Saturday, January 2, 2021

Our Favorite Baby and Toddler Books

 Two years ago, I asked my Facebook network what children's books they considered the very best. I was at the time pregnant with my first child and turning my attention to building her library. The thread garnered over 100 comments, full of great suggestions. At the time, however, I did not purchase many of the books. 

Last month I was browsing through my memories and came across the thread again. Nostalgic, I began to read, and I was happy to see how many of the suggestions have become family favorites of ours. It was interesting to reflect on how two years has turned me from a newbie to a connoisseur of children's literature. My husband and I regularly visit local consignment sales and dig through dozens of bins, quickly throwing out books for having too many words for the age group, an art style we don't like, or a message we don't agree with. We pounce on titles from tried and true authors and series, both for growing our own library and for giving as gifts. 

Our 20-month-old is now the happy owner of probably close to two hundred books. She carries them all over the house, babbles familiar lines, and points out her favorite animals. We have to keep to a strict limit of only three books at bedtime/naptime! 

As I now approach week 33 of my second pregnancy, I thought it was time to publicly share our list of favorite children's books, as approved by mama, daddy, and #1!

(Listed roughly in the order our daughter came to appreciate them. Also, I've for sure forgotten some, so don't be offended if your favorite isn't here. It might just have gotten overlooked in our deluge of awesome books!)

Look Look! 

Babies love black and white images, and Look Look! is the perfect first book. Our daughter loved looking at it when she was just starting tummy time...and she still asks us to read it to her now at 19 months.

Baby Faces (And All About Baby)

After black and white, the next item of interest for children are...other children! Baby faces displays a variety of babies of all skin tones with different emotions, in different circumstances. Our emotionally attuned daughter especially loves the different emotions. We also enjoy the companion book, All About Baby.

The Hungry Caterpillar, Brown Bear, Brown Bear and other Eric Carle

The Hungry Caterpillar was one of the first first books that our baby was obsessed with. She would look at the butterfly page forever! Now as a toddler she isn't into it anymore, but she still enjoys other Eric Carle, especially Brown Bear, Brown Bear and others in that vein.

DK Touch and Feel

Basically any DK Touch and Feel book is a likely winner. There are a billion animal options (it seems!), as well as themes like bedtime, shapes and colors, tractors, etc. 

See, Touch, Feel

A different kind of touch and feel book, this one is a pretty comprehensive tactile experience, incorporating color, shapes, raised patterns, pictures of babies, a stuffed animal, and a mirror. When our daughter got into this one, we had to read it over and over and over again!

Baby Lit: Sherlock Holmes

Baby Lit is a fun line of classic adaptations, focusing on themes like numbers, colors, sounds, and other basic concepts. While we have enjoyed many of them, our daughter's first favorite was Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles (A Sounds Primer). She loves it when Mommy makes all the creaky, rustly, howly sounds in the book!

Laura's Garden

This sweetly illustrated board book was a hit with our daughter, raised as she was among my garden! It was one of the first 'story' book she really got into, and remains a favorite.

Snuggle Puppy, Barnyard Dance, Happy Hippo Angry Duck and other Sandra Boynton

Prior to becoming a parent, I knew nothing about Sandra Boynton. It was a name that popped up a LOT on the Facebook thread of recommendations, but I wasn't impressed by the art style. Then we were gifted a box of hand me down books that contained many Boynton's and my husband and I became OBSESSED! Boynton books are so fun to read! We love Happy Hippo, Angry Duck and the way it talks about emotions, and our daughter ADORES Barnyard Dance, especially when she gets to do all the moves dancing around the nursery with Daddy while Mommy reads!

Baby Signs

Baby sign language was a very helpful tool in our daughter's communication development. I was lucky enough to find a version that used real babies, and our daughter adored it. Now, nearly all baby sign books use illustrations rather than real babies, and I don't find those quite as effective. Ours is so old, it is difficult even to find a photo of it online! 

Never Touch a Dinosaur

Part of a themed series, this is a fun book with lots of silicone textures, making it a nice chance from the fluff and fuzz of most other touch and feel books. She also got "How to Charma a Llama" from the series for Christmas, and the sequins in that book were an immediate hit.

That's Not My Pirate!

