Ten Books For the Earliest Readers by Annie McMahon Whitlock
When I was pregnant with my daughter Maggie, guests to my baby showers brought books as gifts. It was great to build her first book collection and to see what everyone else thought was necessary reading for the young children. There were so many great books that I looked forward to reading her stories from the minute we had her home. For a while, I was disappointed that my daughter only seemed to want to eat books as opposed to sitting and listening to a story. But once I understood that putting books in your mouth was an acceptable early reading skill, I realized that kids less than one year old have may have their own preferences to the kind of books they like.
Baby Touch and Feel Books by DK Publishing
When Maggie was old enough to sit in my lap and touch books intentionally (4-5 months old), she loved the books that had fur or fuzzy things to touch. There is something about the different textures that she still loves. Her favorite, Animals, just has one picture and one word on each page (no story), which is great for building oral language vocabulary. The rabbit fur was her favorite.
Indestructible books series by Amy Pixton
For Christmas, my sister-in-law picked out Baby Night Night, a book in the “indestructible” series for Maggie. The pages are soft and not a board book, but according to the cover, are impossible to rip or crinkle. At first, Maggie took this as a personal challenge, but the advertising was correct. Despite her many attempts, the book remains intact. And it can be thrown in the washing machine!
Sandra Boynton books
I think every parent owns at least one, if not all, of Sandra Boynton’s books. They mostly feature animal characters, funny illustrations, and repetitive text that kids seem to like. Her books were popular gifts at my baby shower and people frequently said that their kids made them read any of her books numerous times. We often read Moo Baa La La La because it has animal sounds in it (and Maggie loves to hear me oink like a pig), but I am partial to Barnyard Dance because it reads like a square dance announcer, and that’s just weird and funny.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr.
Speaking of parent favorites, I received FOUR copies of Brown Bear at my baby shower—clearly this is a true classic. Maggie loves it because, again, I can make animal sounds as we read it. But I also think she is attracted to the bright colors of each animal in the amazing Eric Carle artwork. Although when my husband reads this to her, he has to make it clear that blue horses and purple cats don’t exist in the real world. “She’s never seen a horse! I don’t want her thinking they’re blue!”
Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell
In the “animal sounds” genre of books, Dear Zoo is another classic. In the story, the unnamed main character writes the zoo to ask for a pet, and each time the zoo sends some animal that is not going to work (the giraffe is too tall, the snake is too scary, etc.) until the zoo sends a puppy, which is just perfect. Maggie is particularly fond of my elephant sound I make, but more importantly to her, this book features flaps that the reader lifts to reveal each animal form the box the zoo has sent it in. Flaps are very popular with the under-1 set.
Where Is Baby’s… Lift the Flap books by Karen Kratz
It’s no surprise that Maggie is also a big fan of the lift-the-flap series of books I call the Where Is Baby’s…Something. We own Where Is Baby’s Puppy, and Where Is Baby’s Pumpkin so Maggie can lift the flap on every page to look for the missing dog. Karen Kratz also wrote a lift-the-flap book called Toes, Ears, and Nose, which Maggie has read so many times it no longer has flaps. These are not indestructible, apparently.
Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed by Eileen Christelow
In addition to the “animal sounds” genre and the “lift-the-flap” genre, there is also the “sing-song” genre, which is basically any book that has repetitive text that can be read in a sing-song pattern. Maggie loves this cautionary tale about monkeys that get a little out of control. And she has learned from Dear Zoo that monkeys are naughty.
Dr. Seuss’s ABC by Dr. Seuss
Many Dr. Seuss books fall in the “sing-song” genre, but I like to read the ABC book the most because it has my name in it (“Aunt Annie’s Alligator A A A”). Maggie loves the colorful illustrations so much that our board book version comes with us everywhere we go—it has earned the distinction of being a “diaper bag book.” On our last long car ride, I caught her holding the book up and turning pages like she was reading it in her car seat.
The Pout Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen
This is another repetitive book that has a great message about having a positive self-image. Although Maggie isn’t quite old enough to get the underlying theme of this book, she does enjoy hearing “pout pout fish with a pout pout face” at the end of every page and giving a big kiss at the end of the book. And we recently found a Pout Pout Fish lift-the-flap book, so that combines the best of two worlds!
Float by Daniel Miyares
This may seem like a strange choice for an infant, but this award-winning book was sent to me for review from the publisher before I knew anything about it. I opened the box one day when Maggie was fussy, grabbed this off the top, and pulled her into my lap, thinking I could calm her down by reading a story. To my surprise, Float was a wordless picture book! Even though Maggie was only about six months old at the time, the beautiful black and white pictures with the little spots of yellow enthralled her.
Maggie’s book collection has many books that I have yet to introduce her to (Rad American Women A-Z, the illustrated Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, a 35-year old copy of Vassily the Unlucky), and I can’t wait to introduce her to classics from my youth when she reads on her own (Matilda, Harry Potter again). But even if your children are in the “eating books stage” instead of “reading books stage,” they can still enjoy these titles tailor-made for infants.
Annie McMahon Whitlock is an Assistant Professor of Elementary Education at the University of Michigan-Flint. When she isn’t reading Dr. Seuss to her 1-year-old, she serves on the National Council for Social Studies’ Notable Trade Books Committee. This committee chooses the best books published each year that can be used for teaching social studies. She reviews these books on Twitter (@AnnieWhitlock) and on Goodreads.