Top 10 Board Books
The very best board books to share with the little ones in your life
Hands down, books are my absolute favorite baby gift. There's something so special and intimate about passing along a special board book that you read, in some cases millions of times, to your own kids when they were babies. Little ones can have too many toys, too many personalized blankets (as cute as those are...) -- but to my mind, never too many good books.
Choosing 10 favorite board books for this page was tough. There are so many wonderful, enduring works for babies and toddlers (lucky them!). But after much fussing and fretting, I finally pared my list down to 10 beautiful books that should be tucked into the diaper bags, stacked on the bookshelves, and (let's face it) on occasion mashed between the curious little teeth of every boy and girl under 3.
I can't decide what I love most about this book. Eric Carle's vibrant collages, with that memorable payoff at the end? The world's cutest counting lesson? The way Carle has singlehandedly taught generations of children, years before their first science class, how caterpillars become butterflies? Or do I just love the way that little critter packs away the food? [ Can't we all relate? It's like Thanksgiving dinner! Except we humans don't have the impending-metamorphosis excuse ;) ] I'm sure there are even toddlers who've upped their fruit and veggie intake because of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. This book rules!
Ease a reluctant toddler into bed with these gorgeous watercolor paintings of baby animals cuddling with their parents. From sheep to snakes, critters are shown safe and secure in their habitats, ready to nod off. The rhyme scheme is simple and soothing, like a lullaby. Sweet dreams!
Arguably the best-known and most loved board book ever, Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon gets more props, but it's her Big Red Barn that really grabbed my kids. Gentle and rhythmic, it builds a lot of learning (animals and their sounds, colors, relative sizes, and more) into a sweet slice of farm life. This was one of the first books my children began seeking out and "reading" on their own, as toddlers. I never got tired of reading it to them, either. And isn't that the mark of an awesome board book?
At dinner recently with close relatives, we realized that although our kids have all outgrown board books (some by many years), all the adults at the table could recite this quirky-classic Edward Lear poem in its entirety. Why? Jan Brett's delightful Caribbean-style illustrations made the rhymes sing for our kids--and us--when they were little. Everything this brilliant kids' artist does is worth collecting, but if you're not familiar with her work, The Owl and the Pussycat is a great place to start.
For a child, there's nothing like waking up to find the world blanketed in silvery white snow--a feeling captured perfectly in this 1963 Caldecott winner by Ezra Jack Keats. The plot is simple and timeless: A little boy wanders in the snow, making footprints and angels, and tries to save a piece of the experience in the form of a snowball. It all makes you pine for the days before scheduled playdates and extracurriculars, when kids could meander and explore. I love Keats's classy, playful mixed-media illustrations so much I once bought a pack of notecards featuring them--and promptly used them all up for teacher thank-yous and congratulatory notes to new parents.
It's closing time at the zoo in this near-wordless tale. The zookeeper locks up and is promptly pickpocketed by a mischievous young gorilla, who uses the keys to free his animal pals one by one. They all quietly follow the zookeeper home, and in the best one-page intro to inferencing a 2-year-old will ever get, the zookeeper's wife discovers they've joined the couple in bed. The boldly colored illustrations are great, and kids will love finding recurring elements in each (the little mouse, the pink balloon). My oldest son got this as a gift from one of his aunts, and it quickly became a favorite.
The colors are spare, the drawings simple. What makes this book a must is its message: Have faith. Keep trying. Believe in yourself. In this Ruth Krauss classic, a little boy plants a carrot seed that nobody else believes will come up. Reading this, you kinda want to punch those naysayers in the nose, but none of it matters when, in a thrilling climax for little listeners, a gargantuan carrot pops up to reward our hero's efforts. So there! :-)
Make sure baby's books don't get lost at child care, or anywhere else. Personalize adhesive children's bookplates in a flash and stick them on inside front or back book covers as an adorable but unobtrusive ID. Labels feature kids' artwork and benefit Save the Children.
Another masterpiece in illustration from Eric Carle, here's a book that's inspired a thousand preschool art projects. Colorful tissue-collage characters nudge readers through a sweet, simple story that incorporates rhyming, colors, and animal ID. After a few readings, wee ones will love predicting which creature is coming up next. Also fun for a memory game--how many can they recite in sequence, without looking? (Be forewarned, your 2-year-old will probably beat you at this game!) I've never met a toddler who didn't love this book or its equally fun companion, Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?
Parenting (or teaching) little kids, there are days when you just want to cross the finish line and collapse into bed. What happened--you wonder, scraping pureed peas off the wall--to that relaxed, playful parent you'd hoped to be? Prescription: a little no-holds-barred nonsense. And who else but Dr. Seuss to deliver it? The multitalented Mr. Brown can imitate not merely a mooing cow, but a frying egg, a squeaky shoe, a gum-chewing hippo, a smooching goldfih. And so can you, when you read this splendidly silly book to your kids. Ham it up! You'll feel much better.
I don't know what the psychologists think: Is Margaret Wise Brown playing apologist here for overprotective, controlling moms? Nah. It's just an incredibly poetic depiction of how strong the bonds of love are between parent and child--and how those are "portable." A little bunny teases and tests his mama with "what if" scenarios about running away. She responds with one imaginative comeback after another. I especially love the idea, illustrated beautifully, that if the bunny turns himself into a bird, mom will become a tree for him to fly home to.
Bonus Top 10!
10 Reasons to Read to a Baby
It boosts vocabulary. (The more stories you read aloud, the more words a child will be exposed to.)
It teaches about communication.
It builds listening skills, attention, and memory.
It introduces early learning concepts (numbers, letters, colors, shapes) in a fun way.
It encourages independent reading down the road: Kids who are read to in their early years are more likely to read themselves, at the appropriate time.
It can soothe nerves and decrease stress (both yours and the baby's).
It promotes social and emotional development, as baby hears you using different emotions and expressive sounds in reading aloud.
It gives little ones information about the world around them, from homes like theirs to the zoo, the circus, a jungle, a farm...
It sparks an enjoyment of art, through illustrations using a variety of media.
Best of all: It makes a connection between books and the things your baby loves most--your voice, and the feeling of being close to you.
Adapted in part from "Reading Books to Babies," kidshealth.org
Have I included any of your favorite books? Have I left off a masterpiece? Please share...