I have to admit, in all my years as a bookseller, I haven't paid very close attention to board books. Even in my former days as a children's librarian, those little volumes just weren't on my radar. Shameful, I know. Sure I could recommend a baby shower gift-book or two, and always knew the latest quirky releases, but larger picture books have always had a way of stealing the show. With their subtle plots, layered illustrations, and award-winning potential, full-scale picture books tend to offer more adult appeal.
It can be hard to get excited about books that are aimed only at the littlest of readers--published exclusively in board book form. How much time do we spend actually thinking about and discussing the merits of books by Sandra Boynton
or Karen Katz
? When I found out I was expecting my first child this summer, I suddenly found myself paying VERY close attention to the section I had so long neglected. It seemed that most folks (myself included) weren't sure exactly when to start reading to their infants, and were disappointed by the amount of information out there as to what actually works and what doesn't.
I knew it was high time to take a crash course in "Board Book 101." After doing some research, I was finally able to figure out which books to choose from a developmental standpoint. It really helped to start thinking in terms of what babies can see, rather than what they can comprehend. Color doesn't seem to matter much to newborns, but they still love looking at books as much as older babies! They are incredibly drawn to high-contrast, black and white images. Books like, Look at the Animals! by Peter Linenthal or White on Black by Tana Hoban, with their big bold shapes are perfect for them.
At around 6-8 weeks, infants become more aware of color and are drawn to shapes and angles in illustrations. Books like What Do you See? by Martine Perrin, and I Kissed the Baby, by Mary Murphy are fantastic for this beginning stage, and offer just a little more interest for parents as well. I especially love that I Kissed the Baby has a miniature plot that older siblings seem to find hilarious!
At about 3 months, babies start to scan their environment. They can recognize people, objects, and other familiar things, but they also know when something is different or out of place. Novelty is key. It helps to think of the environment to which a baby will become accustomed, and what might surprise him/her. I tried to imagine the things our little one will see every day. Dogs, cats, bicycles, nature, the bathtub, clothing, kitchen things (his/her papa is a chef), and books that might include those elements.
Babies of all ages are particularly fascinated by faces, and books that feature lots of different types of faces (both illustrated and photographed ) of babies, children, and adults are great for every stage. There might not often be much in the way of text for parents to read, but the more diverse group of faces you include in your viewing, the better! Babies love to study eyes, noses, ears, hair, and even belly buttons, so it's best to keep things varied.
Of course, books for slightly older babies, like Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown, and I am a Bunny by Richard Scary, are classics for a reason. Board books that perfectly capture the elements of a little one's environment, use reassuring repetition, and still provide enough novelty to keep things interesting, are books that every generation will return to again and again. I Am a Bunny has always been my go-to baby shower gift book. Even in my board book ignorance, I knew there was something special about it, the way it resonates with readers both young and old. So can you guess the first book I purchased when it came time to start building a library for baby-on-the-way? Of course you can.
In the end, it's always best to remember that you will be the one doing the reading, and to choose books you love as well. Babies can definitely sense our enthusiasm for certain books over others, so what better way to create a reader than to start bonding over favorite books right away? I've still got a lot to learn about the world of board books, but I suspect that my library shelves will be full of them before this little one even arrives!