Thursday, April 3, 2014

Color Your Bookshelf: 39 Diverse Board Books to Give a Baby or Toddler

I'm of the strong opinion that books are some of the best gifts to give families adding a new member. Onesies and diaper bags are all fine, of course, but books lay the foundation of early learning that rewards a child for his or her entire life. Also, books are a great choice if the child isn't a newborn. Sprout came into our family at 12 months old, and so it was hard to judge just what he needed, but the board books we got as gifts still occupy a prominent place on his bookshelf.

Generally I just do single-title reviews here on the Bookshelf, because I think each title is a gem and should shine all on its own. But I'm breaking with tradition to come up with this list of titles that make a perfect gift for anyone adding a baby or toddler to their family. Please note: these are NOT book recommendations solely for children of color. White kids need these books too. I cannot stress this enough. If we're going to raise global citizens, if we're going to foster inclusion and tolerance, we've got to start diversifying every single child's bookshelf. And we need to do that from day one.

So - on to the list!

First up is one Sprout adored as a baby himself, and which we've given to several families -- Global Babies by the Global Fund for Children. Babies love to look at other babies, so this is a sure-fire hit. We received two copies of this when Sprout came home, and it's a good thing because we've worn both out! Also look for other Global Fund for Children titles: Global Baby Girls and American Babies.

Another pair of titles Sprout read a lot as a toddler are the board books Whose Knees Are These? and Whose Toes Are Those? by Jabari Asim. Bright and cheerful, with colorful graphics, these simple titles speak directly to a young child's interest in his/her own person. And, they are super fun to boot. I can still quote chunks of this: "knees like these don't grow on trees!" Also fun are Asim's Girl of Mine and Boy of Mine -- all are illustrated by the incomparable LeUyen Pham.

We recently read Anna McQuinn's new book Leo Loves Baby Time, the companion to her series featuring African American toddler Lola and her little brother Leo. (It isn't a board book, but does have reinforced pages for small kiddos.) Though he's a little old for it now, Sprout loved revisiting these favorite characters and seeing Leo in the starring role in McQuinn's comforting and happy title. Lola at the Library is available in board book form, and we read it nearly every week, either before or after our Friday visit to stock up on books.

Cheryl Willis Hudson did a few terrific board books several years ago, and I'm glad to see they are still in print for families and libraries to add to their collections. Good Morning, Baby and Good Night, Baby deal with routines familiar to any little one, and it's nice to see African American kids in the main roles here. These are solid stories likely to earn a central place in your read-aloud routine. Also look for Let's Count, Baby and Animal Sounds for Baby, in the same series but maybe a little harder to find.

Two new books that are widely available, and which we just adore, are both written by Mary Brigid Barrett. Pat-A-Cake and All Fall Down sound like they are based on the familiar rhymes, and while there are some similarities, Barrett has put an entirely new spin on things. These are breezy, easy reads, bound to capture -- and keep -- the attention of a toddler. Oh, and if those illustrations look familiar, it's because the artist probably is: LeUyen Pham, whose work I was just raving about a little bit ago.

Another recent title that is a real visual treat is Julie Morstad's take on the poem The Swing by Robert Louis Stevenson. I have a soft spot for this poem, it being my particular childhood favorite from Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses. Morstad has reimagined this verse and set it in a classic format, depicting a gaggle of children experiencing the swing in various venues. I love that the diversity is woven so seamlessly into this quietly striking title, never feeling forced or premeditated, just natural, as all kinds of kids do love to swing!

Free Spirit Publishing has produced the "Happy Healthy Baby" series of board books by Elizabeth Verdick and Marjorie Lisovskis. Each one works well on its own, but giving the whole series to a family would be so much fun. Sprout and I read Reach, all about babies engaging with the world by reaching out. He liked seeing the pictures, which are striking black-and-white photos of babies of various ethnicities. The series also contains Eat, Move, and Cuddle, and every entry looks even cuter than the one before.

Little Scholastic did a line of board books a few years ago that are nicely diverse. We bought Welcome Fall for our bookshelf before Sprout joined our family, and he was pretty much obsessed with it for quite a long while. The series includes books for each season (Welcome Spring is a nice one too), books on manners like Please and Thank You and Uh-Oh! I'm Sorry and informative titles like My Body. There are interactive components in most of these titles, which really adds to the enjoyment for babies and toddlers.

A colleague recommended Karen Baicker's books to me, and they were among the first we checked out of the library, before Sprout was totally ready to handle books with paper pages. I Can Do It Too! and You Can Do It Too! stand alone just fine, but work quite nicely together. The illustrations by Ken Wilson-Max bring these titles to life, and the gentle reassurance of the message is a nice identity boost for all children.

Roberta Grobel Intrater wrote a series of board books called Baby Faces, and they are just about as cute as can be. The photos are gorgeous, clear and bold to draw the attention of little ones and keep it. Most libraries have these (or should - suggest if your library doesn't!) and I've seen them in many bookstores as well. We've read and loved several, including Splash!Smile!, and Peek-A-Boo!, and there are quite a few more. A couple of these books, plus some small toys and a onesie, would make a terrific basket for a new baby.

Rachel Fuller is another author/illustrator who has done several board books with diversity. Each title is bright and colorful, just the thing for stimulating a young child's curiosity in books. The stories are simple enough that kiddos won't get lost, which is a nice feature of books like these that truly are written to be board books. Most of the titles are geared around the addition of a new sibling, so they can work for kids of varying ages, something not all board books do well. Among the titles: Look at Me!Waiting for Baby (multiracial family in this one!), and You and Me.

We were fortunate to get some really terrific board books as shower gifts, some of which we still read together almost four years later. Among these was Susan Meyers' Everywhere Babies, illustrated by Marla Frazee. (This is available in a hardcover edition or board book - you can't go wrong either way, I promise you.) I adore the way Frazee incorporates diversity seamlessly into almost every one of her books, and this is no exception. Little ones will love looking at all the babies, and the sweetly sentimental text will appeal to their grownups as well.

No diverse bookshelf is complete without books by Helen Oxenbury. Her delightfully chubby babies and toddlers make the perfect complement to her simple phrases and plots. We loved so many of her board books when Sprout was younger, and even now I can quote large swatches of text from some of them. Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes was a gift from a sweet friend, a total classic that we read every night during bathtime. Say Goodnight, Clap Hands, Tickle Tickle, All Fall Down-- all of these are fabulous and bound to become part of a baby's daily book time.

You can't go wrong with any of the titles we've compiled above, so add these and other diverse titles to your gift list for new families. What are your favorite multicultural books to read with a baby or toddler?


Chief, Cook and Bottle washer said...

So proud to see Leo on your list. The idea came out of my work running groups for babies, toddlers and their parents in a West London library where I run groups one day a week - I hope it shows. Sprout might be too old, but he might like to sing along with us as we do the songs from the book:
Thanks so much for your lovely comments about Lola - they mean a lot. Anna McQuinn

Erica MomandKiddo said...

Fab, fab, fab list!

PragmaticMom said...

What an amazing list! Sharing!!!

Anonymous said...

We love the Lenny series by Ken Wilson-Max. Lenny is a biracial boy with a black dad and Asian mom.

The titles are: Lenny Has Lunch, Lenny in the Garden, Lenny Goes to Nursery School and Where's Lenny?