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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

31 Days, 31 Lists: 2020 Board Books

We start this month with books for the youngest of readers. Board books are some of the most vital and most overlooked children’s books out there. We desperately need them, they sell consistently like hotcakes, but making a good one? I mean a really good one? That’s actually a tricky endeavor.

I have no evidence at hand, but I suspect that board book galleys were particularly difficult to produce during the thick of COVID-19 closures this year. I owe many of the books on this year’s list to the wonderful libraries in my consortium and the meticulous pages and shelvers willing to search amongst those grimy bins to find the titles I needed to review.

As per usual, today’s list is split into two parts. First, you’ll find the board books for the youngest babies. Next, you’ll find board books meant for ever-so-slightly more mature readers.

Would you like to see more? Here are previous years’ round-ups, in case you’d like a truly impressive Board Book Library:

2020 Board Books for Babies

Baby Up, Baby Down: A First Book of Opposites by Molly Magnuson, book design by Hana Anouk Nakamura

From the people that brought you Making Faces: A First Book of Emotions and Baby Loves: A First Book of Favorites comes yet another jam-packed photo-filled beauty of a board book. Remember how babies REALLY like photographs of other little ankle biters? Well, for whatever reason this series is one of the very few out there. At least we can count on a new one every year, eh? I probably spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out if the baby in the “Baby is CLEAN / Baby is MESSY” sequence actually made herself messy or if Magnuson had someone strategically mess that little baby up with that gooey applesauce looking stuff. Lots of white space and sturdy pages. This is a must get, no bones about it. 

Little Baby’s Playtime by Sally Symes, ill. Nick Sharratt

Man, there is just something about the art of Nick Sharratt that I really dig. Look at those clean black lines and bright eye-catching colors. Now you may just think I included this book on this list for the sole reason that it involves sticking your fingers in there to make the baby legs . . . and you would be 75% correct. But but but! Sally Symes, an old hat in the baby board book game, accompanies each picture with gently rhyming text and little descriptive wiggles, jiggles, whooshes, ding-a-lings, and more. A parent (or librarian doing a storytime) could get a real routine going on here with enough practice.

Little Fish and Friends: A Touch-and-Feel Book by Lucy Cousins

Yes, this is just one of dozens of other “Little Fish” board books by Cousins out there. But let’s get real for a moment. Touch-and-feel books are simply NOT as common as you might think. And quality touch-and-feel that can stand up for multiple reads by tiny destructive tots? Just look at today’s list. How many can you see? And darn it, this is a good book! Separate it away from its series status and you’ve got yourself beautiful, colorful art and honestly fun touchable elements. It’s the right size for the right age and will be much beloved in many a fine household. I include it and defy the gods!! Come at me!

Mirror & Me: Feelings by Rose Colombe, ill. Charlotte Pepper

Huh! Now here’s a notion. I’m having a hard time coming up with a lot of board books that use mirrors on every page and not just at the end of the book. Why is that? Are mirrors expensive to produce? This books sports a number of them and makes the smart decision to use them to a purpose. The child is to use the mirror to make the faces of different emotions. Now that’s a pretty neat idea. Of course, a very very young child is going to eschew the whole purpose of the book and just enjoy looking at themselves, and that’s okay too. It just means the book will have different uses for different ages. Perfect for a family of small children of varying ages.

My Hair is Beautiful by Shauntay Grant

Gorgeous. The best looking board book of the year, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. As we all know, babies love faces. As we also all know, there is a WEIRD lack of board books with photographed faces out there. I swear to you, if I ever start a publishing company then our entire first season is just going to be board books of faces and that’s all. I’ll make a fortune. In the meantime, we have books like this one to rely upon. Grant shows off a wide array of babies and toddler and their magnificent hair. “Natural Knotty,” “Fluffy Frizzy,” “Twisted Tangled,” “Pony Puffed,” you name it, it’s here. And, of course, there’s a mirror in the back for “you”. Buy 100 of these. It will never be enough.

