I also considered ‘My Most Favouritest Board Books Ever’, ‘The Best Board Books I’ve Read Over and Over’, ‘The Board Books I Would Take If I Were Stuck on a Desert Island’, and ‘My Ideal Bookshelf: Board Books’ as appropriate titles for this post. There are a lot of fantastic children’s books out there. A lot of them have been turned into board books. This selection are the 20 that we own, that I have read multiple times (sometimes multiple times in a day, sometimes multiple times in a row), and that I wholeheartedly adore.
I’ve said before that it’s not enough to just write a book that rhymes if you want a fun reading experience. There has to be a good rhyme scheme, good cadence and rhythm, good plot, or characters that you care about in some way. There should be good illustrations and colours that work with the story or book. Ideally, there should be something for the adult reader too, an extra layer of meaning or a grown-up joke. Together, these elements create a kind of magic.
These are the books that fit enough of my above criteria for me to say yep, it has that magical something. If I were only allowed to keep 20 board books, these would be it. In the below list, I’ve included the original year and country of publication, the publisher description, and what about it I love that meant it made it onto this list.
Harry and the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion and Margaret Boy Graham (USA, 1956)
Harry is a white dog with black spots who absolutely, positively hates to take a bath. After a day of adventure, Harry gets so dirty that he no longer looks like a white dog with black spots. Now he looks like a black dog with white spots!
Why I love it: The drawings and the 1950s setting. I love the coal chute, the grocer, the cafe, the innocence of this world. I like that books can transport readers to other worlds and times and that this can also be true of board books.
The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr (Great Britain, 1968)
The doorbell rings just as Sophie and her mummy are sitting down to tea. Who could it possibly be? What they certainly don’t expect to see at the door is a big furry, stripy tiger!
Why I love it: Pretty much the same reason as Harry the Dirty Dog. I love the time and setting and how wonderfully British this is. They sit down to tea of buns and cakes and biscuits and sandwiches, there is mention of the milkman and the grocer, they go out for a supper of sausages and chips. See our original review here.
Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg (Great Britain, 1978)
Each beautifully illustrated page encourages young children to interact with the picture to find the next fairy tale and nursery rhyme character.
Why I love it: The rhyme scheme in this is perfect for reading aloud. I love it for its read-aloud-ability and for the fun I have in looking for nursery rhyme characters. See our original review here.
Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell (Great Britain, 1982)
Young readers love lifting the flaps to discover the animals the zoo has sent-a monkey, a lion, and even an elephant! But will they ever find the perfect pet?
Why I love it: The animals, the flaps, and this is a very fun one to read aloud because of the predictable structure (no rhyming, but that’s okay).
Who Sank the Boat? by Pamela Allen (Australia, 1982)
Beside the sea, there once lived a cow, a donkey, a sheep, a pig, and a tiny little mouse. They were good friends, and one warm, sunny morning, for no particular reason, they decided to go for a row in the bay. Do you know who sank the boat?
Why I love it: Great read-aloud book, cute illustrations with great detail, and an important lesson about scapegoating that the grown-up can appreciate. See our original review here.
Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy Shaw and Margot Apple (USA, 1986)
Out for a drive in the country, Nancy Shaw and Margot Apple’s well-known and beloved sheep run into some mishaps with their sturdy red jeep.
Why I love it: Great read-aloud, the characters are endearing, and it’s the last page and last line that makes this book stand out for me — a funny and unexpected ending.
The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (Great Britain, 1999)
When Mouse takes a stroll through the woods, he meets a fox, an owl, and a snake who all want to eat him! So Mouse invents a gruffalo, a monster with “terrible tusks and terrible claws, terrible teeth, and terrible jaws.” But will Mouse’s frightful description be enough to scare off his foes? After all, there’s no such thing as a gruffalo . . . is there?
Why I love it: The perfect read-aloud book and even though there are lots of great read-aloud books on this list, this one is my favourite. The characters, plot, and illustration are also great. I have read this aloud probably at least a thousand times and I’m not sick of it, and neither is my husband. Extremely high praise for a children’s book. See our original review here.
Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin (USA, 2000)
Farmer Brown has a problem. His cows like to type. All day long he hears:
Click, clack, moo.
Click, clack, moo.
Click, clack, moo.
But Farmer Brown’s problems REALLY begin when his cows start leaving him notes! Come join the fun as a bunch of literate cows turn Farmer Brown’s farm upside-down!
Why I love it: No rhyme scheme but still fun to read aloud, probably because it’s fun to make moo sounds. I love the illustrations, the plot, and poor Farmer Brown. The other books in the series are also fun but I think this one is the best. See our original review here.
Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek (Australia, 2004)
Wee ones will learn concepts such as opposites and colors, but mostly they will cheer when the green sheep is finally discovered at the end.
Why I love it: Excellent rhyme scheme and rhythm, great illustrations with fun details, and sheep are my favourite animals. When Tilly wants me to read this one she brings it to me and makes sheep noises. See our original review here.
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury (Australia, 2008)
As everyone knows, nothing is sweeter than tiny baby fingers and chubby baby toes. . . . And here, from two of the most gifted picture-book creators of our time, is a celebration of baby fingers, baby toes, and the joy they—and the babies they belong to—bring to everyone, everywhere, all over the world!
This is a gorgeously simple picture book for very young children, and once you finish the rhythmic, rhyming text, all you’ll want to do is go back to the beginning . . . and read it again! The luminous watercolor illustrations of these roly-poly little ones from a variety of backgrounds are adorable, quirky, and true to life, right down to the wrinkles, dimples, and pudges in their completely squishable arms, legs, and tummies.
Why I love it: Fantastic read-aloud-ability, and this is a delightful and sweet book without being sappy or sentimental. One of the few (or only) ‘sweet’ book on this list. See our original review here.
The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson and Beth Krommes (USA, 2008)
A spare, patterned text and glowing pictures explore the origins of light that make a house a home in this Caldecott Medal-winning bedtime book for young children. Naming nighttime things that are both comforting and intriguing to preschoolers—a key, a bed, the moon—this timeless book illuminates a reassuring order to the universe.
Why I love it: The order of things, the clever illustrations, and the last line. A delightfully unusual goodnight book that is poetic and warm.
Press Here by Herve Tullet (French author, 2010; board book coming out 19 February 2019)
Press the yellow dot on the cover of this book, follow the instructions within, and embark upon a magical journey! Each page of this surprising book instructs the reader to press the dots, shake the pages, tilt the book, and who knows what will happen next! Children and adults alike will giggle with delight as the dots multiply, change direction, and grow in size! Especially remarkable because the adventure occurs on the flat surface of the simple, printed page, this unique picture book about the power of imagination and interactivity will provide read-aloud fun for all ages!
Why I love it: The voice of the instructions, the interactivity, and even how artfully the dots are drawn.
Please Mr Panda by Steve Antony (Great Britain, 2015)
Patiently and politely, Mr. Panda asks the animals he comes across if they would like a doughnut. A penguin, a skunk, and a whale all say yes, but they do not remember to say “please” and “thank you.” Is anyone worthy of Mr. Panda’s doughnuts?
Why I love it: It’s a fun one to read aloud because of the voices we do for grumpy Mr Panda. He is a fun character to give a voice to. Love the colours (or lack of) and I also like doughnuts. See our original review here.
This and That by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek (Australia, 2015)
In this delightful tale, two mice set off on a storytelling adventure that takes them through cavernous caves, atop crazy giraffes, and over palace walls until they return safely home to the comfort of their beds. A sweet, rhyming story, This & That is perfect for helping children develop their sequencing skills!
Why I love it: I love following the mice on their journey and seeing how the scenes on the pages connect in the pictures, and this is a great one for reading aloud. The ending is also the perfect amount of sweetness. See our original review here.
