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Reading to little ones has so many benefits, even when we feel like they’re too young to notice or pay any attention. That’s why classic baby books remain classics, and why people are always scrambling to get their hands on the best books for babies.
I loved reading to my son when he was a baby, and it’s no wonder that he remains a bookworm to this day. Here, I’m sharing my absolute favorites.
Learn about the best newborn books and best books for babies as they grow through infancy, plus why each one is SO good!
Best Books for Babies: Classic Baby Books
There are so many great choices, so we’ll break them down by category to help you build a well-rounded, diverse library for your little one full of books you’ll love to read!
By Eric Carle, this book will bring back memories and wow you with its gorgeous illustrations. A little caterpillar eats his way through the week, including a pretty big cheat day on Saturday.
Littles will love the board book version because they can stick their fingers into the holes that go through the strawberries, plums, and chocolate cake.
In this classic book for babies by Ezra Jack Keats, Peter wakes up to find the city covered in snow then spends the day having adventures.
This beautiful, sweet book has captured hearts for decades, winning a Caldecot Medal and sitting at #1 on the New York Library’s list for “Top Check Outs of All Time.”
By Margaret Wise Brown, this book is one that’s stood the test of time. Baby will learn about all different types of objects, and hear fun rhyming sounds.
Even though Jack is three, I still read this book to him before bed every night, just like I did when he was an infant.
By Dorothy Kunhardt: A great, tactile book where little ones can look in mirrors, touch soft objects, and feel textures.
The ability to touch and feel different textures helps baby learn.
5. Dear Zoo
By Rod Campbell. This classic lift-the-flap book will require some help from the parents during infant years, but is a fun read for both parents and baby.
It’s a great way to introduce children to different animals, and as they grow, the’ll love lifting the flaps themselves and laughing at the silly animals the zoo sends as gifts.
By Eric Hill, this classic search-and-find book will entertain you and baby, possibly taking you back to memories of reading as a child yourself.
As baby grows, they’ll love lifting the flaps themselves, and as they become toddlers, this book will give them great practice with prepositional phrases like “in the piano” and “under the stairs.”
By Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault. A fun, classic book that parents enjoy reading and babies enjoy hearing.
This is an especially great book for helping introduce children to rhythm and cadence, musical elements that are shown to help with brain development.
8. Go Dog Go
By P.D. Eastman, even baby’s grandparents might remember this book from childhood.
All about dogs, the book teaches basic numbers, colors and lots of prepositions (the dog is over the house, the dog is under the boat, the dogs are in the cars, the dogs are on the tree).
Best Newborn Books: Cloth Crinkle Books
The very best books for babies to play with are the squishy fabric books.
And even better if you can find ones that have rings to clasp them onto baby’s stroller for playtime during walks.
With crinkle books, babies get to experience different textures and sounds. The best cloth books for babies have other tabs and objects that children can manipulate.
They aren’t books in the traditional sense, but they do allow babies to learn to flip pages, which is an important precursor to the other kids of reading they’ll do later.
Here are some of our favorites.
This set is great because it comes with multiple books, so there’s one for each car, plus the stroller and inside the house.
I love that this set also has additional learning elements, so as baby gets older, they’ll learn about animals, their sounds, and more.
Most importantly, they get lots of colorful sensory play even when baby is tiny.
The special baby version of a beloved classic, this book is the perfect squishy option for any little one looking for some tactile engagement.
Baby can explore colors, sounds, and textures, and enjoy the teething edge in the upper righthand corner.
And of course, even though they’re small, they can hear you count.
Dr. Seuss fans will love this book for their tiniest little ones.
This soft 6-page rendition of Horton Hears a Who shows babies shapes, numbers, and letters.
And the best part? It folds up into a precious elephant lovey that baby can carry around anywhere.
Best Books for Babies 6-12 Months: Tactile Books
Soft books offer great tactile options for very young babies, but as babies grow and develop, so do their books.
As your little one develops the skills to control their arms and hands, the tactility of certain books can be essential.
They’ve already begun this process with their cloth books, discovering different kinds of squishes and crinkles. They’ve also discovered the differences between the feel of the books, tabs, and teethers.
Now, it’s time to move into touch-and-feel board books.
The exact age depends on the baby, but if they can move their hands freely and grab onto things, you can help them touch the book where you want them to.
(They’ll likely still be reading cloth books as they enter into the world of touch-and-feel books.)
There are so many good touch-and-feel books, but I’ve done my best to narrow it down here.
An absolute favorite from the baby years and on up! Little ones love patting the bunny, looking in the mirror, and touching daddy’s fuzzy beard.
Unlike most tactile books, this is not a hardback book, and it will get torn up. Don’t worry; it’s worth it.
I love all the Usborne touchy-feely books (and no, I am not an Usborne representative, nor do I ever plan to be one).
