With each new child born into this world, a new light of possibility pops into existence like buds on the trees when spring arrives at last. And if you’re anything like us, you believe the best way to help these little buds grow is to surround them with books.
Lots. And lots. Of books.
Baby showers and those first few birthdays present a special kind of challenge for parents and book-loving friends alike: Well, every kid needs ________ in their library.
Fill in that blank with any of those incredible, age-defying, tried-and-true tales you read time and time again throughout your own childhood: Goodnight, Moon. Guess How Much I Love You. Brown Bear Brown Bear, What Do You See? They persist because they’re beautifully written, carefully and thoughtfully assembled, have a rhythm and a melody and, now, have your memories and emotions all wound all around them like a fleecy blanket barrier.
Unsurprisingly, you’re not the only one who has tender feelings for the classics. These books are universally beloved, and it can sometimes put a new parent in an awkward position post-baby shower: “It was so good to see everybody, and I’m so grateful for their generosity — but what the hell do I do with four copies of The Very Hungry Caterpillar?”
You can count on us to help you avoid this situation by checking out our below list of favorite board books. Some are new and some have been around for a while. Some are stand-alone, some part of a series, and some are by authors you already know and love. Forego the race to get baby their first copy of Hop On Pop, and instead take a chance on what could become a new family favorite.
1. Birds, by Kevin Henkes, illustrated by Laura Dronzek
As little ones begin to take in the world around them, these fluttering dashes of color and music will be a particular point of interest. Henkes and Dronzek weave a sweet narrative into a simple introduction to the colors and shapes of birds as a child watches them from her window and describes their movements. Though she can’t fly like the birds can, she can sing.
See also: Kitten’s First Full Moon, by Kevin Henkes
2. We Sang You Home, by Richard Van Camp, illustrated by Julie Flett
Van Camp’s lyrical writing and Julie Flett’s collage make this book one you’ll enjoy reading over and over again. Written as a message from new parents to their little child, it’s a quiet book of reverence describing the experience of welcoming a new member to the family. I challenge you to keep your eyes dry while reading. It’s pure beauty.
See also: Little You by Richard Van Camp and Julie Flett, and My Heart Fills With Happiness by Monique Gray Smith and Julie Flett
3. Little Fur Family, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Garth Williams
Of course the notorious MWB, Queen of Early Childhood Classics, made it onto this list. The Little Fur Family is often overlooked in favor of Goodnight Moon or The Runaway Bunny, but it is no less of a treasure. (I admit that this is one I keep snuggled in that fleece blanket of love in my memory, as I loved this book as a child, but hear me out.) It may seem unassuming to the adult eye, but for young children who love the small, secret, mysterious workings of the natural world, this book is a peek into a strange, tiny wood they will want to return to time and time again.
See also: Mister Dog: The Dog Who Belonged To Himself, by Margaret Wise Brown
4. The Secret Garden: A BabyLit Flowers Primer, by Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver
BabyLit’s vast series of board books based on classic literature are a delight for young bibliophiles and adult readers alike. Children will enjoy vibrant illustrations and simple language inspired by the novels, from the introduction to weather in Wuthering Heights to the (somewhat artfully) jaunty Les Miserables French lesson. After seeing them all, though, my favorite remains The Secret Garden – Flowers Primer. The flowers, many of which we recognize in our own New England neighborhood, are paired with a quote about them from Burnett’s novel.
See also: All Aboard National Parks, from BabyLit’s All Aboard series
5. My Friends, by Taro Gomi
Gomi’s graphic imagery is a draw for any young reader as the child in the book describes the ways her animal friends have taught her all she knows. From running and jumping to talking and loving, friends help us grow in ways that would be impossible without their support.
See also: Spring is Here and What Do You Wear? by Taro Gomi
6. Over In The Meadow, by Ezra Jack Keats
Of all the books with songs attached, this is absolutely one of our favorites. The Keats version specifically brings a fresh look to the classic song, and allows us to celebrate Keats’ bold imagery without investing in yet another copy of our unrivaled winter favorite, The Snowy Day.
See also: Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats
7. Higher! Higher! By Leslie Patricelli
Patricelli weaves the realism of a swinging child’s demand — “higher!” — with the what-if world of just what you can see from all the way up there if you have a parent willing to push you. From the perspective of a child seeing all the way into Outer Space at the apex of her arc, Higher! Higher! seems all the more real to us for its hyperbole.
See also: Faster! Faster! and Quiet LOUD by Leslie Patricelli
8. The House In The Night, by Susan Marie Swanson, illustrated by Beth Krommes
This contemporary take on Goodnight Moon won the Caldecott in 2009, and it isn’t hard to see why. Krommes monochromatic illustrations settle and focus the reader while Swanson nests familiar items in this bedtime story: “Here is a key to the house, in the house burns a light, in that light rests a bed, on that bed waits a book…” This is the book equivalent to closing up the house before lights out.
See also: The Napping House, by Audrey Wood and Don Wood
9. A Bit Lost, by Chris Haughton
A small owl, just learning to sleep on his own, falls from his tree and loses his way. In the dark he mistakes some of their features for his mummy’s: those eyes are big like hers, but they belong to someone else! Haughton’s charming debut picture book is well worth the read, and a great introduction to reading visual cues.
See also: Shh! We Have A Plan and Goodnight, Everyone by Chris Haughton
10. All In A Day, by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Nikki McClure
Follow a parent and child from sunrise to sunset with Rylant’s gentle prose and McClure’s striking paper cut-out imagery while they talk about all that can be done in one day. With a focus on nature and growth, work and play, exploration and togetherness, this is sure to be a favorite for children and adults both.
See also: All the World, by Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee, and How To Be A Cat by Nikki McClure
11. A Book of Babies, by Il Sung Na
A joyful and colorful book of baby animals, Il Sung Na — who brought us Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit and the glorious A Book of Sleep — brings spring home with bright colors and the promise of new, fluffy, adorable life, and the differences between baby animals born of eight different creatures.
See also: More More More Said the Baby by Vera B. Williams