Best baby books?
June 20, 2017 6:11 PM   Subscribe

I love books, and I'm having a baby! Please explain baby books to me.

I'm quite excited to build up a little library, but I have questions!

What do you read to a newborn? Is she going to care at all if I'm reading Knuffle Bunny vs The Hobbit? What about a 1-year-old? At what point do they start caring what you read to them? What do I want in board book form vs normal paper form?

What are the best baby books? How do you even evaluate goodness for these books? Are Caldecott winners actually good? Newberry winners? Are there blogs for this? themillions.com for babies? Preferably searchable by age?

Do the age ranges listed on Amazon actually mean anything? Amazon says Knuffle Bunny is for ages 3-6 - what's likely to happen if I read it to a 1-year-old?
posted by last_fall to Media & Arts (34 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
The worst that will happen is that the one year old will wander off. Honestly? I had lofty aspirations and tons of kids books but neither of my children showed any interest in being read to until at least 15 months (my son JUST sat through his first book yesterday! And then he tried to smash it into the floor). So don't get too ambitious, necessarily.

Board books are best with little ones, but my 3 year old is awesome at handling paper books now. She loves loves loves reading and memorizing so not forcing the issue worked just fine, take their lead.

Goodness is half whatever you enjoy and half whatever nonsense they fixate on. I've begged and pleaded to at least switch up up but sometimes the only book they want is one you think is dumb and boring.

We also own way too many books. WAY TOO MANY. 20 would be more than necessary and we have hundreds. It makes me happy though and I know they'll appreciate the variety when they're older.
posted by lydhre at 6:23 PM on June 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


What do I want in board book form vs normal paper form?

Books you're planning on leaving them alone with - board books, from when they start grabbing things until they stop enjoying them as much by eating the corners as they do by reading them. Even if you're reading to them - some babies get really grabby and will just rip a page quicker than you can stop them, hence board books.

What are the best baby books?

Anything you won't get sick of reading eleven million times when it's all they want to read. If you're planning on having a baby shower just put the word out that you'd like everyone to bring one copy of their favorite baby book, and also not to bring any of goodnight moon. Not because it isn't a good book, but because you'll get 20 copies of goodnight moon.

What do you read to a newborn?

Whatever you want.

Is she going to care at all if I'm reading Knuffle Bunny vs The Hobbit?

No, not as a newborn.

At what point do they start caring what you read to them?

This one I don't remember - maybe 9 months? Depends on the baby, but before that it just matters that you're reading. Just keep an eye on their attention span and what they pick up once they start crawling.

Amazon says Knuffle Bunny is for ages 3-6 - what's likely to happen if I read it to a 1-year-old?

Have you seen that scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark, at the end? Knowledge can be dangerous. Kidding, of course. Nothing - either she'll like it, or be bored with it and say no no no over and over and you'll pick something else up.

What are the best baby books? How do you even evaluate goodness for these books?

Does it have an author? I'm serious about this one - lousy product placement tie-ins and the like sometimes don't list an author. Don't buy those. Otherwise I generally evaluated by how many would fit in the bag - thift stores, library book sales, garage sales etc. We'd buy bags of books for a couple dollars, pick out the ones we like after a read or two, donate the rest back. When the kids got older, they helped in the picking. That's about it. Good luck and have fun!
posted by true at 6:29 PM on June 20, 2017 [8 favorites]


Newborns don't care what you read to them. Read what you find interesting because newborns are super boring. They start to develop strong preferences between 1-2 years old. It's very very common to get stuck on one or two books and want them and only them over and over and over for what seems like an eternity. Once they are able to reliably locomote and grab things, they will do that with favorite books.

My sister in law is a children's librarian and her tradition is to send the Newbury and Caldecott winners every years for our kid's birthday. He ignores them utterly (though I enjoy looking at them). Those books (because the awards are given by adults, not 4-year-olds) tend towards the whimsical and lyrical and high-concept and this kid is the most concrete, literal-minded, non-touchy-feely child ever. His taste in books, and feelings about books and reading, are quite different from both mine and my husbands'. The just come out the way they come out.

So, my advice is to just start acquiring books. All kinds of books. Board books, picture books, award-winning odes to the magic of childhood, dumb books about trucks and talking dogs, low-reading-level books and higher-reading level books (will your kid be a precocious reader? will he/she be a delayed reader? there's really, honestly no telling), squishy books that babies can gum all over and take into the bath, just a ton of different kinds of books. It helps if you don't despise most of them, but even the dearest classic will become unbearable after the 5000th reading.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:38 PM on June 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


Children's librarian here. The NYTimes just put out a great article on raising a reader. I highly recommend it for parents of all ages.

