On the Boardwalk: Our picks for the best board books of the season

For SLJ's early learning issue, our reviews team curated this booklist of the most appealing and eclectic board books of the summer.

On the Boardwalk: Our picks for the best of the season

Nothing says summer like a stroll on the boardwalk, and it’s hard to conceive of an Early Learning issue without a roundup of brand-new board books. Our reviews team looked over the piles and piles of titles we’ve received so far this year and have compiled and annotated some of the most appealing and eclectic offerings. There are plenty of clever and lighthearted concept books for babies and toddlers and several that introduce the wonders of the natural world. A few of the selections are tactile or interactive, but all share a high level of engagement and a firm commitment to learning through play.


ALEXANDER, Rilla. Animals. ISBN 9781452173924.
––––. Foods. ISBN 9781452173917.|
ea vol: illus. by author. (Touchwords). 16p. Chronicle/Handprint. Apr. 2019. Board $16.99.
Toddler– Raised and recessed color images offer children a stimulating tactile experience in titles that explore thematically related words. Key terms such as cow or milk rise from the pages in oversize lowercase letters, surrounded by bright, labeled illustrations (“calves,” “barn”; “sippy cup,” “jug”), while a cluster of related nouns and verbs in small print provide opportunities for additional verbal and visual engagement.

BARUZZI, Agnese. Play With Me. illus. by author. 24p. Minedition. Jan. 2019. Board $9.99. ISBN 9789888341719.
Toddler–PreS –This ultra-simple board book featuring short, straightforward sentences (“Walk with me.” “Swing with me.”) is made interactive by the addition of two die-cut holes. Readers insert their fingers into the holes, their fingers working as stand-ins for characters’ arms or legs. Characters include an astronaut, a juggler, a soccer player, a skateboarder, and more, all depicted in bright, flat colors. A playful addition; little ones are likely to giggle uproariously as they—or their grown-ups—wiggle and walk their fingers on each spread.

BotMan, Loes. How Do You Sleep? illus. by author. (Hello Animals). 12p. Floris. Apr. 2019. Board $8.95. ISBN 9781782505518.
Toddler–PreS –Botman’s latest nature-themed work does double duty, offering a few facts to the youngest of readers while gently lulling them to sleep. Children learn about the nocturnal habits of various creatures—cows and sheep bed down in the hay, while rabbits and bears sleep in dens (the contrast between the hulking bear and the tiny bunny is delightful). Set against vivid, detailed backgrounds, these sumptuous illustrations will have eyelids drooping in no time.

BRANTZ, Loryn. He’s a Feminist Too. illus. by author. (Feminist Baby). 22p. Disney-Hyperion. Apr. 2019. Board $9.99. ISBN 9781368022996.
Toddler-PreS –A new Feminist Baby learns social justice while teething, giggling, and dancing with his diapered friends. Brantz’s rhyming text follows a brown-skinned boy as he plays with dolls, takes part in a feminist book club, and knows it’s OK to cry. Bright illustrations and Feminist Baby’s wide-eyed optimism make for an adorable addition to the series that dismantles toxic masculinity and reminds kids and adults that “feminism is for everyone.”

BYATT, Jo. Bib on, Bunny! ISBN 9781786282071.
––––.Dive in, Ducky! ISBN 9781786282095.
––––. Play Time, Puppy! ISBN 9781786282088..
––––. Sleep Tight, Teddy! ISBN 9781786282101.
ea vol: illus. by author. 12p. (Chatterbox). Child’s Play. May 2019. Board $8.99.
Baby-Toddler –A fleece finger puppet peeks through each spread, popping out of the covers of these colorfully illustrated titles featuring the routines in a baby’s day. Jaunty rhymes that describe everything from eating and bathing to play and bedtimes will delight the ear, while the soft critters add a tactile element and reinforce concepts. Perfect for one-on-one readings and library lapsit programs.

Diggs, Taye. Chocolate Me! illus. by Shane W. Evans. 32p. Feiwel & Friends. May 2019. Board $7.99. ISBN 9781250207852.
Toddler-PreS –Actor Diggs’s iconic ode to self-acceptance finds new life in board book format. An African American boy is mocked because of his skin tone, his hair, and his nose, but his mother reassures him: “Look in the mirror and love what you see!” Evans’s beautifully chaotic, childlike illustrations convey the protagonist’s angst, unease, and, finally, pride. With educators introducing conversations about microaggressions and privilege at younger and younger ages, this child-friendly and perceptive work is a must.

ESZTERHAS, Suzi. Panda Opposites. photos by author. 16p. Owlkids. Aug. 2019. Board $9.95. ISBN 9781771473300.
Baby-Toddler –From a panda snoozing in a tree to another munching on lunch, this bevy—or bamboo—of these endangered creatures offers a primer on opposites. Aww- and ooh-worthy images by an award-winning wildlife photographer illustrate each spread, guaranteed to endear these imperiled animals to young hearts. A portion of the book’s royalties will be donated to Pandas International.

