Reading to your child is a wonderful habit to start from birth, but the sheer number of children’s books to choose from can easily feel overwhelming.
This list of the 16 best books for babies and toddlers can help you narrow the field and start enjoying the benefits of reading together.
Features to Look For When Shopping for Books
Young minds are eager to learn about their world, and reading to your child can promote their language, cognitive and emotional skills. For more details on how reading can positively affect your child’s development, don’t miss this article about reading to your baby.
Children’s books are typically written with the goal of being both entertaining and stimulating. Keep an eye out for features like these during your book shopping.
Bright, interesting illustrations
Who doesn’t like to look at an intriguing picture? Babies and toddlers have an innate curiosity and love to visually study things. Stimulating colors, characters and background scenes are great for little eyes to focus on. Since very young children usually aren’t able to actually follow a storyline, pictures can be especially important to convey the story.
Interactivity does not always require technology. In fact, experts recommend that children under 18 months of age should have very little to no screen time, and older children up to the age of about five should have a maximum of one hour of very selective screen time per day. That is easier said than done, but fun and stimulating books can go a long way towards helping you reach this goal.
Books that give a child some very basic directions to follow or something to lift, touch or handle are interactive in a healthy way. They can encourage your child to think and develop their motor skills.
Rhymthic, repetitive or rhyming words
A gentle flow to the story can help keep your baby engaged in the book. Repeating words or phrases is also an effective way to help your baby learn and retain what they hear.
It doesn’t take long for most parents to realize that books with paper pages don’t always hold up well in the presence of young children.
For infants, books made out of fabric and flexible vinyl can do double duty for story time and during independent playtime. Most babies put anything they can reach in their mouth, and these materials should stand up to biting and drool. Cardboard books are great for reading together, but your baby could end up with a mouthful of paper if they tend to be an enthusiastic chewer.
Board books are a wonderful option for toddlers. Their sturdy construction can usually handle energetic play, and most toddlers can turn the pages independently.
Around the age of about 18 months, children usually start enjoying longer stories. You can try introducing a few hard or soft cover books with paper pages, but you may still want to make sure your child is supervised until you can trust them not to rip the pages.
Questions You May Have
Is it Worthwhile to Read to a Young Baby?
Yes! Even though your baby may be too young to understand words or a lesson, they are constantly learning.
Here are a few ways a young infant can enjoy and benefit from reading together.
Does Every Book Need to be Educational?
Almost all books are educational in one way or another, even the ones that are written specifically to be funny. No matter the book, your child still gets exposure to sounds, words, a storyline and new ideas.
Humor is an important part of life, and science has proven that laughter is good for you. The silliest story is still beneficial even if all it seems to do on the surface is to produce laughter.
What if my Child Doesn’t Like the Books I Choose?
Your child is a unique individual, and their preferences are hardwired into their personalities. Try not to be discouraged if your child doesn’t seem interested in the special book you picked out for them or one that you treasured as a child.
Let your child’s natural inclinations be your guide. If they love to be around other children, look for a book that features photos or illustrations of baby faces. If they are fascinated with dogs, choose a book that features a fun story about a dog’s life.
However, don’t be afraid to take a chance on some books outside your child’s current interests. Your child is constantly growing, maturing and developing, so make it a point to include some books on fresh topics.
Even if your child doesn’t seem to like a book right away, that doesn’t mean it was a waste of money. Set the book aside for a while, then try again. It may become a new favorite!
Giraffes Can't Dance
Gerald the giraffe’s story could help your child learn to recognize and better appreciate their own unique talents and abilities. Gerald wants to dance beautifully, but he just can’t seem to get his long legs and neck to move in the graceful ways the other animals can. Gerald feels discouraged and wonders if maybe he should give up on his dancing dreams altogether when an unexpected friend gives some advice that changes everything.
The message of this book is more geared towards children about 18 months and up, but infants and younger toddlers can also enjoy looking at the bright, interesting illustrations and hearing the gentle rhythmic story.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
A favorite for over two decades, this book combines colorful paintings of animals and a gentle, rhythmic text that describes what each animal sees. Each animal is a different color, so this book can also serve as an introduction to basic colors.
The words are almost the same on every page, with only the specific animal changing. Even though this may make it a little less interesting for a parent to read, the repetitive structure can make it easier for young babies to follow the story.
Lamaze Peek-A-Boo Forest
Peek a Boo Forest could be a great choice as one of your baby’s very first books. This fabric book features bright colors, crinkle sounds, soft textures and a fun flap to lift on each page.
Your baby can enjoy a walk through the forest while they learn about which animal lives in each part of the forest. The flaps are large enough for even a young child to grip and manipulate easily, and the simple rhyming words form a soothing pattern.
Each page has an interior layer of cellophane that makes a fun crinkly noise, and the owl on the front cover is made of soft plush fabric.
The Wonderful Things You Will Be
The wonderful things this book describes are not the great business or academic achievements but the character qualities that make a person who they are. Kindness, creativity, empathy and courage are a few of the topics The Wonderful Things You Will Be touches on.
This sweet book can be a great way for parents to express their unconditional love for their children from a young age. No matter if they grow up to write a play or raise a garden, each child is a unique treasure.
Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site
If your child is interested in trucks or other big machines, Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site could make the perfect bedtime story.
This book follows an excavator, crane, dump truck, concrete mixer and bulldozer as they go about their work during the day and how they finish their jobs to get ready for bedtime. The illustrations are colorful and engaging, and the rhyming text has a gentle rhythm.
The text size is smaller than most other children’s books, so make sure to have adequate lighting if you read this as a bedtime story.
Little Blue Truck
This adorable book has much to teach young children. Little Blue Truck contains lessons of kindness, asking your friends for help if you need it and learning to admit your mistakes.
