100 – Board Books

There are a few constants in the universe that you can always count on. Your DVR will always cut off the last 30 seconds of your favorite show. You will always hit traffic in the last hour of a two-day family road-trip. And, if you have children, you WILL own multiple copies of Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny. It’s just a fact of life. We’re at the point now where OBY/GYNs should just issue new parents copies of Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny along with their coupons for formula and free copies of What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

Goodnight Moon

70% of the universe's missing dark matter is made up of copies of "Goodnight Moon"

This is not to say that either of these are bad books. On the contrary, Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny are such ubiquitous baby reads because they’re really damn good. They’re gentle and genteel. They have this amazing rhythm to their text, which is somehow both calming and stimulating. As you read Margaret Wise Brown’s verses aloud, you can watch your child get sucked into the cadence of the words and the details of the illustrations and just see this sense of confident calm spread across their faces. Reading board books to the very young is a meditative experience, which, I’ll admit, I miss now that my daughter is older. And Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny are the world’s most popular illustrated zen mantras for children.

However, as I alluded to earlier, they are also probably the two most popular books in the world to give to new parents. We received multiple copies of each when our daughter was born, and both have become baby shower gift staples. If you know a parent who doesn’t have a copy of Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny… something’s weird there. I’m not saying they’re bad parents or anything, but, just FYI, there’s a 70% chance that their marriage and new baby is a cover for a CIA training facility or a DEA deep cover operation.

So, since Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny are the ultimate no-brainers when it comes to picking books for your child, I thought I’d offer up five alternative selections for great board books that any kid should enjoy. Hopefully, these suggestions might help parents branch out a bit from the cozy charms of Margaret Wise Brown or, at the very least, give you some alternate ideas for baby shower gifts. (Evil parent advice: If you inscribe your copy of Goodnight Moon or The Runaway Bunny with a personal message for the baby, it makes it impossible for the parent to return the copy you gave them, thus ensuring that they’ll keep your gift and take back the 12 other copies they received. You win!)

Note: Many of these books, including Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny, exist in both in board book and hardcover versions. We have the board book versions of all of these works and I’d recommend the board editions, if only because it makes them a little more durable and explorable for kids 2 and under.

1. Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

It’s hard not to like Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, which probably stands as one of the most read board books in our library. The Ahlbergs have created a wonderfully interactive story that’s part nursery rhyme and part look-and-find for beginners. On each page, the authors ask the young readers to play “I Spy” to find some of the most iconic characters in early children’s lit, a series of happy-go-lucky characters that all meet in the end for a pie picnic. We begin with “Each Peach Pear Plum / I spy Tom Thumb”. After your child finds Tom Thumb reading on the branches of a peach tree, we turn the page to read “Tom Thumb in the cupboard / I spy Mother Hubbard.” This pattern continues throughout the book – one character in the foreground, one character hidden somewhere in the background – as we’re introduced to Cinderella, the Three Bears, Little Bo-Peep, Jack and Jill, Robin Hood, and more.

Each Peach Pear Plum

Each Peach Pear Plum

Janet Ahlberg’s beautifully detailed illustrations will give your child wide, dense landscapes to explore, and the story actually works as a nice way to introduce classic literary characters to young readers. My daughter knew some, but not all of the characters in Each Peach, but rather than that being a negative, it actually made her even more interested in learning about the characters she didn’t know, which, as a parent, gave me a great in-road to introduce to her classic nursery rhymes and fairy tales that we hadn’t encountered yet. An extremely fun bedtime book.

2. Pete’s a Pizza by William Steig

Pete's a Pizza

Pete's a Pizza

Steig is probably best known as the creator of Shrek and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, but Pete’s a Pizza is the first Steig work that my daughter fell in love with. The premise is simple. On a rainy day, a young boy named Pete is stuck inside, unable to play ball with his friends. And then, Steig gives us, what might be, two of my favorite sentences in any board book ever: “Pete’s father can’t help noticing how miserable his son is. He thinks it might cheer Pete up to be made into a pizza.”

