Writing a Novelty Board Book

Guest Post by Sue Lowell Gallion

I’m fascinated with board books. Especially novelty board books, with features like tabs, flaps, die cuts (cutouts, layers, or shaped pages), or touch and feel textures. I’m not the only one. According to Publishers Weekly, board book sales have increased every year since 2013. Board book sections in bookstores keep expanding, and these books get more innovative every season. They’ve come a long way from PAT THE BUNNY.

But I’m an author-only. Not an author-illustrator, like some of you super-talented people. What kind of opportunity was there in board books for me?

Much of my interest in board books came with becoming a grandma myself in 2015 and again in 2017. I’m incredibly lucky that my grandsons live only 20 minutes away, so I get lots of in-person research time.

Here’s one of the books that I picked out for the boys that got me thinking: ON MY BEACH, by Sara Gillingham and Lorena Siminovich (Chronicle 2015).

This 5-spread novelty board book is a poem about a crab and its habitat, illustrated by die cut layers and a pop-up finger puppet. Wow! And it was created by an author and an illustrator. (Or so I thought – I found out later that Sara Gillingham actually is an author-illustrator herself!)

I wanted to learn more. And because I was the SCBWI regional advisor for Kansas, I had a part in conference planning. I knew Ariel Richardson, Chronicle editor, had spoken at other conferences on novelty board books as well as picture books. So in fall 2017, Ariel came to Kansas City for our annual conference.

Her workshop was fascinating. Near the end, we had time to play with paper, scissors, and tape. New craft knowledge, the presence of other creative people, mentor texts, uninterrupted time, and physical dummies to make and mess with was magic! All the digital offerings during this time of Covid-19 have been wonderful, but I so miss the face-to-face interaction and inspiration of conferences and workshops with fellow book people.

         Here’s what popped into my head:

Maybe a globe-shaped board book could physically introduce kids to our Earth. After the conference, I kept thinking about the concept. The globe in my home office/playroom was marked with lines – not walls – to show different countries. A globe shows the connectedness of this world. Could a board book help a child begin to envision our connectedness as humans, the fragility of our planet, and the enormity of our oceans? Could finding their location on Earth and seeing the amazing differences of other landscapes make them more curious?

And only two and a half years later, here’s the book, illustrated by Lisk Feng, published by Phaidon Press. It releases in North America on July 22.

OUR WORLD evolved into a nonfiction introduction to geography with a rhyming poem accompanied by a secondary layer of text. It’s been an inspiring and a challenging project. I’m in awe of Lisk Feng and her art. And I can’t say enough about the vision and skill of the creative team at Phaidon, especially our editor, Maya Gartner, and art director, Meagan Bennett.

Here are some of the interior spreads:

Here’s my advice if you’re interested in writing board books: read and study as many board books as possible. Type the text out. Board books are not confined to 8-page signatures like picture books, so the number of spreads is flexible. (OUR WORLD is 13 spreads.)

Search publisher websites to see what’s coming out and what kind of board books are on their lists. Think of series possibilities. Study the developmental milestones of young children and share books with kids.

Research the marketplace with your ideas. Make dummies to play with pagination and novelty elements. Send a physical dummy with your manuscript. Follow your passions and interests.

Finally, here are some of my favorite novelty board books to study:

GOODNIGHT, RAINBOW CATS by Barbara Castro Urio, Chronicle

PLAY WITH YOUR PLATE! by Judith Rossell, Abrams Appleseed

CIRCLE, TRIANGLE, ELEPHANT! by Kenji Oikawa and Mayuko Takeuchi, Phaidon

FARM BLOCK and other board books by Christopher Franceschelli and Peskimo, Abrams Appleseed

TINY FARMS and other board books by Suzy Ultman, Chronicle

ANIMALS IN THE SKY by Sara Gillingham, Phaidon

WHERE’S THE KANGAROO? By Ingela Arrhenius, Nosy Crow

DREAM BIG and other board books by Joyce Wan

If you have other favorite board books, I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Thank you, Kirsti Call and WRITERS’ RUMPUS, for this opportunity!

 

Sue Lowell Gallion spends a lot of time in her family’s community garden plot. She thinks she has thwarted the dreaded squash bug this year by not planting squash. Her favorite summer vegetable is a ripe home-grown tomato.

Sue has three books coming out this summer and fall: OUR WORLD, A First Book of Geography, illustrated by Lisk Feng (Phaidon Press 7/22); TIP & TUCKER: PAW PAINTERS, part of the early reader series co-authored with Ann Ingalls and illustrated by Andre Ceolin (Sleeping Bear Press, 8/15); and a picture book, ALL EXCEPT AXLE, illustrated by Lisa Manuzak Wiley (Aladdin/S&S, 9/22.) Sue is the author of the PUG MEETS PIG series, illustrated by Joyce Wan. PUG & PIG AND FRIENDS (Beach Lane Books/S&S) releases spring 2021. She lives in the Kansas City area (on the Kansas side.)

16 comments

  1. Fascinating!! I’m an author and not an illustrator and so I LOVED learning that you entered a genre I would have thought closed to those without illustration skills. And the book looks SO COOL!

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  2. I’ve forgotten about board books until I read this post. It has really good information. I learned a lot of new things here.

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  3. There is so much great information here…thank you so much! And I’m happily surprised to see the Globe book with both short text and more detailed information as well–thus giving more longevity to the book as the child ages. Nice! Off to put all these mentor texts on hold at the library 🙂

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