Quick Things You Need To Know:
- At 5 & 7, my kids are way past learning colors, so this is no longer a theme we’re researching. Honestly – I can’t even remember when the Earthquakes started learning and talking about colors. It was definitely before the age of 1.5 – as I remember Q insisting he wouldn’t switch from diapers to underpants unless they were purple underpants and he potty trained around that age (don’t feel bad if your kid is potty training later – we did Chinese EC since birth).
- This is where I’ll hold my notes for all the books we’ve screened that introduce & discussing colors for young kiddos
- I’ll update this list later if I find new socially progressive color books that have come out since my kids were little. But ideally, by the end of 2022, I can find another person with younger kids to analyze them, since my kids are too old to gauge how successful and engaging these books really are
Quick & Messy Book List:
- The lion and the little red bird – Ages 2+, cute and sweet, about gentleness, being considerate, curiosity about folks who speak different languages – and taking care of each other. We read this frequently from 2.5-5.5, it’s a great book about healthy friendships, and for kids who love painting and nature.
- Quest – best for older kids (3.5+) since the pages are thin and younger kids will have a harder time following the story. fun quest to find all the colors of the rainbow chalks, very exciting. illustration only
- day the crayons quit – personalities and complaints of each crayon. funny, and nice to see end page where the ‘boy’ made a picture to appease them all (although we had to discuss how you can’t always please everyone like that in real life). By the time they’re old enough to get the humor, they already know the names of colors, but whatever. Ages 3-7
- ollie’s easter eggs – ages1+. board book. Ollie steals eggs but in a rather amusing and creepy way, turns out he’s just hiding them to wrap. we don’t celebrate easter, but it’s secular-friendly & Q loved at 23 months & again at 35 months
- A penguin story (Portis) – Penguin (she/her) finds colors. This was less memorable than the others but at least the penguin defaults to feminine pronouns.
- one – kathryn otoshi. This series ties in social conflict resolution with basic academics, which is just lovely. They’re best for ages 4.5+ since the pages are fragile and the social conflicts reflect schoolyard issues. AAPI author
- The Many Colors of Harpreet Singh – LOVE this. AAPI (Asian Indian) maker, kind & gentle brown boys, normalizing south asian boys, Sikhism, ages 3-7, healthy masculinity, moving homes, courage, friendship, depression. Explicit that a patka is not a hat!
Niko draws a feeling – raczka: this resonated with Q (age 5.5) more than I expected, and a few days later, we were playing with watercolors and Q asked me how my painting made me feel and he discussed how it made him feel (!!!). so i love this for introducing abstract art and feelings. he felt happy and connected painting with me and feeling the same things, just like the characters in tthe story. i like the validation and frustration of Niko as people keep expecting him to make concrete things with his art and how they don’t understand until he finds a friend who does. Ages 4+, healthy masculinity
- rainbow stew – It’s hard to find a book with a Black grampa doing domestic work and childcare! The Earthquakes love this because they also have a Black grandfather who loves gardening and making soup, so your mileage might vary with a different family constellation. rainy summer day, harvesting all the colors, cooking, elders – grandparents, normalizing families of color
- My blue is happy – ok, this one isn’t really a story, but it’s still good to read together – we can discuss perception and perspective and opinions- how one person’s happy color can be gloomy for another. Ages 4+
- A Color of his own – lionni – chameleon wants a consistent color but nothing ever stays the same. not reading at 6 (story is simple enough, but we’re overwhelmed) but could be great book for Buddhism book collection, esp after the age of reason. finds a friend who helps him accept that he’ll never have a consistent color, but they will always go through changing colors together from then on, and they end up having fun, which is good o see how it’s easier to navigate change when you have someone to rely on. paricularly love the deeper meaning behind surface in lionni books. accepting change, friendship, transitions, characters can be used both as elder mentor relationship or potentially gay relationship – as lots of homophobes got their panties in a bunch about in the comments. LGBTQi2SA+?
