Babies and Toddlers

Introducing my children to books was trickier than I expected. Babies and toddlers have short attention spans. Babies often have more pressing concerns on their minds than the book you are lovingly offering to read to them. It is tough to break into their eat-poop-sleep cycles. Toddlers often seem more excited about chewing and throwing books than reading them. It can also be frustrating when toddlers get excited about books only to discard them after a couple of pages.

Meeting kids where they are developmentally can substantially increase the chance that your child will become interested in and enjoy books. I offer these developmentally appropriate booklists to help you find books that your child will enjoy.

I hope that you do not get too hung up on making sure that you always read developmentally appropriate books to your child. If you read a book that is beyond your child’s developmental level, no harm done. On the other hand, I do not believe that children ever get too old for books. My seven-year-old still on occasion listens to and enjoys Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, The Snowy Day, Make Way for Ducklings and others.

Best wishes in reaching the stage where you and your child both look forward to snuggling up and reading books together. May all parents and caregivers get there.

Books for Discoverers & Communicators — Typically Ages 0-13 Months

Discoverers and communicators do not yet understand words or are just beginning to understand what words mean. Look for:

  • Board books and cloth books (i.e. books that babies can manipulate)
  • Clear, bold illustrations
  • Simple rhymes

Fuzzy Bee and Friends by Roger Priddy. A cloth book that kids can enthusiastically touch and chew, with simple, two-sentence rhymes that sound appealing to babies. My kids loved the crinkly front cover!

Whoozit Photo Album by Manhattan Toys. With crinkly pages, a textured handle, and rings, this five-picture photo album is great for babies to play with. Fill with high contrast photos of family members.

Who Are They? By Tana Hoban. Features black-and-white images that are visually stimulating to young babies who are not yet able to see the full spectrum of colors (ages zero to four months).

Babies by Julie Aigner-Clark. Babies enjoy looking at images of babies. This book delivers. Babies is a good book to read with your baby and his or her new older sibling because it describes the basics of a young baby: “sometimes babies cry,” “babies sleep a lot,” “babies need lots of love.” Another book with wonderful images of babies is Global Babies by The Global Fund for Children.

This Little Chick by John Lawrence. Bold, woodcut illustrations and a rhyming text hold baby’s attention. A humorous story about a chick’s adventures entertain older kids and adult readers.

Snuggle Puppy by Sandra Boynton. A colorful, jaunty rhyme to share with your baby. Snuggle Puppy is also a nice reminder that story time with babies should first and foremost be snuggle time.

My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss, Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. While the book’s message is aimed at older kids, your baby will enjoy the rhyming text, colorful illustrations, and front page cutouts. An excellent book to read to baby and an older sibling.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin and Eric Carle. The bold illustrations and simple rhyme will engage babies. This book is also fantastic for older children who are learning the names of colors and animals.

Time for Bed by Mem Fox and Jane Dyer. This is a long book, so do not expect to read the entire book to your baby during your first sitting. However, the simple two-sentence rhymes and simple illustrations make this an excellent choice for babies. Feel free to skip to the final page before or when your baby gets restless.

Charlie Parker Played Be Bop by Chris Raschka. Playing with sounds is a valuable precursor to forming words. While I am certain that Chris Raschka did not create Charlie Parker Played Be Bop for babies, the sounds and rhythm of this book make it fun for parents and babies to read together. Parents and babies will also enjoy Raschka’s fantastic illustrations!

Books for First Word Users — Typically Ages 12-18 Months

First word users are beginning to understand what words mean and are saying their first words. At this stage, children are often interested in learning the names of objects and will point to and ask adults to name objects. Look for:

  • Interactive books (e.g. flaps, cut-outs, touch-and-feel books)
  • Illustrated songs
  • Books to help teach children their first words

Beautiful Babies: A Touch-and-Feel Book by Karma Wilson. A touch-and-feel b00k about springtime animals. Beautiful Babies is one of the best touch-and-feel books that I have found, with images of familiar animals that your child will recognize. Ages 0+

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (large, board book edition). A classic story about a caterpillar with an insatiable appetite. There are a few editions of The Very Hungry Caterpillar to choose from. If you can get your hands on it, the large board book edition is the best edition for toddlers who will play with this book and stick their fingers through the holes that the caterpillar chews through the pages. Ages 1+

Where is Baby’s Belly Button? By Karen Katz. A book with flaps that readers lift to search for baby’s belly button, hands, toes and other body parts. The interactive flaps are very entertaining to kids ages 12 to 18 months. Ages 0+