Peekaboo Farm by Camilla Reid, ill. Ingela P. Arrhenius

We know that books with touchable elements are always golden, but what about books with mirrors? Mirrors are touch-and-go (so to speak). Sometimes they’re great and sometimes they age POORLY over time. We’re all familiar with the board books that keep the mirror hidden until the end, but what I like about these two books is twofold. First, that having a mirror under a pull table makes a lot of sense and second, that the mirror is, in a way, protected by having that pull element over it. The colors are bright and, interestingly, on the back of each book is a rather long (for a board book) bio of Swedish artist Ingela P. Arrhenius.

Tummy Time Friends by Pat Brisson

When my children were just little tiny critters, I used to pull out Tana Hoban’s Black & White (the one you can unravel) and prop it up in my children’s cribs or on the floor when they were lying there. And boy, I wish wish wish I could have had this book when they were old enough to be put on their tummies. Like the Hoban book, this one accordions out so that you can prop it around the child. And like the Hoban, it’s specifically designed for very young eyes. Of course where the Hoban did high contrast black and white images, the Brisson gives kids faces. Lots and lots of different faces of other babies on their tummies smiling and generally being adorable. I’m literally going to save this until someone I know has a little tiny baby. Possibly the best board book for babies I’ve seen in years. 

Who’s Hiding in This Box? by Giuliano Ferri

Ah, the rare board book where the first flap is found on the front cover. Lift-the-flap board books can feel old hat after a while. Not to babies, of course. For them, every book is new and amazing. That doesn’t mean you need to feed them the same old same old, though. If only the rarest kind of best is good enough for the young then the same can be said for the ankle biter crowd. As such, why not hand them a board book that is, quite simply, a luminous work of art? Much along the same lines as Dear Zoo, babies and toddlers open the box to find pulsating watercolors in the shapes of their favorite animals. I love how the box is always tiny so that the animals spill out over the sides when they emerge. Just a beauty. 

2020 Board Books for Toddlers & Preschoolers

The Amicus Book of Colors by Isobel Lundie

And now we move onto board books for the older kids!

Lundie has a style that reminds me not a little of the work of Carin Berger, what with her use of brightly colored cut paper. The book is as much a pleasure to look at as is it is to use with a kid learning their colors. And I don’t usually do this, but I think you have to take a look at how she makes shoes in this book. I want ‘em. Should a book be included here for including cute shoes? I sure as heck wouldn’t rule it out . . .

Animals In the Sky by Sara Gillingham

Initially I was wondering why this magnificent book was made into a board book, of all things. The premise is so smart that it’s a wonder no one’s thought of it before. Using lift-the-flap elements, you first see the constellation accompanied with hints as to what kind of animal it’s of. Lift the flap and the answer is the animal itself, with the stars superimposed on the image. Of course by even telling you this, I’ve answered my own question. THAT is why this book is a board book! My sole problem with the title is that when you look at a constellation of a lion it simply calls it the “lion” and not “Leo”. The official names of the constellations are not used. Pisces, and so on are not mentioned. That’s a quibble, though. All told this is the BEST book I’ve ever seen that could possibly teach the kids the constellations. 

Baby Beats: Let’s Learn 4/4 Time by Ellen Stubbings

Baby Beats: Let’s Learn ¾ Time by Ellen Stubbings

Baby Beats: Let’s Learn 2/4 Time by Ellen Stubbings

Ingenious. The Baby Beats book advertise themselves as providing, “a child’s first music lesson, enhancing his or her ability to recognize notes, beats, measures, and songs.” To do this, the book equates counting with beats with the syllables of animals, and finally pairs everything together into a familiar song. For example, at the end of “4/4 Time”, a band performs Mary Had a Little Lamb, making it very clear how some notes are longer because they take up more syllables. It’s rather clever and darned if there isn’t math at work in here in the counting as well. A book that equates counting and music in a practical way that young learners can actually understand. Not easy to do, I don’t need to tell you.

