What Is a Board Book?
Though most people associate picture books with small children, board books are usually a better option for the smallest of readers due to their durable design. Board books are typically painted on a thick paperboard, making them hard to rip and able to endure chewing and biting. They are also usually small in size, making them easier for little hands to hold. Finally, they typically have rounded edges to prevent injury. Board books are most suitable for readers from birth to around age three.
What Types of Board Books Should You Look For?
When choosing a board book, you should keep in mind the developmental needs of the young reader, not their caregiver. Board books that contain the full text of picture books are too long and unlikely to hold a young child’s interest. Likewise, board books that appeal to an adult’s knowledge of pop culture, history, literature, or science will probably be incomprehensible to a baby or a toddler.
In general, you should look for board books that have very little text, though the amount will change as a young reader grows. For example, board books for newborns often contain a simple image paired with a word. However, a two-year-old will probably appreciate a board book with a simple, rhyming text or a short story that is silly. Repetition is good for all ages, allowing them to anticipate an upcoming phrase and say it with the reader. When selecting books for newborns in particular, look for books in black-in-white or with high contrast images. Their eyesight is still developing, so books like this help them see the pictures better.
See our list of board books recommended for baby showers.
How Do You Read a Board Book?
Many adults gravitate towards board books that are really picture books on paperboard because they are familiar with these stories. They remember them from their own childhood, they like them, and they know what to do with them–just read the story! In contrast, board books that are developmentally appropriate for little ones may seem confusing. How does one read a book that is just a series of images with a word next to it? Also, isn’t this boring?
The trick to remember is that babies and toddlers are not “reading” a book in the same way adults do. They are not sitting down with a book, flipping it in order, and looking at the text on every page. The littlest ones may really just be grabbing and biting a book. Older ones might grab the pages and flip through them out of order, even if an adult is in the middle of reading from a page. In some sense, sitting down to read with a child is really more about a creating a ritual where the caregiver and child spend quality time together, as well as creating a foundation of reading. Read every night before bed, and that habit is likely to stay with a child as they grow. Go to story time at the library every week, and a child begins to associate the library and reading with fun.
Reading to little ones is also about exposing them to a variety of words. Newborns, of course, probably do not really know what is happening when their caregiver starts reading to them. However, it is important that they hear a large number of words each day, as this will help them build their vocabulary and be the foundation of their early childhood literacy. Talking and singing to baby are just as important in this regard, which is why parents are encouraged to point out things to baby throughout the course of the day, saying things like, “Oh, I see a bluebird on the window there. Isn’t she pretty? Do you hear her song?” Or, “It’s time to change your diaper now! I’m going to pick you UP! And now I’m going to put you DOWN!” It may seem silly or uncomfortable, but baby needs to hear words–all kinds of words. Reading to little ones is another way to expose them to a more expansive vocabulary. After all, one does not necessarily normally talk about hippos or alligators in the course of daily life. Reading to little ones helps them learn about new concepts.
So how do you read a board book if you cannot just read it straight through, as you might read a story yourself? Spend a lot of time on the pictures–especially for the smallest ones–and ask plenty of questions, even if baby cannot talk or answer for themselves yet. If you have a board book that just has images paired with a word, you can say things like, “What do you see on this page? I see a butterfly! What color is the butterfly? Have you ever seen a butterfly?” Pause after each question and, then respond as if baby has answered.
Once baby has grown a bit, you can add simple movements to your reading. For example, you might say, “I see a butterfly! Can you wave your arms like a butterfly?” Or maybe, “The horse is running across the grass. Let’s all kick our legs like we are running!” If you are learning concepts like shapes, you might have them try to trace the shape on the page or in the air.
Once little ones can answer, you can start asking more complex questions. You could say, “The cat is sitting on the chair. What sound does a cat make?” Or, “What did the girl’s brother do? How do you think the girl is feeling? How do you know? ” You can also start to build literacy skills like prediction by saying something like, “What do you think will happen next? Oh? That’s a good guess! Let’s turn the page and find out!”
As you read, you may find that you have to substitute simpler words for complex ones that young readers will not know. Or you may choose to skip all or part of the text and simply focus on the pictures, asking little readers what they see happening. That’s okay. The point of reading to babies and toddlers is not to say every word on the page. It is to familiarize them with more words, teach them new concepts, and teach them reading skills like anticipating what might happen next. Reading every word out loud is not necessary for this to happen.
Reading board books aloud does not have to be a challenge. Simply remember to focus on the pictures and ask plenty of questions. And, as with any skill, practicing will help you feel improve and feel more confident!