Getting a toddler to sit still long enough to read can be a challenge, but when you choose the right books, you can get them on the road to being life-long readers.
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One of the things that I looked forward to most about becoming a mom was being able to share all my favorite books with my kids. I have fond memories of my mom introducing me to so many wonderful stories, and I wanted to share that magic with my own kids as well.
One evening when I was pregnant, I may or may not have bought six children’s books at once during a shopping adventure with my sister, which may or may not have resulted in my husband suggesting that we might need to establish a book budget. Whoops. 🙂 I was just so excited to share the joy of reading with my future son.
Almost five years later, our collection continues to grow (though with more trips to the library and fewer to Barnes & Noble), and we’ve discovered some pretty awesome gems in the literary world. I love reading reviews online of the latest and greatest books, and wandering the shelves at the library in search of new books is the best kind of treasure hunt I can imagine.
However, even with my love of reading, it has sometimes been hard to convince my kids to sit still long enough to read an entire book. How do you read to a squirrelly toddler who would rather turn the pages as fast as possible rather than actually listen to the story?
Answer: board books!
Board books are relatively short, and they tend to be geared toward younger kids and their non-existent attention spans. Hooray! Plus, board books don’t rip as easily (they do still rip if you pull hard enough…in case you’re wondering), and any mom knows that durability is important with little ones.
But what books are really worth investing in? Below are some of our very favorites. These are the books that we have read over and over…and over. They are also the ones I regularly give as gifts at bridal showers, because I believe every new baby deserves a good book…or six. I hope you find something new to enjoy with your toddler!
Best Board Books for Toddlers
Blue Hat, Green Hat
Sandra Boynton is one of the most prolific and well-loved contemporary authors of books for young toddlers. Her silly humor captivates kids as do her simple and bright illustrations. We have several of her books (we also love Moo, Baa, La La La and Happy Hippo, Angry Duck), but my boys’ favorite by far is Blue Hat, Green Hat. It’s a great color primer wrapped up in a simple story about a turkey who just can’t quite seem to get himself dressed the right way. It’s super short, so it’s great for little ones who want to turn pages quickly, and it makes us all giggle every time.
I am a Bunny
This is one of those six books I bought that night at Barnes and Noble with my sister. I saw it, I remembered spending hours poring over the beautiful illustrations as a child (done by the iconic Richard Scarry), and I just HAD to have it. It was only six dollars anyway. I have been so happy that my boys love this sweet, simple story as much as I do. I never get tired of reading about the little bunny named Nicholas who loves to chase butterflies and watch the frogs in the pond. It’s a perfect story for bedtime, and I have bought it for more than a few moms-to-be as a baby shower gift. If you haven’t read this one, get it!
Two to Cuddle
This book was given to me as a gift before Little Man was born (from one of my little seventh-graders…I had the best students!). It’s a simple rhyming story that takes the reader along on one day’s adventures of a mom and her child. On one hand, every time I read it I think about how I’m not as ambitious as the mom in the book (I mean, in one day they go on a hike, bake a cake, do chores, play pretend, laugh, sing….and more). On the other hand, I love how it focuses on all the best parts of motherhood, and my boys beg me to read it again and again. It looks like it’s out of print on Amazon, but you can buy it used from third-party sellers, or try to find it at your library.
I Love You Through and Through
My best friend sent me this book when Little Man was going through his terrible-two throw-up tantrum stage. I guess she thought I needed to be reminded that I do, in fact, love my kids. (Thanks, Steph! You always know what I need.) It’s the perfect book to read after a long, exhausting day with little ones because it reminds me to appreciate all of their many sides: happy, sad, top, bottom, quiet, loud, and so on. Plus, it’s a good way to learn about opposites!
Little Blue Truck
This book seems to have taken the world by storm over the past few years, so if you haven’t heard of it, you need to go find a copy. Really…right now. It’s a great rhyming story about a little blue truck who is willing to help out a brash dump truck who gets stuck in the muck when nobody else will. The illustrations are wonderful, the rhyming impeccable, the animal sounds are fun to act out, and the moral of the story is poignant. If you love it (and you will), there are several sequels now, too.
I love this story of a sneaky gorilla who follows around the zookeeper and lets the animals out of their cages after the zookeeper says goodnight to them. It hardly has any words, but my boys love reading it and looking at the pictures. It’s a perfect book for toddlers who won’t sit still long because, rather than having them passively listen, you can spend the time talking about the pictures with them and engaging your child in the story. Plus, what kid doesn’t love a little stealthy bedtime avoidance?
This book is one of a series of books about all the different kinds of vehicles and the sounds they make when they “go”. Super simple text, fun and messy illustrations, and great onomatopoeia. Diggers Go! is the first one we found and fell in love with, but we’ve also read Trucks Go! and Boats Go! (complete with a gondola!). I still need to track down the others, but if they’re anything like the ones we’ve read so far, they’re make any little boy in your life pause long enough to read for a minute or two.
