfect for the youngest of kids? “A booby has blue feet”. If you get only one board book in your collection this year, make it this one. Seriously.
One Sky by Aaron Becker
See, what I can’t figure out is why Aaron Becker is the only person out there smart enough to be playing with the board book form the way that he does. Oh sure, Herve Tullet did it back in France for a while, and you get the occasional title that’s creative, but Becker’s the one that figured out that the board book is this infinitely adaptable piece of literature capable, with its thick-set pages, of doing things no other book can. Things like allowing light to shine through colored, translucent colors and shades. In the past he’s done books like You Are Light and My Favorite Color, but with One Sky he’s trying something a little different. This is a book in which the sky itself changes as the light changes. And, like any good stained glass window, he’s broken up these images with black lines that change in thickness depending on the need of the page. Now a skeptical adult might point out that this book is going to be hugely desirable to adults, but will toddlers dig it at all? My answer to that is yes. Here’s what you do: You lay on your back beside your kid with the book held above the both of you. Do it outside. Let the light seep through some of these pages. And trust me, the contrast of the thick black lines with the colors is going to do everything you’d want it to to that little growing brain. HIGHLY recommended.
123 Zoom by Chiêu Anh Urban
I literally cannot imagine the process that goes into creating an original board book. I suppose one of the first things you’d have to do would be to determine a need. In the case of 123 Zoom, maybe that need would be an understanding of not what a number is, but its tactile shape. That done, you’d have to give the reader a reason to trace those numbers. Say, because you’re following the flight or trajectory of different vehicles. And then there’s the question of how to direct the youngest of readers. Maybe little arrows that point out where you could begin. Oh! And don’t forget to make it feel kind of cool. Maybe the sides around the numbers could be raised a little bit. And if you threw in a seek-and-find aspect as well (perhaps a tiny package that’s being delivered?) that’s just the icing on the cake. And voila! You have yourself an honest-to-goodness original board book that’s a lot of fun for kids and adults alike. Whew!
Peekaboo Forest by Surya Sajnani
Peekaboo Ocean by Surya Sanjnani
And now we get into it. The crinkle books. If you haven’t had a baby in the last 15 years then you could be forgiven for not knowing what a crinkle book exactly is. Imagine, if you will, a fabric book, only some of the pages have been filled with a crinkly material that make a soft crunching sound every time you move them. Though impossible to circulate in libraries, by and large, I was impressed with the “Wee Gallery Range” series coming out from Quarto Group which places the crinkle books in boxes. Of course a patron would lose that box almost immediately upon bringing it home, but it’s the thought that counts. These two books by Surya Sajnani are curious in that they are not brightly colored. This suggests, then, that they are intended less for little babies (for whom high contrast books are the best possible type to read) but rather for toddlers. That’s okay. The books are pretty darn cool to look through anyway, and due to the amusing nature of the art (Jon Klassen has much to answer for) I suspect they’ll be a hit in any household you hand ‘em over to.
Rainy Days by Deborah Kerbel, ill. Miki Sato
I cannot resist a clever bit of paper cutting, no matter how hard I want to. Of course, cleverness only gets you so far in this life. Without age appropriate, enjoyable writing, you could be as clever as you like and the book would still sink. This is one of those titles that have the poofy covers and then the thinner but incredibly difficult to rip or tear plasticy pages. You’ll appreciate their hearty quality since this book is bound to be a favorite each time a rainy day comes along. And, as a parent myself who indulged the outdoorsy whims of my own tots long ago, I appreciate lines like, “Freezing rain; we complain,” which shows a kid and dog INSIDE on a sleety nasty day. May it save many a fine parent from feeling obligated to tromp through that muck. Layered paper illustrations by Sato expertly provide the color you needs in a book with such gray skies.
Squeak-a-Boo! by Natasha Wing, ill. Grace Habib
If the notion of a jaded board book reader is amusing to you, it’s my living reality. I read large swaths of board books in a given year. Tons of the darn things. Oodles of kaboodles of stroodles of noodles of them. And when I get a ton of mediocre ones in a row, I slowly begin to despair. Perhaps my standards are too high? Maybe people just aren’t making extraordinary board books anymore? Then I run across something like this Wing/Habib collaboration and it puts my worried heart to rest. Oh, thank goodness! This book is not dissimilar to the classic Nina Laden “peek-a-” series, in that it’s not afraid to change its peek-a-situation. In the case of this title it’s a lift-the-flap with animals underneath. The text might read something like, “What scurries past? It’s small and fast.” Lift the flap to see the little mouse and, “Squeak-a-boo! A mouse!” Now I’ve seen folks rhyme the “boo” part before, but never the “peek”. It’s just that tiny bit of extra clever that makes you really appreciate what it’s doing. As for the flaps themselves, a determined child will probably make sort work of some of them, but you may get some good reads out of it before then.
Touch and Trace ABC by Harriet Evans, ill. Jordan Wray
Touch and Trace 123 by Harriet Evans, ill. Jordan Wray
The fact of the matter is that you simply cannot have enough touch and trace books in this world. Holding these books in my hands, I can practically see the chubby little fingers being led up and down each letter and number. And I know I probably shouldn’t have favorites, but the numbers book is far and away the superior product. Not only do you get little numbers to trace at the end, but a whole host of simple math concepts as well. Too old for the babies and toddlers, sure, but maybe there’s an older kid lingering nearby that picks up on some of that. Couldn’t hurt!
