The books reviewed in this column are ideal for babies and toddlers to enjoy with a parent or caregiver, or in preschool setting. With the use of simple texts and eye-catching illustrations, the authors and illustrators of these board books and picture books introduce young readers to engaging characters and experiences and offer gentle messages about being curious, taking pleasure in the simple wonders and beauty of the natural world, and loving and appreciating those around us.
Becoming a Butterfly (Little Kids First Board Book). Ruth A. Musgrave. (2023). National Geographic Kids.
Attention-grabbing cover art that features an adult swallowtail butterfly and a small caterpillar’s “I can’t wait to grow up!” pronouncement in a thought bubble introduces young children to this board book about one of nature’s most popular insects, the butterfly, and its fascinating life cycle: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis), and adult butterfly. Double-page spreads feature photographs of butterflies, identified by their common names, and a simple text of short sentences in a large font with key words in color. Ruth A. Musgrave’s inconclusion of thought bubbles such as a butterfly’s “Yum!” while drinking sweet nectar or “Ta-da!” after emerging from its chrysalis adds humor. Use of onomatopoeic words like “Munch. Munch.” and “Slurp!” provide opportunities for expressive reading aloud. As in the other books in the Little Kids First Board Book series, the final spread provides several interactive learning activities.
Here Comes Spring! Susan Kantor. Illus. by Katya Longhi. (2023). Little Simon.
“Here comes spring, // all fresh and green.” Susan Kantor’s rhyming text and Katya Longhi’s colorful illustrations invite young children to join a playful group of animal friends as they say goodbye to the cold of winter and welcome the new life spring brings. Readers will relate to the woodland animals who, dressed like people, engage in familiar spring activities such as looking for ladybugs, picking dandelions and blowing their seeds into a gentle breeze, and making flower necklaces. Then, “like merry robins, // we sing a song to spring.” Here Comes Spring! is a companion to Kantor and Longhi’s other board books that celebrate the seasons of the year: Here Comes Fall! (2021), Hooray for Snowy Days! (2021), and Hooray for Sunny Days! (2022).
I’m a Little Bunny (I’m a Little). Hannah Eliot. Illus. by Liz Brizzi. (2023). Little Simon.
Following the format of the “I’m a Little Teapot” nursery rhyme song, Hannah Eliot’s text, complemented by Liz Brizzi’s lively cartoon artwork, introduces three little bunnies, one at a time, who are excited by the arrival of spring. For example, “I’m a little bunny— / look at me! / I bounce and I hop / so happily. // When I feel the warm breeze, / I will say: // ‘SPRING IS HERE! / YIPEE! HOORAY!’” From frolicking in breezy fields and admiring blooming flowers, to discovering delicious treats of clover and making friends with animals who have just migrated back or awakened from hibernation, the three little bunnies enjoy the return of spring. This joyful board book ends with their exuberant declaration, “Everyone’s awake now, / so we will call: / ‘HAPPY SPRING TO ONE AND ALL!’”
Let’s Go Puddling! Emma Perry. Illus. by Claire Alexander. (2023). Candlewick.
Claire Alexander sets the scene for this picture book on the front endpaper, revealing a city apartment building on a rainy day. “Clouds gather, / skies darken, / rain falls, / puddles appear. / “‘Let’s go!’” Emma Perry’s simple, lyrical text combines with Alexander’s watercolor-inspired digital illustrations to tell a joyous story about three young friends who relish in puddling together at their building’s playground on a rainy day while their parents shelter nearby under an umbrella. They “stimp, stamp, stomp!” and “splish, splash, splosh!” through puddles—teeny ones, muddy ones, enormous ones, and deep ones—and delight as a shaking wet dog and a bicyclist riding by get them wetter and wetter. At last, when socks are soggy and toes are cold, the friends head back inside to dry off and enjoy a nice big “SNUGGLE” with their parents on the couch in one family’s apartment. Children may catch a glimpse of a rainbow in the window just before this heartwarming story ends with its final illustration of a rainbow above the building on the back endpaper.
Little Chicks. Taro Gomi. (2023). Chronicle.
Originally published in Japan, this board book by author-illustrator Taro Gomi couples his signature style of colorful, minimalistic illustrations and simple sentences to tell a sweet story about three little chicks who leave the chicken coop and spend the day exploring the world around them. “Three little chicks run. // They run together.” The chicks excitedly run and run and run, stopping occasionally to rest or to hide from a predator flying above. The chicks’ adventurous day even includes taking a bus ride before running some more. Then at last, they run home to their parents, who are waiting with loving, open wings. This story offers young children a simple, yet powerful, reminder about the warmth and reassurance of loved ones.
