We’ve talked briefly about what makes a good board book for brand-new people before. Here, I want to elaborate on a specific author who does a particularly great job with this genre, and has since the 1970s (whoa.).
Board books are often pretty simple, and this is by design. FFS, they’re specifically constructed for a group of people famous for destroying everything their dimply little hands touch out of sheer lack of coordination or sense of social norms.
These people, though unbearably cute, do not have the longest attention spans or most refined tastes (though they will definitely try to taste the book—-wocka wocka! But, seriously, to cut them some slack on that, you guys. <COOL PARENTING ADVICE>I know it seems like a really weird and gross thing to do because most of us can pretty much guess what a book is going to taste like without actually putting it in our mouths. But you know how people get to the point that they don’t need to put a book in their mouths to figure out what it’s all about? Sometime, at some point, when our brains were undeveloped blobs, EACH AND EVERY ONE OF US PUT A BOOK IN OUR MOUTH. And our brains remembered it, even if our souls have long forgotten. So let your kid slobber on the damn book. How else is she going to memorize just what, precisely, is cardboard, according to all of the senses?</COOL PARENTING ADVICE>.)
What many of these very simple board books don’t take into account, however, is the fact that its actual target audience isn’t actually reading the book at all, and in fact only kind of gets it when the book is read to them by their minion, I mean caregiver.
But, I mean, what are you going to do: ironic board books? With swears and droll humor, served on a shovel or written on a craft beer label? Though all of that actually sounds kind of excellent, it also seems like perhaps it sort of gets away from the whole, reading-a-baby-a-book concept.
Enter Sandra Boynton, who writes board books that are funny and charming enough to maintain parental engagement, yet simple, colorful, and kid-oriented enough to maintain baby engagement in equal measure. Whether it’s the Jerry from Parks and Recreation-like protagonist in But Not the Hippopotamus (who eventually emerges included and triumphant, and not because the other shitty characters suddenly found him useful, which is a super common theme in children’s books for some reason—-side-eye to Rainbow Fish, ahem); the turtle’s unique name in Fifteen Animals; or the “Navel Academy” pun in The Belly Button Book, Boynton manages to create brief stories and characters that at least somewhat amuse and edify everybody.
What’s more, Boynton is one of the few writers out there who specializes in board books specifically. Though many books are released in board-book form, Boynton’s books are unique in that they are never anything else: from concept to production, they are by and for babies. Well, except for the “by” part. Sandra Boynton isn’t a baby. She’s this lady right here:
Some particular faves of Dr. V.:
Are You a Cow?, Little Simon (a Simon and Schuster imprint), 1970
Fifteen Animals, Workman, 2003
But Not the Hippopotamus, Little Simon, 1982
The Belly Button Book, Workman, 2005
Blue Hat, Green Hat, Little Simon, 1984