There are a gobillion children’s books out there, and sometimes it can be hard to know which ones will click with your child and which ones will drive you to pre-game story time with hard liquor just to avoid feeling your soul slip away when you begin the thirteenth consecutive read of the evening. As I’m always looking for new books for C so I can push my Amazon order over the requisite $35 to get free same-day delivery on Diaper Genie refills, I thought I would share a few of our greatest hits.
Great Books for Infants (ages 0-1 years):
1) Good Night Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann: This book has no words, so for delirious new parents it provides its own special form of torture. Just remember that babies don’t care about words, and the colors and dark contrasts make it a great first book to capture all two seconds of your newborn’s attention span.
2) On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman: If you can read this one without tearing up a little bit, you’re officially dead inside. It’s a bit dense for young toddlers, but great when you need an extra dose of hormonal imbalance while nursing a newborn late at night.
3) Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr and John Archambault: The rich colors make this one great for infants, although sleep-deprivation can turn it into an adult tongue-twister. My toddler is neutral on it—he likes that coconuts look like basketballs, but reciting the WHOLE alphabet is kind of a drag.
4) I Am a Bunny by Ole Risom and Richard Scarry: My son loves “Ima” like a best friend. He gets so delighted when he finds him on each page, as if it's a Where’s Waldo puzzle and not the only bunny in the book. Vibrant colors make this a great one for infants, too, and it’s so damn sweet that parents can’t help falling for it. Ima forever.
5) Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd: You’ll get at least six copies of this before your first child is even born. Generations of parents have been left wondering what exactly is in that bowl full of mush, and you're about to join them. Don’t fight it.
6) The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd: As the wife of an only child, this book makes me twitchy. As the mother of a firstborn son, this is a sweet story of maternal devotion. Either way, the illustrations are lovely.
Great Books for Young Toddlers (age 1-2 years):
Toddlerhood is when your child’s penchant for obsessive repetition and exerting maniacal control over your desire to finish season 1 of True Detective really kicks in, so choose your bedtime books carefully, and keep in mind that The Cat in the Hat is like 60 effing pages long.
1) The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen and Dan Hanna: If my kid hosted an award show for books, this one would win the Lifetime Achievement Award. Infants love the colors, toddlers love whatever random detail they choose to fixate on, and the language is twirly and fun for adults, too. Smooch!
2) A Book of Sleep by Il Sung Na: A recurring favorite in our house—not sure if it’s the inspiration for or a result of my son’s obsession with owls, but it’s part of the package. Not a hateful read for adults, either, so everyone wins. Except the tired owl.
3) Peek-a Who by Nina Laden: Another great read for budding owl enthusiasts, this is also the first book my son “read” by himself, because it’s that simple. Fast, fun, colorful, and it has a mirror at the end so it's great for reinforcing a toddler’s natural narcissism. Plus the book is small, so a good one for the diaper bag. (Also by Nina Laden are Grow Up and Who Loves You Baby?, each featuring the mirror at the end to foster the self-obsession long before baby’s first selfie stick).
4) First Words Board Book by Roger Priddy: These “first word” books are a necessary evil. Pre-talkers love them, but it can annoy the crap out of you that the picture of a duck doesn’t look like ANY duck you or your kid have ever seen. Can’t you people just once take a picture of a mallard? We own several versions of these and they are a useful if mind-numbing tool toward building that early vocabulary.
5) Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes art by James Dean, story by Eric Litwin: This book has everything: cats, colors, the words “oh no!”, and an important message about the pacifying effects of recreational marijuana use.
6) Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry: You can never go wrong with trucks and farm animals, and the illustrations are rich with the types of details toddlers love to obsess over. We have dedicated entire minutes before bedtime to discussing and confirming the existence of the stop sign on page 3.
7) The Diaper David Books by David Shannon: The Diaper David books are crudely drawn and maddeningly simple in their language, and my toddler is obsessed with them. For equally baffling reasons, I’ve come to love them, too. Oh Day-Day!
8) Hop on Pop and Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss: The entire Dr. Seuss canon is ripe for picking at the end of the second year. Hop on Pop is great for developing early reading skills as well as important life lessons, like don’t touch a cactus or play ball on a wall. Green Eggs and Ham can be a bit of a tongue-twister by the third or fourth consecutive read-through, so feel free to apply your own copy editing skills in the face of Seuss’ delightful affinity for redundancy.
9) Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus (and the other pigeon books) by Mo Willems: A series of books about a pigeon with authority issues—in some ways these books are so mind-numbingly simple you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of them, and in other ways they are so nuanced and complex you’ll be awestruck that your two year old, who frequently gets his finger stuck in his own nostril, can follow the humor. My son is currently obsessed, and I find myself thinking about the pigeon far more often than is probably healthy for a grown adult.
10) All Books by Sandra Boynton: Sandra Boynton is an evil genius and her books are literary crack for toddlers. You can’t go wrong with any one of them, but for verbosity’s sake I’ll include our favorites:
· Moo, Baa, La La La!: The best thing about this book is that you can sing it to the tune of Lady Gaga's Bad Romance and it matches almost perfectly. Go ahead and try it—it will change your life.
· The Going to Bed Book: This book is a delight for babies but maddening for hygenically-inclined adults. Why do they go back upstairs to exercise after their bath? WHY?
· Blue Hat, Green Hat: It seems repetitive and pointless and has done nothing to help C learn any colors beyond blue and, in a real pinch, orange, but that damned turkey gets him every time.
· Opposites: Unlike Blue Hat, Green Hat, this book has actually helped my son learn about opposites. $6.99 well spent.
1) Are You My Mother? By P.D. Eastman: This book gave me so much anxiety as a kid, I haven’t actually brought myself to read it to my son. Not a great read for working moms or those of us raised by them.
2) Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram: Try saying “Little Nut Brown Hare” ten times fast and you’ll get my distaste. Throw in a hyper-competitive father and you’ve basically read this one. Pretty sure Big Nutbrown Hare was once the Runaway Bunny, because he’s got issues.
Written by: Kathleen