Another themed touch and feel series, this one is pretty cute. We enjoy the pirate theme!

Red Wagon

This gem popped up in our box of hand me downs, and we quickly fell in love with the story of a little girl turning chore time into an imaginative adventure! We started reading it to our daughter pretty early, abridging the words so that it would engage her at 10 months. Now she still loves it, and gets the full text. She had so much fun with her own wagon this summer! 

Ladybug Girl Dresses Up

While our daughter isn't quite into dress up yet, she loves Ladybug Girl! The board books are suitaable for a slightly younger age group than the paperback titles.

The Mitten

A favorite from my own childhood, this is a beautifully illustrated Eastern European Folktale. We also started this one off young with slightly abbreviated text, and expanded as our daughter grew older. The forest animals were a big hit, as is the BIG SNEEZE page! 

Baby Lit: Emma

This Baby Lit was such a big hit, that it gets its own entry separate from the previous recommendation. As I've mentioned before, our daughter is very emotionally attuned, and she LOVES this Emotions Primer! She copies all the facial expressions, and has a lot of fun declaring that Mr. Woodhouse is "BORED!"

Good Dog Carl

One of our very, very favorites, the beautiful pictures of Good Dog Carl speak for themselves, allowing Mommy and Daddy to choose their own narration to fit the child's age and interest. Since our dog is a central part of our family and our daughter's best friend, she gets a huge kick out of this one and requests it over and over.

Pat the Bunny

Vintage it may be, but Pat the Bunny has endured for a reason: it works! Our daughter adores all the little activities. My only qualm with this one is the strong soapy scent on the smell the flowers page. If you are sensitive to scents, you may want to tape over those flowers!

Goodnight Moon (and Goodnight Loon and Goodnight Unicorn)

What childhood is complete without Goodnight Moon? My husband's, apparently! I'm not a huge fan of the art style, but it's very soothing to read and my daughter seems to enjoy it. We've also got a kick out of two parody versions, Goodnight Loon (Minnesota) and Goodnight Unicorn. 

Little Critter Books

These might still be bigger hits with Mom and Dad than with kiddo, but they are growing on her! Nathan and I both grew up with Little Critter and we get such a hoot out of reading them again as adults!

Angelina Ballerina

This was the first 'long' book my daughter really connected with. She loves dancing, and I enjoy the art style, so it is a fun read for both of us.

I'm a Big Sister (Joanna Cole)

When we learned baby #2 was on the way, we knew we needed some good literature to introduce the concept to our young toddler. I'm a Big Sister was a consignment sale find and we are in love with the pictures and the text. The book covers all aspects of becoming a big sister, addressing areas of concern and excitement. We especially love that the family in the book looks just like us--the best friend even looks like our daughter's most regular playmate! (There's a big brother edition as well). This is another often-requested favorite.

Press Here

Press this dot...and turn the page...and suddenly there are two dots! Dots multiple, move, change color and size, all in reaction to different prompts given the reader. The concepts are a little more advanced, but once the child 'gets' it, the book is great fun and incorporates many learning activities that we are only too ready to delegate to computer games these days.


Currently, Madeline is the FAVORITE book. Most requested, most quoted! While the sequels remain a bit too advanced and wordy for our daughter, she returns to the original again and again. And although I have it memorized, I haven't gotten sick of it yet. The text and illustrations are truly charming.

Baby Bible (Sarah Toulmin)

There are probably hundreds of baby Bibles out there. I stumbled upon this one right when I was looking for a new option at my daughter's reading level and I've been very pleased with it. Our daughter will quite happily listen to three stories in a row. 

My First Little House Books

We adore the illustrations in these books! Taken directly from the original Little House books, the chapter is expanded and richly illustrated to appeal to the very youngest of readers. They remain the most text heavy books that our daughter engages with.

Julia's House for Lost Creatures

Here's one for the geeks! I was so thrilled when my daughter finally was old enough to appreciate this story of a quirky house full of even quirkier guests. With gorgeous art by Ben Hatke, it sparks the creative imagination of child and parents alike.

We're Going on a Bear Hunt

This was one of my own childhood books. To my surprise, my daughter took longer to connect with this one than I expected. However, as soon as she did, it became an immediate favorite!