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7 (or is it 8?) great board books!

If you want to foster a love for reading in your children, it’s never too early to start reading to them. Even newborns will tune in when a parent cracks open a book – a baby doesn’t need to understand the story to appreciate mom or dad’s calming voice. And if they get to hold the book in their chubby little hands, all the better!

The ingredients for a good board book are pretty simple. The most important is probably that it have no sharp corners and be printed with lead-free paper because this is going to be as much a food item as anything else. Eat books, we are told, and babies do!

Next, it should be a book parents won’t mind paging through again and again. It’s on this point that repetitious “classics” like Goodnight Moon and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom have been disqualified. Loved by children though they may be, I know I’m not the only dad to begrudge even one more reading (strangely, I’ve yet to meet a mom who has the same strong feelings).

On a more serious note, board books have become the latest front for our cultural war, with Anti-Racist Baby, Woke Baby, A is for Activist and Feminist Baby in the mix on your local bookstore’s board book section. On the other side of the political spectrum, conservative commentator Matt Walsh decided that he’d also entered the board book marketplace. His Johnny is a Walrus is about: a kid who “identifies” as a walrus, the mother who takes him way too seriously, and the doctor who suggests a surgery that turns “feet into fins.” Walrus is a satiric take on transgender nonsense, and, in what might be a demonstration of our Sovereign God’s sense of humor, it actually ended up on the top of Amazon.com’s LGBTQ bestseller list. Really! But whether it be left or rightwing, the point is, politics have invaded even the board book section, so be sure to read before you buy. And, fortunately, with board books that’ll only take you a minute.

Now let’s return to children’s fare. The 7 suggestions below are arranged by age, with the first ones best for the very young, and the later ones with material that older sorts can enjoy.

Peak-a-boo!
by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
1997 / 32 pages

The setting is England, and it appears to be right around World War II (judging from the daddy’s uniform). The “plot” is very simple – the story starts with a baby in his crib, waking up in the morning and looking around to see what he can see. We follow him through the day, always seeing through his eyes, until his day ends and he heads to bed.

It’s the book’s construction that fascinated my daughter. On the first two-page spread the baby is in her crib on the left-hand side, and the right page is all white, but with a large round hole cut through it so that we (and the baby) can “peek” to see what is on the next page. Once we are done peeking, we can turn the page, and look at a full page of activity – illustrator Janet Ahlberg fills her pictures with layers of detail. There is so much to see Daddy doesn’t even mind paging through it again and again and again! Readers get to play peek-a-boo five times, peering through each hole to see what comes next.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar
by Eric Carle
1969 / 22 pages

It’s over 50 years old and as popular as ever. The plot is summed up by the book’s title: it is about a very hungry caterpillar who eats and eats and eats for a week, and then builds a cocoon and turns into a beautiful butterfly. There are two different aspects of this book that made it one of my daughter’s favorites:

First, the inside pages are very easy for little hands to turn because they vary in width. On Monday the caterpillar eats through one apple, and the page with the apple is only a fifth as wide as the rest of the book; on Tuesday he eats through two pears, and that page is two fifths as wide, and so it continues with three plums (three fifths as wide), four strawberries, and finally five oranges.

Second, the page covering what the caterpillar eats on Saturday is a two-page spread of colorful cake, ice cream, cheese, sausage pie, watermelon, and more, and it looks good enough to eat. Our little ones liked to turn to this page first, and flipped back to it again and again and again.

But Not The Hippopotamus
by Sandra Boynton
1984 / 14 pages

Hippo doesn’t seem to be included in much of what her friends are up to. For example, we learn on the very first page of this board book, that “A hog and a frog cavort in the bog… but not the Hippopotamus.” On the next page, it’s more of the same: “A cat and two rats are trying on hats… but not the Hippopotamus.” Poor Hippo! She is always being left out.

After a few more pages of forlorn Hippo looking wistfully at what others are up to, (and the repeating refrain, “…but not the Hippopotamus”) the rest notice how neglectful they’ve been, and invite Hippo to “come join the lot of us!”

Now as we all know invitations are nice, but sometimes people turn them down, even when they really want to go. So we are in suspense as shy Hippo ponders what to do: “She just doesn’t know – Should she stay? Should she go?” So it is with joy that we turn the page to see her exclaim: “BUT YES THE HIPPOPOTAMUS!”

That is not, however, the end of the book. One line follows: “…but not the armadillo.” This small creature is staring sadly after Hippo as she joins the group. It is a great end to a remarkable little book. Yes, it is full of fun rhymes, a great rhythm, and has friendly engaging pictures too, but it is this final line that really sets it apart. Here we see that not only should we include others in our groups, but even when we do step outside ourselves, and make that invitation, doing it once, to one person is only a start. There are still others who are being forgotten and could use a friend.

