Reading is one of the most important ways to jumpstart a child’s cognitive development and prepare them for school. Books encourage toddlers to practice new words, discover new ideas and learn about themselves and the world around them. Best of all, it’s a chance to hit pause and spend some quality time together. So, no matter whether you’re snuggling up with a book before bedtime or reading together during a picnic in the park, here are the best toddler books.
Best Toddler Books
(Best book about animals — $)
Why it’s great: This contemporary classic features colorful illustrations by Eric Carle and joyful, rhyming text by Bill Martin Jr. A delightful cast of animal characters will lead your little one through pages that promote learning about shapes, colors and animals. Parents say this book is a quick, fun read for toddlers whose attention span is still growing.
Keep in mind: The board book edition does not have the same flaps or sliders as the hardcover edition, but it is more affordable.
Good for: Younger toddlers as this book teaches simple words and concepts.
(Funniest story — $$)
Why it’s great: This #1 New York Times Bestseller is popular among toddlers and parents alike for its charming pictures and unique storyline, which explores what happens when you feed a dragon tacos. Featuring repetitive text that is as ridiculous as it is engaging, this book will have your little one laughing out loud during story time.
Keep in mind: Some parents say they wish there was more of a lesson to learn in this book as the story is funny rather than educational.
Good for: Toddlers who like to laugh as this book is light and silly.
(Most critically-acclaimed — $$$)
Why it’s great: This heartwarming story follows CJ and his grandma as they ride the bus across town. Toddlers will love seeing the world through CJ’s eyes as he takes in the everyday bustle and beauty of the city around him. With empathy, wisdom and gorgeous illustrations, it’s no wonder this book has won the Caldecott Honor, the Newberry Medal, and the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor, among other awards.
Keep in mind: This book might be a little advanced for some toddlers but offers a good opportunity for discussion.
Good for: Parents who want to read a book with their toddler that celebrates diversity and social engagement.
(Best book about potty training — $$)
Why it’s great: This book, about a baby’s adventures in potty-training, is simple, funny, and engaging. With its bold illustrations and simple, question-and-answer text, this book acts as a useful visual aid for toddlers learning to use the potty.
Keep in mind: Some readers say this book is pretty basic as it’s designed for a very young audience.
Good for: Families getting ready to start their potty-training journey.
(Best classic — $)
Why it’s great: This book, beloved by generations of readers since its original publication in 1957, is a funny story about a naughty cat and the big mess he causes for his two new friends. Like all Dr. Seuss books, the Cat in the Hat will inspire a love of reading from an early age with its simple rhyming words and goofy illustrations.
Keep in mind: Some parents say this book is a little long and can be tough to read with toddlers whose attention spans are short.
Good for: Toddlers learning how to read as this book has short sentences and simple words.
(Best alphabet book — $$$)
Why it’s great: A fresh take on the ABCs, this book employs a rhythmic rhyme to help little ones learn their letters. The bright, graphic illustrations and catchy phrases will energize and enthrall young readers as they follow the alphabet letters on their misadventures up a coconut tree.
Keep in mind: The hardcover edition of this book is more expensive than the board book version but includes additional content.
Good for: Toddlers who are looking to practice their ABCs.
(Best book about feelings — $$)
Why it’s great: A #1 New York Times Bestseller, this book tells the story of Jim the Chimpanzee, who can’t seem to shake his bad mood. Featuring watercolor illustrations and a loveable cast of animal characters, this story’s positive message strives to support young readers’ wide range of emotions and lets them know it’s okay to feel feelings, no matter what they are.
Keep in mind: Some parents say this book is very short and could’ve been longer.
Good for: Parents looking for a way to introduce their little one to the concept of emotions and moods.
(Best message — $$$)
Why it’s great: This poignant story follows a young Asian girl as she discovers the beauty in being unique. Featuring radiant illustrations and lyrical language, this book celebrates diversity, family and self-acceptance and has a moving moral that children of all races will be able to relate to.
