Board books have a double function – both toy and book – and (thanks to obligatory health and safety standards as attested by the CE marking on the backs of board books) they can be safely sucked and chewed as well as tossed out of pram or cot. From these very first books babies begin to take in how books work – eg that the pages turn from right to left (for books in English at any rate), that an object or person can be symbolised by a word that can be spoken and written or by an image. These days board books often come with novelty additions such as flaps or soundchips or the format is used by publishers to provide a more robust edition of a successful picture book for babies still at the tearing paper stage. Rosemary Stones selects ten of the best board books ranging from classic titles to recent novelty items.
Dorling Kindersley ‘Touch and Feel’ series, 978 1 40533 239 2, £4.99
This large format, elegantly designed board book uses DK signature cut out photographs against an almost plain white background. Each appealing baby animal fills the page with its size suggested by blades of grass or the hint of an overhead tree branch. Baby readers will love learning to put names to the animals as well as exploring texture via the well incorporated touch and feel elements – eg the fur of the baby rabbit, the rough skin of the baby elephant. Other titles in this excellent series are Puppy, Farm and Tractor. Age 6 mths +.
Helen Oxenbury, Walker, 978 1 4063 1947 7, £3.99
Babies are fascinated by other babies and this large format version of a board book first published in 1987 has lots of culturally diverse babies playing together in the mud, having a bath, brushing their hair and getting ready for bed. Unusually for board books, the rhyming text (‘squelch, squelch, in the mud/splish, splash, scrub-a-dub’) evokes the physical sensations experienced during such activities and its satisfying rhythm is in harmony with the illustrations and the dramatic sequence of the little story Oxenbury so consummately relates in just four double page spreads. This and the other titles in the same series, All Fall Down, Clap Hands and Say Goodnight, helped reinvigorate board book publishing for the very young in the 1980s. Age 6 mths +.
Mandy Ross, ill. Kate Merritt, Ladybird, 978 1 84646 812 4, £6.99
Babies are fascinated by faces and this large format board book has flaps which open to reveal friendly animal faces. An unpretentiously serviceable rhyming text (Excuse me? Hello?/Is anyone here,/Hiding behind/This gigantic ear?’) encourages the baby to lift said ear flap and find the elephant; lift the paw flap and find the lion. And so forth. Each animal is illustrated with bright, collage pictures. Lift the final flap and the baby sees his/her own face in the hidden mirror. Peek-a-boo is a game that entrances babies and this animal variant will be much enjoyed. Age 9 mths +.
Eric Hill, Warne, 978 0 7232 6366 1, £4.99
Spot’s mum is trying to find her puppy Spot. Is he behind the door? Inside the clock? Under the bed? Flaps open to reveal all kinds of animals hiding away but eventually mum finds Spot hiding in the basket. Each double page spread has a clearly depicted piece of furniture or a location to identify and a surprise behind each flap. Babies love the idea of hiding and being found and this board book version of a now classic picture book (first published in 1980) will delight them. Age 9 mths +.
Quentin Blake, Pavilion, 978 1 84365 128 4, £4.99
First published as a picture book, this introduction to counting translates well into board book format. It is never too soon to introduce babies to fine illustration and Blake’s distinctive animals (3 dogs, 8 chickens etc) are full of character and individuality. The numbers and words are hand lettered by the artist complementing the way the illustrations sit on each double page spread to create a harmonious whole. Age 9 mths +.
Mr Pusskins: Colours
Sam Lloyd, Orchard, 978 1 40830 042 8, £4.99
A story unfolds as each colour is introduced; Mr Pusskins, the chunky, longhaired, orange cat, goes out of the red door and through the green garden to play in the brown mud which then inevitably involves a bath in a blue tub, being dried by a pink towel and so forth. As ever, Mr Pusskins’ expressive face conveys his feelings about each event and turns this well thought out little book (six double page spreads) into a witty mini drama. Other Mr Pusskins board books are Feelings, Numbers and Opposites. Apart from owner Emily’s exasperated ‘Oh, Mr Pusskins!’ when she sees a trail of muddy paw prints, this book has no text other than the words for the colours so there is plenty for adult and baby to explore together. Age 9 mths +.
Rod Campbell, Campbell Books, 978 0 230 01525 8, £4.99
First published in 1982, Dear Zoo has stood the test of time due to the simple clarity of its design and execution and its satisfying story which allows the young reader to choose the right pet. Open each flap to see which animal the zoo has sent this time. The elephant is too big; the giraffe too tall, the lion too fierce, etc. Open the final flap and there is the ideal pet. There are different animals to identify and the idea of choice. Perfect. Age 9 mths +.
This is My Monster
Sam Taplin and Stephanie Jones, ill. Masumi Furukawa, Usborne ‘Noisy Touchy-Feely’, 978 0 7460 9778 6, £8.99
A gently witty cumulative tale about a little monster with (touch feely) ‘big, furry ears’, ‘a shiny squashy nose’, ‘a fluffy, round tail’, and a ‘soft, fuzzy tummy’ who likes to say ‘Roar!’ before each page is turned – at which point the baby reader can press the soundchip button which produces a very satisfying roaring sound. Babies will love this naughty monster who likes to smell stinky things and eat odd socks and enjoy the well integrated novelty elements in this jovial little book. Age 1+.
The Very Busy Spider
Eric Carle, Puffin, 978 0 241 13590 7, £5.99
The spider is too busy spinning her web to spend time with horse, cow or any of the other farmyard animals. Carle’s bold, stylised collage illustrations present each animal well while an embossed line allows the young reader to take part in the story by tracing with their finger the progress of spider’s web from its initial simple lines to the intricate pattern that spider eventually creates. There is a sting to this tale as the spider then catches a fly with her new web ‘just like that’! Age 1+.
Janet and Allan Ahlberg, Puffin, 978 0 670 87176 6, £5.99
First published as a picture book in 1982, this peek-a-boo story in verse follows a baby’s day from waking up in his cot and seeing his parents still asleep, to breakfast in his high chair, to a trip to the park, to bath time and bedtime. Each PEEPO! page has a porthole through which the next family scene can be tantalisingly glimpsed. The repetitive refrain (Here’s a little baby/One, two, three/Sits in his pushchair/What does he see?) to the left of each PEEPO! page prompts the young reader to look, wonder and turn the page. Janet Ahlberg’s exquisite illustrations, full of wit, charm and warmth are set in a nostalgic 1940s – dad is still in uniform and baby takes his bath in an enamel tub in front of the fire. Superb! Age 1+.
Rosemary Stones is Editor of Books for Keeps.