The benefits of black and white books for babies

Ever wondered why baby books are often black and white? Although babies can see from birth, the world is still quite blurry to a newborn. The retina is not fully developed until nine months of age; a newborn can only see strong contrasts of dark and light. In fact, when babies are born, they see best at around 15-20 centimetres – roughly the distance they are held for feeding.

A baby’s colour perception is also limited at birth. Babies see black and white first, then shades of grey, then red, followed by the other colours.

Experts believe this reduced vision is a biological trait. It’s there to help babies feel safe with the parent, as well as limit sensory input from the wider world.

Because of this, a high-contrast book with bold patterns and simple shapes is going to appeal most to a young baby. And babies are never too young for a book!

A black and white book gives your baby the opportunity to start to experience shapes and patterns from the wider world and help them begin to learn to focus, whilst also providing gentle entertainment and stimulation.

How best to benefit from black and white

Although they don’t always appeal to adults, black and white books capture the attention of babies. They are also supportive of your developing baby’s brains and eyes in those early months. In addition to capturing baby’s attention, black and white books with high contrast images help the eyes to focus and boost bub’s concentration skills. As your baby gets older, you can use the books to practise tracking later on.

Before you go down the rabbit hole of looking for black and white books, there are some clever tips to help you make the most of the experience.

First, linger on the pages. This is especially beneficial when babies are young. Even if there are words on the page, taking your time to turn the pages allows babies the best opportunity to focus on the images and/or illustrations. When baby becomes disinterested in the page, turn it. Where there are no words, feel free to give your own commentary, discuss what you can see.

Second, use black and white books during tummy time. Prop the books up or hold them in front of your baby while they work on their skills.

Finally, don’t get too far away. Remember a baby’s vision is still unfocused for at least the first three months of life, so you don’t want to be putting the book too far away from bub.

Black and white books for age

The best black and white books for newborns are ones with clear lines, introducing one or a couple of shades and bold patterns. Bold images will typically stand out in your baby’s typically blurry world.

Black and white board books for 0-3 months

  • Hello, Garden Bugs by Julissa Mora. We like the friendly bugs you meet along the way. A good book to take outdoors.
  • Black and White by Jane Foster. We like the retro style, high contrast images and bold patterns. Not to mention the pandas, penguins and other animals.
  • Safari by Surya Sajnani. We like the bold lines and simple illustrations, perfect for little eyes that are still developing.
  • Sleepy Kiwi by Kat Merewether. We like the mesmerising and chunky black and white images and the gentle story unfolding.

Black and white board books for 3-6 months

  • Little Baby Books: Bedtimeby Mel Four. We like the shiny foil images contrasting against the black backgrounds.
  • Baby Sparkle by Samantha Meredith. We like the way this book features a different word and an eye-catching blue image on each page.
  • Baby Touch: Things that go. We like the peep hole on each page, giving little hands more to explore. Go nuts making all the transport noises too!

From 6–9 months old, you can start to introduce books with bold colours, shapes and outlines, as well as tactile books that they can feel and touch.

  • Hello, Bugs! by Smriti Prasadam, illustrated by Emily Bolam. We like the glittering bursts of coloured foil on each page.
  • Spots and Dots. We like the black and white shapes teamed with bright and bold colours, creating stimulating patterns for babies to become mesmerised by.

As well as reading with them, talk to your baby about the pictures on the page. They love nothing more than to listen to your voice, and it’s a wonderful bonding opportunity for you both.

Rather than rushing out to buy books, your local library has a large collection of black and white books. Borrow up to 20 books at a time (completely free!), to ensure your baby is always entertained. It’s also a great way to nurture your baby’s love for reading from the moment they are born.

What are some of your favourite black and white books for babies?


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Written by Kids on the Coast/Kids in the City

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