Can I make a small confession here, I spent my junior high years hoping to grow up to be an author. Not just any author, I wanted to write children’s books. I wrote several as a teenager and at one point almost convinced my very talented football star friend who was also an amazing artist to illustrate one for me. It never quite panned out, he was busy and I was busy, and I moved on to study English Literature in my undergrad hoping I’d teach high school by day and write by night. My tastes evolved and business and marketing and digital publishing became my career, so in a way, I tell myself I’m still living my childhood dream to be an author in some form. Who knows, maybe this confession will give me the nudge I need to start writing again and to try to realize this dream.
Anyway, I’m telling this because I’ve been a closet children’s book lover for a long time, even before I was lucky to get my little miracle baby of my own. I’m always on the hunt for the next book for our library, and my son owns more books than clothes or toys.
And yet, I’m still a bit of a minimalist mom believe it or not, and I try to only buy books I think he’ll really love, we’ll really love reading to him, and will last and be enjoyable for several years. Now that we’re a year and a half into parenting, I’ve noticed there are some that really fit this bill and have given us more bang for our buck, have been enjoyed since he was a small infant, and I think he’ll continue to enjoy for at least another year or two.
If you’re a new mom hoping to build a library, someone gifting books for a new mom, or a parent or caregiver just trying to find great reads you can enjoy again and again, I want to share our absolute favorites with you, what we love about them, and what makes them worth the valuable spot on the bookshelf!
- The Pout-Pout Fish I was gifted this by my very funny teenage niece at a shower, who inscribed this was from Mack’s “Favorite Cousin” and I knew I was in for a funny book from the start! We have loved this one from day one, it is so cute, has great illustrations (my son kisses the pictures now), it’s written in a catchy poem form, and the ending is both laugh-out-loud funny and darling. It has a wonderful theme about overcoming a bad attitude/label. We’ve read this one since he was a week old and it’s still one grabbed by both mom and dad and baby during story time.
- Brown Bear Brown Bear, What Do You See? Another gift from a family member, but a book that has had some seriously staying power! It started with illustrations the baby would look at intensely, with just the right amount of contrast. Now it’s one he makes the animal noises too. This one is a particular favorite because it has more common animals with animal sounds kids learn pretty quickly. As he’s growing further he’s learning to say the animal names, but still enjoys the pictures and noises. I’ve been amazed how long lasting this book has been! We even found this slider version the other day and I seriously considered buying a duplicate because it’s so loved. You can’t go wrong with the entire series, but this is a great place to start!
- Polar Bear, Polar Bear What Do You Hear? This is from the series mentioned above, but we like this one because it focuses on noises and sounds animals make. It takes place at the zoo with all the animals overhearing each other and children making their sounds, and of course, our toddler loves the noises and looking at the illustrations of children’s faces too. We love all these Eric Carle books, and have since infancy!
- The Little Blue Truck We were gifted two of these, and for good reason! It’s a fun poem-type rhyming book for parents to read, it’s fun for kids to hear, and you’re introducing the concept of helping others and being a good friend. The animal noises are included with car noises too “Oink said the piggy, Beep said Blue!” Our toddler has one of these in tow at all times and because of this book, dump truck pajamas were insisted on being purchased and are worn as often as they are clean. It’s his first character/concept attachment, and with good reason from this book! He’s learned vehicle names and sounds, what a friend is, and it’s the first book he’s started reading pages to his parents. It’s great for a boy or a girl, and the illustrations are the icing on the cake! We now gift this one often at baby showers!
- The Little Blue Truck Leads the Way Because of the love of The Little Blue Truck, this one came in a close second. I never expect much from the sequel, but we may love this one even more. It’s modern taken a country/city themed book that helps teach manners and consideration. There’s great noises, illustrations, and the same rhyme and darling character that kids love from the original. We bought this one after our son became obsessed with the original, and now we catch him “reading” this book to himself more than any other book.
- Pajama Time! I have yet to meet a Sandra Boynton book that we haven’t loved! They are funny, silly, cute, have a fun rhyme, and they go along with all the moments your child identifies with- i.e. Pajama Time or a close second, The Going to Bed Book. We love all these books, but love that this one helped teach our child what was happened when we change him at night after a bath and why. He loved it younger, but he loved to sit and look at the pictures while we get him ready for bed each night. And I’m not ashamed to admit I have it memorized and can “read” it to him from anywhere at any time whenever he asks.
- What Wonderful Things You Will Be We decided to do something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read the first Christmas after we became parents to simplify a very stressful time in our lives as new parents with an ending maternity leave. I was looking for the perfect book and stumbled across this one with excellent reviews. I have LOVED this book! My little man loves looking at the baby and kid faces in the darling illustrations, making animal noises, and hearing mom read the sweet mostly-rhyming book. I love this book more than he does and I’m fine admitting that. I waited so many years praying to be a mom, and I sit in awe of this amazing little human often wondering what he’ll grow up to achieve and be. It’s fun to dream as a parent, it’s humbling to think you get to help shape a life, and it’s the perfect book to capture all those emotions in a way you’ll both enjoy.
- I’ll Love You Forever I’ll be the first to admit this one is more for me than him, but my baby does love the lyrical type story that reads like a song and loves to look at the pictures too. I love this one because it’s my favorite to read on those hard parenting days- like when they flush your watch down the toilet! It’s a reminder they are your baby forever, you are their mommy forever, and no matter what they do or how life changes that remain. Now if I can just get through one read without a sentimental tear I’ll love that even more!
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar I remember loving this book as a child, and I love that my child adores it too! We love the board book version, and he loves playing with the different sized pages and holes in the pages. His chubby fingers like the feel around, he loves to identify the food he knows, and he looks carefully at the illustrations. It’s been fun from the start, and it’s continued to be a favorite!
