The Center for Children’s Literature at Bank Street College held a virtual event for the inaugural Margaret Wise Brown Board Book Award on March 9. Developed by the Children’s Book Committee, the award honors its namesake, children’s book author Margaret Wise Brown, the writer behind beloved picture books Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny, along with many others. Brown was also a student at Bank Street College.

The event, held in partnership with KidLit TV, kicked off with an opening speech from Center for Children’s Literature director Cynthia Weill, welcoming guests to an evening spotlighting board book excellence. Shael Polakow-Suransky, president of Bank Street College, then honored the award’s first winners: Give Me a Snickle! by Alisha Sevigny (Orca) in the 0–18 months category, and Me and the Family Tree by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ashleigh Corrin (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky) in the 19–36 months category.

In acceptance speeches that were featured later in the evening, Sevigny spoke about her affectionate board book Give Me a Snickle. “It is my hope that caregivers and the little ones they love will read this book together, sharing that affection not only for words, but for one another,” Sevigny said.

Me and the Family Tree co-creators Carole Boston Weatherford and Ashleigh Corrin discussed their collaborative experience and how Weatherford’s family pointing out resemblances in her children inspired this book.

“It was just such an honor to be a part of this book, and to contribute to the story and words of Carole, and the messaging, how much we can value and appreciate our families.” Corrin said in her acceptance speech.

“I’d like to thank my two adult children Caress and Jeffrey, who as toddlers inspired this poem about family resemblance.” Weatherford said. And her win, she added, “is just like a cherry on top of the ice cream sundae for me.”

Alongside the award winners, Bank Street also previously announced its selections for the Best Board Books of 2023. The award announcements were followed by a keynote address from Perri Klass, national medical director of nonprofit organization Reach Out and Read. The speech, titled “Board Books in the Pediatric Exam Room: Something to Chew On,” explored how the use of board books in early childhood pediatric care could help young children’s motor development and communication skills.

“We can not only work on the language skills and help parents support the language skills, but we can work to help parents increase those positive interactions and give children the routines that provide the security and safety,” Klass explained.

Throughout her address, Klass highlighted the goals of Reach Out and Read. which gives children a foundation for success by incorporating books into pediatric care and encouraging families to read together. Reach Out and Read serves 4.2 million children each year through more than 6,000 programs sites and donating more than seven million books.

“We’ve done a lot of work trying to help our sites choose diverse, inclusive books, and use them with families.” Klass said of Reach Out and Read’s programming. “And our hope is to go on [doing this] as we move ahead into the future, finding better, more diverse books that all of our patients can enjoy together.”

In closing, Klass reminded audiences of what makes reading with children such a special experience in the first place. “Your child will love books because your child loves you,” she said. “That’s the magic. Your child will love the book because you’re reading it in your voice and your voice is at the center of the child’s world.”

Author Panel: An Appreciation of Board Books

Children’s authors Steven Light, LeUyen Pham, Antoinette Portis, Anne Wynter, and one of the evening’s winners, Carole Boston Weatherford, then gathered for the “The Ones They Come Back To: What Makes a Best Board Book?” panel. In a discussion moderated by Rachel Payne, the creators discussed how they got their start in board books and how they’ve developed their craft.

Many of the authors noted how the children in their own lives offered them inspiration to begin their board book paths.

“I got into picture book writing because my kids and I were reading a ton of picture books and a ton of board books,” Wynter shared. “Once my younger child was in the middle of toddlerhood, I was like, ‘Wait, we’re going to be aging out of board books.’ At some point, I got really sad. Because it was the first group of books that we were going to age out of, and I was like, ‘I don’t want to leave these books yet.’ ”

The authors went on to share the beauty they all found in board books, distinct from other forms of literature. “When you watch a child reading a board book, they own it.” Portis explained. “That sense that a board book is simple, and graspable, and ownable, and that it just becomes yours. You don’t know how to read yet, but you’ve memorized it and you are the master of the book.”

The authors also held a spirited conversation around the concept of adapting picture books to board books, with Pham noting that she’s a “purist” when it comes to the subject. “I’ve had five or six of my books adapted into board books, and it’s a lovely idea,” Pham said, “but I always feel like it’s kind of doing a disservice to people who truly understand what board books are supposed to do.”

The panelists finished their conversation by discussing favorite board books they would crown with the Margaret Wise Brown Board Book Award, including Helen Oxenbury’s Tickle, Tickle, Sandra Boynton’s Hippos Go Berserk, and Taro Gomi’s Spring Is Here.

To watch the award ceremony, click here.