GOMI, Taro. Little Plane. illus. by author. 22p. Chronicle. Mar. 2019. Board $6.99. ISBN 9781452174501.
Toddler-PreS –Following up on Little Truck and Little Boat, Gomi charms with the latest adorably anthropomorphized vehicle, an intrepid single-engine plane who’s learning to fly. Little Plane takes off on a beautiful day but runs into some trouble when flying through gray smoke and landing in dirt (“Uh-oh. Now you’re dirty, Little Plane!”). The narrator—identified by bolded text underneath Little Plane’s own simple, declarative statements—offers encouragement (“You’re fine, Little Plane!), much the way a loving caregiver would. Almost all the characters—the control tower, the trees, the houses, even the pile of dirt—are humanized with smiling faces. Little Plane is an ideal stand-in for toddlers and preschoolers learning to make decisions and problem-solve.

GROVER, Lorie Ann. I Love All of Me. illus. by Carolina Búzio. (Wonderful Me). 24p. Scholastic/Cartwheel. Oct. 2019. Board $9.99. ISBN 9781338286236.
Baby-Toddler –From “wiggle toes” and “smelly nose” to “blinky eyes” and “bendy knees,” this is a delightful, affirming ode to toddler parts. The smile-inducing rhymes beg to be repeated again and again, while the bold palette and cheery images heighten the book’s enthusiastic tone.

Invierno/Winter. ISBN 9781786283061.
Otoño/Fall. ISBN 9781786283054.
Primavera/Spring. ISBN 9781786283030.
Verano/Summer. ISBN 9781786283047.
ea vol: tr. by Teresa Mlawer. illus. by Allie Busby. 12p. Child’s Play. May 2019. Board $3.99.
Baby-Toddler– “I know it’s…” begins each of these bilingual introductions, followed by sensory details and a range of familiar seasonal indoor and outdoor activities. Winter brings cold toes, “frozen fingers, and soggy socks,” along with “spikey ice sparkles,” while summer picnics at the beach “bring sandwiches in the sand…and sand in our sandwiches” (sándwiches in la arena…!y arena en los sándwiches!). Pastel artwork featuring round-faced preschoolers add appeal.

Le HÉnand, Alice. Bathtime. illus. by Thierry Bedouet. (Pull and Play Books). 14p. Twirl. Aug. 2019. Board $12.99. ISBN 9782408012823.
Toddler-PreS –A bear cub is too busy playing with a toy boat to take a bath. But when readers pull a tab on the side of the page, they see the little one gleefully splashing as Mommy looks on. Other youngsters learn similar lessons: a skeptical crocodile discovers the joys of the perfect bath, and a grumpy, shampoo-covered cat breaks into a smile as Daddy gently rinses him off. Homey illustrations in soft shades depict winsome parent/child pairs with appealingly oversize heads and big eyes. Relying heavily on dialogue, the encouraging text will have even the most bath-averse tots reaching for their towels and rubber ducks.

LIonni, Leo. A Little Book About Colors. illus. by author & Jan Gerardi. 28p. Random. May 2019. Board $8.99. ISBN 9780525582298.
Toddler-PreS –Lionni’s adorable mice teach readers about colors while having some summertime fun: relaxing in a sparkling pool (blue), sipping lemonade (yellow), and feasting on pickles (green). Simple text, paired with energetic collage-style illustrations, will speak to young readers. The cheery mice elevate a familiar concept, and little ones are sure to giggle when they reach the page labeled “gray”—a little rodent holding a flag streaks by, squealing, “Me!”

LODGE, Jo. Roar! Roar! I’m a Dinosaur. illus. by author. 10p. Scholastic/Cartwheel. Sept. 2019. Board $8.99. ISBN 9781338547818.
Toddler-PreS –This first book of dinosaurs is a perfect interactive read-aloud. Bold, saturated illustrations will engage youngsters, and sliding tabs make the pterodactyl flap, the stegosaurus stomp, and the T. Rex snap its teeth. Each page also includes a pronunciation guide and a fact about each dinosaur.

Matsuoka, Tatsuhide. Jump! illus. by author. 36p. Gecko Pr. Aug. 2019. Board $12.99. ISBN 9781776572311.
Toddler-PreS –A cat, a dog, a grasshopper, a fish, a rabbit, a pair of chickens, and a little girl all fly through the air with the greatest of ease. (Though the snail has a bit of trouble.) The creatures gaze solemnly at readers, but then each leaps: BOING! Limbs splayed, mouths wide, these animals cut comical figures, the absurdism heightened by Matsuoka’s graceful, streamlined design. Children will be begging for this one again and again.

MCDONALD , Jill. Ocean Life. illus. by author. (Hello World!). 26p. Doubleday. Feb. 2019. Board $7.99. ISBN 9780525578772.
Toddler-PreS –McDonald describes a variety of marine creatures, inviting young children to “dive in and take a look!” She devotes a spread each to whales, dolphins, sharks, an octopus, sea horses, crabs and lobsters, sea turtles, and jellyfish, offering a sentence or two about each species and a fun fact as a footnote. For example, after counting an octopus’s eight arms, readers are told that “an octopus also has three hearts, blue blood, nine brains, and no bones!” With lively cartoon watercolors throughout, this inviting introduction to ocean life provides basic information for young nature lovers.

