Excellent Board Books that Kids AND Parents Will Love

Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.
~Emilie Buchwald

Reading to children of all ages is important and, as I mentioned in my tips for getting past the book ripping habit, if that means you have to have a board book phase while teaching your baby or toddler not to rip books, that’s ok. Just make sure that the board books you choose are good books. Make sure they are good because YOU are the one who will be reading them a million times, and if you’re enthusiastic about reading, your kids will be too, but if you’re dreading another round of reading some insipid, poorly illustrated board book that makes you want to throw yourself out the playroom window, you’re not doing your child any favors.

In board books, as with any books for children, I look for an interesting storyline, something that’s not too preachy (if it teaches about counting incidentally to a great story or awesome pictures, great, but if all the book does is beat the reader over the head with some simplistic moral, I’m not impressed), good rhymes, solid vocabulary, proper grammar (I shouldn’t have to say that, but you’d be surprised how many kids books contain incorrect English), and excellent illustrations. Above all I must warn you that some publishers abridge board book editions of popular books. This is particularly true for Dr. Seuss books, but I’ve found others (like the classic “Are You My Mother”) so buyer beware. If you’re not positive about the book, check it against a paper version before you buy it or you might inadvertently miss out on an otherwise fabulous story. Your tastes may vary, but it’s good to have some sort of standard in mind. There are so many good books available that it doesn’t really make sense to read trash to your kids.

In addition to reading out loud, our kids enjoy handling the books. Even Sarah, our 13 month old, likes to sit and flip through the board books looking at the pictures. That’s probably because she sees her older siblings and her parents doing that with books – again, if your child sees you enjoying reading she is more likely to enjoy it herself.

Without further ado, here are twenty-seven board books we love, in the order in which I observed them on our bookshelf!

The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a classic you probably remember reading yourself as a child. If not, you missed out! This book is illustrated with Eric Carle’s fun and vibrant pictures and follows a caterpillar on his transformation from egg to butterfly. Along the way, you learn about the days of the week and have opportunity to count things, plus as the caterpillar eats holes in various food items, he leaves a little hole that babies like to stick their fingers through.

The Big Red Barn is one of our absolute favorite books. The kids and I can recite it word for word, and in moments of desperation in the car I have been known to start telling the story in a sing-song voice to calm everyone down, “By the big red barn in the great green field…” The rhyming is great, the pictures are interesting, and the text gives plenty of opportunity to learn the names of animals and the sounds they make. I think The Big Red Barn is the best of all Margaret Wise Brown’s books, and I’m glad we have it in board book form so the kids can be exposed to it early.

My mom found some fantastic board books of paintings by famous artists at an art museum, and we’ve since collected most of the others. I think the cheapest way to purchase these books is the Mini Masters Boxed Set, which contains books about Degas, Matisse, Monet, and Van Gogh. Each book features famous paintings by the artist along with a simple rhyming text. What I love about these books is that after a few times reading through them, my preschoolers started picking out things that are characteristic about each artist such as that Degas painted a lot of ballet dancers. I think the mini masters series is an excellent start to teaching children about art. The back of each book also contains the names of the paintings, if you want to call them by name. We do that with some of the more famous ones, so that the kids know that Monet’s bridge and waterlillies were in Giverny, or that Van Gogh’s bedroom was in Arles and so on. The other artist board books are available individually, if you want to add on to the boxed set.

Harry the Dirty Dog is one of Jack’s favorite books. Harry hates to take baths and one day he runs away and gets so filthy dirty that his family doesn’t even recognize him. Jack thinks that’s hilarious. And it kind of is. The book has an entertaining story and great pictures with a vintage 1950s sort of feel. I think that’s because the book was originally published in the 1950s but I could be wrong. In any case, Harry the Dirty Dog is a great book, especially if you have boys. There are other books about Harry, but we haven’t found them to be quite as good as the original.

Caps for Sale is a fun and original story about a man who walks around with a ton of caps on his head, trying to sell them. He takes a nap under a tree one day and a bunch of monkeys steal his caps! They start to mimic him when he shakes his finger at them, stomps his feet, and so on, until finally the peddler inadvertently tricks the monkeys into giving back his wares. This book makes my kids want to sing “Monkey See, Monkey Do” which includes, in their peculiar version, the verse, “when you clap your feet, the monkey claps his feet.” Most people don’t sing the song that way. The song is not really relevant to the book other than the monkeys imitating the peddler, it’s just what happens at our house when we read this book.

The Carrot Seed is a very short but descriptive book about a little boy who plants a carrot seed. His whole family tells him in turn that the seed will not grow, but the boy perseveres and tends his seed faithfully until finally a carrot sprouts up, and turns out to be as big as he is, “just as he knew it would.” I like that the story very simply shows that it takes time for seeds to become vegetables and that the boy takes good care of his seed, not pulling it up prematurely to examine it or eating it before it is ripe like some small gardeners of my acquaintance.

Pat the Bunny is a simple book with lots of interactive things for you do to while you read it, like pat the bunny, feel Daddy’s scratchy face before he shaves (it’s sandpaper!), try on Mummy’s ring, and so forth. I think part of the reason I love this book is that I had it growing up. I love it so much I even made Sarah’s birthday cake to look like Pat the Bunny!

Stellaluna is an unusual story of a baby fruit bat who gets separated from her mother and is taken in by a family of birds. Growing up as a bird she consents to eat bugs, tries to remember not to hang by her feet, and otherwise struggles to fit in with her adoptive family. One night she forgets she is not supposed to fly after dark and realizes she can see quite well. She finds her mother and goes back to tell her bird siblings how great it is to eat fruit instead of bugs and so forth. The bat and birds are friends even though they are so different. I am not, as a general rule, particularly fond of bats, having had some unpleasant run ins with their kind at summer camp, but I do like this book!

