Very often I am asked (by people outside the book industry) what I consider to be the quintessential list of first board books for very young children. This is one of those questions that everyone in the book industry has a favorite answer for, and I guarantee you everyone’s answer will be different. There are many wonderful board books out there, and other lovely books like PAT THE BUNNY and HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON which do not come in board book format, and so are not on this list although I certainly recommend them.
My list is made up of some obvious classics that no child should be without, and some newer titles that I think will be beloved enough to become classics in their own right. I adore each and every one of these books, and have read them with many children.
So, that being said, here is what I would buy for baby’s first board book dozen:
BIG LITTLE by Leslie Patricelli
0763619515; Candlewick Press; September 2003; $6.95
One of the more recent books on this list, but an instant classic that takes the big little concept and turns it on its laugh-out-loud ear with unexpected pairings and bright expressive art. One of a series including QUIET LOUD and YUMMY YUCKY.
BROWN BEAR, BROWN BEAR WHAT DO YOU SEE? by Bill Martin, illustrated by Eric Carle
0805047905; Henry Holt; September 1996; $7.95
Originally published in 1983, this book’s beautiful bold animal illustrations and predictive structure are surefire hits with children of all ages, and the story closes with a wonderful twist that brings it all home for the young reader. Stands up to reading over and over and over.
DUCK IN A TRUCK by Jez Alborough
1929132832; Kane Miller; September 2005; $7.99
What to do when a duck in a truck gets stuck in the muck? This rollicking rhyming tale is a satisfying read full of delicious wordplay and silliness from start to finish. Children love the percussive sound of the language and duck’s sticky problem. Originally published in hardcover in 2002.
GOODNIGHT MOON by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd
0694003611; Harper; September 1991; $7.95
Written in 1947, this is one of the bestselling children’s books of all time, and with good reason. The most perfect bedtime story ever written, as little rabbit says goodnight to everything in sight in his warm and cozy bedroom. The poetry of the story is a magical call to sweet dreams and tender sleep.
GOOD NIGHT, GORILLA by Peggy Rathman
0399230033; Penguin; February 1996; $7.99
Wonderful and almost entirely wordless, children love this story about an exhausted zookeeper making his last round of the night to check on the animals. What he doesn’t know is that gorilla has taken his keys, and he and his wife are about to have some bedtime company. Young readers will enjoy telling this story back to you with each successive reading.
JAMBERRY by Bruce Degen
0694006513; HarperCollins; December 1994; $7.99
Starting with “One berry, Two berry, Pick me a blueberry,” and building to an absolute crescendo of rhyming brilliance, this book is an ode to anyone who has ever enjoyed a summer’s day, the company of a good friend, and a mouthful of fresh ripe berries. The delicious language in this book begs to be read aloud with enthusiasm, and I guarantee kids cannot resist dancing and singing along. Originally published in 1983.
PEEK-A-WHO? by Nina Laden
0811826023; Chronicle; February 2000; $6.95
A deceptively simple board book that makes playful use of a young child’s love of peek-a-boo. Each page has “Peek-a..” on the left, and a generous cutaway on the right that reveals only part of a hidden surprise, like the cow in “Peek a…Moo!”. Bright eye-catching illustrations and a mirror in the back (Peek-a…You!) make this one a keeper.
SO MANY BUNNIES by Rick Walton, illustrated by Paige Miglio
0688173640; HarperCollins; March 2000; $6.99
Although a lesser known title, this book is perhaps my favorite of the list. A twist on the old lady in the shoe, in this alphabet/counting book Mama Bunny has 26 children, which she tucks away for bed in every nook and cranny of her house. Starting with “1 was named Abel. He slept on the table” and continuing to “26 was named Zed. He slept on the shed”, this book’s lovely detailed illustrations and inventive rhymes make it a great bedtime read.
THE RUNAWAY BUNNY by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd
0061074292; HarperCollins; February 1991; $6.99
Never out of print since its initial publication in 1942, this book is a reassuring testament to the power of a mother’s love. Little bunny decides to run away, but no matter what he says he will change into–a fish in a stream, a rock on a mountain, a bird in a tree–Mama rabbit knows how to find him. Perfect for very young children who are feeling separation anxiety.
THE SNOWY DAY by Ezra Jack Keats
0670867330; Penguin; January 1996; $6.99
The winner of the Caldecott Medal in 1963, this is one of the all-time great stories of a young boy’s adventure in the snowy city. The text is a wonderful example of writing the experience of a young child, without too much complication or explanation, and the artwork showcases Keats’ genius for design and color. This is a favorite no matter what the season or geographic location.
THE UP AND DOWN BOOK by Mary Blair
0375830057; Golden Books; August 2004; $5.99
Long out of print, with art by one of the great illustrators of the mid-20th century, the original artwork for this book was re-scanned from the Golden Books archives to produce this fun new edition. This book’s distinctive vertical shape is the perfect compliment to the exuberant illustrations, and the bouncy read-aloud text begs the reader’s voice to go up and down with each page. A great concept book.
THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR by Eric Carle
0399226907; Penguin; March 1994; $10.99
No board book collection would be complete without this story of an ambitious caterpillar who eats his way through a succession of items until his stomach aches and he can go no further. Young readers love the ingenious caterpillar holes on each page, the counting format, and the transformative payoff at the end. A masterpiece of great design and book engineering.