MOYLE , Eunice & Sabrina Moyle. Kindness Rules! illus. by authors. (A Hello! Lucky Book). 24p. Abrams Appleseed. Apr. 2019. Board $8.99. ISBN 9781419734267.
Toddler-PreS –The Moyle sisters’ latest offering features the same energetic illustrations as their other books, this time with a focus on being kind, displaying good manners, and treating people the way you’d like to be treated. A high-spirited and engaging addition to any collection.

MROZIEWICZ, Elsa. Peek-a-Who Too? illus. by author. 22p. Minedition. Sept. 2019. Board $11.99. ISBN 9789888341818.
Baby-Toddler–The follow-up to Peek-a-Who? repeats that book’s format with questions (“Who says Croak Croak?”) posed on pages that open to reveal colorful illustrations of animals. Babies and toddlers will be delighted by the unusual triangular book shape, distinctive illustration style, and opportunities for their grown-ups to make hilarious animal sounds.

MUIR, John. Little Muir’s Song. illus. by Susie Ghahremani. 14p. Yosemite Conservancy. Aug. 2019. Board $8.99. ISBN 9781930238893.
Toddler-PreS –With simple words taken from the naturalist’s journal, this lovely title is more of a meditation than an informational text about the environment. As a jaunty John Muir heads out for an early morning hike in the mountains, he reminds readers that “The sun shines not on us but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us.” He encourages everyone to observe and listen to every song that nature has to offer and to make it their own. The paintings are as playful and exhilarating as a walk in the woods. A cheery and inspirational selection.

NOLL, Amanda. Are You My Monster? illus. by Howard McWilliam. 26p. Flashlight Pr. Aug. 2019. Board $8.99. ISBN 9781947277328.
Toddler-PreS –A young boy needs to find the monster in his drawing before he can go to sleep. Little ones will enjoy the parade of silly creatures he checks against his drawing, while also learning colors and matching. The sweet ending shows that even those with sharp teeth and scratchy claws can be cuddly, turning the monster-under-the-bed trope on its head.

SCRIBENS Sunny. Baby Dream/Soñando con bebé. ISBN 978178 2857372.
SILVER, Skye. Baby Play/Jugando con bebé.
ISBN 9781782857365.
WIEDER, Stefanie Paige. Baby Food/Comiendo con bebé. ISBN 9781782857389.
ea vol: tr. by Maria Perez. 26p. Barefoot Bks. Feb. 2019. Board $6.99. English-only editions are also available.
Baby-Toddler– Black-and-white photos of babies and their grown-ups feature prominently on every recto page of these delightful books, with text in English and Spanish on each verso. Rhymes and repeated phrases make them ideal for reading aloud (“Cuddle with me, Snug as can be/When it’s time/for us to rest…. I’ll sing a song/While you hum along/When it’s time for us to rest.”). Black, brown, white, Asian, and multiracial families are represented; the cover of Baby Play features a smiling tot with Down syndrome; and Baby Food depicts an infant nursing in the arms of her mother. A joyous and joyfully inclusive board book series, reminiscent of the close-up photography of Margaret Miller.

STEIN, Joshua David. Can You Eat? illus. by Julia Rothman. 30p. Phaidon. May 2019. Board $9.95. ISBN 9780714878829.
Toddler-PreS –Whimsical wordplay will enchant older toddlers as they ponder whether they can eat a moose, chocolate mousse, or a mouse. Rothman’s sophisticated illustrations will be a hit with adults, too.

WARD, Lindsay. Let’s Go!: A Flip-and-Find-Out Book. illus. by author. (Wheels on the Go). 30p. Harper Festival. Jul. 2019. Board $8.99 ISBN 978006286863.
Toddler-PreS –Vehicle enthusiasts will flip over this guessing game featuring six familiar wheels-about-town. On each spread a four-line verse on the left describes a vehicle (“I GO through alleys, collecting your trash./Load me up,/compact, and smash!”) and asks “CAN YOU GUESS WHAT I AM?” An illustration of a wheel provides a clue, while a turn of the partially cutaway right-hand page offers the answer in words and images.

Yonezu, Yusuke. Seek and Count. illus. by author. (Yonezu Board Book). 20p. Minedition. Mar. 2019. Board $11.99 ISBN 9789888341399.
Toddler-PreS –Yonezu’s counting book is an enticing blend of elegance and whimsy. The number one is paired with an image of an egg, but lifting the flap reveals a tiny yellow chick. More fun surprises await, some predictable (a red mitten contains five fingers), some unexpected (a picture of a blanket conceals three kittens). Set against crisp white pages, the images are bright and solid, and the flaps should stand up even to exuberant little hands.


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