Recommended concept books

The books recommended below were reviewed by The Horn Book Magazine. Grade levels are only suggestions; the individual child is the real criterion.

 

Preschool

Except If by Jim Averbeck (Atheneum)
Predictable outcomes are turned upside down: an egg will hatch a baby bird, except if…said egg contains a baby snake or a baby lizard. Simple, focused, and funny, all the way to the satisfyingly circular ending. 40 pages.

LMNO Peas by Keith Baker (Simon/Beach Lane)
“We’re acrobats, artists, and astronauts in space. / We’re builders, bathers, and bikers in a race.” Peas are ascribed identities for each letter of the alphabet; visual and verbal jokes abound. 40 pages.

No Two Alike by Keith Baker (Simon/Beach Lane)
In a thoughtfully structured picture book, two little red birds explore a snowy landscape, while a rhyming text draws listeners into looking carefully at the pictures to find similarities and differences between things. 40 pages.

ABC3D illustrated by Marion Bataille (Porter/Roaring Brook)
This stylish red, black, and white alphabet book employs every trick in the pop-up and movable book lexicon, giving visual learners a boost at remembering sequence and letter shape. 40 pages.

While You Are Sleeping: A Lift-the-Flap Book of Time Around the World by Durga Bernhard (Charlesbridge)
This explanation of time zones opens with a mother and child sharing a book at ten p.m. in the Aleutian Islands. Meanwhile “someone is getting dressed” at 9:00 a.m. in Nigeria. Nine simultaneous events are shown. Round frames and gentle lines visually echo the story’s circularity. 24 pages.

Seasons by Blexbolex (Enchanted Lion)
This volume is artist’s portfolio, concept book, and word book rolled into one. Words in huge block capitals caption poster-style images; seasons are the organizing principle. Motifs include weather, trees, growth, and renewal. 180 pages.

The Happy Little Yellow Box: A Pop-Up Book of Opposites by David A. Carter (Little Simon)
An appealing square book with board pages introduces a smiley-faced yellow box. Cleverly engineered tabs and pop-ups bring outside and inside, up and down, and near and far to life. 16 pages.

Quinito, Day and Night / Quinito, día y noche written by Ina Cumpiano; illus. by José Ramírez (Children’s)
Quinito describes, in English and Spanish, his family, friends, and activities in terms of opposites. Warm, naive-style paintings are both comforting and energy-packed. A book of opposites, an exposition of bilingual vocabulary, and an engaging portrayal of family and neighborhood. 24 pages.

What Happens Next? and Who Lives Here? written by Nicola Davies; illus. by Marc Boutavant (Candlewick)
These colorful lift-the-flap books introduce basic science concepts to preschoolers. Who Lives Here? explores habitats and the animals who inhabit them; What Happens Next? is a study both of animal behavior and of cause and effect. 24 pages.

All the Awake Animals Are Almost Asleep written by Crescent Dragonwagon; illus. by David McPhail (Little, Brown)
An alphabet’s worth of cuddly animals prepare for bed in alliterative prose (“Rabbit relaxes into restful repose, dreaming of ripe red radishes”). Twilight tones and lullaby-like text make for a soothing bedtime experience. 40 pages.

Shout! Shout It Out! by Denise Fleming (Holt)
A friendly teacher addresses her students: “Everybody loves to shout. So, if you know it, SHOUT it out!” Colorful pages follow, filled with things (numbers, letters, animals, etc.) for preschoolers to identify. The engaging pulp painting illustrations feature zippy mixed-media accents. 40 pages.

Blue Chameleon by Emily Gravett (Simon)
A lonely chameleon adapts color, stance, and action to mimic hoped-for friends (e.g., grasshopper, snail, striped sock). Finally he meets a member of his own species, to joy on both sides. Minimal dialogue and expressive illustrations add deeper meaning to the simple scenario. 32 pages.

Perfect Square by Michael Hall (Greenwillow)
The protagonist, a square, is “perfectly happy.” On Monday it arranges itself into a fountain; on Tuesday it becomes a garden, etc. Bold acrylic monotype ink prints feature skillfully snipped, ripped, or crumpled papers, arrayed in collages made eloquent by a few deft lines. 40 pages.

Wow! Said the Owl written by Tim Hopgood (Farrar)
A little owl wakes up to the colorful daytime world, greeting each new sight (yellow sun, green leaves, a rainbow) with “WOW!” There’s just enough embellishment in the vivid mixed-media illustrations to flesh out each sentence without distracting from the story’s simplicity. 32 pages.

Dot by Patricia Intriago (Farrar/Ferguson)
This opposites book uses a circle as its sole subject and character. Bold graphics, mostly in black and white, highlight meaning with variations on the circle theme. The book also reflects the arc of a child’s day, beginning with the sunrise on the cover and ending with a full moon. 40 pages.

Ones and Twos by Marthe Jocelyn and Nell Jocelyn (Tundra)
In this concept book, rhyming text describes two friends who meet up at the park. The text counts single items and pairs, each easily found in the art. Cut-paper collages employ a wide range of colorfully patterned and textured paper that will have viewers poring over the details. 24 pages.

One Night in the Zoo by Judith Kerr (Kane/Miller)
A sequence of astonishing events occurs one night in the zoo, beginning with an elephant who “flew.” The animals gather on the final spread, emphasizing the book’s counting-book element. Humor-filled, uncluttered illustrations are best for one-on-one sharing. 32 pages.

Follow the Line to School by Laura Ljungkvist (Viking)
A continuous black line wends its way through pages of bustling collage illustrations, taking the shape of words and various objects. The line snakes through the school’s front door and enters a colorful classroom while the text asks questions about the items pictured. 32 pages.

10 Hungry Rabbits: Counting & Color Concepts by Anita Lobel (Knopf)
When Mama Rabbit announces her plans to make vegetable soup, her ten children — each wearing a different color — gather ingredients: one purple cabbage, two white onions, etc. The book’s color and number concepts are reinforced in multiple ways through words and pictures. 24 pages.

Ten Little Caterpillars written by Bill Martin Jr.; illus. by Lois Ehlert (Simon/Beach Lane)
This counting book showcases ten caterpillar species in lush settings that incorporate and label the flora and fauna of their habitats. The tenth caterpillar becomes a chrysalis, then matures into a butterfly. Gentle rhyme provides quiet background for vibrant illustrations. 40 pages.

One Two That’s My Shoe! by Alison Murray (Hyperion/Disney)
The girl-dog pair — and classic art style — from Murray’s Apple Pie ABC is back in this twist on the rhyme “One Two Buckle My Shoe.” Lively illustrations show the dog playing keep-away with the girl’s red shoe as the story counts items from one to ten. A step above most counting books. 32 pages.

Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (Roaring Brook/Porter)
Two words on each spread describe a scene: “forest green / sea green / lime green / pea green,” leading to more abstract concepts: “all green / never green / no green / forever green.” With rhyming text, die cuts, and a story for those willing to look carefully, this is an artistic triumph. 40 pages.

One Boy written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (Roaring Brook/Porter)
Seeger’s counting book doubles as a hidden-words book; its seemingly random sequence is plausibly revealed on the last spread. 48 pages.

What If? by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (Roaring Brook/Porter)
What if two seals found a beach ball and began to toss it around? And what if a third seal wanted to join? Three possible scenarios play out in lush pages with inviting textures, visible brushstrokes, saturated colors, and eye-holding compositions. 32 pages.

Wombat Walkabout written by Carol Diggory Shields; illus. by Sophie Blackall (Dutton)
A hungry dingo eyes six woolly wombats. They disappear, one by one, until only two are left. Pairing their wombat wiles with innate digging abilities, the two hatch a rescue plan. Repeated refrains, amusing rhymes, and predictable plot are appealing. 32 pages.

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature written by Joyce Sidman; illus. by Beth Krommes (Houghton)
Scratchboard illustrations, vividly depicting spirals in nature, suffuse every page with color, shape, and movement. Each spread offers a treasure trove of details that will captivate the youngest readers. The simple text is powerful and poetic. 40 pages.

