Babies aren’t born with the ability to use, move, and focus their eyes the ways that adults without sight differences do. In their early weeks and months, they best see high contrast images, staring at them intently; this skill begins to shift into the ability to distinguish those objects from one another, and by the time they’re six months old babies can potentially see the full color spectrum. High contrast images are a fabulous tool in helping infants strengthen their seeing skills. High contrast board books are a natural means of introducing your youngest readers not only to these skills, but to the act of reading itself.
High contrast board books utilize images both small and large that showcase simple but impactful contrasting shapes and colors. The majority of high contrast board books contain black and white images, but many also include spots of color or shine to add even more interest to them.
Find below some of the best high contrast board books to share with your young readers or to purchase as a baby shower book gifts. Though many board books are unauthored, making it challenging to know the background of the creators, as you’ll see, there is excellent diversity in these books, thanks to a wave of them coming from Japan.
Energizing and Immersive High Contrast Books for Babies
Art Baby: Spots and Dots by Chez Picthall
Don’t let the title of this one lead you to believe it’s a clever book “for babies” but is intended for adults (e.g. an introduction to a famous artist for baby, though there is no shame in those). Rather, this book, along with Art Baby: Hearts and Stars, feature pages of images in black and white, as well as pages where a single color finds the spotlight. Spots and Dots is filled with precisely that: spots and dots which range from small to large, from singular images to rows of repeating images. Though this book doesn’t have words, it doesn’t need them to be engaging.
Baby Sees First Colors by Akio Kashiwara
This outstanding high contrast board book is part of a series which includes Baby Sees Colors! and Baby Sees Shapes: Circles. While infants see black and white first, red is the next color they can discern, and Kashiwara’s Baby Sees First Colors waves in red throughout the fun, high energy images. The book features short sentences throughout, without a solid narrative, leaving plenty of room for the reading adult to engage baby in understanding what those words relate to. A page featuring three red apples — one plain, one with a bite taken out, and one with a smiling face and worm on it — reads simply “Three red apples. Worm up high,” perfect for pointing out to baby’s eyes.
Each of the books in this series are a winner.
Black Cat & White Cat by Claire Garralon
If you’re looking for a high contrast baby book featuring a narrative to go with the images, Garralon’s book is a great fit. Following a black cat and a white cat who are best friends, the story is about what happens when black cat goes to white cat’s black house and white cat goes to black cat’s white house. They disappear! The big bold shapes and fun text conclude with a gorgeous final spread that is delightful for babies and their grownups alike.
Hello Bugs by Smriti Prasadam and Emily Bolam
This is, hands down, my baby’s favorite book. Despite the fact it has the same format as Hello Animals — another great book by Prasadam and Bolam — something about this title keeps her eyes glued to the page.
There’s not a narrative to this book. Instead, each page features an insect in black and white with a shiny spot of color. The text reads “Hello, ______,” featuring the name of the bug, then the noise the bug makes. Explore shiny bees, grasshoppers, caterpillars, and more.
Hello, My World by duopress labs and Jannie Ho
Yet another book that’s part of an entire series of high contrast books, including Hello, Baby Animals, Hello, Ocean Friends, Baby Loves Sports, and more, Hello, My World invites baby to say hello and good day to a variety of objects they regularly encounter. Black and white images have baby say hello to birds, to babies, and more, using both English and other languages.
Look, Look! by Peter Linenthal
If you’ve encountered high contrast board books before, it’s likely Linenthal’s work is familiar. The highly detailed images in black and white with spot color don’t include what adult readers understand as a narrative, but each pair of images may explain what an image is doing. For example, the images of flowers read “Flowers” on one page and “Bloom” on the corresponding.
Moimoi — Look At Me! by Dr. Kazuo Hiraki (Editor) and Jun Ichihara
What is a moimoi, you ask? It’s the fun creature pictured on the cover of this clever board book. The little creature expands and contracts, stretches and shrinks, bounces and stays still throughout the pages. There is no narrative to the text nor are there “real” words. Instead, the book utilizes sounds like “moimoi” that mirror how the images look on the page. Big images include a chance to say MOIMOI louder. Faster images? Say moimoi or the other sounds faster.
This book was developed at the University of Tokyo and has infant neuroscience behind the methods used. As any parent could tell you, what words you read to baby don’t matter in the least, and in the case of these sounds, you’re likely to be mimicking what baby themself can say.
If you’d like even more high contrast board books for your young reader or to give as a baby gift, you’ll want to check out the work of prolific children’s book author Tana Hoban (Black & White and Black On White), as well as Phyllis Limbacher Tildes (Baby Animals Black and White and Baby Animals Spots and Stripes).