Board books you can touch, pet, poke, strum, jiggle, and tweak. These books let babies and toddlers lift the flap, push the squeaker, pull the tab, prod the nubbin, find the doodad, turn the gear, and in general play with their books.
This is a running list. Asterisks* denote family favorites. Links are Amazon affiliate/indie bookstore. Please send any suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org or @drivelanddrool.
TouchThinkLearn: Numbers (Amazon | Indiebound): A low word count but heavily tactile book that lets kids touch the items being counted, 1-10. The series has several more books in it, including Shapes, Opposites, ABC, and Vehicles—they all follow the high-design, high-relief aesthetic and have hardly any text. The books are sturdy to the point of being pretty much unkillable, so a great choice for kiddos who want something to touch but are on the more deconstructionist end of things.
*Snuggle the Baby (Amazon | Indiebound): This book provides fairly excellent practical toddler-level instruction on the ways of babies as far as playing, eating, diapering, crying, and sleeping, with die-cut activities to do on each page—the baby’s arms go up to show “So big!”; the bottle comes free of the page so we can feed the baby; there is a huge baby that comes out to be swaddled, rocked, and put to bed on the last page. My older child adores this book and I think it is pretty cool too. It’s not explicitly for big siblings either, so onlies, cousins, and general baby enthusiasts can enjoy it worry-free. The pieces do come out, so they might be lost or broken, but it’s pretty durable. Best for kids with decent fine motor control who are beginning to play pretend.
Little Chickies/Los Pollitos (Amazon | Indiebound): The Canticos series produces accordion-fold board books with traditional Spanish-language nursery rhymes on one side, reversible to English translations on the other side, lift-the-flap actions on both sides. Elefantitos and Ratoncitos are the follow-on titles.
*Fuzzy Yellow Ducklings (Amazon | Indiebound): Matthew Van Fleet’s books are huge, full of textures and moving parts, and pretty much a guaranteed hit with small children. I’m really impressed at all the fancy stuff they get in for the price. But most of them will eventually be torn up so that each page features sad beheaded animals with bare cardboard spots where their articulated heads should be. If your kid is less than 18 months old and you don’t want to stress about book destruction, start with Fuzzy Yellow Ducklings: it is fun and much more durable than the other Van Fleet blockbusters. Otherwise the best ones are Tails and Heads. We got both of those around my oldest's first birthday, and he looooved them from the start, so the shreds are badges of honor. Dog, Cat, and Moo are OK for kids who are interested in those animals particularly, but not nearly as cool and just as delicate and expensive. Alphabet is good if your kid is big enough that an ABC book is not totally mystifying (two years old at minimum).
*Lift-the-Flap Fairy Tales (Amazon | Indiebound) lays out a whole folk tale in one two-page spread, and you can tell a version of the story as you look at it or you can sit there like a lump while your kid looks for the stuff. Flaps are on the small side but there are also many many many of them, so if a few get torn off it’s not the end of the world.
That’s Not My Dinosaur! (Amazon | Indiebound): The Usborne touchy-feely books come in “That’s Not My” everything, from puppies to unicorns to tractors to badgers to babies, and at least some are available in Spanish as well. The format goes through six or seven examples of the species with different textures and the words describing them: furry, bumpy, shiny, squishy. The last page reveals “my” thingummy with its own texture. Two or three of these are great to have, and they’re available in bookstores, online, and from MLM sellers.
Sara’s Potty (Amazon): This book seems to be out of print, but if you are potty-training or thinking about starting soon, this is up there as a potty book and as a lift-the-flap. Various animals decline to use Sara’s potty. Sara uses her potty as a plaything. Sara uses the potty for its intended purpose. Much celebration, some sheep poop.
*Peekaboo Kisses (Amazon | Indiebound): A sturdy reinforced-page book with textures, flaps, mirror, squeaker, and child approval. Various animals with textured bellies hide behind fold-out page-sized flaps.
Pat the Bunny (Amazon | Indiebound) is a retro classic, although with its comb binding and thin folded cardboard pages it’s also pretty easy to destroy. Pat the Puppy, which features a visit to grandparents, is rather preferred in our house, and it also comes in Cat. Pat the Zoo is a large-format version that is, honestly, kind of weird and poorly thought out, but my kids have enjoyed it anyway. The pages squeak when you rub a finger along them.
Polar (Amazon | Indiebound) as well as Jungle, Ocean, Safari, and Wild, have "hologram-esque" nature photography--that zigzag effect that creates the illusion of motion. A great option for kiddos reading alone, the books aren't specifically intended for babies or toddlers, but they have study construction and the textbookish accompanying essays will probably be of more interest several years from now.