A lot of fantastic children’s books are being published now, and it seems that every week and every month we are hearing about fabulous new releases. We love reading and exploring the new books and what is happening in the land of kidlit, but sometimes it’s nice to revisit some old classics. The board book classics on this list were all published at least twenty years ago and are still beloved stories read in bedrooms today.
Jen’s favourite board book classics
The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler (1999)
I recommend this book to EVERYONE. It is wonderful. It is the perfect book for reading aloud in terms of rhythm, rhyme, and cadence, and there is an interesting plot with good characters. Plus the illustrations are gorgeous. This is the book that made me fall in love with reading aloud to an infant; the book that made me think, ‘huh, this is actually kind of fun.’
Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy Shaw, illustrated by Margot Apple (1988)
This has a very different rhyme structure to the books by Julia Donaldson and Mem Fox (the masters of rhyme and rhythm, as far as I’m concerned), and to be honest it took me quite a few goes of reading the Sheep series aloud before I got the hang of it. But now that I have figured out how to read these aloud, I love the Sheep series, and Sheep in a Jeep is my favourite if only for the book’s last line.
Possum Magic by Mem Fox, illustrated by Julie Vivas (1983)
What a wonderful, delightful story. Two possums travel around Australia, eating quintessentially Australian food, in search of the cure to reverse some ancient magic. This is a book for children slightly older than babies and toddlers — or it’s a book perfect for babies because when they’re that young they don’t care what you’re reading to them.
The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr (1968)
I love this book for its Britishness and for the food. There are sandwiches and buns and biscuits, and they all sit down to a lovely supper with sausages and chips and ice cream. Not the most well-rounded meal, perhaps, but come on, sausages and chips and ice cream are delicious. The illustrations are charmingly evocative too, and I love how deceptively simple they seem.
Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion, illustrated by Margaret Boy Graham (1956)
I love this because I love how it transports me to the 1950s. The parents look so proper, and there are coal chutes, and it seems like such an innocent time. I did always wonder, though: did American children call their mothers ‘mummy’ in th 1950s, as they do in this book? When did you all switch to ‘mom’?
Margaret’s favorite board book classics
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr., Illustrated by Eric Carle (1967)
This is our most-read classic, and maybe our most-read board book period. Part of the reason Marian loves it so is because we chant “brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?” at the library storytimes. The librarians are celebrities to Marian, and if they love something, she loves it too. Now, she makes the animal noises for whatever animal is pictured. We have two editions of this board book: a small, handheld one, and another bigger version with sliding panels. We also have the sliding panel version of Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See?. These books feel repetitive as a parent, but I kind of go into a trance as I read them. Maybe Marian does too!
Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg (1978)
I’m so surprised Jen didn’t take this one! She and Tilly love this book and recommended it to us. I enjoy it because of the fairy tale and nursery rhyme themes, and it’s a unique little search and find for toddlers! Marian won’t let me read it to her. She likes to read it in a corner by herself. I have no idea why!
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (1962)
The Snowy Day was the first picture book to feature an African American protagonist. While Ezra Jack Keats was of Polish Jewish descent, he grew up in a diverse Brooklyn neighborhood and noticed that there needed to be more black protagonists in books. So he set out to change that. I studied this book and Ezra Jack Keats in college. He’s an important literary figure, and this book is simple and adorable. Perfect for winter reading.
Look, Look! by Peter Linenthal (1998)
Black and white board books were a favorite for the first 6 months. We own two, well-worn copies of this one. Marian was mesmerized by the book, so mesmerized she had to taste it. Yummy! It’s a short book with basic and bold illustrations, and I’ll admit to being a little creeped out about the “Children smile” page. But guess what? It was Marian’s favorite page! The letters are a bright red which is also intriguing for baby librarians. This one is essential for newborns!
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (1969)
You already know all about this book, probably. But in case you don’t, a caterpillar is very very hungry and eats right through all sorts of fruit. This is one of my favorite counting books. They make so many versions: we have a big board book with little holes in it, there’s a smaller hand-sized version, and there’s a bathtime version. This book will always be around I feel like. For good reason! It’s very yummy.
As an end note, this list is very white. There are many contemporary board books by diverse authors that I know will become classics. We will make that list too. Until then, go through our board book archives to find some by diverse authors!