Little Blue is a friendly pickup truck that always has time to say hello wherever he goes. When a big dump truck comes barreling down the road, he very rudely tells everyone else to clear the way. But when the dump truck gets stuck in a mud hole, who will come to help him after he was so rude?
Little Blue Truck’s illustrations are beautiful and enhance the story. This book also has a delightful rhyming text that is full of fun sounds to make and keeps the story extra interesting.
What kind of zoo animal might make a good pet? This book tells the story of a child that asks a very accommodating zoo to send them a suitable animal. Will they ever find one that isn’t too jumpy, fierce or tall?
Your baby can lift or open the fun flaps on every page to find out which animal is hiding underneath each one. The flaps open in a variety of ways: some lift up, some swing down and one opens like a double door.
Your baby could rip the paper flaps easily, so be sure to use care.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
This classic tells the story of a newborn caterpillar and the variety of food he eats during one week. The last page also contains the exciting reveal of what eventually happens to very hungry caterpillars.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar combines bright colors and a simple storyline with fun die-cut holes in each food where the caterpillar eats through them. These holes are just the right size for the tips of little fingers to fit into, making the story more interactive and interesting.
This five-inch tall edition is a smaller version of the traditional hardcover, so be prepared for a size difference if you grew up reading the original.
First released in 1947, this classic has been a staple bedtime story ever since.
Your child can follow along with the rabbit as they take a look around the room and bid everything in it goodnight. The gentle words form a soothing rhythm, and the pictures alternate between colors and black and white.
This book could be an inspiration for your own household to make saying goodnight to specific things in your child’s room or around the house a bedtime tradition.
Hey, Baby, Look!
A rather lovely book that is going to grab the attention of babies and toddlers.
It is fun to read to baby and the illustations are perfect for drawing them in. For toddlers, each page invites questions which is going to help their language skills.
What is particularly nice about Hey, Baby, Look! is that it will serve from the first board book for baby right through to the first sight reader for toddlers.
Dr. Seuss's ABC: An Amazing Alphabet Book!
You really can’t go wrong with any book by Dr. Suess. His books are classics for good reason, and the rhymes, illustrations and storylines still delight parents and children alike decades after they were written.
The main reason this particular book makes the list is that it introduces your child to the alphabet in a fun and memorable way. There is a rhyme and a picture for each letter, and most letters are repeated several times.
Another noteworthy aspect of Dr. Suess’s ABC is that it shows both uppercase and lowercase letters. Many children’s alphabet books only show uppercase letters, so this is a great option for introducing your child to both forms.
This board book is smaller than the original hardcover edition, and some letter rhymes are shorter and worded differently. This edition is ideal for babies and young toddlers, but you may want to consider getting the original once your child gets a little older and can handle a longer book with paper pages.
Where is Baby’s Belly Button?
What’s underneath the baby’s hat? Eyes!
This book can be a great way to help your child learn to identify several body parts by reading about them and then finding the corresponding part on their own body. The vibrant illustrations show various parts of baby’s body, including eyes, mouth, hands and belly button. A flap hides each body part, and your baby can have some fun and get a sense of accomplishment when they find out what’s under each one.
This book is perfect for supervised reading times with your infant. The flaps are large and easy for babies to lift independently, but they are made from heavy paper that could rip or get completely torn off.
Guess How Much I Love You
Little Nutbrown Hare is going to bed soon, but he has something very important to say before he does. How many ways can he come up with to tell his father just how much he loves him?
Guess How Much I Love You is a fun and tender story and could serve as a basis for you and your older toddler to creatively demonstrate your love for each other.
The simplicity of the artwork may make this book seem a little dull at first glance, but the fun begins when your child follows the directions to press, rub, tap or perform several other simple actions. Then you and your child can watch as the dots seem to magically react with each turn of the page.
This book is ideal for toddlers who are a little older, usually ages two and up. The interactive nature of this book lets your child feel more involved in reading time, and the encouraging phrases for following directions can serve as a positive reinforcement.
I am a Bunny
This book follows an adorable bunny named Nicholas as he describes his favorite activities for each season. The spring butterflies, summer birds, autumn leaves and winter snow are a few of the scenes your child can enjoy with Nicholas.
Illustrated by Richard Scarry, I am a Bunny is a little different than some of his other well-known works. Scarry is typically known for his busy drawings, yet each picture in this book contains bright colors and wonderful detail while being simple enough for a little reader to take in.
100 First Words
Rather than being a storybook, 100 First Words features bright and engaging photos of everyday objects. Each image is clearly labeled and provides a great introduction to common words your baby can learn to associate with its meaning.
Younger babies can also enjoy looking at the high-quality photos well before they are able to start identifying the objects in any way.
A few of the categories covered in 100 First Words include:
- Household Items
The pages are sturdy and easy for little hands to turn. However, the book itself is quite large at nearly 11 inches square, so it might be hard for an older infant or even a young toddler to handle independently.
The best libraries contain a wide variety of books, and your baby’s library is no different. There are so many great books to choose from, and fortunately, you get to pick as many as you want.
Some of the books listed here are appropriate for infants and toddlers alike, while some are more age-specific. Here are our top picks for each age group.
Infants: Lamaze Peek-a-Boo Forest. The fabric pages are great for young babies, and the flaps, crinkly cellophane and soft owl on the cover all provide tactile stimulation.
Twelve to eighteen months: The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The simple story, vibrant colors and finger holes combine to make this book easy for a young child to follow and interact with.
Eighteen months and up: Little Blue Truck. The lovely illustrations, fun rhythm and wonderful message make this an all-all-around great choice.
Infant to toddler: Hey, Baby, Look! is one book that particularly stood out for being suitable both for being eye-catching to babies and engaging to toddlers.