- Snap Snap There comes a time when touch-and-feel and lift-up flap books become all the rage and toddlers love to get hands-on. We’ve found several we really like, but this flap book is high quality and won’t rip without being bulky. The animal sounds are fun, the illustrations are bright, and it’s a fun read for kids and parents that keep hands busy. But even before he could do that, his eyes would get big looking at the pages turn, and we loved every minute of it as parents!
- Fox In Socks It’s hard to go wrong with Dr. Suess, but this one is great for toddlers because there are lots of easy words to say. He loves hearing a little “Fox” and “Sooooooocks” when we read this. I bought a pack of the beginner board books, and my husband decided one day our son loved it so much it was time to buy the full Fox in Socks version. Both are fantastic, both are used and read, and it’s a great way to introduce your kid to Dr. Suess and a little bit of silliness with tongue twisters.
- The Rainbow Fish Baby loves the foil sparkles, feeling said sparkles, and listening to mom do voices of the fish. It’s become a modern classic, and it’s a great one to start talking about sharing which I’m learning you can never start too soon!
- If You Give a Mouse a Cookie This is one of those classics that has the perfect blend of words and pictures. It keeps attention when they’re really little, but there’s enough to stop and giggle about as they get older. Not to mention just having a toddler who can barely speak point out and say “mouse” or “squeak-squeak” is just about the cutest thing. Plus teaching cause-to-effect is a concept that they grasp a little older, and it’s one I know many older kids enjoy too! We like the whole series, and own If You Give a Moose A Muffin which baffles my child that a moose with antlers can exist!
- An Awesome Book When I was searching for #7 above, my husband found this and book and knew it needed to be in our library. It’s written for children and adults, which is probably why we like it so much! The theme involves teaching people to dream as big of dreams and then dream some more. It goes through silly concepts like roller-skating unicorns, and a lot of other funny imaginary images complete with intricate imagery and detail galore on every page. Baby loves to stare at particular details, and as they get older they find more they never saw. It’s cute, it’s funny, it’s charming, and it’s one that helps us all remember to continue to dream.
- Peak-A-Boo-Sliders: Baby Animals First of all the illustrations are very cute, simple, clean and perfect for little eyes. But this is one of those moving slider books that chubby fingers can enjoy and older kids love it too. We can just make noises while he’s learning to use his voice, I can have him identify animals and say them, and as he gets older we’ll learn the names of baby animals for another level of advancement. I’ll admit I find adults playing with it too, the sliders are that great! My reason this makes the top of the list is a lot of slider books fall apart or rip easily, and this is a true board book that withstands baby and toddler beatings!
- Sherlock Holmes the Hounds of Baskerville: A Babylit Book I don’t think you can go wrong with any Babylit books. We’ve loved them all, own several, and my son is a huge fan of different books at different developmental phases, but Sherlock has been a favorite since he was an infant and he still loves it! It’s an onomatopoeia book with noises, and he loved the dark/light contrast illustrations when he was very small and clearly couldn’t see colors as sharply, he loved the simple minimal text pages as he was a short attention span young toddler, and he loves making the noises and trying to say the vocabulary word on each page now.
- Press Here At first I thought this would be for an older child, but it’s built a little more sturdy than your regular non-board book. The simple dots are fun for babies to look at, the interaction is fun even when they are small, and the older he gets the more he loves it. He’s actually loved it so much it needs a few repairs and after not reading it for over a month he found it and came and told me, “Pess (Press), Clap, Shake!” Aside from being floored his memory and vocabulary were so great, I was amazed how much he loves it and gets excited every time we pull it out. It’s a best-seller for a big reason and fun for all ages!
- All Aboard! BabyLit Books I had to add another BabyLit because this is a different breed not focusing on primers through a literary scene, but focusing on specific places with landmarks and geography. I couldn’t choose just one, we have London, Paris, and Washington D.C. He loves spotting the trains as a vehicle-obsessed toddler, points out animals, and he’s learned about places and cultures with the cute illustrations and new vocabulary. I love that a few French words are even coming out of his mouth. He loved it young, he loves it older, and I know he’ll love it as he grows in his ability to understand locations and cultures.
- A to Z Like many parents I went for a few alphabet primers to get him familiar and try to help him be an early reader. I love this one because it’s short, sweet, to the point, funny, and silly. It’s one he looked at young and is started to interact with older. Get an alphabet primer for sure, and this one has been my personal favorite. And once again, you just can’t go wrong with anything Sandra Boynton.
- My Very First Book of Things to Spot I have a sister-in-law who recommended this one, and we’ve had a huge fan since he first saw it! There are thicker pages so it’s more sturdy for younger children, and our little guy actually sits still and looks at this one for a long time! He now points out things he recognizes with words he knows, and he’s interested as we explain what other pictures are. It’s been great for vocabulary! As he gets older it’s going to be so fun to use it for its intended purpose- a game where they get spot specific and funny things and identify even more vocabulary and start to understand patterns.
- Curious George and the Chocolate Factory I think most kids love the silly monkey, but this one has been really fun as our child has learned about chocolate and fallen in love with chocolate. It’s also a fun one to eat chocolate after and he seems to make a connection with. He’s learned the word early, he’s fallen in love with his first character, and it’s darling to hear him make monkey noises and talk about chocolate. It’s a quicker read than many Curious George books, so if you need a fast bedtime story it’s a great one to have! Plus if you’re on a budget, this one is super inexpensive!
Any others your kids have adored from infancy to about age two or three? I’d love to hear your most loved books in the comments!