Explore board books

Over the last couple of months my stash of board books, pop-up books, touchy-feely books has grown exponentially.  Now it is time to look at them, moreover, to share them with our readership.

Over the last couple of months my stash of board books, pop-up books, touchy-feely books has grown exponentially. Now it is time to look at them, moreover, to share them with our readership.

When I got them all out and started looking at them for this feature I was captivated, and I am a grown-up! Imagine how the children in your life will feel. Take time to think about the importance of these books, to think about which of the many you would like to start with, about which you and your children may enjoy. These are important choices, however a note of caution - once you learn more about these books the decision will not be as easy to make!

The board book along with the pop-up book and other interactive story books for children are too often considered to be ‘novelty’ items or books that are ‘just for fun’. Board and interactive books are far from this, they are among the most important books that children can be introduced to as part of their journey of discovery into the world of books, of stories, and visual literacy. Children learn from these books not only the very basic concept of story-telling – many are too simple for full stories of course - but also how to interact with the world around them. These books allow children to safely test their senses of sound and touch and at the same time begin to understand the importance of pictures. For these reasons, and despite the fact that many of these books may be eaten, mauled and eventually fall apart (children are very good at making this happen) these books are very much worth acquiring and building a large collection.

It may come as a surprise to know that an awful lot of effort goes into the simplest of these books. Many will realise that a book with pop-ups does of course involve many hours of hard work (and experimental fun: how else will their authors know if they work) but so too do the simplest ABC or touchy-feely books. The number of words, of spreads, the detail in the art-work – all this must be carefully considered, tried, tested and refined. It is not easy to develop a simple and effective board book that works on all these levels. 

Older readers have chapter books and then novels to read, they are presented with stories that develop in complexity, are usually multi-layered and with many characters. They understand how a book is structured and how to read it. The board book, the interactive book for babies, needs to encourage them to find a way to follow the pages, to learn why they need to turn them -they need to be able to chase, follow, see shaped pages form a whole – they need to be able to piece together the parts of the book just like a jigsaw puzzle to see the whole and then want to try it all over again. Does the book encourage them to remember: remember the way they felt when they used it, held it, followed it? Do they want to do it all over again? These are among the many questions authors and editors will be asking as they develop their stories.

There are a number of publishers of children’s books. Many produce board books of varying formats. Some transform picture books into board books so that little ones can experience the beginnings of a story world early on in their reading career. Others produce board books in series or as stand-alone titles. My collection, the collection I am sharing with you here, covers titles from Gecko Press, Little Tiger, and Usborne. 

I have one current title from Gecko Press, The Wolf and the Fly by Antje Damm. This is simply delightful and delightfully simple. A story book and a guessing game that both the child and their reader can engage with – changing the story if they wish – every time they share it. Children will love the refrain and repeated text as well as learning about all the different objects that Wolf may or may not eat! Use this book for memory games, for identifying objects and for lots of laughter too…

The Little Tiger selection includes board, pop-up and cut out titles. What Can You See on the Farm? Maria Petera, Kate Ware; Where's My Llama? / Unicorn? Kate McLelland, Becky Davies are both the first titles in new series – Spot & Count and Search & Find respectively. Using animals to encourage children to learn, associate – particularly the farm animals book, and to ask questions these are fantastic books to begin the journey of little ones into understanding more about the natural world. Baby 101 Touch & Trace: Build A House / Plant and Grow Patricia Hegarty and Thomas Elliott add to the well-established series of titles that encourage little hands to interact with the book and begin to explore their senses. Let’s Find the Dinosaur / Mermaid, Alex Wilmore encourage children to develop curious minds and learn about creatures extinct or perhaps imaginary. There are silly books about fruit and veg – You Complete Me, Thomas Elliott, animal sounds books Who Said Moo? / Woof? Yi-Hsuan Wu. Whilst these encourage children to recognise animals and food books about being grown up When I Grow Up: I want to Drive / I want to Be, Rosamund Lloyd, Richard Merritt help them think about what the jobs that their grown-ups might do. With a title for those who are growing in independence – I Can Do it: A Book of Fastenings, Patricia Hegarty, Hilli Kushnir the books then venture into the world of non-fiction too with Curious Kids: Bugs and Minibeasts, Jonny Marx, Christiane Engel.  Something for all little ones at different stages of their learning.

Now to the Usborne collection of touchy-feely books, the That’s Not My series, of which I have Bat, Flamingo, Kangaroo, Lion, Mermaid, Sloth, Polar Bear and Zebra as well as the partner series Touchy-Feely Sounds: Dinosaur and Hippo. These are just a small selection from the 61 board books that make up the ever-popular series, all written by Usborne editor Fiona Watt, illustrated by Rachel Wells in a partnership of 21 years! With their bold and bright pictures and patches of varying textures appealing to and stimulating the senses of young readers. Each of these books not only introduces the child to sensory and language awareness but also to a range of creatures and animals from the world around them. Add to this their chunky nature, coloured page edging and simple text and here is a winning formula certain to appeal to readers of all ages. I never tire of reading them, reaching out to their tactile nature and doing it all over again. Additionally, as they mostly feature animals it is always fun to learn why this may not be the animal of the title and they offer a fantastic opportunity to imagine what touching some of these otherwise ‘off limits’ wild and exotic animals may feel like. They always spark a note of curiosity in my mind and bring a smile to my face!
What brings all these books together is not just their ‘boardness’ but the way that they all encourage children to peep through pages, follow trails, use their fingers to spot, count and find, learn new words and above all learn to enjoy and want to read again and again a book.


Louise Ellis-Barrett

© 2020 by Armadillo

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