Supporting Early Childhood Learning with Creative Concept Books

Concept books are illustrated children’s books that introduce young children to basic ideas in concrete and engaging ways. Common topics for concept books include shapes, colors, numbers, letters, opposites, size, and more. Concept books are helpful tools for supporting early literacy and learning. It can be easy to forget that concepts as seemingly simple as shapes or numbers need to be explicitly taught in early childhood. When concept books are fun, humorous, or appealingly illustrated in addition to their educational content, children are more likely to be engaged with the books, which in turn develops important early literacy habits. The books below are highly engaging, creative concept books for building young children’s conceptual knowledge. Because the S-Collection has particularly robust holdings of ABC books (enough to be the basis of an entire future blog post), this book list will primarily feature other types of concept books.
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Illustrated by: Angela Brooksbank
Baby Goes to Market. 2017 (Picture Book).
Follow Baby and his doting mama at a bustling Nigerian marketplace in this bright, bouncy read-aloud offering a gentle introduction to numbers. When Baby and Mama go to the market, Baby is so adorable that the banana seller gives him six bananas. Baby eats one and puts five in the basket, but Mama doesn’t notice. As Mama and Baby wind their way through the stalls, sneaky Baby collects five oranges, four biscuits, three ears of sweet corn, and two pieces of coconut until Mama notices that her basket is getting very heavy. Rhythmic language, visual humor, colorful illustrations, and a bounty of delectable food make this a tale that is sure to whet little appetites for story time, all while charmingly establishing basic numeric skills in early childhood.
Concepts: numbers, counting.
Q. SE. At481b

Corda, Tullio
Translated by: Taylor Barrett Gaines
Cat & Dog: A Tale of Opposites. 2021 (Picture Book).
Cat and Dog are not the same. In fact, they are very different and the perfect subjects for a tale of opposites. Cat is red and Dog is blue; Cat is mischievous while Dog is annoyed. Enjoy their adventures as they fight and play, chase and hide, all illustrated by Corda’s high-drama visual storytelling in this surprisingly sophisticated book. Corda has created a concept book that introduces a wide variety of antonyms (from up/down to brave/afraid), while simultaneously bringing readers along for a raucous narrative arc with a clever surprise ending. This is a truly relatable tale in just 32 words!
Concepts: opposites.
SE. C8115hi:E

Coulson, Art
Illustrated by: Madelyn Goodnight
Look, Grandma! Ni, Elisi! 2021 (Picture Book).
Bo wants to find the perfect container to show off his homemade traditional marbles for the Cherokee national holiday. It needs to be just the right size: big enough to fit all the marbles, but not too big to fit in his family’s booth at the festival. The container also needs to look appealing, so with his grandmother’s help, Bo tries many containers until he finds one that will work well and look beautiful. Part of the “Storytelling Math” book series to highlight everyday mathematical concepts for young children through culturally diverse storytelling, this picture book is a playful exploration of volume and capacity featuring Native characters and a glossary of Cherokee words.
Concepts: size/volume.
Q. SE. C83211lo

Cole, Lo
Ten in a Hurry. 2021 (Picture Book).
This exciting picture book counts down a school of fish, color by color. Ten fish of varying bright hues are swimming in a line as a bigger predator fish approaches from behind. The short rhyming text guides readers along as each turn of this book’s differently sized flap pages reveal the big fish gulping down another colorful fish, one by one. “Ten in a hurry, swimming in a line… Watch out, Red! GULP. Now there are nine.” The repetitive plot appears to spell doom for all of the colorful fish, that is, until the littlest fish takes a dramatic stand! This hysterically fun read helps young readers learn colors and counting, and the highly contrasting colors and clever book design will hold the attention of young listeners.
Concepts: numbers, colors.
Q. SE. C6756tehu