Basically with a newborn what you're doing is working on the interactions surrounding your reading to them. The parent child interaction is really what fosters those stronger neural connections so the more you talk about what's going on in the books (and the world around you) the more benefit to your child.

Caldecott awards are for fantastic illustrations and are generally given to picture books that are a little above what I would look at with a newborn. Newbery awards are for more text heavy children's literature (think chapter books) where the characters develop over the course of the book.

Visit your local library. They may have baby story times (baby story times are great!) and they can definitely point you towards books you might enjoy with your child. The other benefit of this is that you can have access to a wide range of board books for free and you can get to know other reading parents in your community!
posted by donut_princess at 6:43 PM on June 20, 2017 [3 favorites]


The best baby books are the ones you also enjoy reading. It doesn't really matter if they're medal winners or held up as "good" by various literary bodies and standards. I feel very firmly that we BOTH have to enjoy the books that we read together. Obviously once in awhile something slips into her collection that she loves and I can't stand and I put up with it, but for the most part I also really like 90% of the books she owns.

I feel like I am in going to be in the minority here, but I didn't read to my newborn much if at all. My husband did sometimes but I plain didn't want to, I thought it was boring and unrewarding (it feels like sacrilege to say that; I've always been a voracious reader and am also a librarian to boot!). We had some indestructible books as well as some tiny board books with just pictures that she liked to browse through often during her first year, and gradually we moved on to looking at bigger books of pictures/shapes/foods/animals/etc. together but I didn't seriously start READING with my daughter every single night until she was more than a year old. I had absolutely zero patience for sitting there holding a book while my kid turned the pages at a thousand miles per hour and then ripped it away and flung it across the room. Gradually her attention span got better and she was able to sit through whole books, and it got really, really fun.

Store your books in baskets with the covers facing forward, rather than on shelves with the spines facing out. Kids browse by covers and they can way more easily access what they want at any age that way. Also, it was board books all the way until she was about 2.5 and from then on she could be easily trusted with paper ones. I get most of my daughter's reading material from the library because it turns out that I rarely correctly predict what she ends up attaching to, and then I purchase anything she falls in love with.
posted by anderjen at 6:46 PM on June 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


As a point of reference, my friend has an 18-month old, and his daughter still doesn't have a strong preference of what books she likes. When I asked him about it this weekend, he said that the most important thing is something you can read more than 1000 times and not get tired of.
posted by General Malaise at 6:47 PM on June 20, 2017


I just wanted to add that a great way to start your collection is with Dolly's early childhood literacy program that will send your baby a free book a month until age five.
posted by Karaage at 6:51 PM on June 20, 2017 [4 favorites]


I also love books! We also had a baby!

Some thoughts:

- Caldecott is a prize for illustration, so is given to picture books. Newberry winners are longer, and generally for kids who can actually read, or have language skills.

- Newborns don't care what they're read. They're large potatoes that poop, sleep, eat, and want to be close to people. We read a lot to our newborn, though, because for him, being close involved not just physical contact, but hearing our voices. Singing the same lullaby 17x palls pretty rapidly, so we'd read anything from actual books -- at this point, board books with lots of words in them were clutch. In my lowest moments, I may have read Buzzfeed clickbait articles.

- Kids differ at what age they start to become interested in books. In contrast to lydhre's kids, we have a 13 month old who has actively loved books since he was six or seven months old -- he has exactly one word ("Da!"), and has yet to figure out to be able to consistently use a sippy cup, but if you say to him, "Let's read a book!" he will toddle over to his bookshelf, select a book, and bring it over for you. Woe betide you if you request a book and then fail to read it, or if you turn down a request to read a book.

Recently, he has started toddling off into a corner once or twice a day to investigate a particularly loved book like the Very Hungry Caterpillar for a couple minutes on his own. (He likes poking the holes with his finger, turning the pages, and moving his finger over the pictures/images, like we do when we read to him.)

- Our kid's first book love: the board books with the faces of babies. This book is his favorite, and he looooved looking at the faces of the babies and turning the pages. Supposedly, there's one made out of cloth that crinkles, and which was described to me as "baby crack."

- Our kid's second book love: Cars Go by Steve Light. The pages are oversized, meaning that they're extra-satisfying for kids to turn, and our kid loved seeing our renditions of the various car noises.

- Books like this were a godsend between months 6-12.