Bugs by Rosie Pajaro

You know how Sesame Street books are inevitably terrible (with the possible sole exception being Jon Stone’s The Monster at the End of This Book)? Well, I guess I just sort of expected that would carryover to this PBS Kids series that Cottage Door Press has been producing. And yes, these aren’t board books I’d hand to a newborn, but as early science board books go this has got to be one of the most successful. I’ve never quite encountered flaps as thick and strong and (most importantly, so I’m going to bold this) EASY TO LIFT, thanks to a space placed around them that allows clumsy or growing fingers to pick them up. So basically, you get all the advantages of a surprise under a flap without the accompanying frustration. The photographs are clear and crisp and the colors of the borders consistently bright. Even the facts are kept simple. I admit it. I’m very impressed. 

Build! by Xavier Deneux

Libraries, look away. This book is not for you. When I started reading build! I was under the mistaken impression that I’d checked it out of my library and so I felt this honest-to-goodness wave of shock when I encountered that first hardhat that you’re supposed to take from one construction worker to give to another. In this book, two white workers operate a bulldozer, stack bricks, lift objects with a crane, the whole kerschmozzle. It’s basically a dream of a title for any small child that loves construction equipment. And yes, when they lose the pieces (as they will / as you will) it will still be fun. Personally, I laughed out loud when I got to the last sentences of the book, “We’ve built a house. We’ve built our home. And now we’ll build our family!” Pick up the piece and how there’s a baby between the two construction workers. Guess they got busy on that too. 

Five Little Ducks: First Book of Nursery Games by Ailie Busby

A godsend of hand rhymes for parents (and, let’s face it, librarians that need something new for their Baby/Toddler Storytimes). Each nursery rhyme in the book comes with subtle instructions on what do to with your hands. They’re there if you need them, but if you just want to read this as a book with a kid, they won’t distract. I liked how quietly inclusive it was, with its multitude of genders, races, and the occasional kid in a wheelchair. They managed to avoid all the potentially problematic rhymes in this book, as far as I could see. Use it for a storytime pronto! Pairs nice with Busby’s other book this year, Pat-a-Cake: First Book of Nursery Rhymes. Consider them a pair. 

I Love My Tutu Too! by Ross Burach

This book is a good example of how down-to-the-wire these lists are sometimes. You see, yesterday I tweeted out the fact that the “31 Days, 31 Lists” series would begin December 1st. And no sooner had my fingertips left the keyboard then longtime friend and reader Eric Carpenter wrote in to ask a question. “Hopefully it is not too late to add our favorite board book of 2020 to tomorrow’s list (if for some crazy reason it’s not already on it)”. Now you have to understand that this list is a tricky one to make because a lot of libraries refuse to lend board books through their consortiums. Why? Because it can be too hard to find them on the shelves. Board books are notorious for ending up messy thanks to little hands. I was 99% certain that even if my library had the book that Eric was referring to, I wouldn’t be able to find it. But sometimes, if you’re lucky, the stars align in just the right way. Scholastic never sent me this book for review, so thank goodness Eric was there to guide me. I’ll leave it to him to describe it. “It’s a rhyming, pun filled, counting book that would make an amazing readers theater performance piece.” He ain’t wrong. If you need a board book that’ll make your kid laugh and (vitally) make YOU laugh, no end of year board book list would be complete without this beauty.

Mail Duck: A Book of Shapes and Surprises by Erica Sirotich, designed by Hana Anouk Nakamura

Oh, man! There is so much going on in this little book! Sure, on the surface it’s a pretty basic story about a postal carrier fowl. Then you add in the different shapes of each object. Then you look at the lift-the-flap elements, which are hiding TONS of tiny fun details (like the “No Shoes” sign in the snail’s home’s ball pit). THEN (are you getting the layers here?) you have the fact that it’s a mystery all leading up to a surprise party at the end for the duck. But wait! There’s more! While the duck has been delivering his own presents, cake, card, etc. to all the denizens in this story, in each of their homes is one object that was gifted to them by another character. Look at the end of the book and you’ll see they have all those objects. Extra points for giving the snake a monocle. Everybody should own a monocle.