Godwin, Jane
Illustrated by: Blanca Gomez
Red House, Tree House, Little Bitty Brown Mouse. 2019 (Picture Book).
A little mouse makes her way around the world and invites young readers to come along. On the title page, the little brown mouse packs her suitcase, then travels through many busy, colorful illustrations before returning home. The short, rhyming stanzas offer opportunities for children to count, learn about colors, and study the objects in the pictures. “Red house/ Blue house/ Green house / Tree house! / See the tiny mouse / in her little brown house?” This simple story is packed with concepts for the very young, with a particular focus on colors, and a delightful search-and-find element in every spread: the intrepid mouse herself.
Concepts: colors.
SE. G5492re

Higgins, Carter.
Circle Under Berry. 2021 (Picture Book).
With a simple approach, this thought-provoking concept book shows young readers that everything in the world can be seen from infinite perspectives. Each page compares colors, shapes, and objects in relation to each other. A triangle that is over a square is also under a circle. A circle that is pink also might be a flower. The brightly colored objects on a white background have the striking visual simplicity of Eric Carle’s art. Higgins’s playful, rhythmic writing and expert arrangement of objects on the page make this book a perfect read-aloud, capable of entertaining, educating, and challenging readers in equal measure. This book’s focus on color, shapes, objects, and relative words like “over,” “under,” and “next to” make this a good introduction to conceptual and spatial language. Rather than traditional concept books that focus on only one idea, this book combines its teaching approach, helping young readers learn multiple concepts at once by showing how they relate to each other.
Concepts: shapes, colors.
SE. H5352ci

Kraegel, Kenneth
This Is a Book of Shapes. 2020 (Board Book).
What begins as a concept book about everyone’s favorite geometric shapes soon defies expectations with a sequence of funny and imaginative twists. First comes the circle. Then the square and the triangle. Then the . . . emu pushing a pancake wagon down a hill? Kraegel pairs a deadpan tone with simple wood-grained shapes, interspersed with vibrant illustrations of animals engaged in hilariously absurd pastimes. Each page turn builds on the delicious anticipation to make this a unique and rollicking story time hit. This book provides a sensationally fun introduction to shapes.
Concepts: shapes.
SE. K8551th

Scanlon, Liz Garton and Audrey Vernick
Illustrated by: Olivier Tallec
Five Minutes: (That’s a Lot of Time) (No, It’s Not) (Yes, It Is). 2019 (Picture Book).
Families everywhere will encounter a familiar experience in this clever picture book. Five minutes is a lot of time… or is it? Well, it depends on what you’re doing, of course! Follow one little boy and his family on a very busy day, as he discovers that sometimes five minutes feels like forever (like when you’re finishing up at the dentist’s office or waiting in line for the bathroom or in the backseat on a long car ride) and sometimes five minutes feels like no time at all (like when you’re playing your favorite game or at the tippy top of a roller coaster or snuggling up with a book before bedtime). This dynamically illustrated picture book discusses the concept of time in a relatable and philosophical way. Time flies when you’re having fun!
Concepts: time, numbers.
Q. SE. Sca636fi

Tullet, Herve
Translated by: Christopher Franceschelli
Mix It Up! 2014 (Picture Book).
Author and illustrator Tullet invites young readers to “mix it up” for a dazzling color adventure in this interactive picture book. Follow the artist’s simple instructions, turn the pages, and suddenly colors appear, mix, splatter, and vanish in a world powered only by the reader’s imagination. This book is best for readers who have already learned basic colors, as it exuberantly illustrates the more advanced characteristics of colors, like color mixing and varying shades, but the exciting interactive style will make it an enjoyable read for people of any age.
Concepts: colors.
SE. T824c:E

Wilson, Karma
Illustrated by Jane Chapman
Big Bear, Small Mouse. 2016 (Picture Book).
Even the smallest readers can have big fun with Bear in this sweet introduction to opposites. Bear is big, big, big, and mouse is small, small, small but these friends stick together through all the highs and lows! Young readers will enjoy helping Bear and mouse as they spot all the opposites in their little glen. The bright colors and cheery tone help readers enjoy the sweet friendships between forest creatures in this delightful rhyming story.
Concepts: size, opposites.
Q. SE. W694bi