The Sleepy Little Alphabet: A Bedtime Story from Alphabet Town written by Judy Sierra; illus. by Melissa Sweet (Knopf)
Twenty-six lowercase letters try to avoid bedtime. Starting with a, we progress through tooth-brushing, undressing, and bedtime stories with intermittent bursts of off-task silliness. Lively rhyming text and letters full of attitude present the alphabet sequence in a memorable way. 40 pages.

Whose Shoes?: A Shoe for Every Job by Stephen R. Swinburne (Boyds)
Crisp, clear photographs showcase special shoes for special jobs, first presenting a photograph of shoes; posing the question “Whose shoes?”; and, with a page turn, providing the answer and a full image of the worker. 32 pages.

Paul Thurlby’s Alphabet by Paul Thurlby (Candlewick/Templar)
Thurlby brings his “retro-modern, mid-twentieth-century” look to an impressive alphabet book which succeeds in keeping a high standard of art, design, and child appeal.64 pages.

Press Here by Hervé Tullet (Chronicle/Handprint)
This ingenious interactive book invites readers to press, tilt, blow, and clap to “transform” brightly colored dots. The simplicity of presentation illuminates picture books’ tactile aspect. 64 pages.

Baby Bear Sees Blue by Ashley Wolff (Simon/Beach Lane)
A curious young bear explores his world with his mother, asking questions about what he hears (a blue jay), what he smells (red strawberries), what he sees (an orange butterfly). Each time, Baby Bear stops to experience the color. 40 pages.

 

Primary

Suggested grade level for each entry: K–3

Z Is for Moose written by Kelly Bingham; illus. by Paul O. Zelinsky (Greenwillow)
In this funny, inventive ABC, an orderly procession of letters begins, but at D, eager Moose pushes Duck off the stage. Though referee Zebra says it’s not his turn, Moose breaks into every page. The zany cartoon style is perfect for Moose’s antics. 32 pages.

An Annoying ABC written by Barbara Bottner; illus. by Michael Emberley (Knopf)
In this disorderly classroom, Adelaide annoys Bailey who blames Clyde, etc.; the pandemonium continues through Z. The students engage in refreshingly childlike actions, which add up to a whole lot of slapstick fun. 32 pages.

Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature by Sarah C. Campbell (Boyds)
With its clutter-free pages; crisp, colorful photographs; and clear text, this book is an attractive, satisfying introduction to the Fibonacci sequence. Photographs of pinecones, pineapples, and sunflowers help demonstrate the concept. 32 pages.

A Call for a New Alphabet by Jef Czekaj (Charlesbridge)
Disgruntled X incites the other letters to question the authority of alphabetical sequence. They then vote on whether to create a new order. The eclectic design mixes regular typesetting with word balloons and keeps the pace lively with full spreads, inset boxes, and panels. 40 pages.

Billy & Milly, Short & Silly written by Eve B. Feldman; illus. by Tuesday Mourning (Putnam)
In brief vignettes, three or four rhyming words tell a story. Collage illustrations help connect the words and encourage readers to guess what’s coming next. Distinctive background colors hold the individual tales together and signal readers when a new story has started. 32 pages.

Everything I Need to Know Before I’m Five by Valorie Fisher (Random/Schwartz & Wade)
This brightly colored, lively encyclopedia is a lot of fun for the youngest readers. Amusing photographs of elementary concepts (numbers, opposites, shapes, colors and color mixing, weather, and the alphabet) fill each well-laid-out spread. 40 pages.

The Dangerous Alphabet written by Neil Gaiman; illus. by Gris Grimly (HarperCollins)
This subversive fairy tale of an abecedarian is full of wordplay and metafictional winks. Rhyming couplets introduce one letter per line, while gruesome caricatures relate the encompassing story: a brother and sister embark on a treasure hunt through the city sewers. 32 pages.

