At only seven months old, my wee one already has over one hundred books in her library. We read about ten books every day and go to at least one story time each week. She has been to more author readings and book signings than most adults (Deborah Diesen, author of The Pout-Pout Fish, was her first; she saw Dan Santat, author of the Caldecott medal-winning Beekle, last week). This may seem a bit extreme for a baby, but let’s face facts: I’m pushing books hard.
So, when a friend asked me a couple weeks ago for some board book suggestions, I rattled off five or six without hesitation. Her reaction was a bit surprising. She responded:
I have to say, I mentioned to a couple of new mom friends that you gave me a few recommendations and they all went ape shit. I’ve had to send your list a couple of times. If you were to ever compile a Christi approved list of kid/baby books I think many moms would find it very helpful. There is just so much noise out there that it is really nice to get recommendations from someone who is actually using them and recommending more than the same old board books that everyone has several of in their library (I mean, Pat the Bunny is a classic, but it isn’t really stimulating and those pictures are downright creepy).
There are literally gajillions (LITERALLY) of board and picture books out there. And my friend is right–there aren’t many reliable, up-to-date lists to steer you in the right direction. To make matters worse, the pressure to add only quality books to your kid’s collection is high. Because, unlike adult books, which you normally read once before letting them collect dust on a shelf, you read each kids’ book approximately 700 million times.
So, here is a list of my favorite board and picture books. I tried to avoid the classics that everyone already knows and loves (but, just to be on the safe side, I did include a few that cannot be overlooked). Happy reading!
Board books can be mind-numbing, because they are so short and simple. My rule of thumb: they should either be straight-up skill-and-drill books (letters, numbers, shapes) or really cute and fun to read. If they don’t fall into one of those two categories, they don’t deserve space on your bookshelf.
Skill-and-drill board books: Most (if not all) of these books require a significant amount of parent talk/interaction/elaboration to make them effective and engaging.
- ABCD Eat by Ed Heck (Ed Heck is an amazing pop artist out of NYC. He has several board books that are illustrated in his signature style. This is my favorite, but Many Marvelous Monsters, which teaches letter sounds using alliteration, is also a fun one).
- LMNO Peas by Keith Baker
- Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert
- Paris: a Book of Shapes by Ashley Evanson (This is part of the Hello, World! series. We own the New York and San Francisco books, as well, but this is BY FAR the best.)
- 20 Big Trucks in the Middle of the Street by Mark Lee, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Most board books that focus on numbers/counting are nothing more than a number on the page with an illustration of the corresponding number of some random item. I like this one, because it actually tells a cute story. The rhyme-scheme is a little wanting, but whatever.)
- Where Is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox, illustrated by Judy Horacek (This one covers a lot—opposites, basic vocabulary, colors. And it’s got adorable sheep drawings to boot! Win, win!! There’s also a version in English and Spanish. ¡Que bueno!)
- The Jungle Book: A BabyLit Animals Primer by Jennifer Adams, illustrated by Alison Oliver (BabyLit primers use the characters and plots from classics in skill-and-drill board books. It’s an adorable idea, but they are very inconsistent. I’ve read LOTS of these, so if you have questions about any in particular, feel free to ask. Word to the wise: steer clear of Dracula.)
Hello, World! by Disney Book Group (This book introduces kids to different places and teaches them how to say “hello” in several different languages. Each page is a different country–from Brazil to China to Egypt–with an “It’s a Small World”-esque illustration. Arguably a bit stereotypical, but adorable nonetheless.)
Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle, illustrated by Jill McElmurry (This is a great book for helping kids practice animal sounds, and its message is a good one. Nevertheless, this can never get beyond an honorable mention in my house, because my husband inexplicably hates it.)
Classic skill-and-drill board books that you should own:
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
- Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault, illustrated by Lois Ehlert (This book makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, but kids LOVE it, and I think the rhyming is an effective tool for teaching letters.)
Cute board books:
When it comes to cute board books, there are only two authors you need to know: Sandra Boynton and Leslie Patricelli. These ladies know what’s up.