And if your son or daughter is in Hippo’s position, a different sort of lesson can be taught, to show them that they have to seize opportunities when they come. Poor Hippo would still have been lonely if she had said no.

Good Night Gorilla
by Peggy Rathmann
1994 / 36 pages

When a zookeeper does one last walk-thru before heading for bed himself, he says “good night” to each animal, starting with the gorilla. But as he visits each animal in turn, there is a little gorilla and his mouse friend, trailing behind, and unlocking all the cages.

Eventually, a whole train of critters follows the keeper to his house and right into his bedroom. It’s only when his wife says “good night ” to him in the dark, and gets a chorus of “good night”s from all around the room, that the gorilla’s entourage is discovered. But it seems the weary zookeeper has dropped right off to sleep, so it’s up to his wife to lead all the animals back to the zoo.

Well, not all the animals. As she makes her way back home we see that she has some quiet company – the gorilla, and his little mouse friend, won’t be left behind!

You Are Special
by Max Lucado
2000 / 28 pages

Punchinello is a wooden “Wemmick” living in a town of other wooden people. These Wemmicks have made a habit of placing stickers on one another, gold stars for good, gray dots for bad. The pretty ones and talented ones always got stars…” but not poor Punchinello.

When he tries to jump or run like the others, he trips. And then the others give him dots. “Then when he would try to explain why he fell, he would say something silly, and the Wemmicks would give him more dots.” It gets so bad that he doesn’t feel like going outside, and he starts to believe what the other Wemmicks are saying about him, that he deserves these gray dots.

Things turn around when Punchinello meets a Wemmick, Lucia, who doesn’t have any stars or dots. They just don’t stick to her. Punchinello wants to know how he can be like that. Lucia tells him to go visit Eli the woodcarver who tells Punchinello that he matters because Eli, his maker, thinks he matters. And the dots and stars won’t stick if Punchinello remembers that. Parents will understand that Eli is to Punchinello as God is to us, but some children may need some help understanding this metaphor.

This is a great book that older kids can benefit from, perhaps while reading it to their younger siblings. School can be such a battleground, even at a Christian school, with so many children trying to get ahead by putting others down. Parents will appreciate the impact this book’s message could have for their children if they really understand that it doesn’t matter what others say about us, because we are God’s own children, made in His own Image.

The one danger here is that the lesson could be readily misunderstood by a child as countering what others think by elevating the child, rather than countering what others think by elevating the thoughts of God. That’s a bit of a fine point, but one that parents can help their children understand.

This is available as a board book or a slightly bigger picture book, and it is worth getting the one, and then the other as your child ages.

Your Personal Penguin
by Sandra Boynton
2006 / 21 pages

This is my favorite board book of all, but that might be colored a bit by the fact my wife gave it as a gift when we were dating. But what cemented it as a favorite for our kids is the free sing-a-long song you can download for it. Davy Jones of The Monkees does a fantastic job with this little ditty. The tune is memorable, which meant that even I could do a pretty decent rendition singing it to our kids. It’s about a penguin who loves a hippo and has a proposal:

I want to be your personal penguin
I want to walk right by your side
I want to be your personal penguin
I want to travel with you far and wide…

Sanda Boynton has many other great board books including The Going to Bed Book, Fifteen Animals, and Barnyard Dance and while I haven’t run across any that aren’t great, I did just notice that she’s started listing her personal pronouns as “she/her” which is better than going with “he/zer” but still shows she’s bought into this “more than two genders” nonsense. So, again, read before you buy.

You can check out the Your Personal Penguin song (and other Boynton hits) here.

Goodnight Mr. Darcy
by Kate Coombs

2015 / 20 pages

This is a gimmick, but so brilliantly done it deserves a spot on this list. As you may have already deduced from the title, this is a mash-up of the board book classic Goodnight Moon and a classic of another sort, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. 

As stated earlier,  I am not a fan of Margaret Wise Brown’s 1947 Goodnight Moon. I could handle it once or twice, but the simple repetitions started driving me a little batty even going on thrice. So when I saw this, in the same coloring, and a similar rhythm, but much more clever, I thought it might be the perfect substitute. And it was!

Here’s a little taste:

In the great ballroom
There was a country dance
And a well-played tune
And Elisabeth Bennet –

This really is intended for adults, but the rhythm and rhyme will grab your children’s interest too. This is not the only board book version of Pride and Prejudice, but as the others lack the same charm, be sure if you have the right author.