Limited Palette books
- red is best – kathy stinson – kickass little girl. about 2-3, loves her red things the best. mom argues she should wear more practical clothing, but she insists she can jump higher in her red stockings, red boots take bigger steps, threadbare, hole-filled red mittens make better snowballs. i love this for under 4 as a color-intesity book, and celebrating personal preference and knowing who you are and what you like unapologetically
- Little blue and little yellow – lionni – perfect for 3-4, a little too simple for 6. they hug and become green, parents don’t recognize them until they cry, everyone realizes what happened and they all join together in various ways. colors, could be problematic if we’re using this as code for race mixing as it falls into the melting pot fallacy. But for colors, it’s cute peer influence. board book
- Blue vs. Yellow -sullivan – Similar to Lionni’s book, but less charming. they fight over wich is the better color. accidentally smash into each other, create green, realize all the awesome things they can create with green. ages 4+ perspective, opinions, conflict, cooperation, colors
- Little Pink Book– SUCH a good sensory book. Too bad it’s out of print. AAPI. There is also a Little Black Book, but the pink one felt like it had more interesting stuff.
- ‘The Black Book of Colors’ is the closest thing we’ve come to a non-sighted experience, although there are many half-measures in the book that make it underwhelming, like the choice to make the braille ornamental rather than functional (we can’t learn braille from it) and the lack of textures other than embossing.
- transparency – wild about shapes: Transparent pages. Unfortunately it was only in 3 colors (and the pages were all printed in blue, which limits the color mixing). Q loved it at 4.5 and R2 found it fun at 2.5 too. the puzzle is figuring out the animal – some were challenging, and almost all of them had a little hint on the next page if you didn’t get it.
Color (Ruth heller) – Transparent pages.Better than the first discovery color book. But this is out of print and likely hard to find.
- the color monster – pop up book of feelings. too fragile for 2yo (presumably the people learning colors). kind of neat, but not worth getting again. also the idea of putting your feelings in bottles to separate/identify them is a metaphor I don’t really understand. ‘in my heart’ by jo witek is similar.color monster features a little girl, but she’s a caretaker for the monster, again, a metaphor I don’t really get.
- ‘in my heart’ by jo witek – cute illustrations, heart cutouts on each page. it’s just a little more durable than the color monster and features a little girl using her imagination to do stuff like fly through the air with a cape.
- what makes a rainbow? – magic ribbon board book (betty ann schwartz) we completely ignore the wordy text and play with the ribbons at 18m-36m. the interactive gimmick has R2 flipping the pages back and forth going “whoooooaaaaa” right at 2y and he loves it
- magic colors – includes translucency. difficult for kids under 3 to flip the pages, but great demonstration for how colors mix (light based). we paired it with color translucency paddles. We read this so long ago I can’t even find out who wrote it now.
- Illuminatomy – this is a whole series, and the anatomy book was the most interesting one for us. But the subject matter is best for older kids (4.5+) as younger kids will get bored and the viewfinder is fragile. There is a trick to using the blue one (Which is hard to see through) but I can’t remember what it is – either holding it up to your eyes, or against the page, I think.
- mix it up – herve tullet: The kids always love these, but I find the coated paper, paired with sticky little hands, make a frightfully painful sound that sets of my sensory issues. So keep that in mind for families with auditory sensitivities
- fuzzy yellow ducklings – matthew van fleet – got this used, neither kid paid much attention to it at all, so I’m donating it now at 3 & 5, touch & feel, flap, shapes, animals and colors – SHOULD be an effective book, and it’s well executed, it jut didn’t hold our attention. nice large patches for touch & feel, plus has some textures we usually don’t find, like sticky, wooly, scaly, etc. Not a bad book, but nothing exciting about it either. interactive, but doesn’t work well at potty time because at the age when all of his is interesting, you’ll need to read it out loud “furry gray square…koalas” its about learning the descriptive words for things, so not great for independent play
- Look & See: a circus of colors – sturdy cutouts board book. we loved this from 6m to 2.5 years, with a peak at age 2 when they love blurting out and identifying colors all day. little babies like the cutouts. the rhymes are a little awkward. nice to have on hand for them to flip through while hanging on the potty. see that they come in alternative shades. i didn’t push color early on, but he’s starting to really love naming colors these days on his own (2.5) so might as well read it while he’s into it
- Wheels on the go – cutout wheels. Illustrations have a cool 70’s steampunk vibe. Like circus of colors, except this one the kids like to look out the double holes with both eyes. Includes train, motorcycle, bike, trucks, etc.