First 100 Words
With no plot, you might wonder what makes this book so appealing. After all, it’s just a collection of photographs of real-life objects. However, it’s great for language acquisition for young toddlers. You can also play “I spy” with it as a way to engage reluctant readers. My boys love to sit on either side of me and race to see who can be first to point whatever object I name. Ours is a big board book (about 11 x 11 inches) which I like because it’s easier to see the big pictures, but you can order a smaller copy if you want it to be more portable.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
A classic, and for good reason. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read this book, or how many times my boys have happily poked their fingers through the holes in it as the caterpillar ate all his food. Plus, this book is what got Little Man to understand nutrition. Hooray for a book that encourages counting, healthy eating habits, and scientific exploration of the natural world.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
Another classic from Eric Carle, our copy of Brown Bear Brown Bear is breaking apart at the seams from so many readings. The predictable, repetitive text appeals to kids, and the familiar animals and colors are a great way to reinforce learning.
Alice in Wonderland: a BabyLit Colors Primer
When I was pregnant with Little Man, I was still teaching seventh grade English. Our amazing school librarian–who has impeccable taste in books and knows my love of classic literature far too well–gifted me two fantastic books written by Jennifer Adams. Adams takes well-known classic novels and turns them into creative board books perfect for even the youngest readers. This Alice in Wonderland inspired book is a color primer with quirky illustrations of items from the story such as the white rabbit and Alice’s black shoes. I also have the Jane Eyre counting primer, and Adams has written dozens of others which look equally amazing. Next on my wish list? The animals primer based on Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book and the “nonsense” primer based on the poem “The Jabberwocky.” If you have a book lover who is having a baby any time soon, one of these inventive books would make a perfect gift. It’s always good when Mom can enjoy the book as much as the child.
This book is a guessing game for the reader. What are you building? A train? A boat? What could it be? Toddlers will love examining the geometric illustrations to decipher what shape is hiding in the blocks. And after you read, you can go build something of your own. It also won the CCBC Choices award in 2016. Hooray for innovative stories that get the imagination churning.
Do you have any of these books on your shelves? Are there other awesome board books I should know about? Do tell in the comments below!
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I was JUST talking about this yesterday with a friend. Great list here. We have most of these or have borrowed them from the library.
We LOVE going to the library to discover new books.
We have a few of these and love them! A great list though! Can’t wait to try some more!
Thanks, Ayana! I hope you find some new favorites here.
Great selection! My two year old son would LOVE that diggers book! And I am an absolute sucker for the cuddle book.
I’m surprised you know the cuddle book. Not many people I know have seen it, but it is super sweet, especially when they snuggle together at night. Best part of the day!
I LOVE these! I Love You Through and Through is one of my son’s favorite bedtime stories. He also loves the Little Blue Truck and anything by Eric Carle!
Yep, all classics. I’m glad you like these, too, Melissa!
Vicki @ Babies to Bookworms
So many of our favorites listed on here! My daughter has been obsessed with her First 100 Words book for months and she shows no signs of slowing down! Great list!
It’s funny how the simplest books can be so appealing. It just reinforces to me how curious little kids are about EVERYTHING in the world. They just want to know and understand so badly.
Little Blue Truck is our favorite! And if you think you need a budget I buy two of some books since the former teacher in me knows what children do to books. I have mommy’s copy and the kiddos’ copy!
Ha! I totally get that. I just go into buying books KNOWING that they will get worn out over time, but I figure that’s a good thing. It means someone is reading them and learning. At least I hope. 🙂 I also do have a bunch of books that stay put away except for when I’m reading them to my kids so they don’t get trashed.
Chelsea @ Life With My Littles
We have five of these! I think my kids’ favorite is the Blue Hat, Green Hat book. They always laugh so much when we read it!
You just can’t go wrong with a silly turkey!
These are some of our favorite books! Brown Bear and Little Blue Truck for sure! Also – I love Nancy Tillman’s board books.
Yes, Nancy Tillman is great. Her illustrations are beautiful!
I absolutely adore “I am a Bunny,” it’s so peaceful to read with great illustrations.
Peaceful is the perfect word to describe it. It’s such a soothing book. It makes life seem simple and sweet for at least a few minutes while I read.
What a wonderful compilation of books for babies! I love Goodnight, Gorilla! There are some titles here that are new to me, so I’ll definitely be checking them out.
I’m glad you found something new to enjoy!
Beep! Beep! Beep! Little Blue Truck is well loved in our house! 🙂 It was the theme of our kiddo’s 1st birthday party & this mama has it memorized 😉 So many new-to-me titles on this list – I’m excited to check them out!
Aww. How fun to do a Little Blue Truck birthday party! And yep, I have it memorized, too. It makes it nice on days I’m tired and I want to keep my eyes closed during reading time. 🙂
Thanks for pointing out that board books are great because they’re geared towards toddlers and their extremely short attention spans. I’ve been looking online to get ideas for activities to do while I’m watching my sister’s kids next week. Board books seem like a great solution, so thanks for sharing that idea!
Daphne, you’re SO very welcome!