Quentin Blake’s Ten Frogs by Quentin Blake. A counting book featuring fantastic illustrations of animals by Quentin Blake: 1 crow, 2 goats, 3 dogs…etc. Blake’s illustrations are both fun and sufficiently realistic that kids will be able to identify the common animals depicted. Ages 0+

Baby Beluga by Raffi and Ashley Wolf. A fun song about a baby beluga whale, beautifully illustrated by Ashley Wolf. Ages 1+

If You’re Happy and You Know It by Annie Kubler. Another great illustrated song that introduces kids to body parts. Child’s Play has published several other great board books featuring illustrated songs as well. Ages 0+

Ten, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang. A countdown to bedtime from ten to one. I love the quiet affection between father and daughter depicted in the illustrations. The illustrations of the girl’s bedroom offer lots of opportunities to introduce the names of new objects to your child. Ages 0+

Neighborhood Animals by Marilyn Singer and Nadeem Zaidi. A simple book that features nice photos of familiar animals: a dog, a cat, a bird, etc. Neighborhood Animals will appeal to children who are excited about learning the names of animals they have seen. Ages 0+

Eight Silly Monkeys by Steve Haskamp. An exuberent rhyme, that you are likely already familiar with, about monkeys misbehaving and tumbling one after another off a bed. If you were to gather together a group of toddlers to select books for this booklist, Five Silly Monkeys would undoubtedly make the list. Kids seem to enjoy the playful rhyme, the cutouts they can feel, the repetition “no more monkeys jumping on the bed”…and the mental stimulation of learning to count to eight. Ages 1+

Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh. A simple story about three playful mice that introduces kids to mixing colors. I really like Ellen Stohl Walsh’s graphic, cut-paper collage illustrations. Ages 1+

More Books for First Word Users:

  • Dear Zoo by Rod Cambell
  • First 100 Words by Roger Priddy
  • Peekaboo Morning by Rachel Isadora
  • Dance by Bill Jones
  • Where Is My Baby? by Harriet Ziefert and Simms Taback
  • Red Is a Dragon: A Book of Colors by Roseanne Thong and Grace Lin
  • Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert
  • Feed Matisse’s Fish by Julie Appel and Amy Guglielmo
  • Sleepy Time by Gyo Fujikawa
  • All of Baby Nose to Toes by Victoria Adler and Hiroe Nakata

Books for Combiners — Typically Ages 18-24 Months

Combiners are beginning to combine words into two or more word sentences. This is an exciting time to be reading books to children! At this stage, children’s vocabularies are expanding rapidly, and many children are ready to listen to their first, very simple stories. Look for:

  • Books with repetition
  • Participatory books
  • Books with more advanced vocabulary
  • Short stories
  • We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury
  • One Duck Stuck by Phyllis Root and Jane Chapman
  • Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin and Lois Ehlert
  • Barnyard Banter by Denise Fleming
  • Peek!: A Thai Hide-and-Seek by Minfong Ho and Holly Meade
  • Bird, Fly High by Petr Horacek
  • The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
  • The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson
  • To Be a Kid by Maya Ajmera and John Ivanko
  • The Daddy Book by Todd Parr

“Reading to children is important in laying the foundation for them to become readers, but it’s not enough to turn them into enthusiastic readers. Books that enchant, amuse, move, and delight children will inspire them to become readers. Therefore, choose books carefully, keeping in mind children’s interests and stages of language development.”  

– Learning and Language Development

7 Responses to Babies and Toddlers

  1. Senglee Tan says:

    Love your article on the importance of reading to children, these days everyone just make their kids carry an iPad without reading any real materials. Keep up the good work!

  2. ann plourde says:

    May I share your list with my college students? And workshop participants? I would give the site credit.

  3. Allison says:

    One of our favourite early books was The Baby’s Catalogue since it doesn’t have a strong linear storyline and you can just talk about whatever is on the page your baby is interested in and it doesn’t really matter when they turn the page or if they flip back a few pages. It worked from the start through toddler-hood.

    We loved Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb (board book version) for a first book too because it has such a song-like rhythm that it held our small person’s attention well.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    My children enjoyed a number of these books as infants. I agree simple is best, but I would add some books with photographs as well. Babies love looking at other babies’ faces. Nice job! I added this site to my blogroll.

  5. Evelyn Smith says:

    Thanks for the list! I am having a baby in October and now I know what books they will need next year.


  6. workingmommawithababy says:

    This is just the list I need for my 1 year old! I’ll be stopping by the library with this list soon!

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