Make Me a Robot by Mark Rogalski

Aww. Reminds me of those old Stephen T. Johnson board books. Remember My Little Blue Robot from 2002? It’s still in print! Of course as cool as the Johnson books are, they tend to have little cardboard pieces that go willy-nilly all over the place. The cool thing about Rogalski’s book is that it’s entirely self-contained. Yes, one of those wings or a foot or a rocket is going to get ripped off at some point. That’s just life. But for a while, it’s really fun to transform a book into a bot. Each page turn reveals a new body part that you can pull out with thick flaps. Definitely for the slightly older kid crowd, and a real delight. This is what you give to a toddler when you want to wow them. 

Making Tracks: City by Abi Hall

Making Tracks: Desert by Abi Hall

Making Tracks: Jungle by Abi Hall

Making Tracks: Mountain by Abi Hall

It’s funny how we judge board books, right? I mean, a lot of our criteria comes directly from how we critique books for older children. The innate desire that the book have a beginning, middle, and end is something that can be nice for babies and toddlers, but I would argue that it is by no means something that absolutely needs to be present every time. The “Making Tracks” series bears this theory out. Each book shows a variety of tracks from both nature and humans in four different biomes. The colors are cheery and the text simple, but that’s not its true advantage. The die-cut tracks offer a very nice, very clear, tactile function. There’s a lift-the-flap element as you observe who made the tracks. Now, let’s look at this through an equity lens. In City, one set of tracks shows that they are being made by the wheels on Robert’s wheelchair as he goes to play basketball. In Mountain there are three straight tracks which turn out to belong to Sara, who is skiing with one leg. The two other tracks are skis attached to poles that she can hold with her hands to maintain her balance. Sara, for the record, is the only white person visible in the series. A board book series that looks the same at first but pulls apart from the pack. 

Mama Needs a Minute by Nicole Sloan

Okay, okay, okay. I know some of you just saw this cover and little alarm bells went off in your heads saying “WARNING! WARNING! BOARD BOOK FOR PARENTS! NOT FOR CHILDREN! BE ALERT!” I want you to press down the mute button on those alarms for just a second while I endeavor to explain. Yes, this book bears a resemblance to such titles as Go the F*ck to Sleep and my beloved “Baby Be of Use” series by Lisa Brown (coffee table board books, is what I like to call them). But in spite of the cool tattooed mom on the cover, consider this. When mommy needs three minutes to use the bathroom, THIS could be the book that her partner reads in her absence. Which means, obviously, that if Nicole Sloan isn’t at this moment writing DADDY NEEDS A MINUTE then she is passing up a golden opportunity. I’ve never seen a book that tries to patiently explain to a child why it might be a good idea to allow mommy to put on some clothes by herself, but this one covers all the bases. Now can we get this in a picture book format too? 

My Art Book of Happiness by Shana Gozansky

It’s such an easy idea for a book that one wonders why Phaidon was the first to perfect it. Now we’ve all seen children’s books, be they of colors or numbers or the alphabet, illustrated with art from famous museums. What makes the “Art Book” series by Phaidon different is the curation and design. On the curation side, it’s not just old white masters. It’s new lesser known images and older BIPOC creators. There’s also a note of frenzy and fun to the proceedings. Add in the text, which actually seems interested in engaging kids (not a given), and you’ll want to display it prominently in the home. You kids will actually enjoy it. You may enjoy it more. 

