Updated: Mar 6, 2020
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When you think of classic board books, you probably think of the ones from your own childhood. These are the books we remember reading in our parent's lap and so they become part of the fabric of who we are, like our earliest memories. These are the board books given at baby showers and inscribed with something to the effect of "this was my favorite book when I was little. I hope your little one will love it too." Children's books have a way of invoking powerful feelings in adults like no other object money can buy.
When I was teaching middle school, I did a novel study each year of Where the Red Fern Grows every year. Written in 1974, it follows a boy during the Depression Era as he develops work ethic, perseverance and faith. When “selling” this novel to a group of twelve- and thirteen-year-olds, I had to combat the old “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” cliche. So before I even showed them the book, we would talk about what the word “classic” means. What comes to mind when you think of the word? What does it mean for something to be “classic”? Inevitably we would arrive at the conclusion that for something to be a “classic,” it had to be old, but still cool.
And this was my pitch. That a book that was considered a classic was a classic for a reason. Because people down through the ages could still connect with the story. In this case, a boy and his love for his dogs. Let me tell you, they ate it up and by the time (spoiler alert) Billy buries Little Ann next to Old Dan, I had to pass out the tissues as my students were moved to tears. It didn’t matter that Billy was nothing like themselves; they felt… what was it? Empathy. It was a beautiful thing.
So it is with classic board books. So many of us remember reading Goodnight Moon or The Tale of Peter Rabbit as children, and are thrilled when our own children embrace it as we did. Whether it is the story itself, the soothing rhythm, the charming illustrations or the unforgettable rhyme, the classics are classics for a reason: they stand the test of time.
Here is my list of the 11 Best Classic Board Books for Babies and Toddlers.
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1. I am a Bunny (1963)
The simplicity of this book is what makes it a favorite. A bunny, dressed in an adorable ensemble, narrates the changing of the seasons and the animal behaviors characteristic of each.
2. Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955)
Harold's drawings come to life fueled by his imagination and his purple crayon. The fantastic journey unfolds in a clever and creative way that even adults will enjoy. Sure to inspire your budding artist!
3. The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902)
A cautionary tale of a bunny who did not obey his mother. Peter is a lovable character who gets into mischief but manages to find his way out. Children love the illustrations as much as they enjoy making a little mischief themselves.
4. Caps for Sale (1940)
A peddler encounters a tree full of monkeys who steal the stack of caps he is trying to sell. The "monkey business" that ensues make this a humorous read and the repetition with which the story is told helps to build suspense.
5. Harry the Dirty Dog (1956)
Harry is a dog who loves to get dirty and hates a bath. After a day of adventuring around town, his family doesn't recognize him because he has changed from "a white dog with black spots to a black dog with white spots." After some clever antics he is able to convince them to give him... a bath!
6. Big Red Barn (1956)
Although often overshadowed by her more popular titles, (Goodnight Moon, The Runaway Bunny) Margaret Wise Brown combines easy rhythm and barnyard animals to tell the story of a day on the farm, much to the delight of children for decades.
7. Are You My Mother? (1960)
A baby bird hatches from his nest only to find that his mother is gone. As he goes in search of her, he encounters other animals and one piece of construction equipment and asks them one by one, "Are you my mother?" A clever twist results in the bird being reunited with his true mother.
8. The Snowy Day (1962)
This is one of those "windows" books for us, because we live in the Deep South where it NEVER snows but also because Peter and his life look different from ours. The simplicity of making tracks in fresh fallen snow and exploring a world made new overnight will enchant any young reader.
9. Corduroy (1968)
A lovable bear goes in search of his missing button and has an after-hours adventure in a department store before being purchased and given a home (and a new button) by a young girl. In the end, they both find a friend.
10. The Very Hungry Caterpillar (1969)
A caterpillar eats his way through the days of the week and leaves a trail of die-cut holes along the way to becoming a butterfly. This book is great for learning to count and identifying foods, but also the basic concept of metamorphosis. That's a lot for a toddler book!
11. Brown Bear, Brown Bear (1967)
This book makes a great read-aloud for its repetition and rhythm. Eric Carle's collages depict animals of every color in a way that makes it a page-turner for little hands.
What did I miss? What were your favorite books from your early childhood? Check to see if it's on my list of 10 Best Books for Babies with All the Feels or 12 Modern Classic Board Books for Babies and Toddlers or leave a comment below.