Is there ever a baby shower, a tot’s Christmas stocking, or a tiny child’s birthday bash without at least one board book in the gift pile? They are almost invariably adorable, affordable, sweet in content, and sturdy enough to “chew on—both literally and figuratively,” says Kar-Ben publisher Joni Sussman. Parents embrace cozy readaloud moments with little ones, and while low price points scare away some publishers, many enjoy yearslong profits from popular backlist board books.
Max Lucado’s You are Special, originally published by Crossway as a picture book in 1997, was reformatted as a board book in 2000. Since then, it has sold more than 462,000 copies, according to the publisher. Coming from Crossway in April are three new titles in the Big Theology for Little Hearts series from author Devon Provencher and his wife, illustrator Jessica Robyn Provencher: The Holy Spirit teaches about the third member of the trilogy, Creation touches on God’s design and purpose for the world, and The Church centers on the value of community in Christian life.
Board books are often infused with doctrine as faith-based publishers see these titles as baby steps toward evangelizing the adults who are reading them aloud. Carl Laferton, publisher at the Good Book Company, says titles such as Seek and Find: New Testament Bible Stories by Sarah Parker (Nov.), illustrated by André Parker, are designed for “teaching truth to kids in a way that they enjoy, can grasp, and will remember.” Laferton adds that Christian board books can present complex themes and principles in a child-friendly way. “Parents think, ‘I’d love my kids to know this, and I wouldn’t know how to teach it to them myself.’ ”
At Tyndale, associate publisher Linda Howard says Tyndale Kids’ top-selling board titles are filled with scripture, so that readers and listeners alike will find the text “seeping into their souls.” One earlier Tyndale board book affected moms “so strongly that they turned it into a Bible Study for adult women after reading it to their children,” Howard says.
New board books due out next March from Tyndale Kids include three by award-winning author Dandi Daley Mackall and illustrator Cee Briscoe that encourage children to pray and offer scripture-based responses. As part of the Heart to Heart Talks with Jesus series, the titles include A Child’s First Bedtime Prayers, Sleepyhead Prayer, and Thanks for Little Things.
Tyndale will also repackage successful works from other formats, condensing them to board books with updated illustrations. Tyndale House’s founder, the late Kenneth N. Taylor, wrote Big Thoughts for Little People in 1983. It’s since sold nearly 600,000 copies, according to the publisher, and will be re-released in October as a board book, Big Thoughts for Little People ABCs, with illustrations by Andrea Petrlik Huseinovic.
Megan Dobson, v-p and publisher for Zonderkidz, calls board books a top format for the press, and one that often builds on the success of titles in other formats. For example, TV host and author Linsey Davis, whose 2018 debut children’s picture book, The World Is Awake, won a Christopher Award for titles that celebrate the human spirit, is back with a new title, The World Is Awake for Little Ones. The board book was coauthored with Joseph Bottum and illustrated by Lucy Fleming, and it focuses on being grateful for one’s blessings.
Gratitude is a favorite board book topic, such as in the latest in Zonderkidz’s Tiny Truths series, The Tiny Truths Bible for Little Ones (Feb. 2022) , which features eight Bible stories as retold by Joanna Rivard and Tim Penner. Also hopping up for spring: rabbits are the cover critters for two Zonderkidz Easter board books. Bunny Finds Easter (Feb. 2022) by Laura Sassi, illustrated by Ela Jarzabek, teaches tots that Easter is all about Jesus’s resurrection. And Snuggle Time Easter Stories (Feb. 2022), written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Cee Briscoe, is a holiday poetry collection.
Cuddly animals rule in board books illustrations in part because they solve a problem for publishers. “We want every child to see themselves in a book, and animals don’t leave anyone out,” says MacKenzie Howard, executive editor for Tommy Nelson and for HarperCollins Christian Publishing’s gift books. Tommy Nelson’s backlist star God Bless You and Good Night by Hannah Hall, illustrated by Steve Whitlow, with mama and baby giraffes on the cover, has sold more than 500,000 copies since it was released in 2013, according to the publisher.
Among the fall 2021 titles from Tommy Nelson is Amy Parker’s Night Night, Angel: A Sleepy Christmas Celebration (out now), with a snow-white arctic fox sporting angel wings in the starring role in Virginia Allyn’s illustration. God, I Know You’re Good (out now) by Bonnie Rickner Jensen, with illustrator Shane Crompton, shows a tot cuddling a fox on the cover.
At WaterBrook, one of its top authors for tots, Lisa Tawn Bergren, known for her God Gave Us... children’s book series, teams with illustrator Laura Watkins for Shh... Baby Jesus Is Sleeping (out now), which has the animals in the nativity scene call their babies to honor baby Jesus. It has all the elements of success for sales—“great visuals paired with a fairly simple text for a younger attention span, something that helps establish a reading habit early on as part of a child’s daily experience,” says Laura Barker, v-p and publisher for WaterBrook and Multnomah.
B&H, an imprint of Lifeway Christian Resources, features animals, birds, and a plant in its upcoming board books. Sammy the cactus discovers God has a purpose for everyone in God Made You to Be You (Oct.) by Jamie Ivey, with illustrations by Tama Fortner. Whoo-Whoo Hears You? (Aug. 2022), a flap book featuring an owl and her forest friends, was created by the B&H editorial staff to show children how God hears all. The Christmas Quest (Sept.) by Janet Surette, with illustrator Cesar Samaniego, has a rhyming text leading little ones on an epic treasure hunt with the wise men on their way to Jerusalem to welcome Jesus.
Cathy Lynn Grossman is a veteran religion and ethics writer living in Washington, D.C.