Llama Pajamas (Early Bird Stories). Jenny Jinks. Illus. by Addy Rivera Sonda. (2023) Lerner.
A llama named Larry is fed up with being too hot. Terry, another llama, suggests going for a swim or sitting in the shade beneath a tree, but nothing seems to help. Hearing this, Edna, an older llama, offers to help, and Larry’s wool is gone with a “SNIP! SNIP! SNIP!” He likes his short hair and is finally cool. But now, Larry is too cold at night. Edna steps in again and knits him a pair of pajamas with a “CLICK! CLACK! CLICK! CLACK!” Soon, the other llamas want short hair and pajamas, too. Once more, Edna steps in—and the story ends with a llama pajama slumber party for all! Like other books in this series for emerging readers, Llama Pajamas includes a short quiz to check for understanding.
Maisy’s Ambulance (Go with Maisy Board Books). Lucy Cousins. (2023). Candlewick.
When an emergency calls, Maisy the mouse and Charley the crocodile have an important job to do. Their siren (“Nee-nah, nee-nah!”) alerts other cars to make way for their ambulance and allows them to arrive quickly at the scene of an accident. Poor Eddie the elephant has fallen while roller skating, leaving him with a very sore trunk. Using their first aid kits, Charley puts an ice pack on Eddie’s bruised trunk, and Maisy wraps it with a bandage. Eddie now feels better and is appreciative for the help he receives from the Maisy and Charley rescue team. This sturdy board book shaped like an ambulance with Lucy Cousins’ simple text and signature childlike illustrations featuring Maisy and her animal friends painted in gouache in bright colors and outlined with heavy black lines gives young readers a child-friendly glimpse into the important work of special first responders.
Mommy Time. Monique James-Duncan. Illus. by Ebony Glenn. (2023). Candlewick. In her debut picture book, Monique James-Duncan celebrates the specialness of the “mommy time” shared by a stay-at-home mother and her two children, a toddler boy and a school-age girl. Using short, rhythmic phrases, the author’s words mirror the youthfulness of the toddler telling the story while also expressing the hustle and bustle of the mother’s balancing of playtime with errands and caring tasks. “She hurries with the cleanup time. / Me? Help? It’s so exhausting time! / Sweeping time, laundry time. / Put down to nap. // Give a snack. / It’s stinky diaper changing time.” Ebony Glenn’s digital illustrations in soft pastels and earthy tones add a layer of warmth to this story as she captures the mother’s nurturing demeaner and the love that is felt by all the members of this Black family.
Nat the Cat Takes a Bath (Nat the Cat #2). Jarrett Lerner. (2023). Simon Spotlight.
The never seen narrator (whose words appear in large, black print) declares, “Nat the Cat is going to take a bath,” and Jarrett Lerner’s cartoonlike illustrations showing stench coming off the cat and flies buzzing around make it clear that he needs one. Nat, however, does not want to take a bath. When the narrator asks whether he is scared of the bath, Nat comes up with excuse after excuse—wanting bubbles, needing toys, and not having a towel—to avoid getting in the tub. As Nat finally admits to being afraid, his friend, Pat, a rat who loves taking baths, comes along and dives in, leaving Nat wet and contemplating his next move. Toddlers who love tub time will be delighted with the ending of this story that shows Nat and Pat sitting together and smiling in the tub. Consider Nat the Cat Takes a Nap (2023), the first book in the series, for another shared reading experience.
Peekaboo Rex! (Boynton on Board). Sandra Boynton. (2023). Boynton Bookworks.
“PEEKABOO! I SEE YOU! // Do you see ME behind a tree?” A big T. rex is playing hide-and-seek with a much smaller dinosaur friend. With each of his not-well-chosen hiding spots—behind a tree or potted plant, under a blanket, in a crowd (in “Where’s Waldo” fashion), or even up high in the sky in an airplane—he is always easily discovered by the little dino with a “Peekaboo!” The circle cut-out on the front cover of the board book invites young children to frame their faces for their very own game of peekaboo with Rex!
Skye Deiter is a third-grade classroom teacher in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and a mom of two curious and adventurous toddlers who love books!
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG).