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.
For more information about supporting early literacy development, visit Reading Rockets:

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


Sometimes the Best Friendships are the Most Unexpected Ones

In August, many countries around the world celebrate Friendship Day! What a wonderful opportunity to be thankful for the friendships we never expected to have. And what better way to do that than to read stories that teach us to always keep an open mind and an open heart? When searching for stories about unlikely friendship, try searching the subjects “friendship” and “juvenile fiction” or “juvenile literature” along with other subjects that might hint at differences in the characters, such as “prejudice” or “opposites.” Another approach would be to search the keyword phrase “unlikely friendship.”

Intermediate and Young Adult Fiction

Cohen, Joshua C.
Leverage. 2011.
High school sophomore Danny excels at gymnastics but is bullied, like the rest of the gymnasts, by members of the football team, until an emotionally and physically scarred new student joins the football team and forms an unlikely friendship with Danny.
[SSHEL S Collection S. C6605l]

George, Madeleine.
Looks. 2008.
Two high school girls, one an anorexic poet and the other an obese loner, form an unlikely friendship.
[SSHEL S Collection and the Center for Children’s Books S. G2936l]

Green, John.
Paper Towns. 2008.
One month before graduating from his Central Florida high school, Quentin “Q” Jacobsen basks in the predictable boringness of his life until the beautiful and exciting Margo Roth Spiegelman, Q’s neighbor and classmate, takes him on a midnight adventure and then mysteriously disappears.
[SSHEL S Collection and the Center for Children’s Books S. G823p]

Griffin, Paul.
Burning Blue. 2012.
When beautiful, smart Nicole, disfigured by acid thrown in her face, and computer hacker Jay meet in the school psychologist’s office, they become friends and Jay resolves to find her attacker.
[SSHEL S Collection and the Center for Children’s Books S. G8756b]

Harlow, Joan Hiatt.
Firestorm! 2010.
A twelve-year-old street urchin and the son of Chicago’s most important jeweler strike up an unlikely friendship in the days before the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and both are nearly trapped when the city goes up in flames.
[SSHEL S Collection S. H227f]

Hubbard, Kirsten.
Like Mandarin. 2011.
When shy, awkward fourteen-year-old Grace Carpenter is paired with the beautiful and wild Mandarin on a school project, an unlikely, explosive friendship begins, but all too soon, Grace discovers that Mandarin is a very troubled, even dangerous, girl.
[SSHEL S Collection and the Center for Children’s Books]

Napoli, Donna Jo.
Mogo, The Third Warthog. 2008.
When Mogo is cast out of his burrow to make room for a new litter, he learns how to survive and as an unlikely friendship with a young baboon blooms, Mogo finds the joy of friendship and love.
[SSHEL S Collection S. N162m]

de la Peña, Matt.
We Were Here. 2009.
Haunted by the event that sentences him to time in a group home, Miguel breaks out with two unlikely companions and together they begin their journey down the California coast hoping to get to Mexico and a new life.
[SSHEL S Collection and the Center for Children’s Books S. P3706w]

Sheldon, Dyan.
Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen. 1999.
In her first year at a suburban New Jersey high school, Mary Elizabeth Cep, who now calls herself “Lola,” sets her sights on the lead in the annual drama production, and finds herself in conflict with the most popular girl in school.
[SSHEL S Collection and the Center for Childrens Books S. Sh433c]

Spinelli, Jerry.
Stargirl. 2000.
In this story about the perils of popularity, the courage of nonconformity, and the thrill of first love, an eccentric student named Stargirl changes Mica High School forever.
[SSHEL S Collection and the Center for Children’s Books S. Sp46s]

Twain, Mark.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 1994.
The adventures of a boy and a runaway slave as they travel down the Mississippi River on a raft.
[SSHEL S Collection S.C591H1994]

Wein, Elizabeth.
Code Name Verity. 2012.
In 1943, a British fighter plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France and the survivor tells a tale of friendship, war, espionage, and great courage as she relates what she must to survive while keeping secret all that she can.
[SSHEL S Collection and the Center for Children’s Books S. W432cn]

Yolen, Jane.
The Rogues. 2007.
After his family is evicted from their Scottish farm, fifteen-year-old Roddy forms an unlikely friendship with a notorious rogue who helps him outwit a tyrant landlord in order to find a family treasure and make his way to America.
[SSHEL S Collection S. Y78r]

Picture Books

Alemagna, Beatrice.
Bugs in the Garden. 2011.
What happens when the bugs venture out into the big, wide garden to find some new friends? This sturdy board book introduces lovable bugs who learn how to accept creatures they are initially afraid of.
[SSHEL S Collection SE. Al25b]

Bramsen, Carin.
Hey, Duck! 2013.
A plucky duckling attempts to befriend a cat that just wants to be left alone.
[SSHEL S Collection SE. B7323h]

Brown, Peter.
You Will Be My Friend! 2011.
Lucy, a young bear, starts her day determined to make a new friend but her enthusiasm leads to all sorts of problems until, just as she is about to give up, an unexpected friend finds her.
[SSHEL S Collection Q. SE. B812y]

Cannon, Janell.
Stellaluna. 1993.
Knocked from her mother’s safe embrace by an attacking owl, Stellaluna lands headfirst in a bird’s nest. This adorable baby fruit bat’s world is literally turned upside down when she is adopted by the occupants of the nest and adapts to their peculiar bird habits.
[SSHEL S Collection SE.C164S]

Folguiera, Rodrigo.
Ribbit! 2013.
When a pig visits a frog pond, sits on a rock, and says only “Ribbit!” news spreads fast, but only the wise old beetle has an explanation.
[SSHEL S Collection and the Center for Children’s Books SE. F713r]

Lionni, Leo.
An Extraordinary Egg. 1998.
Jessica the frog befriends the animal that hatches from an egg she brought home, thinking it is a chicken.
[SSHEL S Collection and the Center for Children’s Books SE. L661e]

Liu, Cynthea.
Wooby & Peep: A Story of Unlikely Friendship. 2013.
Wooby lives in a nice, quiet neighborhood where everyone minds his own business. And he likes it that way. Then noisy, energetic Peep moves next door with her banging and smashing and crashing. She even gives a “wild” PARTY! At first, shy Wooby is beside himself — until he realizes that he and Peep have more in common than he ever imagined.
[SSHEL S Collection SE. L7402w]

Long, Ethan.
Scribbles and Ink. 2012.
Scribbles the cat and Ink the mouse are two artists with very different styles. A disagreement over whose creative process is the best leads to a big mess. Discovering that they are no longer having any fun, the duo tentatively tries to collaborate and creates a masterpiece.
[SSHEL S Collection SE. L851s]

Polacco, Patricia.
Pink and Say. 1994.
The true story of a remarkable wartime friendship between a young white Union soldier and a young black Union soldier who are captured by Confederate soldiers and sent to Andersonville Prison.
[SSHEL S Collection and the Center for Children’s Books Q. SE. P757pi]

Sidjanski, Brigitte.
Little Chicken & Little Duck. 2007.
Despite the objections of their parents, who do not want them to play together, Little Chicken and Little Duck find a way to stay friends.
[SSHEL S Collection Q. SE. Si139l]

Non Fiction:
Antle, Bhagavan.
Suryia & Roscoe: The True Story of an Unlikely Friendship. 2011.
Who can imagine an orangutan being friends with a dog? Is it even possible? With Suryia and Roscoe it is! When Suryia the orangutan first meets Roscoe, a stray dog, they become best friends from the start.
[SSHEL S Collection SE. An879s]

Hatkoff, Isabella.
Own & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship. 2006.
The inspiring true story of two great friends, a baby hippo named Owen and a 130-yr-old giant tortoise named Mzee (Mm-ZAY).
[SSHEL S Collection and the Center for Children’s Books S.599.63 H286o]

Comparison Books: Opposites and Similarities

January 25th is Opposite Day, and in honor of this day our theme for this month’s blog is comparison books. Comparison books examine antonyms, synonyms, and degrees of similarity or difference. Opposite Day is a great opportunity to have fun with children while building their vocabulary and teaching them how to compare and describe objects from the world around them.

Here are three great online resources for lesson plans that teach antonyms and synonyms:
– This lesson plan utilizes “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” and a game simulating baseball to teach students opposites.
– This detailed Read, Write, Think lesson plan is sponsored by the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English. The author supports her lesson plan with theory.
Brain Pop Jr. provides parents and teachers with background information and activities for learning synonyms and antonyms.

In the list below opposite books appear first, while books dealing with similarities or degrees of comparison have been placed under the broader category of “comparisons.”


Augarde, Steve.
Big Nose, Small Nose. 2004.
Turn the wheels and lift the flaps to learn about opposites.
[Rare Book & Manuscript Library SE. Au41b (non-circulating)]

Blackstone, Stella.
How Big is a Pig. 2000.
Follow the trail of animal opposites through the farmyard as it leads you to the biggest pig of all.
[Education Storage Q. SE. B567h]

Cousins, Lucy.
Maisy Big, Maisy Small. 2007.
Maisy the mouse demonstrates pairs of opposites, including thick and thin, tall and short, young and old, and wiggly and straight.
[Education S Collection Q. SE. C836mai]

Cumpiano, Ina.
Quinito, day and night / Quinito, dia y noche. 2008.
In this bilingual book (English and Spanish), little Quinito and his family take the reader through a day filled with opposites, including short/tall, quiet/loud, and rainy/sunny.
[Education S Collection S. C913q]

Pittau, Francisco.
Elephant Elephant. 2001.
This book of opposites is illustrated with elephants showing concepts such as “big” and “small.”
[Education Storage SE. P686e]

Salzmann, Mary Elizabeth
Is the Treat Sour or Sweet? 2007.
This book uses colorful photo illustrations to show antonyms and includes a short activity.
[Education S Collection S.428.1 Sa39i]

Siminovich, Lorena.
Alex and Lulu: Two of a Kind. 2009.
Meet best friends Alex and Lulu. Even though they are different, they always have fun together. Until Alex begins to worry that they might be too different, that they might actually be opposites! Discover what opposites really are in this quirky story that celebrates differences.
[Education S Collection SE. Si456a]

Swinburne, Stephen R.
What’s Opposite? 2000.
This book is a photographic essay depicting opposites.
[Education Storage Q. S.428.1 Sw63w]

Wilbur, Richard.
Opposites, More Opposites, and a Few Differences. 2006.
A collection of light-hearted poems centering around words and their opposites. This collection, from a National Book Award and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, includes the full text and drawings from Opposites and More Opposites, plus seven new poems and drawings about differences.
[Education S Collection S.811 W641o]


Cleary, Brian P.
Hairy, Scary, Ordinary: What is an Adjective? 2000.
Rhyming text and illustrations of comical cats present numerous examples of adjectives, from “hairy, scary, cool, and ordinary” to “tan and tall,” “funny, frisky, smooth, and small.”
[Education S Collection S.428.2 C58h]

Cleary, Brian P.
Quirky, Jerky, Extra-Perky: More about Adjectives. 2007.
An introduction to adjectives and how they help with descriptions.
[Education S Collection S.428.2 C58q]

Coffelt, Nancy.
Big, Bigger, Biggest! 2009.
Introduces young children to the language of comparison, synonyms, and antonyms, and features pictures of animals in all shapes and sizes.
[Education S Collection S.423.1 C654b]

Golden, Erin.
Big, Bigger, and Biggest Trucks and Diggers. 2008.
Readers will get to know different kinds of Caterpillar trucks and diggers in size order from the smallest to the biggest! Accompanying DVD features video of some of the biggest machines in action.
[Education S Collection Q. S.629.224 G565b]

Harper, Charise Mericle.
The Little Book of Not So. 2005.
Presents a series of comparisons, such as “Big,” “Not so Big” and “Tasty,” “Not so Tasty” on successive pages.
[Education S Collection S.428.1 H231l]

Hillman, Ben.
How Big is It? 2007.
This book features interesting facts about some of the world’s biggest things including giant squids, redwood trees and airships.
[Education S Collection Q. S.153.752 H559h]

Kompelien, Tracy.
The Pickle is Dilly, Cool, and Chilly! 2007.
This book on synonyms includes color photo illustrations and a short activity.
[Education S Collection S.428.1 K836p]

Merttens, Ruth.
Sizes. 2005.
This “Read and Learn” book looks at readers’ sizes in comparison to different animals.
[Education S Collection S.153.752 M558s]

Nieker, Diane.
Heavy and Light. 2006.
Heavy and Light teaches answers to weight comparison questions including “Is something bigger always heavier?”
[Education S Collection S.530.81 H227h]

Taylor, Barbara.
Mega and Micro. 2001.
This book by the Natural History Museum looks at the biggest, heaviest, smallest, and lightest animals. It includes interesting facts like “giant squid have eyes bigger than frying pans.”
[Education Storage S.591.41 T212m]