Board Books Get an Award of Their Own

Board books don’t tend to win major awards. True, a handful have been named ALA Notable Children’s Books, including one of my all-time favorites, Global Babies by the Global Fund for Children. Many a Caldecott winner has later been republished in board book format, and some work well, notably Kevin Henkes’s Kitten’s First Full Moon. But beyond those outliers, I’ve never seen a board book with a big gold sticker adorning its small frame.

Is it an unfair contest to make board books compete with their picture-book cousins, with their larger size, longer page counts, dust jackets, and nice papers? Board books have a steep hill to climb in almost all award categories. Since their presentation is often deceptively simple, it can be easy to dismiss the concepts and imagery intended for babies and toddlers.

In 2023, this will all change with the launch of the inaugural Margaret Wise Brown Board Book Award, to be administered by the Center for ­Children’s Literature at Bank Street College of Education. Two board book champions — Dr. Cynthia Weill, director of the Center for Children’s Literature, and Dr. Mollie Welsh Kruger, co-chair, Children’s Book Committee and course instructor and advisor in the Reading & Literacy Program — have been working diligently to create this fledgling award, appropriately named after one of Bank Street’s most famous daughters, Goodnight Moon author Margaret Wise Brown.

I reached out to Dr. Weill and Dr. Kruger for their thoughts on creating this new award.

RACHEL G. PAYNE: Why are board books so important?

CYNTHIA WEILL: We feel board books are important for:

  • supporting early literacy practices and taking a first step in creating a lifelong reader
  • providing sensory stimulation in support of brain development
  • helping develop language and improve vocabulary and early capacity as a reader
  • enhancing visual and memorization skills
  • imparting an understanding of how the world works
  • inviting opportunities to build relationships through playful interactions
  • creating bonds between infants/toddlers and caregivers.

RGP: Why start a board book award?

MOLLIE WELSH KRUGER: The Children’s Book Committee reviews 6,000 books annually, including hundreds of board books, in aid of developing its annual Best Children’s Books of the Year list. We developed this new award to address the dearth of excellent, developmentally appropriate board books for infants and toddlers. Bank Street has always been committed to the education of the youngest children. ­Recognition and promotion of high-quality work by an informed entity such as Bank Street will give authors and publishers an incentive to create better, more suitable board books.

RGP: Yes! As someone who reviews, orders, and has used board books both as a parent and as a librarian, I am delighted by this development. While some could argue that there is a glut of awards out there, these seals and citations can and often do drive sales and changes in the industry. Have you finalized the award criteria?

CW: We are still working with experts to develop specific criteria. However, we will be looking at age-specific text and language for infants and toddlers, illustration, developmental and cultural appropriateness, inclusivity, format, mood, and book construction that is both safe for children and able to withstand multiple encounters with little hands.

RGP: What is your hope for this award?

MWK: We hope to draw attention to the tremendous importance of reading to infants and toddlers and to encourage authors/illustrators to create more and better developmentally appropriate work. We also want to start conversations about what is appropriate and meaningful for readers aged 0–3.

RGP: What are some board book trends you are excited by? Are there any that concern you?

CW: We are excited that board books are more inclusive and feature diverse protagonists. However, we are concerned by a tendency to publish work that is not developmentally appropriate. Many books are re-packaged works for older readers and do not hold much interest for young children.

RGP: Can you share when the award will be given, who will serve on the committee, and other logistical details?

CW: The award will be given every other year, starting in 2023. We will consider books published in 2021 and 2022. The head of the Bank Street Center for Children’s Literature and a member of the Children’s Book Committee will choose twelve to sixteen books as contenders from work we have placed on our annual Best Books list. The committee will consist of two current or retired Bank Street professors of early childhood education, two alumni working in early childhood, and two educators affiliated with Bank Street with a background in early education. Each juror will serve two terms in a four-year period.

RGP: As a Bank Street alum, I am very excited to serve as a member of the inaugural committee! Will you have a sticker or award seal? I can see a large sticker being a choking hazard or ­covering up most of the cover on books with small trim sizes.

CW: It will be an image that publishers can print on the winning book covers.

RGP: Will there be honor books?

MWK: No honor titles, but there is the possibility that the award would be split into two. We might do 0–18 months and 18 months–three years. We would have to have a very strong book for each age group.

RGP: What board books published in the past would you consider worthy of this award?

CW: Well, of course Goodnight Moon by the award’s namesake, Margaret Wise Brown! In text, tone, and mood, it is the perfect board book. As children’s literature historian Leonard S. Marcus, author of Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon, noted, she virtually invented the picture book for very young children.

RGP: So true! She was writing board books before there were board books.

Materials to be considered for Bank Street’s annual Best Books list, and subsequently the Margaret Wise Brown Board Book Award, can be sent to:

The Children’s Book Committee
Bank Street College of Education
610 West 112th Street
New York NY 10025

From the March/April 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Rachel G. Payne

Rachel G. Payne is coordinator of early childhood services at Brooklyn Public Library. She writes the “First Steps” column for School Library Journal and has also written for The Horn Book Magazine, Library Trends, and Kirkus and was a contributor to Reading with Babies, Toddlers and Twos (2013) and Library Services from Birth to Five: Delivering the Best Start (2015). Rachel served as chair of the 2016 Caldecott committee and as a member of the 2009 committee. She will serve as a founding member of the Margaret Wise Brown Board Book Award committee.

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Gail OConnor

This is great news! It’s about time for an award for board books. If this was in existence years ago, Sandra Boynton would have won this award several times!

Posted : Apr 26, 2022 11:58



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