Our kids loved (and still love books). But at a young age they can just destroy them, so the library is not really a great option! For the baby and toddler crowd, board books are essential! There are also some nice fabric books that can even be enjoyed by babies and young kids who can even suck and gum a board book into oblivion.
For babies and young kids our favorite books by far are by Eric Carle. The Very Busy Spider was our favorite — our babies learned how to make animal noises and say animal names from the book. But he also has many other classics like Brown Bear, Brown Bear What do You See?, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and about a bazillion others.
Satoshi Kitamura also writes brilliant books for very young kids that I wish I would have discovered earlier. Duck is Dirty, Cat is Sleepy and so many more, have great illustrations and nice simple witty stories.
Taro Gomi is still a favorite. We enjoyed Bus Stops, and he writes Everyone Poops. (His Scribble and Doodle coloring activity books are excellent travel companions, apart from being big and heavy. But these are for 4 or 5 years old and up,).
Poetry and rhymes: Where the Sidewalk Ends has always been a fun companion on road trips and it gets more enjoyable as the kids grow. Our daughters also really enjoy Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young a compilation of the kids poems, pulled together by kid poet Jack Prelutsky, with illustrations by Arthur author Marc Brown.
Of course Dr. Seuss is great. As toddlers the Foot Book and There’s a Wocket in my Pocket were on heavy rotation.
Goodnight Moon is really strange and I don’t know how or why it is such a classic. But it is and kids keep asking for it. I actually find The Train to Timbuctoo, also by Margaret Wise Brown, to be more more fun to read and, if read correctly, more sleep inducing.
Baby Bug Magazine is also a really nice – we all always looked forward to it arriving every month. The poems and stories are just right for young kids. There is a nice mix of classic stories and poems, new work and beautiful illustrations. They are worth saving and reading over and over again.
Good Night Gorilla rules. No words, just great pictures and a story that you or your kids can narrate differently every time.
I found pop-up books to generally be frustrating and a waste for inquisitive young kids – they just can’t help but destroy them. But we had a couple that we’d pull out for supervised reading that became big favorites: The Wide-Mouthed Frog, is just plain pop-up fun, especially if you like to make funny frog voices, and Jazzy in the Jungle is a fold out book with lots of wild animal characters written by Maisy Mouse creator Lucy Cousins.
Pre-School Books (post-board books)
Oliver Pig, Little Bear and Frances are incredible classics with delightful story telling. Technically I think they are early readers, but we enjoyed them before our girls were able to read and now they like to read them too. The stories are sweet and really insightful so a parent can enjoy them. More Tales of Oliver Pig has some great lessons and the story of the mom who needs to take some time out in the apple tree really hits home. Beware that Bedtime for Frances has a threat of spanking which is not ok, and the story may teach your kids some new tricks to avoid bedtime. But it may be a good time to remind your child that not all parents are as nice as you are.
Rotten Ralph is another bizarre one for kids as well as adults. Who can resist a big red cat who is mean and nasty but still gets unconditional love? Twisted.
The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales What happens when we live in a post-modern world in which our children never hear the real fairy tales because they are too violent, scary and just not PC, but they do learn the satirical versions first so that, to a whole generation, the bizarre sarcastic stories are the originals? The Stinky Cheese Man tales are so great you might even want to share them with your kids.
Poppleton and George and Martha are two series that are somehow sophisticated in a New Yorky kind of way. I don't know what that means, but these stories aren't afraid to use large words and creative language. They don’t talk down to kids. So of course parents love them too.
Who Needs Donuts? is a bizarre story and a visual treat. The drawings are absurdly detailed and the plot is sort of rambling and random. It is all about the journey through stream of consciousness landscapes of detailed black and white ink on paper. Warning, after reading this book your child may think it is ok to run away to the big city in search of donuts, take up with a roving donut collector, find that demented toothless old women are the soothesayers of our age and eventually learn that love, friends and family are really what matters. It is certainly a product of the early 70’s. You must buy and treasure this book.
Good books for learning to read : Our girls are robust readers now in elemetary school and had a good start before, but we felt it should never be pushed on them. They just learned to love books because we would always read with them. Still, looking back, we did some things right. We read together a lot and loved reading tons of different books with great stories. ABC books are an important way to learn the letters and their sounds. It is helpful to balance great story books which push a child's vocabulary with easy to read books that they can start to pick up some of the words. Dick and Jane is an excellent place to start at age 4 or 5. My girls loved that they could learn to read and progress through the book. They would be interested for a while and then just leave it alone for weeks at a time. Rhyming books are also great for learning to read by seeing letter groups that make the same sounds. Dr. Seuss and early reader books are great fun. But don’t push. Just teach the kids the sounds of the letters and have fun as they try to read. Just keep supporting their natural curiosity.
In addition to books, sometimes kids like toys too — here is our list of the best toys and gifts for toddlers .