Ducks Away! by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek (Australia, 2016)
Count along with Mother Duck as her ducklings try to waddle across the bridge. When a sudden gust of wind sweeps one of Mother Duck’s ducklings into the river, she doesn’t know what to do. With four ducklings on the bridge and one below, Mother Duck is torn as to which way to go. Suddenly, a second duck falls and Mother Duck grows more panicked. Should she stay on the bridge or fly down to her ducklings in the river?
Why I love it: A very fun take on five little ducks. I love the personalities of the ducks, and also how the numbers are written in a different colour to the rest of the text. And yes, this is the fourth Mem Fox book on this list. I think her books exemplify the magic I was talking about. See our original review here.
Before & After by Jean Jullien (French author, 2017)
Graphic artist Jean Jullien insightfully and comically depicts a set of clever and surprising before-and-after two-frame narratives, each progressed by a page turn. From pale skin to sunburned skin, dirty to clean, long hair to short hair (to long again), Jullien masterfully builds anticipation and a satisfying resolution with each pairing. Striking the perfect balance of predictability and unexpectedness, this book will leave readers in wonder as they flip back and forth.
Why I love it: The artwork, the humour, the sheer fun and joy and surprise of this book. No points for reading aloud because there are very few words but this book is still perfect.
The World Shines For You by Jeffrey Burton and Don Clark (USA, 2017)
A simple story connects the world, the seasons, change, and everything that shimmers in life with show-stopping foil, embossing, and spot UV on every page. This artistic and heartwarming first book truly says what every parent wants to share with their little ones: The World Shines for You.
Why I love it: The design and illustrations — this is a gorgeous book with a lovely message. This is one of Tilly’s favourites too.
Will Sheep Sleep? by Hilary Leung (USA, 2018)
Meet Sheep. Sheep’s had a very busy day and now he is tired. . . but will Sheep finally be able to sleep? Find out in this surprising and memorable storybook all about friendship, compromise, and of course, bedtime routines.
Why I love it: The detail in the illustrations — they are what make the story. You can see in the pictures *why* the various parts of the bedtime routine will not help sheep sleep. Sheep reminds me of Tilly. Just go to sleep, dammit!
Ciao, Baby! Ready for a Ride by Carole Lexa Schaefer and Lauren Tobia (USA, 2018)
Baby and Mamma are going to visit Nonna today. They say good-bye to Papa — Ciao, Papa! — and head out. How will they get there? Roll, roll in the stroller. Beep, beep on the bus. Choo, choo on the train — all the way to Nonna’s. Whee! Ciao, Nonna! Ciao, Baby!
Why I love it: Fun read aloud book, and I like the diverse characters in it. It is a cute story that’s pretty simple and the fun in reading are the noises of the different transport modes.
These Colours are Bananas by Jason Fulford and Tamara Shopsin (USA, 2018)
What colour is an apple? A dog? Grass? Young readers will be amazed by the range of possibilitiesWhat colour is a banana? It can be at least 25 different shades, according to this artful swatchbook of versatile subjects. An inversion of the way we typically look at colour, this book challenges readers’ predispositions towards using a particular crayon for a particular object. 11 items are each presented alongside a grid of color ranges: the “apple” page features yellows, greens, and reds.
Why I love it: The art. The delight in observation. But mostly how damn beautiful this book is.
So there you have it, my most very favourite ever board books that I think should be in every baby’s library. I recognise that I’ve left off a lot of other great board books and children’s books, but perhaps that can be a future list. I’m also aware that there are not many books by authors of colour on this list, and there are a few reasons for that. One, while there have been great books by authors of colour, there aren’t as many that have also been available in a board book format, at least at the time when I was buying them. Two, there have been books that I have liked and loved by authors of colour but they have not been books that I have read multiple times in one sitting, and they were not necessarily books that I thought were the best book ever — which is what this list is. My own personal best books ever. A list of ‘board books that are great and worthy inclusions in a baby’s library’ would include more books by authors of colour, but that is a slightly different list to this one. Perhaps that’s the one I write next.