Buying Board Books as Baby Gifts: Five Recommended Recent Purchases

by Tom B.

Baby Reading a Book

Question: What's cuter than a baby reading a book? Answer: Almost nothing.

The upside to having your own kid lit blog is that now, when friends’ kids have birthdays or when a new baby is born, the expectation is that I should be the one who gets to go out and buy new books for the kids. This fact delights me, since I really enjoy buying books, and vaguely annoys my wife (which also kind of delights me). Granted, the existence of the blog also adds some added pressure to my book picks as people now expect that I’m only going to select profoundly great titles for their children, which is a hard expectation to live up to. So, it was with this mixture of joy and anxiety that I headed out to the bookstore last night to buy some new books for friends who just had a new baby. (A girl named Scout – how cool is that?)

I decided to stick to board books because there are years and years to make sure that your kid has a great library of paperback and hardcover classics at their fingertips, and I love actually giving babies books that they can start abusing right away. Board books are solid, sturdy, and, if your baby HAS to chew on something, I’d rather have them chomping on some high quality kid lit as opposed to just some old binky or blanket. Plus I think one of the best things you can do to encourage your children to read is to just have lots of books around and available for them to experience. Books need to be a part of their daily environment, and board books are very safe, very accessible reading material for developing kids.

I did a feature a while back on “Five Great Board Books That Aren’t Goodnight Moon or The Runaway Bunny and, while those are all great board book titles that I recommend HIGHLY – don’t get me wrong, Goodnight Moon or The Runaway Bunny are still must-own canon classics – I decided to pursue a few different options this time, picking out a mixture of classic and newer titles. If you’re in the market for some new board books or if you’re about to buy a gift for a friend with a young baby or toddler at home, here are the five board books I bought last night, all of which I’d definitely recommend.

Board Books

Note the gift receipt as I hedge my bets....

1. The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone, illustrated by Mike Smollin

OK, after yesterday’s post, I kinda had to buy this one, didn’t I? But it’s still one of the best board books ever.

2. Dinosaur vs. Bedtime by Bob Shea

Dinosaur vs. Bedtime

Always bet on bedtime...

We actually don’t own any Bob Shea books ourselves, but he’s been on our radar for a long while – my daughter read I’m a Shark at a friend’s house and loved it – so I decided to pick up Dinosaur vs. Bedtime and give it a read at the store. I’m glad I did. Shea’s illustrations are fun and bombastic, and the whole book just has this wonderful anarchic energy that I think kids will really respond to. (Also, Dinosaur reminded me of the six-year-old older brother of the new baby I was buying for, so that was an added bonus.)  In the book, Dinosaur throws him up against obstacle after obstacle – a pile of leaves, spaghetti, his parents, etc. – and, after tackling his opponents, he throws his hands up and declares “Dinosaur WINS!” However, at the end of the book, Dinosaur discovers the one opponent he can’t defeat – bedtime.

I’ll admit, I was very cognizant that I was buying books for a little girl and, some of my other picks probably seem more “girly” than Dinosaur vs. Bedtime. But, that being said, I don’t think Dinosaur vs. Bedtime is a “boy” book just because it has a dinosaur. I hate distinctions like that. I think Dinosaur vs. Bedtime is a KIDS book and it is very much focused on the free-spirited wildness within most kids. And, thanks to gender distinction stupidity, I think too many girls get saddled with very passive, very precious storybooks because they’re deemed “girl books.” Screw that. There’s a dinosaur in every kid – girls included – so I think Dinosaur vs. Bedtime will (hopefully) be a fun title for a young girl to wrap her teeth around.

3. It’s a Little Book by Lane Smith

It's a Little Book

Jackass-free, but still fun...

I couldn’t pass this one up. Aside from the fact that Lane Smith is a rock star in our house, I just love the idea that Smith adapted his awesome picture book, It’s a Book, into a board book for younger audiences. And it’s not just a board book re-release of the original book. There was a minor (and very stupid) controversy about the original It’s a Book because Smith used the word “jackass” to describe a donkey. (Get a life, watchdog groups.) With that “controversy” in mind, I think some people thought that It’s a Little Book was just going to be a board book reprint of the original, only with “jackass” excised to protect the delicate constitutions of the younger readers (rolls eyes).  But It’s a Little Book is a completely original work with completely new artwork. Smith just took the concept behind It’s a Book and adapted it – with all-new jokes – for a younger audience.

In Little Book, like in the original, a donkey (the offending “jackass”) holds up a book and starts asking his monkey friend what exactly it does. (The donkey and monkey are now, adorably, much younger and wearing diapers.) The donkey asks “Is it for chewing?”, “Is it for wearing?”, “Is it for e-mailing?”, and the monkey is forced to tell him “No, no, no… it’s for reading.” I think It’s a Little Book, by design, is much more accessible for younger readers and Smith replaced references to things like blogging and scrolling to much more universal and playful activities like chewing and quacking.  Even without the “jackass,” I think It’s a Little Book can stand on its own two feet – unlike its protagonists – and it’s a very fun read for kids.

4. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans


In an old house in Paris...

I had no idea that they even made Madeline as a board book, so I think the novelty of that alone made me have to buy it. But, that aside, Madeline is just such a tremendous accomplishment – such a deserved classic – that it’s a must-own for ANY home library. And I dig the idea of a board book version making it possible for the even youngest readers possible to enjoy it.

The illustrations in Madeline are big, lush, and expressive – a great mixture of painted backdrops and funny comic characters – and the text reads like a clever little nursery rhyme. (Madeline was one of the first books that my daughter ever memorized.) And, being aware that I was buying this for a new little girl, I love that Madeline is such a fiercely independent young woman. She’s got moxie, she mixes it up – “No one knew so well, how to frighten Miss Clavel”… and that’s a good thing. But, again, I will argue you to death if you suggest that Madeline is a “girl” book. It’s a KIDS book about a kid being wild and self-confident and forthright and she just so happens to be a girl. While I enjoy the idea of giving this book to a little girl – since Madeline is one of the best little girls in kids lit – I think it’d be a shame to deprive any little boys of such a fun story just because the lead characters are all female. Plus, gender rage aside,  just LOOK at the gorgeous paintings of Paris in this board book. Can you think of anything more lovely for your baby to chew on?

5. Pride & Prejudice: A BabyLit Board Book by Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver

Pride and Prejudice BabyLit

For the children of all you English majors out there...

THIS was my big discovery at the bookstore last night and its sheer existence still makes me laugh. I hadn’t heard of the BabyLit Board Book series before, but they’re kind of fantastic. They’re wonderfully designed – big kudos to artist Alison Oliver – counting and color primers based on classic works of literature. As far as I can tell, there are four initial titles, counting and color books based on Alice in Wonderland (not so unusual), Romeo & Juliet (increasingly funny), Jane Eyre (extremely funny), and Pride & Prejudice (posted-to-my-Facebook-wall funny).

I am sometimes hot and cold on books like this – children’s books that were obviously designed to catch the eyes of parents first and kids second. Sometimes, they’re kids’ books in appearance only, like the modern classic Go the F___ to Sleep, a picture book never really intended for a kid to ever read it. (The just-released, kid-appropriate revamp of that book, titled Seriously, Just Go to Sleep, seems like a big cop-out to me.) And, sometimes, the content is kid-appropriate, but the text is filled with inside jokes just for the parents – there’s a series of McSweeney’s-published board books with titles like Baby, Mix Me a Drink, which are funny… but they seem like a lot of effort for a one-joke premise. They almost become tchotchkes rather than books because, really, who’s going to read those books after the initial “oh yeah, that’s clever” moment?

Pride and Prejudice BabyLit

MUCH better than the "Learn to Tell Time with A Clockwork Orange" board book...

But, all that bile and negativity aside, I actually really enjoyed the BabyLit books. I think they’re bright and fun. I think kids will like them. And I like the idea of parents using iconic works of literature as the widgets to teach their kids about numbers and colors. Why not “2 Rich Gentlemen (Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley)” instead of “2 Moo Cows”? It still gets across the concept of “what 2 is”, so there’s no harm. Plus, added bonus, it gets their pop culture vocabulary started at an even earlier age.

And, finally, although I decried gender distinctions earlier, I DO kind of like the idea of giving a baby girl, only a few days old, her very first version – albeit an incredibly abridged version – of Pride & Prejudice. That just feels right.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Dianna April 19, 2012 at 5:41 pm

I was just looking on Amazon for the BabyLit board books. I found two more that are coming out soon. Dracula is showing a publication date of August 1, 2012 and A Christmas Carol will come out on September 1, 2012.


Nicole April 19, 2012 at 2:28 pm

My 2.5 yr old son is obsessed with Pride & Prejudice (the Keira Knightley version – I think it’s the music & cinematography). I will be getting him the P&P board book for his birthday, thanks!! :)
(A friend sent me to your site, specifically for this. Off to go explore your other posts…!)


Tom B. April 19, 2012 at 2:30 pm

Your son sounds exceptionally cool! Hope you enjoy the site.


Dianna April 14, 2012 at 7:45 am

Your comments on girls and dinosaurs made me think of one of my favorite little princess quotes from my work. One day I was talking to a girl, probably about five years old, about her interests. She was a pink addict like so many of the girls I see, but this one also loved dinosaurs. She recently had a dinosaur themed birthday party. Then she told me, “I learn more and more about dinosaurs everyday and it just keeps getting better!” You can’t help but love that.


Michele April 12, 2012 at 10:19 pm

The Baby Lit books look awesome. I have the Jane Austen one on my personal wish list, that along with the Pantone Colors board book. :)


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