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Board Books vs. Picture Books

Which Format is Better for Kids?

By Barbara HagenNovember 07, 2021

Over the past several weeks, the team here at ThriftBooks has put focus on the importance of Raising a Reader, encouraging middle grade readers especially to pick up a book and not always a screen. Recently, we have partnered with organizations like Barbershop Books and, currently, with Orion Jean and his Race to Kindness initiative, to focus on providing kids with books they want to read through our book donations and book fairs. The number of books needing homes is endless so we will happily continue along with these efforts and partnerships.

Since November is National Family Literacy Month, I thought I would take a moment to share my thoughts on reading to those littlest ones between the ages of 0-4 and the oft asked question when selecting books for this age: Which is better, Board Books or Picture Books?

The Benefit of Board Books: Size, Senses, and Stories

I find one of the greatest appeals of the board book is its size and shape. Given the limited fine motor skills a baby or toddler has, a board book's size and shape make it very easy to hold, fitting perfectly into those tiny hands. Its thick pages have a high durability to them, enabling self-serving page turning—something most at this age cannot do with the pages of a picture book. And let's face it, those thick pages can easily withstand all the shaking, pulling, and slapping that comes its way.

Board books also bring a variety of stories to life with their contrasting colors and rhythmic words. The bright, vibrant colors and bold pictures are appealing to little ones. While the words may seem repetitive to you and I, and, possibly, not hold much meaning to us, those phrases, are, in fact, resonating with your baby and toddler. Babies are making the connection between what you say and what they see. The more that book is read, the stronger the connection grows. This repetitive storyline makes the experience for the baby or toddler an engaging one.

The most popular board books are the classics such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Goodnight Moon, and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? But did you know there is also a growing number of nonfiction board books? The National Geographic Look and Learn series, with 18 different topics, is one is one of my favorite nonfiction board book series. As is the Be Kind Little One box set from Mudpuppy, whose board book sets make great "get started reading" gifts.

Given all this goodness with board books, is there even a place for the classic picture book? Most definitely!

A Purpose for Picture Books: Language, Learning, and Love

Picture books bring a fantastic combination of words and pictures onto its pages and move a story beyond simple repetitive words. New words and phrases are introduced, often in a rhyming nature, which aid in building the language skills of children. These words and phrases also encourage imagination as little minds explore new ideas and the details they observe as they go through the book.

This elevated journey of language naturally leads to deeper learning. Not just learning about new words and phrases but about life concepts, such as friendships, values, and relationships with the people and world around them. These important subjects are presented in an approachable way, with a reading comprehension level appropriate for this age. I do find that some of the concepts presented may not be fully understood by the child when first reading the book, but as time goes on, and you revisit the story over and over again, these deeper concepts sink in a bit more each time. This takes the learning impact of picture books beyond the surface and into something that grows with the child.

Finally, picture books can be instrumental in creating a strong emotional connection between the reader and the child. They are a great routine activity, such as story time before bed, with this routine creating a bond and having that bond strengthen as time goes on.

Story Time Makes a Difference

When my kids were young, we began the routine of reading a picture book before bed. I certainly enjoyed this distraction-free time with my kids, but I will be honest…there were some nights where I was tired by the time bedtime came around and I didn't feel like reading three different picture books (each of my three children could pick their favorite story each night). But the joy my kids experienced from the routine was heart-warming. From selecting the book, to snuggling up to listen, to practically reciting the book from memory, the entire experience was always storybook perfect.

I didn't fully realize the impact of this connection until years later. My son created a Mother's Day card at school for me and the teacher had the students write a "List of things your mom does for you that you love." There, in between "making my favorite chicken and rice dinner" and "driving me to theatre rehearsal" was "reading to me at night." Reading! On a list of things he loves from me! How wonderful!

My kids are older now (ages 16, 16, and 12) so unfortunately my picture book reading days are behind me… Or are they? I think I'll bring out their favorite picture books this weekend and see what happens.

Some of our favorite picture books:

Read more by Barbara Hagen

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