Kiss Good Night is another of our family favorites. The text is simple but descriptive and the pictures are bright and convey emotion very well. In a little white house on Plum Street Mrs. Bear tries to get Sam to sleep. He won’t go to sleep. She tries everything: reading a book, tucking Sam’s blanket up around him, giving him his stuffed animals, drinking warm milk with Sam, but nothing works until she remembers at last that she has forgotten to give Sam his goodnight kisses. Finally Sam gets to sleep. There are other Sam books, but I’m not sure they are available in board form.

The Mitten is a beautifully illustrated re-telling of a folk tale about animals packing in to a lost mitten until someone sneezes and everyone flies out. Kind of the straw that breaks the camel’s back theory. The best part about this book is the illustration by Jan Brett – every page is set and decorated in an old Ukrainian style, with insets showing what else is going on apart from the main picture. We like all the Jan Brett books, but this is the only one we have in board form.

Goodnight Moon is one of those books every mom gets at a baby shower, so hopefully you got your copy in board book form because this book is perfect for very small children and babies. The simple text and drawings are soothing but there is enough detail to give the child something to look at (such as searching for the mouse who appears on most of the pages). If, for some reason, you do not own this book, I highly recommend it in board form.

I Love You, Good Night is a little bit silly, but a sweet book and well rhymed. For example, “I love you like frogs love flies! I love you like pigs love pies!” The kids and I play a rhyming game based on this book, where we try to find rhymes like the ones in the book. It can get pretty silly because Hannah always wants to love you like “walrus knees” or some such and Jack always wants to rhyme something with “bojangles” or whatnot. At any rate, this is a cute book and is different enough to keep you interested.

Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear? is a longer story about a little bear who is afraid of the dark, and the lengths to which the big bear goes to make Little Bear feel better about it. The message is good, the story progression is nice in that it builds on itself and shows smallest to biggest, and the illustrations are fun and will remind you quite a lot of little kids who are determined not to go to sleep! There are other Little Bear books available, but this is the only one we have in board form.

My Friend Bear is a fantastic book that you and your kids will especially love if you are good at doing voices. We have a particular deep voice for the bear and high voice for the little boy. The rhyming in this book is so well done and the whole book is easily memorized without trying, which again is a useful skill for Mom to have during car meltdowns. We found another book about Freddy and the bear, but I don’t think it’s as good as My Friend Bear.

How Do Dinosaurs Count To Ten? is a fanciful story of dinosaur children with (inexplicably) human parents and how they count to ten. Counting to ten is a good skill to learn (duh) but this is a particularly fun book to learn it with. The dinosaurs are labeled with their full names, which will come in handy if you happen to have a kid who likes dinosaurs and wants to know what they are called. Or maybe you remember what an ankylosaurus looks like on your own and don’t need the labels. But if you’re that into dinosaurs, you’ll like the books even more. We have enjoyed all of the dinosaur series, but the only other ones that come in board form are How Do Dinosaurs Play With Their Friends, How Do Dinosaurs Clean Their Rooms and How Do Dinosaurs Learn Their Colors. All of them are great, and you’d be surprised how quickly your kids will catch on to the names of the different dinosaurs.

The Tale of Jemima Puddle Duck is only one of quite a number of Beatrix Potter books available in board form. We have several different types, ranging from full original text to very small board books that each contain about 1/4 of a story. Since our nursery is decorated in Beatrix Potter motif we enjoy reading the stories and I liked being able to read them before the kids were ready for the paper versions (which we also have in spades). Of course the illustrations are lovely, and be sure to get the original illustrated versions, not those modern redrawings that are cartoons and not even remotely as good as the real ones. Why do people do things like that? It bothers me. Fortunately many of the board books have original illustrations so you needn’t suffer the imitations.

Lift-the-Flap Bible is the only Bible we have in board form, but by the time we got it we were reading from regular ones so I have to admit we have not read every story contained in the book. Normally I would be hesitant to recommend a children’s Bible I hadn’t read completely because some have weird omissions or glosses on things, but the Lift the Flap Bible was written by Sally Lloyd-Jones, who also wrote the Bible we use for preschool: The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name so I feel confident that it’s good. I wish we had had this book when Hannah was in the page ripping stage, because our other favorite kids Bible, The Big Picture Story Bible, took a lot of abuse back then!

Snowmen at Night is such a fun and inventive book about the shenanigans snowmen get up to while people are sleeping. The illustrations are fantastic and the story is really entertaining. I’m so glad we have this book in board form because the wait list at the library is always weeks and weeks long and they only have the paper version.

The Snowy Day is a classic winter tale about a little boy who discovers how snow behaves (like that it melts if you keep it in your pocket and go inside). I really like the unique illustrations in this book. The text is simple, but interesting.

The Little Drummer Boy is Ezra Jack Keats’ fantastic illustration of the familiar Christmas song. It’s a seasonal book, but don’t tell Jack because he wants to read it all year ’round. The illustrations make this book a must have if you’re adding to your Christmas time collection, which you probably aren’t now that it’s January, but there’s always next year! Take notes! Only 339 shopping days left!

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3 thoughts on “Excellent Board Books that Kids AND Parents Will Love

  1. Thanks for your suggestions. I ordered Big Red Barn and Harry the Dirty Dog for my son. I gave him Big Red Barn for Easter and he loves it. I’m giving him Harry the Dirty Dog for his birthday.

  2. Pingback: Party!

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