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Articles, Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

46 children's books to foster the love of reading and learning

We are "People of the Book" so reading should be, and is very important, to us. The goal of all reading is to become readers of the Good Book. It is not enough to teach our children the ability to read; we must also nurture our children to be aware that the content of books should lead us to the author of the Good Book. The following is a treasure trove of books that tries to help with attaining that goal. To make a list of favorite books is a daunting task. No sooner is the list completed and another treasure is found and could be added to the repertoire of great books. I hope you get reacquainted with some of your favorites and that your own list of great books will grow. Almost all of these selections are picture books that preschoolers and children in the early grades will enjoy, but there are several "chapter books" which are intended for children who are in at least Grade One or Two (these exceptions are noted in the reviews that follow). Happy reading with your children! OLDIE GOLDIES Some books are timeless gems. Even though they have been written many years ago, these classics have stood the test of time and continue to appeal to children today. On occasion these classics have been updated - “Disneyfied” - and have lost a lot of their substance, so make sure your read the original version. Make way for the duckling by Robert McCloskey Mr. and Mrs. Mallard are looking for just the right place to raise their brood of duckling in New York City. Caps for sale by Esphyr Slobodkina Some monkeys take on the saying of “Monkey see, monkey do” and get into monkey business with a hat peddler. Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel Help is slow to come for a Chinese boy with a long name who falls into a well. Frog and Toad are friends by Arnold Lobel Get every Frog and Toad book in this series and you will not be disappointed. The story of Ping by Marjorie Flack First published back in 1933, this is the story of a funny duck and his misadventures living on the Yangze River. The world of Pooh by A.A. Milne Watch out for the many Disneyfied versions of this story, as only the classic original retains the author's lyrical charm. This is a chapter book, so it might seem to be something intended for grade school children, but even young children are likely to enjoy it. Joseph had a little overcoat by Simms Taback Joseph’s worn coat becomes smaller pieces of clothing until he makes it into a button that he then loses, but that is not the end for, “You can always make something out of nothing.” Stone soup by Marcia Brown When hungry soldiers come to a town of greedy inhabitants, they set out to make a soup of water and stones and the whole town enjoys the feast. The tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter Mrs. Rabbit tells her bunnies not to go into Mr. McGregor’s garden, but Peter does not listen and gets into all kinds of mischief. BOOKS TO TICKLE THE FUNNY BONE We have all hear it at one time or another: “I don’t like to read.” One way to hook your reluctant reader is to start with humorous books. No one can walk away from a book that makes them laugh and humorous books will then help build bridges to other types of books. A book that tickles the funny bone will help the child who doesn’t like to read become one who loves to read. More parts by Tedd Arnold A hilarious book where a boy fears that the idioms he hears all around him (like "give me a hand") are to be understood literally. Cloudy with a chance of meatballs by Judi Barrett Imagine a town where meals rain from the sky! Disaster strikes when the town is bombarded with massive-sized portions of food. Knuffle bunny: a cautionary tale by Mo Williams A small girl, not yet able to talk, tries to get her father to understand that her beloved bunny has been left behind at the laundromat. The principal’s new clothes by Stephanie Calmenson This is a respectable twist on the Han Christian Andersen fairytale The Emperor’s New Clothes. Hairy Maclary from Donalson’s dairy by Lynley Dodd A rhyming story about a cheeky little dog and his pals who gets into mischief. A FESTIVAL OF THE ARTS Can your child recognize the names: Beethoven, Bach or Brahms? How about Monet or Michelangelo? Even if you are not the artsy type once you read these tales you will have to admit these artists lead colorful lives that make great stories to read. Hallelujah Handel by Douglas Cowling Handel, living in the Charles Dickens era, uses his music to help some of the destitute homeless boys of England. This is 48-page book, so most suitable for children in at least Grade One or Two. Camille and the sunflowers by Laurence Anholt Based on a true story of a boy and the famous painter Vincent van Gogh. Berlioz the bear by Jan Brett A story based on the composer Berlioz and his strange sounding double bass. Linnea in Monet’s garden by Christina Bjork A young girl visits Monet’s garden in Paris. This book contains many pictures of Monet’s paintings, and also quite a bit of text, so it is best read to slightly older children. Katie meets the Impressionists by James Mayhew Katie visits the museum and becomes part of the famous painting of the Impressionists. The Farewell Symphony by Anna Harwell Celenza Here is the story behind Joseph Hayden’s famous Farwell Symphony. This picture book has quite a bit more text than average so it is best suited to grade school children. SNOOZERS It is good to set aside at least one traditional time each day for reading. The