- If you have a baby who loves being read to, and the same 14 rhyming pages are driving you berserk, the entire *block series is a godsend. Many pages! Engaging pictures!

- One of the great pleasures for me has been finding baby books by authors that I love, or topics that I enjoy. See, for example:

  • Mini Myth Books
  • Babylit books
  • A is for Activist and Counting on Community by Innosanto Nagara
  • King Baby by Kate Beaton
  • Instructions by Neil Gaiman

    Not all of these are available in board book version, but we have a special shelf out of his reach of paper books, and I take them down to read to him with extra dramatic voices. I have read King Baby at least 23942304x, but as I am still in the full fever of baby obsession, it still hasn't gotten old.

  • posted by joyceanmachine at 6:56 PM on June 20, 2017 [7 favorites]


    The following answers are (obviously) informed by my experience raising my book-loving 3yo.

    What do you read to a newborn? Is she going to care at all if I'm reading Knuffle Bunny vs The Hobbit?
    Your newborn will definitely not care what you are reading in terms of what words you say. However, your newborn will almost certainly like to look at very high contrast pictures - black and white stuff. There are some great baby books that make use of big, bold high-contrast illustrations. My son was very excited to look at these from the 3rd day of his life onwards.

    What about a 1-year-old? At what point do they start caring what you read to them?

    By age one, my son had a pretty long list of clear favorite books. I think "The Wheels On The Bus" was his favorite. At that age he was juuuuuust starting to follow simple stories but he still really liked "list books" that are common for babies and toddlers, which are basically just about the alphabet, or counting, or simple nouns, etc. Also anything with actions (hand movements, or Pat the Bunny type "activities") or songs. Photos of other babies are especially popular. I think he started caring about, and identifying the contents of pictures we were showing him some time around 6-7 months. He was indeed very early with language, with first words before 9 months, but research shows that most babies understand words about halfway through the first year, even if they don't really know how to communicate their understanding!

    What do I want in board book form vs normal paper form?
    Many kids including mine go through a pretty gnarly book-chewing phase. For us I think it was about 6-10 months. He ate the spine of several board books and non-board books were totally out of the question. We started reading "regular" paper books to him without risk of chewing or deliberate damage around 15-18 months. But until he was about 2, he would accidentally rip the pages of books as he turned them.


    What are the best baby books? How do you even evaluate goodness for these books? Are Caldecott winners actually good? Newberry winners? Are there blogs for this? themillions.com for babies? Preferably searchable by age?


    In my experience, YES, Newberry and Caldecott winners are actually good. There are a bazillion websites about the "100 best books for toddlers" and the like. Of course it's a matter of opinion, so don't worry too much about finding only the best. I wouldn't try to be too choosy about which books you read - some will be great, others will not be.

    Once my kid turned 2 we started going to the library all the time and checking out 15 books a week. Before then he was pretty rough on books (even when he was trying to be careful) and I didn't fancy replacing them all the time.

    Do the age ranges listed on Amazon actually mean anything? Amazon says Knuffle Bunny is for ages 3-6 - what's likely to happen if I read it to a 1-year-old?

    Yes and no. My 3yo has been sitting for long chapter books for more than a year. He loved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, My Father's Dragon, The Boxcar Children, and 10-15 others. However, he is terrified - TERRIFIED - and also deeply confused by books which feature truly mean or vengeful characters or books in which tragedy befalls anybody at all. Even bad guys. He is also terrified of monsters. So the willingness and ability of a child to pay attention to and enjoy books at a high lexical level may say nothing of their emotional readiness for mature themes.

    If you read a story intended for a 3yo to a (young) 1yo, you might just get a kid who flips through the pages randomly because they don't understand that the story has to go in order and aren't following the plot anyway. It's not going to be injurious, but you might go crazy trying to read a cool story and finding that the kid only wants to flip to the page with the purple car or whatever.

    Tip: Be prepared for your kid to develop a book obsession and insist you read it a billion times. I cannot tell you how many thousands of times we read Katy and The Big Snow. OMG.
    posted by Cygnet at 6:56 PM on June 20, 2017


    I recently picked up this booklist from the American Libraries Association at my local library: Babies Need Words Everyday. Your local library might also make its own booklists geared at different age groups.

    I also like the website Brightly, which is like Book Riot for kids books.
    posted by wsquared at 7:10 PM on June 20, 2017


    One of the greatest things that happened for my almost two year old was the handoff of lots of books from neighbors when she was about 9 months old. We have neighbors with children a few years older than her, and being done their own baby-raising were happy to pass down the less-well-loved books to us.