Country Road ABC: An Illustrated Journey Through America’s Farmland by Arthur Geisert (Houghton)
A continuous panorama follows a road from the city into the country. As we travel, day is followed by night — and summer is followed by fall, and then winter. Fine intaglio line with delicate watercolor is ideally suited to both close-ups and wide vistas. 64 pages.

The Rabbit Problem by Emily Gravett (Simon)
This book designed as a calendar explores Fibonacci’s mathematical rabbit problem. January starts with one lonely rabbit seeking a friend. Soon this bunny and partner are expecting their first — of many — offspring. Readers will enjoy the volume’s droll layered ephemera, watercolors, collage, and mini-books. 32 pages.

Infinity and Me written by Kate Hosford; illus. by Gabi Swiatkowska (Carolrhoda)
Uma, looking up at the endless stars, begins to ponder infinity. Explanations overwhelm her, but Uma finds her own understanding of infinity in her love for Grandma. This ambitious picture book distills an enormously complex idea to a manageable serving. 40 pages.

Lemonade in Winter: A Book About Two Kids Counting Money written by Emily Jenkins; illus. by G. Brian Karas (Random/Schwartz & Wade)
In this engaging story and math lesson, two siblings try to capture the summer magic of a lemonade stand on a frigid, snowy day. Pencil-and-ink drawings reflect the feeling and color of winter; the brightness of the lemonade contrasts with the muted surroundings. 40 pages.

Seeing Symmetry by Loreen Leedy (Holiday)
Leedy points out that “if you can fold a shape exactly in half, it has symmetry.” Many visual examples will help young math students understand the concept. The pages are colorful, lively, and easy to understand in this encouraging, accurate book. 32 pages.

All Aboard!: A Traveling Alphabet written and illustrated by Bill Mayer (McElderry)
The relevant letter is incorporated into each travel-themed image in this magnetic, art deco–style abecedarian homage to travel posters of the 1920s. 32 pages.

Just In Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book by Yuyi Morales (Roaring Brook/Porter)
Ghost Zelmiro reminds skeleton Señor Calavera that he forgot a gift for Grandma Beetle’s birthday. Calavera quickly gathers presents, which get ruined. All ends well in a sweetly surreal conclusion. Full-bleed art in brilliant sunset hues portrays an amiable, dreamlike world. 40 pages.

Apple Pie ABC by Alison Murray (Hyperion)
A freshly baked apple pie sets off a series of alphabetical responses in this story of a sprightly dog driven to bad behavior by a strong pastry craving. The illustrations (with a palette of blues, reds, and yellows) resemble linocut prints. 32 pages.

Ben Franklin: His Wit and Wisdom from A–Z written by Alan Schroeder; illus. by John O’Brien (Holiday)
In this alphabetical compendium of Franklin highlights, each spread features a letter or two initializing significant places, inventions, people, etc. Details are dramatized in deftly ordered boxes, banners, and balloons, all rendered in pen and ink and brightened with watercolor. 32 pages.

Ten Birds by Cybèle Young (Kids Can)
In a clever, handsomely illustrated counting book, ten birds (described in report-card lingo) endeavor to cross a river, each contriving its own transport. It’s “Needs Improvement” who’s smart enough to simply walk over the bridge. 32 pages.

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Comments

  1. Great suggestions! I would add:
    * Margaret Wise Brown and Leonard Weisgard, The Important Book
    * Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss, Is This You?
    * Istvan Banyai, Zoom
    * Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash, the Bow-Wow board books: Bow-Wow Attracts Opposites, Bow-Wow 12 Months Running, and so on.
    * Lois Ehlert, Color Farm and Color Zoo
    * Antonio Frasconi, See and Say
    * Francesco Pittau & Bernadette Gervais, Elephant Elements
    * Richard McGuire, The Orange Book
    * Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich, Bembo’s Zoo
    * Stephen Johnson, Alphabet City and City by Numbers
    * Karla Kuskin, Roar and More

  2. When I had read the headline of your blog I was very much surprised though after looking at the whole write-up, I recognize it correctly. Very very intriguing content.

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