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Board books you’re bound to love

Posted on April 7, 2016 at 6:00 am

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by Sheri Boggs

Board books are undeservedly one of the most easily dismissed formats in all of children’s literature. With their chunky spines and thick, laminated pages, they’re designed to withstand the worst a baby can deliver, from a good, saliva-drenched gumming to being hurled from a high chair. They’re short by necessity—most around 22 pages—and offer the kinds of abbreviated narratives only a baby could love. But what the most recent crop of board books lack in complexity, they more than make up for in concept and design. From interactive pages that help tiny fingers practice fine motor skills, to books that double as headwear, these are books to please not only babies but even the most discriminating parent.

We Are a Family, by Roger Priddy

Something about this title’s cover, with its six eggs packed tight into an egg carton car, cracks me up (pun intended). Maybe it’s the goofy little expressions drawn onto each egg’s face, or how I imagine the car conversation going: (“We are a family, and families go on vacation together. Don’t make me stop this carton.”) At any rate, We Are a Family shows groups of anthropomorphized objects doing what families do best: pulling together, getting along, and celebrating along the way. A cheery rhyming scheme makes this as fun to read aloud as it is to look at.

I’m Grumpy and I’m Sunny, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

The award-winning brother-and-sister team behind Babymouse and Comics Squad (two great series for middle grade readers) bring their cartooning skills to I’m Grumpy and I’m Sunny, the first two books in their My First Comics line. Research has shown that comics really do help create readers, as understanding what’s happening in pictures is the first step toward understanding what words are saying. Using weather to illustrate the concept of feelings, I’m Grumpy and I’m Sunny also introduce word balloons, panels, and sound effects to show what happens when a cheerful sun and an ennui-saddled cloud encounter not only one another but similarly mood-inspired weather patterns (Tizzy Tornado, anyone?) .

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My Heart Fills With Happiness, by Monique Gray Smith, illustrated by Julie Flett

The We Need Diverse Books movement is being felt throughout children’s publishing and I’m happy to say that diversity is becoming increasingly apparent even in board books. My Heart Fills With Happiness is a warm depiction of the gentle joys of early childhood: holding the hand of someone you love, walking barefoot in the grass, feeling sunlight on your cheeks. Julie Flett’s gouache on paper and digital collage illustrations show Native children and adults in culturally significant moments with broad universal appeal that include feeling the whirl of fabric as one twirls, gazing into the face of an elderly loved one, and waiting for something delicious to come out of the oven. In addition to positive reviews in Publishers Weekly, Horn Book and School Library Journal, My Heart Fills with Happiness was also recently favorably reviewed by Debbie Reese, of the web resource, American Indians in Children’s Literature.

Hamsters on the Go!, by Kass Reich

Just as the title indicates, Hamsters on the Go! features a handful of amiable rodents and the modes of transportation they might employ in getting from here to there. From hamsters on a moon rover and on a float, to hamsters traveling way up high via hot air balloons and way down below in a submarine, the book encourages new vocabulary words for babies to hear as well as conversational fodder with toddlers (such as “What’s a float?” “What else goes underwater?”). The muted pastel palette is both soothing and sophisticated. If you like this one, be sure to try Up Hamster, Down Hamster!

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Bum, Bum, by Taro Miura

Bums are inherently funny, especially to those still in diapers. This book plays with that idea by using bold, simple shapes and minimal text to compare what makes each bum different, from the fluffy duck’s to the big elephant’s. This is fun for the youngest babies and toddlers alike, who will be more than delighted to shriek “bum bum!” with the turn of each page. Pair this one with There, There, by the same author.

Paris: A Book of Shapes, by Ashley Evanson

This sweet, macaron-hued book explores all the wondrous shapes to be found in the City of Light. Spot all the triangles at the Louvre, trace arches at the Arc d’Triomphe, and look for circles at the Eiffel tower. This one does double duty. In addition to being a book of first shapes, it’s also a counting book as each spread includes numerous opportunities to identify and count each shape.

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Book-O-Beards, Book-O-Hats and Book-O-Masks, by Donald Lemke

It’s a book! It’s a beard! Or a hat! Or a mask! With six wearable styles on each page, your costume choices are endless. Would you’d rather be a red-bearded lumberjack or a hayseed-chewing cowboy, a food-splattered chef or a fireman, or even a lucha libre? Catchy rhymes accompany each mask, giving the whole enterprise some educational merit, and a pair of finger holes enables the wearer to sport each look without having to tear the book apart. Silly fun, galore!

Shhh! This Book is Sleeping, by Cédric Ramadier and Vincent Bourgeau

As any fan of Press Here will tell you, interactive books are all the rage. In Shhh! This Book is Sleeping, the left side pages feature a little pink mouse who encourages you to ask it (the book) a variety of bedtime questions (“Did it brush its teeth?” “Is it warm enough?”) On the right side pages, the book’s childlike blue “face” answers each question, as its eyes get progressively sleepier. The mouse invites young listeners to read a story to the book, tuck it in, and even give it a little kiss goodnight, all great practice for bedtime rituals.

For older kids, the similarly titled Shh! I’m Sleeping, by Dorothée de Monfreid, introduces us to eight varyingly sleepy dogs who are readying for bedtime in a room with two tall bunkbeds. Zaza wants water, Nono wants a story, and Popov is snoring so loudly that nobody is likely to get any rest! Comics-style word bubbles, a lively cast, and lots of bunk-switching activity make this an engaging read for toddlers who are just starting to track “same” and “different.”

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Through the Town and Around the World, by Craig Shuttlewood

“This route will take us up and down, Drive the truck around the town!” Rhyming text and meandering routes that guide young fingers past Ferris wheels, mountains, ice cream shops, city parks, through traffic, and across rivers are great for developing fine motor skills. As young fingers trace each route (recessed on each page like a track for small fingers), adults will appreciate the cheerfully modern, geometric illustrations.

Sheri Boggs

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