But That’s Not My Puppy is undoubtedly my favorite.
This fun, short read lets baby hear descriptive words and associate them with distinguishing features–fuzzy ears, a fluffy tail, a squashy nose.
This fun book by Sandra Boynton lets your little one have all sorts of tactile experiences with on-the-page animals.
Tousle the cow’s hair, scratch the pad of puppy’s paw, feel turkey’s bumpy waddle! There’s no shortage of fun for baby (or new names of animal parts for parents) in this fun book.
This sweet, soft book by Melanie Mitchell is a great bedtime read for baby.
Feel the soft, fluffy fur of each animal, while telling each one a special “goodnight.”
A unique type of baby book because of its realism, the photos of different animals throughout this book are realistic, not cartoon-like drawings.
What’s the same is the soft fur of the different animals that baby gets to touch.
As Babies Grow into Toddlers: Best Lift-the-Flap Books
As baby ages out of the cloth books and is really able to enjoy the touch-and-feel books, they’re likely ready to move into lift-the-flap books.
These books bring in a whole new level of senses because baby sees things appear and disappear, like peek-a-boo with a book.
Babies also have to learn how to find the flap and pull to open it. These books will take a lot of help from the readers at first, and you’ll likely end up re-taping pieces on a million times until the book is ultimately destroyed.
But babies grow to love them, and they develop so much in terms of hand-eye coordination and develop other sensory skills.
That’s why lift-the-flap books are among the best books for babies once they reach an appropriate age.
As babies near toddlerhood and begin lifting the flaps themselves, you may also notice them beginning to turn the pages of books. This is a great step, and lift-the-flap books give them a great way to learn to lift without tearing.
(Still, stick to board books for a while, or there will be lots of taping in your future.)
You’ll discover that most of these books are extremely vocabulary focused–they help babies learn what will become some of their earliest words–body parts, animals, and more!
If your baby shows specific interests, the First 100 series has tons of first-words books.
A precious search-and-find book by Eric Hill, baby gets to lift all the flaps trying to find Spot in this classic-turned-board-book.
A fun first introduction to lift-the-flap books with easy-to-life flaps that are easy to find!
This book by Karen Katz lets baby lift, search, and play, all while learning about different body parts.
We recommend buying the board book so it’s harder for baby to rip. This book also grows with baby, helping them learn about the body, and introducing them to one of their first positional words, “under.”
This interactive board book by Roger Priddy helps babies learn all about animals, and they’ll likely enjoy this book well into toddlerhood.
They animals are organized into categories, like animals on a farm, so when baby’s attention span is shorter, it’s easy to let them play with it in sections.
Then, as they grow into toddlerhood, they can learn about the different categories themselves!
This precious book by Karen Katz is a favorite for babies and parents as it helps introduce little ones to what will become one of their favorite games in late infancy.
Best Books for Baby’s First Year: Interactive Books for Babies Becoming Toddlers
As baby gains more control of their body (even at a young age), there are tons of great books that help with attention span, dexterity, and teach body movement and repetition of actions.
We love these books as a way to help your little one develop as they become less and less baby-like and start really growing into the toddler stage.
And most of these books will stay favorites through much of preschool, so your child’s library can stay stocked for years.
1. Press Here
This super fun book by Herve Tullet delighted my son as an older baby, and it’s still one of his favorites as a 3-year-old.
We love how these interactive books have such library longevity!
The colorful dots on each page give instructions, like pressing certain colors, tilting the book a certain direction, and more. Kind of like magic, the dots on the next page have responded to what you asked it to do.
When you first begin reading this book to baby, you’ll need to do the actions for them, but they’ll likely giggle and enjoy.
As you advance to helping them do the actions, and one day to them doing the all alone, this will be a very happy favorite!
This fun book by Lolly Hopwood and YoYo Kusters will delight babies transitioning to toddlerhood, and it remains a favorite through preschool.
It takes the classic concept of a book and turns it into exercise for little one. What could be more fun?
The colorful images are dazzling, and the rhyming text tells littles actions to take that get them up moving, playing, and having fun!
We love this multicultural board book by Jabari Asim. Little ones will love the rhyming text and vibrant artwork.
They’ll also love reading about toes and the opportunity to play “this little piggy!”
This adorable and super fun board book by Hannah Rogge can be read page-by-page, or fully opened to transform into a stand-up beehive.
Educational opportunities abound!
Advanced babies can fly the bee characters (attached to the book by ribbon) through the book. This book will become a library staple well into the preschool years.
Babies love this book by Nina Laden for its brightly colored rhymes, and peekaboo cutouts.
This book keeps babies giggling and engaged as they grow to recognize and love the game of peek-a-boo.
6. Baby Dance
Marjorie van Heerden has taken an amazing nineteenth century poem by Ann Taylor and turned it into a fun board book for babies.
