By Gwen Vanderhage, MLIS
Selecting board books for public libraries can be tricky. Every time I am asked to work on a collection aimed at babies and toddlers for a library, I have to pose detailed questions. Do you want pull tabs? Pop-ups? Lift-the-flap? Only sturdy flaps? Die-cuts? Wheels? Padded cover? Finger puppets? Lap-size board? Noises? Touch and feel? Scratch and sniff? (Just kidding about that last one, but they DO get published sometimes!) When selecting, we can include or exclude certain features, using terms like “novelty” and “pop-up,” but those filters only address a limited number of details. Many libraries I work with automatically say “yes” to flaps but “no” to fuzz.
Here’s the thing: collection development philosophy dictates the kinds of board books a library selects—even those intended for babies. Many libraries choose to exclude all of the features listed above, which is certainly the way to go if the goal is to make those board books last. Or so you’d think… While interactive features are generally considered to shorten the shelf-life of board books, they can be critical for stimulating and capturing the attention of young children.
In her wonderful book Reading with Babies, Toddlers, and Twos, Susan Straub writes, “The importance of touch and feel to an infant cannot be overemphasized.” She goes on to explain, “Dragging your baby’s hand across a ‘bunny’s’ fur or a ‘chick’s’ feathers is a lovely feeling for you both. Each furry or feathery swatch prompts you to say something about it. What do you tell your baby?” We emphasize to families that talking with their babies is part of reading and a critical early literacy skill, and these kinds of books can be an important tool. Some parents, especially those with infants, tell us they are at a loss for what to say to their babies. Books like these invite conversation and help develop vocabulary. Parents can teach their children words prompted from their own experience, even in a language other than the one in which the book is written.
Lift-the-flap, tabs, and pop-ups offer the interactive excitement of making something happen in the story. Whoa, autonomy! Magic! They also provide the very young an opportunity to practice patience, manual dexterity, and fine motor skills.
In my opinion, many of the bestselling picture books that publishers choose to release in board book form are not at all geared to the audience. Maybe your three-year-old can’t be trusted with paper pages and picture books offer a sturdier alternative. Okay, I’ll give you that. But otherwise, many of the titles that don’t include interactive features are not actually suitable for babies. This puts caregivers in the position of trying to make storytime stimulating, while using books that aren’t up to the task. Worse, caregivers who don’t have access to interactive titles often give up reading to their babies altogether, bemoaning the inability of their little ones to sit still for a book. Our job as librarians is to encourage parents and kids to find the books they love, so we need to offer them engaging experiences that encourage reading and learning.
When I was a children’s librarian at a public library, our general rule of thumb was that a board book gets about five circs, after which it’s trashed. It didn’t matter if the title was smooth and featureless; it got chewed up by happy, teething readers. So if you’re anticipating such a short shelf-life, you might as well get something fuzzy, or otherwise tactile, to entice and interest the babies for whom the stories are intended. In the grand scheme of a library’s overall budget, board books are a small-ticket item.
At the same public library, we also had a large, rotating collection of Book Babies storytime tubs, with lots of these sorts of books that were non-circulating. Each tub contained 30 copies of a board book title. Three tubs went to each branch each week, allowing for communal reading of interactive books during storytime. This allowed the librarian to demonstrate different ways of using these special books. And, wonderfully, the library had more interactive titles available for families to take home.
Speaking librarian to librarian, my advice is if a library is really embracing programs for babies and the ALA’s Every Child Ready to Read program, it’s worth considering interactive titles.
How does your library do board books?
After spending many years as a children’s librarian and collection development specialist at Denver Public Library, Gwen joined Brodart to share her passion for children’s literature with as many different libraries as possible. Click here for more.