- You are light (becker) the words are so bland and metaphorical. surprisingly durable (colors are thin plastic). good for color mixing but it’s so bleeegh as a read aloud. Q was able to read it at 7, but then like…does anyone remember what we just read? silly text, should have been a wordless book. the only selling point is the cool color windows. Best for babies and toddlers, just ignore the words.
Basic Board books
- pantone colors – my absolute favorite color book. each spread shows shades and a single cartoon-colored image, like a piggy bank, making it easy to associate color AND labels to things. also gorgeous, with a rainbow spread of items R2 loves pointing to and discussing at 24 months.
- Pride Colors – (Stevenson) board book. Cute, with lovely photography. This is a perfect board book for babies and toddlers, but it came out when my kid were too old for it. Got a free copy from Little Feminist Book Club. Much better than the rainbow book by Genhart. links ideas behind the pride colors and normalizes same-sex families (but not polya, etc.) LGBTQ family constellations
- Chinese new year colors (lo) – underwhelmed. just a color book (hardcover) but also comes in board book. It’s in Mandarin, even though I’m pretty sure Lo speaks Cantonese? And the colors don’t have ’se’ at the end, (denotes we’re talking about color). Fine as a board book, not sure why there is a hardcover version. Aside from having things tangentially related to chinese new year, it’s more about colors than the new year, and we don’t get words for the things (like firecracker, lantern, lion dance, etc.) ven the illustrations, while adequate, aren’t up to Lo’s standard ethereal quality.
- blue hat, green hat – boynton- still funny even at 3.5, after he’s learned his colors and names for things. thinks its uproariously funny and calls the turkey “silly chicken.” perfect silly board book for toddlers and early preschoolers, colors, clothing, makes kids feel smart
- steam train dream train colors – i liked this. the illustrations were cute and the colors were vibrant (much brighter than the original hardcover book it’s spun off of). R2 loved the colors and trains at 2.5 also we got to learn the names of the train cars. great board book.
- things that go – say & play – was perfect for 6m-2y (even for the allistic kiddo without a vehicle hyperfocus), but now that R2 is 3 it’s okay to flip through and talk, but there are more engaging books for older kids. nice clean images, lets us discuss colors, make up sounds, and allows for littles on the potty to flip through. was awesome enough that i bought it and I’m glad I did. I wish more board books had these clean and simple pages. Why illustrators gotta make baby stuff so cluttered? Board books, bilingual (spanish, english)
Honestly we didn’t read a ton of color books because color toys were so much fun. Unlike most topics where I default to books, discussing color in real life was just much easier
- color translucency paddles.
- Magnatiles (or knockoff brands like the ones we have, called ‘playmags.’ Six years later and we still love these.
Okay to skip it – forgettable / meh
- have you seen my monster – different shapes are different colors. whatever. it’s fine.
- monsters love colors – monsters get primary colors and then pair up to color another monster a secondary color. I don’t even remember reading this, I just have it in my notes.
- The White Book – borando – boy paints wall colors with a roller, animals show up (he is happy) and leave (he gets sad. finally he paints a dog and the dog stays and he’s happy. too simple for 3.5, best for 1-2y. Illustration only, animals, I don’t even remember reading this, forgettable.
- Rainbow: A First Book of Pride (genhart) – color book, focuses exclusively on two-parent lesbian/gay families, while some people might be trans & passing, everyone is conspicuously feminine or male presenting, without much implied fluidity. no single parents, no polya. cute illustrations, but doesn’t say anything at all, just what all the colors are supposed to represent (but not how that plays out in terms of LGBTQi2S+) red = life and so on (seems to be the common agreement). meh. if it came as a board book, i’D use it for toddlers, but as a regular book it’s too simple for 3+ and evasive of family constellations and what pride really is. there are better pride colors books
don’t push the button – mildly interactive breaking 4th wall – pushing the buton changes the monsers colors and creates more monsters. not very exciting
- Red is a dragon (thong) book of colors with AAPI makers. normalizes chinese characters, not all just asian stuff – includes watermelons, beaches. everyone looks light, with very, very pale skin. incense and taxi cabs. the message – that we can celebrate our culture but it doesn’t define us, is great, but it’s also a boring color book with no story. would recommend as a board book for kids 5 and under, but it only comes in hardcover. it’s fine but not worth reading with my kids.