Keep in mind: This book’s message is a bit complex and might be better suited for older toddlers.
Good for: Parents who want to add a book that celebrates diversity and acceptance to their collection.
(Most interactive — $)
Why it’s great: A unique, interactive experience, this book will delight readers as they follow the instructions on each page to press, shake and tilt the images inside. Parents praise this book for its imaginative playfulness as well as its ability to engage young readers’ attention.
Keep in mind: Some customers report receiving damaged copies of this book, so be sure to inspect it thoroughly in case you need to exchange it for a new one.
Good for: Reluctant readers as this book invites its audience to engage and play while reading.
(Best illustrations — $$$)
Why it’s great: With gorgeous illustrations and a heartwarming storyline, this New York Times Bestseller is celebrated for its elegant simplicity and inspirational message. The rhyming text tells of a parent’s love for their child as they ruminate on who their little one will become as they grow. Parents praise this book for its thoughtful and inclusive illustrations as well the empowering wisdom it carries in its pages.
Keep in mind: This book has a more abstract storyline but is still engaging.
Good for: Gifting to new parents as this story will be coveted by adults and children alike.
(Most thought-provoking — $$)
Why it’s great: From the National Book Award winning author Ibram X. Kendi comes a picture book version of the bestselling adult title, How to Be an Antiracist. Featuring bold and graphic illustrations, this book is written as nine easy steps for building a better, more inclusive world. Designed to prompt a dialog about race and equity, this book is the perfect place for families to start their discussion about dismantling racism in their everyday lives.
Keep in mind: Some readers say this book is a little advanced for toddlers, but parents should be prepared to discuss and explain this book to their little one.
Good for: Parents committed to starting discussions about race and social justice early on.
FAQs about Best Toddler Books
1. What types of books are best for toddlers?
It can be tricky to hold a toddler’s attention, so choosing books with bright pictures and an engaging storyline is a good place to start. If your toddler has a new interest, such as dinosaurs or trains, find a book that includes this type of content to capture their imagination. Books with interactive elements, such as sing-along words or lift-the-flap pages can also be a good introduction to the joy of reading for toddlers.
2. How often should I be reading with my toddler?
Reading is a great way to expand your toddler’s vocabulary and inspire a love of language and learning. It’s important to get into a good reading routine with your little one, which is why doctors recommend reading together every day.
3. What are the benefits of reading with my toddler?
Reading helps develop your child’s language and cognitive skills. Books expose your little one to words, sounds, and concepts they might not otherwise learn about and can be a great jumping-off point for advancing their literacy skills. Studies show that the more a child reads early on in life, the better they do in school down the road. Reading also stimulates the imagination and provides special bonding time with mom and dad.
4. What’s the best way to keep my toddler engaged while reading together?
If your toddler is a tough audience, keep reading time short and simple. As their attention span grows, you’ll be able to increase the time you spend reading together. It can help to ask your little one questions as you read to keep their focus on the pages in front of them. Also, let your toddler hold the book and turn the pages by themselves so they feel like they’re leading the activity with you.
5. What are some ways to increase a toddler’s vocabulary and reading comprehension while reading together?
Engaging your child in a dialog about the book you’re reading together has been shown to boost early literacy skills. If your little one is still learning how to talk, practice reciting words and rhymes together. If your toddler is a little older, ask open-ended questions about the content, illustrations, and characters. Questions that begin with “Why do you think…” or “What happened when…” are a good place to start.
As your little one enters the toddler years, reading becomes more important than ever. Toddlers are constantly on-the-move and have an endless reserve of energy, which can make settling down for storytime a little tricky. Your best bet will be to read a little bit every day and introduce books with content you know will appeal to your child, including stories with interesting illustrations and rhyming words. Finding a book that captures your little one’s attention will have life-long benefits, including improving their literacy skills and teaching them important lessons about the world they live in. As your toddler grows, reading will no doubt become a well-loved ritual, not just for the entertainment value but because of the time it allows you to spend together as a family.