My Favorite Color by Aaron Becker

The follow-up to You Are Light, which sort of blew us all away in terms of defining how beautiful a board book could really be. But just because it’s a companion, that’s no reason to think that this book isn’t every inch a beauty as well. If You Are Light reminded me of the Baháʼí House of Worship of Wilmette, Illinois then My Favorite Color favors more rudimentary architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright? Not sure. In any case, the fun in this is in seeing how the colors combine and blend and change as you flip through. How is it that there isn’t an award out there, anywhere, for board books? Somebody speak to management. We need to get that fixed and stat. 

Numbers by Jacques Duquennoy

My library has a book committee where every year we determine the 101 Great Books for Kids that we’d like to celebrate. To keep the numbers down we always try to avoid sequels, particularly if they’re from a series we’ve honored before. Happily, these rules do not apply to my “31 Days, 31 Lists”. That means, if I’ve previous praised the “Zoe and Zack” books by Jacques Duquennoy in the past, and if those books continue to be high quality and fun, then doggone it I’m going to include them on these lists again and again and again. Textured balls and numbers and flaps you can lift from the side of the book all indicate that this would be a title for itty bitties, but I think this is more of an upper toddler book. Then again, with the die at the top (indicating each number) and hands holding up the appropriate number of fingers, maybe it’s for preschoolers! All I know is, it’s fun to read and beautifully put together. A real classy package. 

One Yellow Sun by Michael Arndt

Sometimes a board book can be so simple that it works because it has shorn away all possible complications. Arndt’s preferred method of illustration in this book lies in its circles. The very first thing you see are “10 silver beads”. These are cut outs that retain their silvery quality even after you turn the page. Next it’s “9 gray pebbles”. With each successive number, the circles get larger and fewer until you finally get to “0 white snowballs”. A chart at the very end shows the numbers as well as the colors and types of round objects listed. Sometimes I tease board book designers for their love of die-cut circles, but you have to admit, they’re effective!

Paper Peek: Animals by Chihiro Tekeuchi

All right, do the count with me. This book is the following:

  • A Board Book with die-cut pages
  • A Seek-and-Find Book with hidden animals
  • A Continents Book – Learn them all
  • An Animal Book – And which continents they inhabit

Two of these taken together would be enough for any poor board book. The fact that we’re looking at four simultaneous jobs is more than just impressive. It’s downright staggering. Now, as with any board book, you begin to wonder who the audience is. Obviously small babes will get a lot more satisfaction out of ripping these relatively slender (some might say, optimistic) die-cut pages than out of knowing what animals inhabit Oceania. Older toddlers and preschoolers are the ones that will enjoy the seeking and the finding. And hey, if they happen to retain in their brains the fact that South America has sloths? All to the good.

Play with Clay! by Jenny Pinkerton

Why is a board book a successful form of media with small children? Because it’s tactile. You can hold it and pick it up and chew on it and bash it. As such, it makes perfect sense that the best kind of board book would be one filled with an equally tactile craft substance: clay. Pinkerton’s book comes with a jolt of creativity and not a little humor to boot. “It was a blob. Until I formed it…” With each different incarnation, the blob is coiled, rolled, smushed, broken, mixed, and more. Extra points for making all the words in the book out of clay as well. A great use of color on white space. I can see this one getting some serious re-reads. 

Play with Your Plate! (A Mix-and-Match Play Book) by Judith Rossell, designed by Hana Anouk Nakamura

I love it! We’ve all seen these flip books where you can lift flaps or pages or images to create different combinations. Rossell makes the idea all the more practical when you must construct different kinds of plates. Separated into four different quadrants, kids are encouraged to “make a plate of only triangles and circles” or “a plate of only vegetables or fruits” or, most fun of all, “a plate of your favorite foods.” Encourages healthy eating without bogging down into didacticism. I can see all kinds of applications for a book this clever. Good for a whole range of ages, from the little littles to the newly picky three-year-olds. 