Undies, Please! by Sumana Seeboruth, ill. Ashleigh Corrin
Potty books. They have a job to do. As far as I’m concerned, the more potty training books on the market, the better that is. I remember all too well sitting my daughter down on her little potty next to a stack of board books, and watching her systematically go through them one at a time while we waited. Of course, not all potty board books are created equal. Some (a lot, actually) are just too darn old for the kids. And one of the many impressive things about UNDIES, PLEASE! is that Sumana Seeboruth is writing this text at precisely the correct age level for the first time learners. She is aided in this endeavor by Ashleigh Corrin who has produced some honestly great art. This, and I mean this sincerely, is the kind of potty training board book you won’t mind reading a hundred times or more. Taking my cue from the title, more of this, please! Also available in Spanish.
We Are Little Feminists: Celebrations by Brook Sitgraves Turner
We Are Little Feminists: How We Eat by Shuli de la Fuente-Lau
It was an upset like no other. The 2021 Youth Media Awards were being announced and we had just gotten to the Stonewall category. The Stonewall is awarded each year to “English-language works of exceptional merit for children or teens relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender experience.” And typically that tends to be stuff on the upper end of the reading spectrum. A lot of YA. A lot of middle grade. Some picture books occasionally too. So imagine everyone’s surprise when the winner of the big Award proper went to We Are Little Feminists: Families by Archaa Shrivastav and designed by Lindsey Blakely. In other words a board book! A board book had actually won an ALA award. And while I’m no historian, I’m fairly certain that it was the very first time a board book ever won an ALA award (please feel free to correct me on this point if you know otherwise). This year, Little Feminist, the publishing house/children’s book club subscription agency, has two more board books for us. Board books that essentially wipe the floor with the photos-for-babies competition. Oh. You thought your board book was inclusive? Uh-huh. Well, lemme see here. Let’s look at How We Eat, where we’re not just showing innovative methods of breast feeding, spoons, and chopsticks but IVs, feeding tubes, ports, and more. Essentially, we’re normalizing the feeding process for everyone. As for Celebrations, powwows, pride parades, adoption days, and Obon make an appearance. On top of all that, the photos are really and truly magnificent. It’s like I say, Little Feminist sort of wipes the floor with the competition. Check out these books yourself if you don’t believe me.
What Do You See? by Renata Bueno, translated by Wendeline A. Hardenberg
The French are back, baby! Used to be I could walk into the board book section of a library or bookstore and be flooded by the brand new board books from France that filled the shelves. Then, in the last few years, that flood turned to a trickle. I’m not sure how to account for the drop-off, but I do know that it’s always a delight finding new titles from that particular region of the world. I wasn’t familiar already with the work of Bueno, but Chronicle’s Twirl imprint rarely leads me astray. In this book you remove a “magic picture finder” from an inside pocket. Essentially it’s just opaque black lines on a piece of transparent plastic. You then place it over a picture strategically. Place it one way and you see one picture. Place it another and you see a different picture entirely. And that might be a cute gimmick alone, but what elevates the book for me is the fact that what you’re seeing in the second picture is a close-up of the first. So, you might see a camel in picture number one and then the hat that rests on the camel’s hump in the second. For a certain kind of kid, this may actually provide a great deal of fun. Just don’t lose that piece of plastic!
Wishy Washy: A First Words and Colors Book by Tabitha Paige
I confess that with its Beatrix Potter-esque use of realistic watercolors and white child-sized binding, I wasn’t really giving this book an adequate amount of credit when I first picked it up. It was only as I started getting into it that I realized that I had a bit of a unicorn on my hands. This is a colors book and shows a lot of first word objects, certainly. But it’s also a rhythmic rhyming book with a repeating “Wishy Washy / Wishy Washy / Swish Swish”. And then on top of that I noticed that each object gets its own two word phrase that can be fun to read aloud or indicates different body movements. But it’s the sheer length of the whole operation that’s really remarkable. I know this sounds strange, but I feel like we need more long board books these days. Some are so short that you need a pile of 15+ to read with a baby or toddler at a time. This one, with all its cool instructive and verbal elements, could keep a child and parent engaged for huge segments of time, and that’s very appealing. Best of all, it looks like a gift book. Like, you could give this to someone at a baby shower and they wouldn’t give you the side-eye. Months later they’ll thank you for introducing them to it in the first place.
Eager to read other lists this month? Then be sure to stay tuned for the following:
December 1 – Great Board Books
December 2 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 3 – Simple Picture Book Texts
December 4 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Funny Picture Books
December 7 – CaldeNotts
December 8 – Picture Book Reprints
December 9 – Math Books for Kids
December 10 – Gross Books
December 11 – Books with a Message
December 12 – Fabulous Photography
December 13 – Translated Picture Books
December 14 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales
December 15 – Wordless Picture Books
December 16 – Poetry Books
December 17 – Unconventional Children’s Books
December 18 – Easy Books & Early Chapter Books
December 19 – Comics & Graphic Novels
December 20 – Older Funny Books
December 21 – Science Fiction Books
December 22 – Fantasy Books
December 23 – Informational Fiction
December 24 – American History
December 25 – Science & Nature Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Books for Older Readers
December 29 – Best Audiobooks for Kids
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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