best time to read to wiggly children is at night when they are tired and ready to go to bed. The snoozer books in this list deal with the ritual of going to bed and hopefully will help your active child relax and soon drift off to sleep. The napping house by Audrey Wood Grandma takes a nap and her grandchild climb on top of her, and then one thing leads to another, and disaster leads to delight. Goodnight moon by Margret Wise Brown A little rabbit is tucked in bed but he must say goodnight to everything in the room as it grows darker and darker. Llama, llama, red pajama by Anna Dewdney Baby Llama has a hard time sleeping and needs his mama’s assurance that, “She’s always near even if she’s not right there.” The prince won’t go to bed by Dayle Anne Dodds A little prince in a medieval world will not go to bed and nothing will help… except a goodnight kiss. Russell the sheep by Rob Scotton Even sheep count sheep when they can’t sleep. Goodnight, goodnight construction site by Sherri Duskey Even the equipment at the construction site needs to lie down and rest after another day of rough and tough work. Ira sleeps over by Bernard Waber A little boy must decide if he wants to take his teddy bear to a sleepover at his friend’s house. GIRLS WITH SPUNK I like girls with attitude - the right kind of attitude that is. I'm not talking about the kind of attitude that is obsessed with ones' self and with what's popular in the world. No, I mean the sort of attitude that is determined to learn what it means to be an image bearer of God. Here are some of those sort of girls. Fancy Nancy by Jan O’Connor Nancy is a girl who loves everything fancy; even the words that she uses are fancy. The courage of Sarah Nobel by Alice Dagliesh A young girl journeys into the wilderness, in this chapter book, and there overcomes her fears of wolves and savage Indians. Hannah by Gloria Whelan This 64-page chapter book is set in the pioneering days. When the new teacher persuades a family to allow their “poor, blind Hannah” to attend school, the young girl learns how to read and write. The story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles This is the true story of an American six-year-old girl who was the first black to attend an all-white school; it is a story of courage and faith. Ramona by Beverley Cleary There’s never been anyone quite like Ramona, a girl with boundless energy and mischievous antics. My Great-Aunt Arizona by Gloria Houston Arizona was a girl who loved to sing, dance, read and dream of visiting faraway places, though she never did travel. Instead she became a teacher who influenced many children. The gardener by Sarah Stewart Set in the Depression era, a young girl is sent to live with her crotchety uncle because her family is struggling financially, and she tries to brighten the world around her. BOYS WILL BE BOYS Readers often make connections to what they are reading. Children will identify with and want to be one of the characters in a story, which thus becomes a role model for the reader. Therefore, what your child is reading is also developing who they are becoming as an adult. A good book should have characters that we wish our children to emulate. Here are some such characters. First flight by George Shea Young Tom Tate has volunteered to try out the Wright brothers’ first flying machine. Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown Stanley becomes flattened when a bulletin board falls on him and he discovers that there are some things only a flat person can do. The Kingfisher book of great boy stories This 160-page anthology includes passages from such stories as Winnie-the-Pooh, Flat Stanley, The Jungle Book and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. This is a great way to get a “taste” of children’s classic literature. Zella Zack and Zodiac by Bill Peet A zebra and ostrich help each other survive in this zany tale. ELDERLY HERO AND HEROINES As a doting grandparent I have learned there is a unique bond between the young and the elderly - both understand that the other needs special care and attention, and both are happy to reciprocate. The following books beautifully portray this loving relationship. So grandparents, find a great book, cuddle up with a child, and read. You’ll be surprised what you have in common. When lightning comes in a jar by Patricia Pollacco Grandma’s ritual of catching lightening bugs in a jar will be remembered for generations to come. Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox Young Wilfrid loves his friend from the nursing home because she has a long name like him, and he wants to help her find her lost memory. Grandfather and I by Helen Buckely Family life can be very busy. But Grandfather always has time to walk with his grandson and look around “just as long as they like.” The old woman who named things by Cynthia Rylant An old woman who has outlived all her friends is reluctant to become too attached to anything she might outlive. So when a stray dog starts visiting she certainly won't give it a name - she doesn't want to become attached! However, when it goes missing she has a change of heart... Grandpa’s teeth by Rod Clement It’s a disthasther when grandpa’s false teeth go missing. Mr. Putter and Tabby catch the cold by Cynthia Rylant I smile and chuckle every time I read a Mr. Putter and Tabby book. The Wednesday surprise by Eve Bunting A granddaughter teaches her grandmother to read. Now one foot, now the other by Tomi DePaola Grandpa teaches Bobby to walk when he is young, and later in life when grandpa has a stroke Bobby helps his grandfather....


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