That absurd statement transforms into a really loving and funny exchange between a father and son, where Pete’s father creates a new game where he pretends to turn Pete into a pizza. It’s actually a very fun idea for a game – my daughter and I now turn each other into pizzas all the time. Pete’s father kneads his son, rolling him out like dough. He then tosses him, sprinkles him with oil (it’s really water), adds some tomatoes (they’re really checkers), and, of course, there’s the stage in the recipe where the pizza just has to be tickled. Shrek and Sylvester are classic literary works, but there’s something about Pete’s a Pizza that, as a father, I just really responded to. The facial expressions of Pete’s family are so expressive and intimate, and the story does an amazing job of capturing the manic fun of a family playing together, inside on a rainy day, when someone has invented a simple new game that is really, really fun. I can’t think of another book that does a better job of portraying the giddy fun of parents playing – really down-on-your-knees, getting-dirty PLAYING – with their children than Pete’s a Pizza. [read the rest of the post…]

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I kicked off the blog with a book that my daughter probably won’t read for several years, so it seems only fair that I shift over to a book she’s actually read – in fact, one of the first books we ever read to her. I don’t entirely remember how we got a copy of Taro Gomi’s My Friends, but the person who gave it to us deserves an annual thank you note. It’s that good.

My Friends by Taro Gomi

My Friends by Taro Gomi

Japanese author-illustrator Taro Gomi is probably best known as the mad genius behind the ultimate potty book, Everybody Poops – which, strangely enough, we’ve never read – and he also makes the coolest coloring books you’ve ever seen. (Seriously. If your kid is into coloring, Gomi’s Scribbles and Doodle books can’t be beat.) Gomi has additionally created some truly wonderful picture books for younger readers, and My Friends is one of our favorites.

It’s an ideal bedtime book. Truth be told, I literally read My Friends to my daughter at bedtime every single night I put her to bed from when she was five months old until she was about 15-months-old. Which I realize makes me sound fairly obsessive-compulsive, but so be it. Maybe my daughter’s incentive to learn to talk was her burning desire to ask me to change-up the bed-time reading. (“Daddy, STOP.”) But I don’t really think so. We still read My Friends from time to time even now, although now it functions as more of an “I Can Read” book than a cuddly bedtime book. (Pause as I mourn the passage of time to the tune of “Cat’s in the Cradle.”)

What’s so great about My Friends? It has a lot to offer in a very elegant package. The story is simple – we follow a young girl as, on each double-page spread, she tell us what she’s learned from the world around her. The majority of the lessons she’s learned come from animals. “I learned to walk with my friend the cat… I learned to jump from my friend the dog… I learned to climb from my friend the monkey…” As the book goes on, we see what the girl has learned from a variety of animal pals, from books, from teachers, from classmates, and it all ends with the “awww”-worthy declaration that “I learned to love from a friend like you.”

Taro Gomi Board Book Box Set

Boxed set of three Taro Gomi board books, including “My Friends”

Gomi’s illustrations are bright, charming, and have this underlying sense of fun and wonder that my daughter really responded to. Even when she was only a few months old, this is a book that made her light up. I mean, yes, I think My Friends is really well done, but the real reason I love it is because of the response it elicited from my kid. She’d smile and sit calmly while I read through the thick cardboard pages of the board book, occasionally trying to flip the pages herself. As she got older, we’d add animal sounds to the pages with animal illustrations, and the book evolved into a call-and-response story where, after I’d finish reading the page, she’d give me the correct corresponding animal noise (her gorilla was the best) or some finger movements we worked out to mirror the actions on the page. (Few things are funnier than watching a seven-month-old try to make her fingers run, jump, and/or karate kick.)

Plus, as a first-time father who is now aggressively aware of gender disparity in relation to his sweet little girl (irony noted), I really loved reading her a book with a strong female character who is out there in the world, learning from nature, kicking, jumping, exploring, excelling at school, and being affectionate, all at the same time.

[read the rest of the post…]

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