Rest & Relax: Sleepy Time for Little Ones by Whitney Stewart, ill. Rocio Alejandro

Now there’s a notion. A board book with a purpose. This is part of the “Mindful Tots” series, and whenever I see mindfulness associated with board books I get a little wary. In this case, though, it’s well-incorporated into the story and makes sense. Each body part gets its own two-page spread. It begins, “Let’s choose a spot and lie down. Wiggle your toes then squeeze them – Tight, tight, tight! Now relax your toes and let them rest.” What we have on our hands here, then, is a nap book. A book that a preschool teacher or even parent could use to get their kids ready for nappy time. A smart combination of mindfulness and practicality.

Scales and Tails by Rosie Pajaro

I’ve seen a lot of nonfiction board books that sort of forget who the target audience for this format is supposed to be (Smithsonian Kids I am looking directly at YOU). PBS Kids is admittedly filling this book with an awful lot of text BUT there is a saving element. Touch and feel! So no, you’re probably not going to get every toddler to listen to the fact that bats eat 8,000 insects a night. What you will do is get them enamored of the bright, clear, and colorful photographs and the wonderful interactive feels. Sticky frog tongues! Fuzzy tarantulas! Did I mention they seemed to specifically seek out critters that provoke phobias in this book? Be warned.

Sharing by Yusuke Yonezu

Yonezu should be fairly familiar to the board book connoisseurs out there by this point. These books specialize in thick black lines, bright primary colors, and die cuts so thick it would take a baby with a chainsaw to break them down. And I was, admittedly, feeling a little jaded when I started reading it through. Still, it’s a clever idea of breaking things apart to share them. A fish. A cheese. A carrot. A banana. An apple. Grapes (Yonezu is absolutely enamored of grapes). Then you get to the moment when two kids want mommy. I mean, you know how this is going to end, but there’s just the slightest second there where you honestly wonder if mommy’s going to find herself torn asunder. Doesn’t happen, but I bet a lot of moms will be able to relate to the unspoken threat. 

Stanley’s Toolbox by William Bee

See, the thing I like about Bee’s books is that there is sometimes a wry little detail, wording, or turn of phrase at work. In the case of this little board book, I like how a mallet “bashes” and a glue gun “squiggles” the glue. You can probably tell already that this is a tool-centric title for those kids desperate for any and all tool books, and it delivers pretty well. I do think the nut and bolt could have been depicted slightly more clearly at the end but if you derive pleasure from seeing things fixed and fixed up, this is the title for you. 

Stop That Virus! by Rhiannon Findlay, ill. Susanna Rumiz

Who knew that the most timely pandemic-based book of the year would be an interactive board book? Will wonders never cease? Findlay presents the life (and death) of a virus in the human body in the simplest way possible. Definitely not for babies but toddlers and preschoolers will not only get a kick out of the pages that shift and change as you turn them (anyone know what this kind of book is called?) but also the bright colors and fun art of Susanna Rumiz. There’s one semi-unclear spread that’s supposed to equate a cell with a castle that doesn’t quite work, but on the whole it’s a pretty good breakdown of what happens when you get sick. Slip on a mask and enjoy.

This Is My Daddy by Mies Van Hout

Mies Van Hout may be right up there with Herve Tullet as one of those international uncontested winners when it comes to board books for the young. Her style is unparalleled and, to be frank, downright gorgeous. The conceit is kind of cute too. First you meet a baby animal and then you have to pick between four possibilities of who its father might be. It’s not as easy as you might think, particularly when you’re dealing with a baby rhino looking at a daddy hippo as an option. The key, sometimes, is to get the little littles noticing the similarities in their bodies and coloring. I love how interactive the book is. One quick note: the spine does have a tendency to rip a little since the cover is made of that poofy material you sometimes find with board books. May not be great for libraries, but for gifts there are few to match it. Beautiful. 