Parents can do the gentle motions with their babies and help baby dance by moving them up and down, to and fro, backward and forward, and so much more!
Introducing Plots in Books for Babies
Slowly, they’ll pick up on the fact that there’s an actual storyline, not just words on a page.
They’ll learn that one page follows another, and that you learn what happens by moving from page-to-page. Their interest in page turning will really increase at this point (although they’ll often want to turn the page before you finish reading it).
Stick to board books when you can. Some of these short books with great plots will help you move well into the toddler and preschool years. They’re also mine and Jack’s favorites.
Once you’ve reached the plot stage, these are definitely some of the best books for baby!
This incredibly sweet book by Alice Schertle helps children learn animal sounds, animal names, plus the incredible lessons of kindness and empathy.
Seriously, I know this book by heart. All of Blue’s adventures are wonderful, but the original has held my son’s attention since he developed an attention span. At three, he can recite this book.
This interactive board book by Sandra Boynton is wonderful as baby begins learning to make noise and repeat animal sounds.
The rhymes are fun, the cadence is great for baby’s musical skills, and it’s short, so it’s a great early book as you just begin introducing baby to books with plots.
3. Girl of Mine
In this imaginative book by Jabari Asim, a young girl is cradled by her father as they’re whisked away on a nighttime fantasy journey.
It’s a fantastic bedtime read, and the illustrations will dazzle baby while the text and rhythms help baby prepare for sleep.
In this book by P.D. Eastman, a baby bird goes looking for his mother after she leaves the nest to get him food.
This classic baby book is great for mama/baby bonding. Little ones get to see different types of animals and learn how different they all are, but also see how much each cares about helping baby bird.
A wonderful book by First Nations & Native Artists, this one has great animal vocabulary with gorgeous illustrations from Native artists.
The beautiful illustrations give baby and caregivers a wonderful view of nighttime animals in the Pacific Northwest.
This book by Stella Blackstone and Sunny Scribens introduces baby to new words by telling the story of a baby learning them.
The story tells the day in the life of a baby with two daddies, teaching words for different objects, actions, and sounds.
A simple, straight forward story features Sandra Boynton’s colorful illustrations about a boat full of animals getting ready and going to bed.
Help baby learn about bedtime routines while watching silly animals take a bath, brush their teeth, and ultimately wind down for bed.
The book follows an extended family through a day full of ups and downs while reminding the reader that all of the world that you, me, and everyone else, matters.
Unique Books for Baby Shower
One really fun and common baby shower idea is to have guests bring books instead of gifts. Or, if mama wants gifts, ask them to bring a book with a note written inside instead of a card.
This is a great way to build baby’s personal library and let people share their favorite books from their own childhoods or parenting experiences.
Want a unique, personalized baby shower book?
Choose from more than 35 different baby books, including classics like On The Night You Were Born, and customize them for baby!
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Gift a box of board books that will be delivered every month for the first year of baby’s life. Help baby build an amazing library for up to 70% off retail value with these wonderful book boxes!
When Should You Start Reading to Your Baby?
As early as posible!
According to the non-profit Reach Out & Read, “Reading aloud promotes early language and literacy skills.”
And, according to a recent study by Rutgers University, since 80% of brain growth occurs within the first 3 years of life, there are tremendous other benefits to reading to babies, including newborns.
Win-win-win, yes? Whether you’re a parent or looking for a gift, this list of the best books for babies provides the essential groundwork for the child you love’s long-term development.
How Do You Choose the Best Books for Baby’s First Year?
Choosing the best books for infants is so hard because they do not yet comprehend stories, so parents often feel as if they’re reading for themselves.
According to Rebekah Fitzsimmons, PhD, expert in children’s literature and Assistant Teaching Professor at Carnegie Mellon University, the effect of reading aloud at early ages is less about content and more about “the act of reading.”
“The baby hears your voice, experiences the turning of the pages, and gets to cuddle with you,” Fitzsimmons points out. “That is most important.”
She also suggests that bonding can work for siblings, too. “If you have older kids, having them read their favorite books to their baby siblings can be an amazing bonding experience, even if those books are ‘older.’”
What do you think are the best books for babies? Share them in the comments!
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Katy Huie Harrison, PhD, is an author, mom, recurrent miscarriage survivor, & owner of Undefining Motherhood. She lives in Atlanta with her husband (affectionately known on the internet as “Husband,”) son (Jack), and dog (Charlotte). She believes our society puts too many expectations on women that make womanhood and motherhood restrictive. Her goal is to shift the paradigm about what it means to be a woman and mother, giving all women a greater sense of agency over their own lives. You can find Katy and her work featured in places like CNN’s Headline News, Romper, Scary Mommy, Demeter Press’s Motherhood and Social Exclusion, & more.