Board books for the youngest of readers have to be durable. They need to be able to withstand the chewing and bending that will take place in the hands of babies and toddlers. But the content within needs to be durable too—that is, stories and concepts that will linger in the minds of readers and want to be read and re-read. I’ve got three new ones today that I think will be around a while.
The picture books of author-illustrator Steve Light have been, to date, ornately illustrated affairs. He’s known for his fluent line drawings in such books as Have You Seen My Dragon? (2014) and Swap! (2016). His newest book is a board book, though he’s not new to those either (he has published a series of them about vehicles), and it’s a definite departure in style. Black Bird Yellow Sun, which will be on shelves in early March, was illustrated via collage and, according to a tiny-print note on the back of the book, by printing cardboard shapes with ink.
Here we have a solid black bird, exploring colors through the course of a day. The book opens with a bright yellow sun and closes with a blue moon. In between, the bird explores orange leaves, purple grapes, green grass, a red snake, and more. On each spread, for those children who don’t race through the book, is a tiny, bright orange worm, waiting to be noticed. (No worries. He actually survives his time with the bird.
The text is laid out in large, black font, and “Black Bird” is printed on the left side of each spread. This repetition will help with print awareness for the young readers at whom the book is aimed (“ages 0 to 3”), those deep in the throes of emergent literacy. The right side of each spread has, in a font just as big and clear, the color and name of what appears in the illustration. Light’s illustrations are simply-shaped, textured images; you want to reach out and touch the bumps, ridges, and breaks in the ink. When they’re not chewing on this board book, the youngest of children will enjoy their guide to basic colors with the curious Black Bird as their guide.
Kate Riggs’ Shapes All Around, also on shelves in March, is illustrated by French artist Laëtitia Devernay. In this board book, author and illustrator feature six shapes—a circle, triangle, square, star, hexagon, and oval—and they set these forms in nature, thus encouraging children to think about geometric shapes as they appear in the natural world around them. Birds fly around a bright sun in the sky (circle); birds fly over a forest of trees with a “square” spread beneath them; bees buzz around hexagonal honeycombs; and more.
Devernay, whose book The Conductor was published here in the States in 2011, renders the illustrations via pencil and paper cut-outs. Each shape stands off the page in a solid color—on backgrounds with muted pencil greys. Her drawings are simply exquisite.
I’m saving the best for last. In 2016, readers embraced Jane Yolen’s and Chris Sheban’s picture book What to Do with a Box, an ode to the unbridled imagination of children and the endless creative possibilities of a simple cardboard box with flaps. Sheban painted (via watercolors, pencil, and acrylics) on cardboard for this one, illustrations that communicate a copper-colored warmth. The book was met with glowing reviews, the starred Kirkus review praising the “Intuitive, inspired executions of art and verse.”
Well, now the publisher, Creative Editions, has turned it into a board book (on shelves in early April) and, brilliantly, it is a board book whose pages open up, down, sideways, and all around. This means the book can be fashioned into a box, bringing the book’s very subject to life. This also means that some illustrations have two spreads on one page (two spreads that were assigned two separate pages in the picture book, that is). But it works—and will be a true delight for children.
What to do with these board books? Share all three. Happy reading, chewing, bending — and box-building.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.
BLACK BIRD YELLOW SUN. Copyright © 2018 by Steve Light. Illustration reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
SHAPES ALL AROUND. Text copyright © 2018 by Kate Riggs. Illustrations copyright © 2018 by Laëtitia Devernay. Illustration reproduced by permission of the publisher, Creative Editions, Mankato, MN.
WHAT TO DO WITH A BOX. Text copyright © 2016 Jane Yolen. Illustrations copyright © 2016 Chris Sheban. Illustration reproduced by permission of the publisher, Creative Editions, Mankato, MN.