Up Cat, Down Cat by Steve Light

If you could just curl up and dive into a Steve Light book, what a pleasant place you’d find yourself. Thick paints never look thicker than when his paintbrush is pushing them about. A very simple opposite book, there’s not really a story here. Just two cats, in a house, sharing space. Little kids will like the cats, adults will like the colors and on the 300th read will pour over the patterns on the couch, the quality of the yellow light streaming through darkened windows, and how just the slightest curl of an eyebrow can change a whole character’s expressions. Once again, Light retains his throne as king of the most beautiful board books. 

A Very Hungry Wolf by Agnese Baruzzi

Know me and know that I’m a big time fan of books in which the protagonist either eats others or is eaten themselves. This book falls squarely in the former category. It’s a lift-the-flap exercise in mastication! As the wolf eats more and more, things begin to get dire until ultimately it eats a hedgehog. Big time mistake. No children’s book, in these situations, ever uses the term “vomit”, preferring (in this particular case) the more gentle “spit it out”. Everyone is freed and the wolf is encouraged to consider veggies in the future. Colorful and kooky by turns. 

Wake Up, Let’s Play! by Marit Törnqvist

Sometimes folks will make excuses for European children’s books and their significant lack of faces that aren’t white by saying that everyone over there IS white. Not hardly. This Dutch import puts that lie to the test with this incredibly sweet playtime between two young friends. It’s one of those little worlds where there are no grown-ups to interfere and plenty of birthday parties, sandcastles, blocks, stuffed animals, snowmen and more. I just love the thick colors and imagination at work in this marvelous little world built for two. People call books “dreamlike” far too often. This is the kind of book that will mysteriously crop up in children’s dreams years and years after they read it. If that appeals, grab it for yourself. 

What’s Up, Fire Truck? by Matthew Reinhart, ill. Toby Leigh

Reinhart is back, babies! And what could be better than a book you can construct? This one’s not so much for the little little ankle biters, but for those older toddlers and preschoolers that find the notion of turning a book into a fire truck pretty neat. They’re calling this a “Pop Magic Book” and the interesting thing is that you can read this as a regular book and then unfold it to turn it into a real little cardboard truck. Not sure how to do it even after reading the instructions? You can watch a step-by-step video at Take a gander! It’s cute. 

The Wheels On the Dump Truck by Jeffrey Burton, ill. Alison Brown

Yeah, okay, so I know it’s part of a larger “Wheels Of” series (“The Wheels On the Fire Truck”, “The Wheels On the Garbage Truck”, etc.) but let’s be honest. Don’t you kind of wish YOU had come up with the idea? And my kids are still young enough that I have crystal clear memories of grabbing every dang truck-related book off of the library’s shelves. I would have been grateful for a book on the topic that I could sing. Granted, we seem to be missing a couple “round and round”s on the first page, but that seems purposeful, and parents can just sing it anyway. I give a lot of leeway to vehicle books, as you can tell.

Who Is Making a Mess? by Maria D’Haene, ill. Charlie Eve Ryan

It’s not very often that I turn the first page on a board book and then just stop and stare for a while at how beautifully constructed that page truly is. Accompanying the words “Who is making a mess?” the first two pages of this book show a pair of legs sticking out from under a car. But look at how artist Charlie Eve Ryan has so artfully splattered her paints all willy nilly. It’s just beautiful. No less beautiful is what you see when you turn the page and find the answer is “Mama is making a mess”, with her daughter looking to fix a scooter nearby. This book is filled with a wide range of families. From kids who live with gay moms and dads to grandparents to moms and dads, the book’s true focus is on messes and how, often, it’s not the kids that are making them. The final spread of everyone eating at a common table, making a mess, takes away the shame from a very human activity. Feel good about your messes. This book sure does. 

