20 First Baby Books You’ll Both Love
These fantastic picture books for babies to teach, inspire, and soothe your little one—and they're all adored by librarians and real parents. Start a storytime routine now to bond with your child and give her a head start on learning.
At this age, your baby is more likely to try to put a book in her mouth than to turn its pages. But that doesn't mean it's too soon to make reading a part of your little one's life. Experts say exposing babies to books in the first year is crucial to their intellectual and emotional growth. In fact, research shows that reading to infants can help jump-start brain development and can even make them more receptive to learning.
"When you read aloud to your baby, you're teaching her to recognize that different sounds have different meanings—and that's the foundation of speech and comprehension," says Marilyn Segal, Ph.D., dean emeritus of the Institute for Early Childhood Studies at Nova Southeastern University, in Fort Lauderdale.
Picture books with bright, simple images provide visual stimulation that enhances your child's cognitive skills: Pointing out objects and talking about them with your baby—"See those yellow socks? They're just like the yellow socks on your feet!"—helps her link names with specific objects and shows her that what she sees in books exists in real life.
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What's more, sharing storytime with an infant can boost her emotional development. "Being held on your lap and hearing your voice during regular reading sessions gives your baby a sense of stability and security," says Betty Ann Watson, Ed.D., director of early-childhood education at Harding University, in Searcy, Arkansas. "It also creates a positive association with books, and that encourages a lifelong love of reading."
Of course, reading to young babies isn't always a fairy tale. While some infants sit still and listen intently, many others squirm and fuss or try to pull the book out of your hand. Don't worry if your baby isn't spellbound when you first start reading to him. "With a little practice and patience, most babies eventually learn to settle down," Dr. Watson says.
Eliminating distractions and giving your child something to hold, such as a bottle or a toy, might help her stay focused. Raising or lowering your voice, making faces to show emotion or surprise, and interacting with your baby while you're reading—tapping her nose when a horn toots or clapping her hands together when you see a favorite character—help draw her into the story. But if your baby keeps twisting away or sliding out of your lap, it's best to put the book down and try again later. "Don't force it, because you don't want reading to seem like a chore," Dr. Watson says.
The key is to make storytime a fun activity for your baby—and for you. Here are some ways to do that.
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1. Tiny Town
By Suzy Ultman
Each building-shaped page of this book focuses on places and things that your child will encounter around town. “It’s the perfect size for my 10-month-old to hold,” says one mom. “She learned several new words from the book.”
2. Wee Rhymes
Written by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Jane Dyer
This collection is a lively mix of 75 poems. “It’s easy to hold and read to your baby,” says Amy Sears, head of Youth Services at the Teaneck Public Library, in New Jersey.
3. The Swing
Written by Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by Julie Morstad
New illustrations bring Stevenson’s classic poem to life. “Few board books are jaw-droppingly gorgeous, and this is one of them,” says Elizabeth Bird, Collection Development manager of the Evanston Public Library, in Illinois.
4. Oink, Moo, Meow Oink, Muu, Miau
Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.
Does the chick go “cluck” or “plo”? Both! “This book shows how animal noises don’t always sound the same in English and Spanish,” says children’s librarian Sam Lumetta, of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.
5. Diggers Go
By Steve Light
The fun sounds of a construction site, such as pa-lump, brrumm, and scruuunchh, will delight.
By Byron Barton
“Bright colors and simple shapes should keep this on the shelf for decades to come,” says Katie O’Dell, programming and outreach director of the Multnomah County Library, in Portland, Oregon.
7. Good Night, Gorilla
By Peggy Rathmann
This story of a zoo watchman making his nightly rounds and the gorilla that opens the animals’ cages is told almost entirely in pictures. “As children get older, they pick up on the funny details, like the stuffed Babar in the elephant’s cage,” says Bird.
8. Feminist Baby
By Loryn Brantz
Parents were thrilled that the colorful illustrations and quippy lines like “Feminist baby makes lots of noise” caught their little one’s attention. “I personally love the message, and my daughter belly-laughed throughout the book and handed it back for a second read,” says the mom of an 11-month-old.
By Leslie Patricelli
Librarians say this book about a diaper-clad kid who takes a blanket everywhere and talks about it as a friend (“I’m afraid of the dark. But Blankie isn’t.”) is reassuring to toddlers.
Any blanket lover can relate!
By Xavier Deneux
This series blends graphic design and a tactile learning experience to create “sensory engagement for babies and toddlers,” says Kate Simpson, children’s department manager at the Central Library, in San Antonio.
11. Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?
By Dr. Seuss
If your child isn’t quite ready for The Cat in the Hat or Green Eggs and Ham, read this short Seuss title that focuses on making silly sounds like pop and klopp and dibble dopp.
12. Where Is Baby’s Belly Button?
By Karen Katz
Although it’s hard to choose a single Katz title (she has dozens of board books under her belt), librarians landed on this lift-the-flap book because babies can seamlessly learn the names of their body parts as they play peekaboo.
13. A Good Day
By Kevin Henkes
Most of Henkes’s biggest hits, like Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, are for preschoolers and older kids, but A Good Day is a great start for infants. “The beautiful artwork conveys the emotions in the story in a way that even a baby can understand,” says Susan Lempke, executive director of the Niles-Maine District Library, in Illinois.
14. But Not the Hippopotamus
By Sandra Boynton
One of the first of Boynton’s many best-selling books, it’s “the most fun to read aloud, with silly lines like ‘a moose and goose together have juice’ and ‘a bear and hare have been to a fair,’ ” says Bird.
15. A Little Stuck
By Oliver Jeffers
Jeffers adapted his popular picture book Stuck for the younger set, creating a sturdy board book about a boy whose kite gets tangled in a tree. “It gets funnier by the page,” says the dad of an 11-month-old. “I may have laughed even more than my daughter.” No spoilers!
By Matthew Van Fleet
Kids will get on their feet while listening to this book that encourages them to “shake, shake, shake,” “hop, hop, hop,” and “boom, boom, boom.” Says the mom of a 10-month-old, “My son liked that pulling the book’s six tabs moved the animal’s arms or legs, and he tried to move his body in the same way.”
17. Not Quite Black and White
Written by Jonathan Ying, illustrated by Victoria Ying
Books with black-and-white illustrations are perfect for newborns because they help stimulate vision development, and the images in this mom-recommended title have an added pop of color. The story ends with a beautiful message: “From the darkest of the dark to the brightest of the bright, we’re each pretty special, not quite black and white.”
A zebra with pink polka dots? Sure, why not!
18. TummyTime: Happy Baby
By Violet Lemay
Designed for babies to look at while on their tummy, this book folds out like an accordion. One side depicts babies doing activities; the other shows illustrations of familiar objects. “My 8-month-old loved rotating the book and looking at herself in the page that has a mirror,” says mom Chayanee Ubol, of Jersey City, New Jersey.
19. Peek-a Who?
By Nina Laden
Clever page cutouts allow little ones to glimpse what’s peeking out from the next page. (Train tracks hint at the arrival of a train, for instance.) Librarians say that a baby’s favorite part is the “peek-a-you” on the last page.
20. You Are My Baby: Garden
By Lorena Siminovich
The format is genius: A cutaway design divides this board book into two connected stories about garden animals.