It pleases me to no end to present a solid collection of 10 board books among this year’s best picture books. To see exquisite care and artistry lavished on an audience that chews books as much as they may peruse them is enormously heartening in a world that typically devalues little ones.
Some of these books take advantage of their thick pages to innovate. With Peek-a-Who? Elsa Mroziewicz packs the familiar guessing game into a triangle-shaped book that opens into diamond-shaped spreads and also uses flaps to extend—literally—the fun. “Who says MEOW?” asks black text on a blue diamond; flip up both flaps to reveal a painterly blue cat licking its chops, the triangular flaps now big blue ears. In Shapes, Jacques Duquennoy uses acetate windows set in every other page to show chameleon Zack and zebra Zoe in the process of drawing, shapes painted on the acetate working with the images that show through to turn a group of circles into a teddy bear and a jumble of squares into a robot. And Find Colors, by Tamara Shopsin and Jason Fulford in association with the Whitney Museum of American Art, uses the voids created by die-cut shapes to challenge readers to “FIND GRAY” to color in an elephant’s outline or “BROWN” to fill in a puppy’s muddy pawprints.
Others use the barest minimum of words and clear, lucid illustrations to tell stories that introduce babies to narrative. Anne Vittur Kennedy’s Go Baby! Go Dog! presents the story of an old hound dog and the crawling white baby that bedevils it. “Go baby / go baby / go baby,” reads the text on verso, emulating the baby’s energetic, shuffling locomotion; “Go dog,” reads the text on recto, as the front half of the dog zips off the page, leaving just its hindquarters behind. In Will Ladybug Hug? Hilary Leung’s title character wakes ready to hug. She hugs many friends but respects Sheep’s desire not to hug: “that’s okay.” After various affectionate scenarios, readers see that Ladybug is doling out all these hugs because she’s saying goodbye to her friends at the airport; thus narrative joins the important lesson in socialization. And Taro Gomi takes readers through a day on the ocean with Little Boat, a pink- faced little vessel who avoids bigger boats, is tossed in the wake of a tanker, finds equanimity again on a smooth sea, navigates a storm, and makes his way back home. Little Boat makes a natural stand-in for toddler readers, who themselves must navigate a world that is very big and sometimes a little scary.
There are 65 more picture books for preschoolers and elementary-age readers; enjoy them, but stop and admire the board books for their commitment to excellence as well. Vicky Smith is the children’s editor.