Zoom: Space Adventure by Susan Hayes, ill. Susanna Rumiz

Probably not a good thing when you, the adult, don’t feel smart enough for an intelligent board book. Then again, how better to recapture that feeling of wonder and discovery than to experience it firsthand? A little girl named Ava is going on a big space adventure today. In her hand she holds a rocket, and before you know it we’ve zoomed in for the countdown. Don’t see the countdown? Look closer. The die-cut pages on the right-hand side are actually numbers. Slick. Against a color scheme of yellows and blues Ava blasts off, visits an International Space Station, takes a ride on a moon buggy, and tours the planets as well. Thick pages and an enjoyable story make this a title to enjoy multiple times. 

Want to see other lists? Check out what happened this month!

December 1 – Great Board Books

December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations

December 3 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books

December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

December 6 – Funny Picture Books

December 7 – CaldeNotts

December 8 – Picture Book Reprints

December 9 – Math Books for Kids

December 10 – Bilingual Books

December 11 – Books with a Message

December 12 – Fabulous Photography

December 13 – Translated Picture Books

December 14 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales

December 15 – Wordless Picture Books

December 16 – Poetry Books

December 17 – Unconventional Children’s Books

December 18 – Easy Books & Early Chapter Books

December 19 – Comics & Graphic Novels

December 20 – Older Funny Books

December 21 – Science Fiction Books

December 22 – Fantasy Books

December 23 – Informational Fiction

December 24 – American History

December 25 – Science & Nature Books

December 26 – Unique Biographies

December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

December 28 – Nonfiction Books for Older Readers

December 29 – Best Audiobooks for Kids

December 30 – Middle Grade Novels

December 31 – Picture Books


About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Betsy, every book on this list looks lovely. I’m glad to see new ones from Xavier Deneux and Steve Light. And you’re right that not all tactile books are the same. Did you realize that Mail Duck is back ordered everywhere, both at the big chains and from small independent stores? My guess is that people have renewed interest in, and commitment to, the postal service in the light of recent news about its political misuse. It’s nice for the author/illustrator that her book is in such high demand.

    • Huh. That could be it. I know that Mail Duck also appeared on the recent Parents Magazine round-up of great books of the year (and they’re one of the very few lists that include board books).

  2. I look forward to these lists every year and learn about so many great books from them. Thank you for including two titles from Amicus Ink in such excellent company!

  3. Sharon Verbeten says

    First up: these books look amazing! Thanks for putting the list together.

    Secondly: I want your job!

    Thirdly: I love your ebullient and sharp commentary, esp. about Build–guess those workers got busy on making that family! (I have to stop laughing out loud every time I read your blog, Betsy!)

  4. Great list! I love every single title!
    Have you read The Christmas Feast?
    This beautifully illustrated book tells the story about a Wolf, Weasel, and Fox who steal a turkey for their Christmas feast. But they didn’t expect their meal to have her own ideas about this special celebration. The more time the three friends spend with Turkey, the less anyone wants the fun to end.

    • Shh! You’re giving away my list on the 3rd!

      But honestly, that is one book that I was grateful to have discovered before now. Otherwise you might see me break a leg to get to my library to find it. I don’t remember how I heard about it before but I’m happy to report that YOU will be seeing it very soon.

  5. Loved this – be sure to check out the Zip the Robot board book series as well, about an overconfident robot and his adventures. It’s hilarious and a fun chance for robot voice fluency practice, vocabulary building and more

  6. Judy Weymouth says

    Of all your Lists each December, the Board Books could hold the least interest for me since I have no readers in my life of a young age. However, I have worked with kindergarten students for many, many years. It is not difficult to compare the behavior of children who have been read to on a regular basis from those who have not. The Board Books you have highlighted here are so colorful and attractive. Sharing the reading experience can begin early when gems like these are available. I wish every child could experience these! Thank you, Betsy, as always.

  7. So may of the Child’s Play board books effortlessly include diversity of all types in their board books, there will be kids with glasses and hearing aids as well as wheelchairs.

  8. Kris Knight says

    Your lists are so helpful! And what a great list this one is. Thank you so much!!