- Find Colors – fulford – fun cutouts but…it’s in black and white! no actual colors. which is confusing for tots who really do need to SEE colors to learn about them. wtf were they thinking? board books.
- My little small – stark – very weird, and I think the charm was lost in the translation from Swedish to English. Illustrations are underwhelming and a little pathetic. Monster lives in a cave allergic to the sun. Wishes for something small to care for, sun spark ends up in her cave and tells her about the colors of day, she releases spark back to the sun. Ends abruptly and just kind of depressing.
- The boy with big, big feelings (lee) – just a crappy knockoff of ‘Niko draws a feeling.’ supposed to be validating for sensitive boys who try to hold big feelings in, but it’s kind of lost in the forced rhyming and oversimplified and kind of confusing symbolism. nice illustrations but not enough to overcome the lack of story. best for kids under 5, but there are way better books out there. “When playing outside on the yellowest days, a loud truck might rumble on by. And wouldn’t you know it, that big heart of his would push feelings right out of his eyes.” ‘yellowest’ never gets explained, but they try hard to work in colors for no reason. at first it thought this would be about sensory processing disabilities, but nope, that’s the most we get for sensory, and the kids are like what even does that mean and we have to stop and discuss tears, and the huge pile of things that are going on between when a truck arrives and why he’d cry about it. is it the sound? the size? what is going on? did a truck run over his mother? it continues like that until he sees a girl who ALSO has feelings. Wow. Does no one else have feelings in his universe? can’t tell whether his problem is having too many feelings, having more intense feelings, trying to keep his feelings in – the book is very confusing.
- True Colors (steinberg) – both 5 & 7 love this song but the book was boring. It’s also illustrated by a fragile racist, so that’s an easy skip
- Every Color (Kono) – white author uses a token ambiguously brown girl to tell a polar bear about colors. boring.
- Sylvie – sattler – kind of like a bad case of stripes, but without the charm or empowering message. she eats different things to turn different colors. gets a tummy ache. skip
- Swatch – denos – girl captures colors. abstract and pretty but terribly boring. skip
- They say blue – tamaki – abstract and forgettable with pretty illustrations. no story. it’s kind of about the way this girl sees nature and changing colors but meh boring not really worth reading. this is one of those books parents keep on a bookshelf to make themselves look deep / less racist. Just seems like an illustrator showing off for the sake of being like “I published a children’s book!” but it’s best she stick to angsty YA comics. makers of color, surreal, normalizing girls of color. multiracial AAPI
- My cold plum lemon pie bluesy mood – Evans – mood as colors, meh. Emotions, normalizing brown boys, black women authors.
- Colors versus shapes – boldt – exactly what it looks like. then they learn to cooperate. boring
- Anything that equates people of color to food. Don’t. Don’t do that. It’s objectifying and icky. The books that do this need their own list, honestly.
- Pink is for boys – pearlman – basic color book, no story. “Pink is for boys. And girls. And boys on fancy clothes.” wanted to like this, but not a fan of the gender binary and feels like a step backward from what we’ve been learning. no story. nobinary excluded. also don’t see the boys or girls doing anything radical. boys are wearing bow TIES, but I don’t see any obviously cis boys in dresses playing tea party. they’re doing gender neutral things like selling lemonade. the girls are more ‘boyish’ than the boys are ‘girlish.’ there’s also a token kid in a wheelchair. the one thing we did like was a picture of a blond boy with almond eyes, and we discussed how we don’t often see boys like R2 in books and how nice it is to see ourselves reflected. kids found it fine for a read but weren’t thrilled with it. meh at breaking gender constructs, colors
- Mixed (Chung) – nope nope nope, no way. no.