13 Best Books for Babies' Brains

New research shows that reading stories with named characters gets young brains working. Here's how to pick the best books for brain development. 

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George Rudy/Shutterstock

Think of your child's favorite books: If they feature characters with names, your baby is getting a brain boost. That's because when babies are read stories with characters who have names, it leads to increased focus, longer attention span, and better brain responses than when read stories without, says a recent study published in the journal Child Development.

"This study tells us books that name multiple individual characters, animals, or objects may lead to higher quality shared book reading experiences, and result in learning and brain development benefits," study author Lisa Scott, PhD, a University of Florida psychology professor, tells Parents.com. "It could be that individual names lead parents to talk more, point more, or lead infants and parents to attend to the same thing at the same time and be more in sync with one another." Interestingly, actual names ("Buster," "Spot") rather than labels like "Dog" or "Cat" seemed to be most effective, perhaps helping infants tap into the important skill of face recognition. So if you're reading Pout Pout Fish for the 50th time (this week), try introducing him with a fun new name, like Ronald.

Although the study used special books developed for research purposes, we gathered some stories you can read that will have the most benefits for your baby. Also consider a few of our favorites!

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Bedtime, Ted!

Peter Ardito

Bedtime, Ted!

by Sophy Henn

What it's about: Before this sweet toddler by the name of Ted is ready for bed, he has to do his nighttime routine which includes: taking a bath, having a snack, and brushing his teeth (just to name a few). 

Why we picked it: This book will resonate with any little one who is too busy for bedtime. Each spread has a gatefold with big flaps that beautifully display what Ted is up to before calling it a night! 

Ages birth to 3, $9. Amazon.com

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The Snowy Day

Peter Ardito

The Snowy Day

by Ezra Jack Keats

What it's about: This book follows Peter as he explores his neighborhood after the first snowfall of the season, perfectly capturing a child's wonder. 

Why we picked it: This 1962 classic is timeless for its beautiful illustrations and storyline that help build language and literacy skills. 

Ages 2+, $8. Amazon.com

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Clive Is a Nurse

Peter Ardito

Clive Is a Nurse

by Jessica Spanyol

What it's about: This story follows Clive and his friends as they role-play all the duties a nurse's job encompasses.

Why we picked it: Not only does this book celebrate diversity and challenge gender stereotypes, but it is a funny and thoughtful story all kids can enjoy.

Ages 1 to 3, $5. Amazon.com

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Pat the Bunny

Courtesy of Random House Children's Publishing

Pat the Bunny

What it's about: This touch-and-feel book asks infants to copy youngsters Paul and Judy in playing peek-a-boo, patting a bunny's fur, and more.

Why we picked it: The named characters in this book and others in the series ("Pat the Puppy" features kids Tom and Sarah) get infants interacting. Dr. Scott says these were her daughter's faves.

Buy it: Barnes & Noble

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Dear Zoo

Courtesy of Little Simon/Simon & Schuster

Dear Zoo

What it's about: A kid asks the zoo to send him an animal, but each is not quite right for a pet! Babies can lift flaps to discover which animal is behind it.

Why we picked it: This book doesn't actually have names for the creatures, but that's OK—Dr. Scott says parents can just make them up! The story presents "different animals that parents can label and name," she says. "Dear Zoo is interactive and also promotes motor development."

Buy it: Amazon

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Sophie the Giraffe

Courtesy of DK

Sophie the Giraffe

What it's about: Your child probably already has the popular Sophie toy—in the books, the giraffe and her friends like Lazare the cat and Gabin the bear teach basic concepts.

Why we picked it: "These books are great and are very similar to what we did in our study," Dr. Scott says. "I particularly like Peekaboo Sophie!, Playtime with Sophie and Sophie's Colors."

Buy it: Barnes & Noble

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Baby Faces: A Book of Happy, Silly, and Funny Babies

Courtesy of Workman Publishing

Baby Faces: A Book of Happy, Silly, and Funny Babies

What it's about: Baby expressions are explored with a colorful cast of baby faces. There's not a lot of text, but the faces are big and bold.

Why we picked it: "The books in this series are indestructible, so it's a good choice for before six months of age," Dr. Scott says. "However, it is up to parents to describe the pictures and name the faces."

Buy it: Walmart

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Gossie

Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Gossie

What it's about: Gossie the gosling searches for her bright red boots, only to find them on her friend Gertie's feet!

Why we picked it: The book series introduces Gossie and her many gosling friends: Gertie, Ollie, Gideon, Jasper, Joop and more. "Parents can pair this with other books and talk about the different individuals in the various stories," Dr. Scott says.

Buy it: Target

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Leo Can Swim

Courtesy of Charlesbridge

Leo Can Swim

What it's about: Leo and his daddy go to swim class. They change for class, play in the pool, then dry off before Leo falls asleep in his stroller.

Why we picked it: "This is a great book to read if you are introducing your little one to swimming early," Dr. Scott says. "Parents can talk about Leo and how he went swimming." In addition, you can make up your own names for the other babies in Leo's class.

Buy it: Amazon

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Llama Llama Red Pajama

Courtesy of Penguin Young Readers

Llama Llama Red Pajama

What it's about: Llama Llama has a bit of trouble going to bed, but Mama Llama comforts him.

Why we picked it: The beloved Llama Llama book series introduces young readers to Llama and his friends, including Gilroy Goat and Nelly Gnu, while teaching important social skills. "Parents can go back and talk about the characters after reading through the rhyming words once," Dr. Scott says. Plus, rhyming helps young children learn about language.

Buy it: Llamallamabook.com

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Blocks

Courtesy of Nosy Crow

Blocks

What it's about: Benji and Ruby have to learn how to share red and blue blocks.

Why we picked it: "This book looks great because they have two characters and it also teaches colors," Dr. Scott says. "I would say this is great for nine months plus."

Buy it: Target

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Whistle for Willie

Courtesy of Penguin Young Readers

Whistle for Willie

What it's about: Peter tries to whistle for his dog Willie, but he can't figure out how!

Why we picked it: A companion to the award-winning classic The Snowy Day, this book follows Peter as he explores his urban environment. Dr. Scott recommends this for toddlers over 12 months who are also exploring their surroundings.

Buy it: Barnes & Noble

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Corduroy

Courtesy of Penguin Young Readers

Corduroy

What it's about: Corduroy the bear lives in a department store, until Lisa decides to take him home.

Why we picked it: The Corduroy books feature the strong bond between the bear and his human companion. "This book is definitely for older kids, I would say 18 months plus," Dr. Scott says. There are also board books that feature Corduroy teaching numbers, colors, shapes, and more for infants.

Buy it: Corduroybook.com