- Night-Night Little Pookie by Sandra Boynton (Nearly all of Sandra Boynton’s books are downright adorable. She has a special gift. But Night-Night Little Pookie is my little one’s favorite. It elicited giggles from her when she was three months old and suffering from her first cold, and I have been indebted to Sandra Boynton ever since. Spooky Pookie, Belly Button Book, and Barnyard Dance are our runners up. As an aside, if you’re a fan of Boynton’s books, you probably need to read this piece from The New Yorker: “The Hidden Depths of Sandra Boynton’s Board Books”.)
- Toot by Leslie Patricelli (This is my favorite of Patricelli’s books, but there are several that are quite cute. And Patricelli’s holiday books–like Hop! Hop! and Fa La La–make excellent holiday baby gifts.)
For me, a picture book has to fall into one of four categories: 1) it has to have a great message; 2) it must be a work of art; 3) it will teach my kid about different people or places or cultures; or 4) it’s just plain fun (i.e., when I read it for the four hundredth time, it doesn’t make me cringe).
Great messages for little ones:
- Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts (If you’re going to add ONE book to your library, this should be it. Amazon always seems to sell it at a really good price, so go ahead and order it now. In fact, order a couple copies. You’re gonna want to give this one as a gift at some point. The other book in this series, Iggy Peck, Architect, is also excellent . . . and I am awaiting the soon-to-be released Ada Twist, Scientist with bated breath.)
- The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires (There’s a grammatical error in this book (“none . . . are”), but I still love it. That speaks volumes.)
- Fiona’s Luck by Teresa Bateman, illustrated by Kelly Murphy (This book falls into several of my picture-book categories. It has a great message, it’s set in Ireland, and it’s fun to read, because you get to practice your Irish accent!)
- Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees
My Name is Not Isabella: Just How Big Can a Little Girl Dream? by Jennifer Fosberry, illustrated by Mike Litwin (Their other books, including My Name is Not Alexander: Just How Big Can a Little Kid Dream? and Isabella: Girl on the Go, are also worth checking out.)
Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell, illustrated by David Catrow
The Stick by Clay Rice
Works of art:
- Journey by Aaron Becker
- Waiting by Kevin Henkes
- Animalia by Graeme Base
Some Bugs by Angela DiTerlizzi, illustrated by Brendan Wenzel
A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead
Tree: A Peek-Through Picture Book by Britta Teckentrup
Flyaway by Lesley Barnes
Dream Animals by Emily Winfield Martin
Great multicultural books:
- Waiting for the Biblioburro by Monica Brown, illustrated by John Parra
- Who’s in Rabbit’s House Adapted by Verna Aardema, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon ( Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears: a West African Tale is also excellent and has amazingly beautiful illustrations . . . but an owlet dies in that one, and that makes me sad every time.)
Kimonos by Annelore Parot
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson
My First Book of Japanese Words by Michelle Haney Brown, illustrated by Aya Padron (This is only an honorable mention because it is very family-/interest-specific. There are tons of “My First Book of [fill in the blank] Words” books, but I have not seen any others that rhyme or are as attractively illustrated.)
- How to Train a Train by Jason Carter Eaton, illustrated by John Rocco
- Those Darn Squirrels by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri
- The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak (This book was written before my daughter was born, but that didn’t stop me from going to an author reading when B.J. Novak came to town to promote it. You can read more about that–and see video of it–here.)
- Olivia by Ian Falconer (I am a fan of all of the Olivia books. My husband is not. He thinks Olivia will teach our daughter bad behavior. Olivia is a bit of a sasser and a story-teller, but I like her spunk.)
Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast by Josh Funk, illustrated by Brendan Kearney
- Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late by Mo Willems
Classic picture books that should already be in your library (and that you should buy immediately if they are not!):
- The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
- Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
- Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola
- Frederick by Leo Lionni
- The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
What Do People Do All Day? by Richard Scarry
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And that’s that! If you think there is a glaring omission from this list, leave a comment below with the book (or books!) you think should have been included (and feel free to let me know if there are books that I included that you think I should have left off!).
Want even more suggestions? A couple years ago, I wrote a post about a few of the books that were my favorites when I was a kid. So as not to be redundant, I purposely did not include any of those books on this list . . . but you can read about them here. And, if ever you’d like additional suggestions, feel free to contact me!
One final note: Thank you, Mykaila, for suggesting I put this list together!