There’s a reason books are common baby shower gifts, and why new parents have bookshelves overflowing with options for their little ones. 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. Specifically, reading aloud helps with language development and attention span, as well as contributing to less harsh parenting methods. 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.
Best Books for Infants
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. “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.’”
Best Cloth Books for Newborns and Young Infants
Some books that are especially good for very little babies are squishy fabric 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.
These were Jack’s favorite cloth books:
- Spiel Activity Fabric Crinkle Books
- Beautiful Valley Baby’s First Cloth Book Set (with hooks for strollers, car seats, paci clips, etc.)
- My First 123 and ABC Books (with hooks and teethers)
- These were Jack’s absolute favorites!
Best Tactile Books for Growing Infants
As babies develop the skills to control their arms and hands, the tactility of certain books can be essential. In other words, the ability to touch and feel different textures helps baby learn.
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.)
*Note: Perhaps with the exception of Pat the Bunny, which baby will rip to shreds but love, the best books for baby are almost always board books.
Here are some of my favorite books that let babies touch and feel:
- Pat the Bunny Series by Dorothy Kunhardt
- That’s Not My Puppy, published by Usborne Books
- I’m going to be honest. The Usborne touchy-feely books are EXCELLENT. And no, I am not an Usborne representative, nor do I ever plan to be one.
- Fuzzy Fuzzy Fuzzy by Sandra Boynton
- Good Morning, Good Night by Melanie Mitchell
- Baby Touch And Feel: Animals
- Clap Hands by Helen Oxenbury
Best Lift-the-Flap Books for Babies
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.
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 baby once your child is 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.)
Best Lift-the-Flap Books
- Where Is Baby’s Belly Button? by Karen Katz
- Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell
- First 100 Animals by Roger Priddy
- Where’s Spot? by Eric Hill
- Peek-a-Baby by Karen Katz
You’ll notice 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.
Other Interactive Books without Flaps (Avoids Ripping and Teaches Body Movement, Repetition of Actions, and More):
- Press Here by Herve Tullet
- Move! by Lolly Hopwood and YoYo Kusters
- Whose Toes Are Those? by Jabari Asim
- Hello Honeybees by Hannah Rogge
- Peek-a-Who? by Nina Laden
- Whose Knees Are These? by Jabari Asim
- Baby Dance by Ann Taylor
Ideally, some of your board books (like Dear Zoo and Where’s Spot?) will begin introducing plots to 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 years. They’re also my favorites. Once you’ve reached the plot stage, these are definitely some of the best books for baby!
- Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault
- This is an especially great book for helping introduce children to rhythm and cadence, musical elements that are shown to help with brain development.
- Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle
- An incredibly sweet book that helps children learn animal sounds, animal names, kindness, and empathy.
- Moo, Baa, La La La by Sandra Boynton
- A very interactive book as baby begins learning to make noise because they can repeat the animal sounds. (Seriously, I can recite all of the last 3 books without the books in front of me.)
- Girl of Mine by Jabari Asim
- A young girl is cradled by her father as they’re whisked away on a nighttime fantasy journey.
- Are You My Mother? By P.D. Eastman
- A baby bird goes looking for his mother – kids very quickly learn to say “Are you my mother?” at the appropriate stages
- Goodnight World: Animals of the Native Northwest by First Nations & Native Artists
- Great animal vocabulary with gorgeous illustrations from Native artists
- Go Dog Go by P.D. Eastman
- 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.)
- Baby’s First Words by Stella Blackstone and Sunny Scribens
- A baby’s daddies teach him his first words, helping your little one learn new words too!
- The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton
- A simple, straight forward story with Boynton’s colorful illustrations about a boat full of animals getting ready and going to bed
- Hippos Go Berserk by Sandra Boynton
- A fun counting book that features partying hippos and one tag-along beast
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
- 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. Parents will love the incredible illustrations by Eric Carle.
- The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
- Peter wakes up to find the city covered in snow then spends the day having adventures
- All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee
- Beautiful poetry that is perfect to fall asleep to. The book follows an extended family through a day full of ups and downs while reminding the reader that all of the world, you and me and everyone else, matters.
Unusual Book Ideas
Want to give a more unique gift than a book or two? Here are a few great options that still promote reading!
Put Me In the Story allows you to personalize books by making them about baby! While this is a really fun gift as kids get older, their “Welcome Baby” series allows you to create great, unique baby shower gifts using age-appropriate tales!
Want to give the gift of books that keeps on giving? Bookroo is a kids book club, and the term of the membership you gift is customizable. You give them baby’s name and age and they’ll customize all books that are developmentally appropriate!
Other Best Books For Babies
There are admittedly some toddler books that I think are great for babies, mostly because they help the parents learn longer versions of lullabies.
As someone who listened to Jewel’s lullabies on Spotify just to remember words when Jack was born, these books were extremely helpful for me. My favorite is Pete the Cat’s Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
As babies grow into toddlers, Pete the Cat will become a staple. But seriously, stay away from his Old Macdonald–that book NEVER ends!
Obviously, there are more great books out there, but these are some of the best books for babies, based on my experience.
Once you move into toddlerhood, a whole new world opens, just beginning with the books above that introduce plot. (They’ll last you well into toddlerhood, along with many more fun, exciting books. I’ll talk about those soon!)
Shoot me a message in the comments and tell me what I missed! What do you think are some of the best books for babies?
Interested in our other gift guides? Check out our favorite gifts for 2 year olds!
Want more book recommendations?
- Learn about our favorite empowering books for girls
- Find out why feminist books for boys are important, and not overwhelming
- Get help choosing the best children’s books about diversity
Katy Huie Harrison, PhD, is an author, toddler mom, and 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 has historically placed too many expectations on women, defining womanhood and motherhood in a way that is 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, Scary Mommy, Motherhood and Social Exclusion, and various other podcasts and websites.