Sue Lowell Gallion


By Sue Lowell Gallion (adapted from a post for NF Fest 2022)

It is such a joy to introduce children to nature, starting with the very youngest. There is nothing like walking outdoors with a baby on your hip, giving her the opportunity to touch smooth leaves, rough bark, or the layers of a pinecone as you talk about the amazing world around us.

Books, particularly board books, offer a tactile experience to young readers as well. The size, shape, and other physical features of the book communicate along with the text and illustrations. Today’s board books offer many novelty elements that can enhance nonfiction subjects for the youngest child. In addition to the sturdy, chewable (and safety tested) cardboard pages of a board book, consider the shape of the book and other physical elements as creative tools available to you.

For example, PEEK-A-BABY OCEAN by Mike Orodan (Chronicle, 2019) uses wave-shaped pages to introduce marine creatures in their habitats and lift-the-flaps to reveal the matching babies.The combination of shape, design, illustrations, and text along with the peek-a-boo activity makes this a marvelous nonfiction concept board book. PEEK-A-BABY FARM is a companion title.

Nonfiction board books can appeal to a wide range of ages, with layers of information for younger and older readers. BUG HOTEL by Libby Walden, illustrated by Clover Robin (Caterpillar/Little Tiger, 2018) is shaped like a house, with each spread dedicated to one insect.

When my first grandchild arrived, I became more interested in (obsessed with?) board books. I knew many board books are created by author/illustrators or in-house. But I made a point of attending a workshop on novelty board books for authors and author-illustrators by Ariel Richardson, editor at Chronicle Books, at an SCBWI-Kansas/Missouri conference several years ago.

Ariel encouraged attendees to brainstorm how the physical shape of a book could enhance a story or a subject. The one requirement was that the book must have a spine, so it could be shelved. She suggested we also explore novelty elements, such as die cuts, different textures for surfaces such as scratchy or mirrored, and lift-the-flaps. These suggestions could be included as illustration options in a board book manuscript.

The final exercise was to take paper, stapler, and scissors and brainstorm with book dummies (See the Action Item below!) As I snipped, I wondered if a board book about the world might take the shape of a globe. And in 2020, OUR WORLD: A First Book of Geography, illustrated by Lisk Feng, was released by Phaidon Press. A second book in the series, OUR SEASONS: The World in Winter, Spring, Summer, and Autumn, releases April 20, 2022.

Many board books will grow with a child. Details in layers of text, illustrations, and physical aspects of the book become more meaningful to the child as he enters different stages of development.

Finally, as a geography lover, I have to share Chihiro Takeuchi’s PAPER PEEK ANIMALS (Candlewick Studio, 2020). This square novelty board book introduces the continents, animals that are native to each continent, and the world map. It also includes counting and seek and find elements. Die cut windows in the shape of animals emphasize the seek and find activity. And there’s a companion board book, PAPER PEEK COLORS.

There’s so much choice in board books today. Move beyond the classics and explore the amazing options available to share!

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