We’ve all heard it’s important to read aloud to children. Even newborns benefit, so introducing your child to books right away is a great first step towards raising readers. And while any reading is good reading, choosing books that are developmentally appropriate offers the biggest benefit in brain development and literacy skills. Plus, reading aloud books you genuinely enjoy boosts the parent-child bonding factor. In the overwhelming haze of new parenthood, however, selecting works of literary merit may be the last thing on your mind.
In that spirit, here is a lovingly curated list of excellent board books for the very young.
8 Must-Have Board Books for Babies
1. Freight Train
By Donald Crews (1978)
This book received a Caldecott Honor for its illustrations, and somehow manages to tell a story that is both soothing and full of activity at the same time. A train’s rainbow of cars move through an average day. Very simple text and bold, color-blocked illustrations make it a good choice for babies. Books that introduce concepts like color can be tedious to read, but this one is a pleasure every time.
2. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
By Bill Martin, Jr. and Eric Carle (1967)
The first book I ever read to my daughter when she was four days old, this book recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. The story introduces rhythm and rhyme to baby, and the repetitive, call-and-response text allows a slightly older child to predict what happens next, a great skill.
3. Good Night, Gorilla
By Peggy Rathmann (1994)
I have to admit I’m not usually a fan of the wordless picture book, but this one is a gem. A gorilla steals the zookeeper’s keys and goes around letting out all the animals, who then congregate in the zookeeper’s bedroom for the night. Adults will appreciate the opportunity to simplify or add detail to the story to match their children’s level of interest (and their own energy level!), while children will grow to appreciate the ritual of a solid “bedtime” book in the evening.
4. Welcome: A Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals
By Mo Willems (2017)
Beware of children’s books that are clearly meant to entertain adults. I feared this book might be in that category, but it is so beautifully written and the graphic, high-contrast illustrations are so eye-catching for babies that it escapes that trap. It would, though, make a good gift for first-time parents, with its reassuring narrative that emphasizes family bonds.
5. Global Babies
By the Global Fund for Children (2007)
Babies love to look at other babies, and this charming book of diverse baby faces will get their attention. Photographs of babies around the world demonstrate cultural differences, while the simple text focuses on the love all babies enjoy, no matter where they live.
6. Say Goodnight
By Helen Oxenbury (1987)
There are two kinds of books: “windows” and “mirrors.” Windows stimulate the imagination by providing a fanciful escape to another world, while mirrors reflect our real lives and experiences. Both kinds are important for children, and this gentle English story, in which several chubby babies toddle through their bedtime routine before falling asleep in an adorable pile, serves as a grounding, familiar mirror for babies.
7. Time for Bed
By Mem Fox (1993)
Beware of board books that were originally published as full-size picture books. Often, the artwork’s impact is diminished when it is reduced in size. However, this book’s lush watercolors retain their appeal in board book format. The rhythmic, rhyming text takes the reader through a calming twilight tour through the great outdoors, showing various animal parents and their babies, ending with a mother tucking a child into bed.
8. Dear Zoo
By Rod Campbell (1982)
This lift-the-flap book introduces an element of suspense, surprise, and silliness into your reading relationship. Upon request, a zoo sends a child a series of pets in various packaging; they are nearly all inappropriate. It’s like playing peekaboo within the pages of a book–this one is a delightful classic.
As a children’s librarian, I celebrate the free access to these books through your local library. As a mother, I encourage you to purchase these books (or ask for them as gifts). Make them as important to your preparations for baby as you would diapers and adorable fleece sleepers. Establishing a reading ritual very early and keeping a collection of sturdy favorites at home enshrines the importance of reading in your child’s life. Even better, it makes it easy to pick up a book and escape into a good story with your child.