Board books, those small-sized, thick cardboard books with brightly colored pictures and rounded corners, are celebrating their 70th birthday (more or less). They were born with the baby boom in the late 1940’s, came in various shapes and sometimes included tactile surfaces for babies to touch.
By the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, board books became a recognized “genre” of children’s literature. Illustrator Helen Oxenbury was an early pioneer of these books meant for one- and two-year-old children. Some of her books have become classics.
They have caught on for many reasons. Board books are small in size, some just two inches square, perfect for tiny hands. Their pictures are simple illustrations of babies and little children. The illustrations use primary colors to attract toddler eyes. The round edges of the books can be chewed by teething babies. Board books can be flung, chewed and slapped without ripping.
Some board books have become classics, such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle and Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. Others teach ABC’s and counting. Many focus on babies—animal babies and human babies. Some have words—just a few and often in rhyme—but many are wordless.
Babies can learn quite a bit about literacy from “reading” board books. They learn that books start on the left-hand side and move to the right. They learn that book pages flip right to left in English. They learn that there is a right-side-up to books. They learn that the pictures and words have meaning. They learn that reading is a fun experience and often a special time with someone they cherish.
For most children today, board books are their introduction to reading.