    As a result, my kid has about 75 board / Dr. Seussesque books that I care not even a little if she destroys. Which she does, with wild abandon. She loves to take her favorites to bed - we have "lost" a copy of Goodnight Moon to bedtime reading/ripping. She also wants to read her favorites over and over and over - there are two books that are currently clinging to life thanks to lots of scotch tape.

    We supplement with the free book each month at our local consignment and whatever is gifted / I find that she might enjoy (now that I know her personality).

    Essentially - find some books. Board books are good for babies because they eat and tear and crawl on things. Those "indestructible" books linked above are good too (we had a few, because seriously, 9 month olds LOVE TO EAT THINGS).

    If you have local yard sales or consignment sales or neighbors with babies or ANY way of getting used books to fill out your library, your child will not know the difference. Put them on shelves that baby can reach and baby will see them as part of their world. And then you'll be upstairs making the bed and be a bit concerned about how quiet it is (quiet babies are babies getting into trouble) and peek in and just be awed at them "reading" their books.
    posted by kellygrape at 7:20 PM on June 20, 2017


    (Oh, and I come from a lofty aspirations standpoint like lydhre, and the beautifully illustrated copies of Peter Pan and Fairy Tales that I researched through Read Aloud Dad and Amazon are currently sitting on the 'Baby Can't Reach' shelf until she's more able to sit and enjoy and not destroy. So, build your library with an eye to the future but be prepared to shelve or have destroyed the nicer books until baby learns not to rip things)
    posted by kellygrape at 7:25 PM on June 20, 2017


    What do I want in board book form vs normal paper form?

    You haven't mentioned any favorites from when you were younger, but if you were a Dr. Seuss lover and want to share those with your child, know that the board books of his work are NOT the same text as the full-size editions, and are often truncated in ways that are actively angry-making.

    On the other hand, most of Sandra Boynton's books in board form are wonderful.
    posted by Mchelly at 7:30 PM on June 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


    My son had a very strong preference as a young baby for books that rhymed. It would squirm and fuss if the book didn't rhyme. We read to him from birth and now he's almost two and he loves to be read to and loves to page through books on his own.

    And yes to the baby ripping paper books to shit. Board books are the way, at least until they start throwing things and huck, "Goodnight, Moon" at your head. Ouch.
    posted by Aquifer at 7:51 PM on June 20, 2017


    I think my daughter barely responded to the books I read her until she was maybe 8 months old? Prior to that I could read her the dictionary and she would have been as entertained as anything else, so don't be afraid to read something you're interested in. The first books she really latched onto were lift-the-flap books - Where's Spot , Dear Zoo, etc. If you can find board versions of lift-the-flaps that's great, because we've had to re-tape flaps over and over, but the surprise of something hiding under a flap was super entertaining to her.

    Then animal books generally became really exciting, followed by really lyrical books like a Dr. Seuss alphabet book we have that rhymes wonderfully, or a book of nursery rhymes/songs that she could really get into.

    Around 2 she suddenly found counting and letter books interesting. Prior to that, even if they were targeted toward younger babies, she didn't care.

    These days (she's 2 1/2) her total favorites are the Beatrix Potter books (if I have to read Squirrel Nutkin again I will die I swear), and she alternates around a few other second favorites that we have to read nonstop for a week. She's much more into characters now, too - she has a Sesame Street book, the Golden Books version of Frozen, Angelina Ballerina (that little pill) books from the library, etc, and she is really drawn to those as she starts to remember/recognize certain characters from TV shows, movies, or other books she's read, especially as she starts to be socialized to those characters by her peers at the playground and at daycare.

    I'd opt for board books as long as you can, because even now if my daughter gets into a mood she'll rip the crap out of everything she can get her hands on. She does at least feel very guilty after the fact now, but the temptation is definitely still there.

    I also really like this style of bookshelf - makes it easy for her to choose her own books to read.
    posted by olinerd at 8:10 PM on June 20, 2017


    Phase 1: newborns. Read anything, they don't care.
    Phase 2: Picture books (literally just books of pictures so they can learn words). Roger Priddy books, Baby Touch and Feel, etc.
    Phase 3: Simple books. These are either visually interesting or are songbooks. Hungry Caterpillar; Brown Bear, Brown Bear; Lift-the-flap books like Where is Baby's Belly Button?, and songbooks like Wheels on the Bus and Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.
    Phase 4: Storybooks. Curious George, Llama Llama books.

    My son was interested in Phase 2-4 at 6 months, so we have a ton of "real" books in boardbook form. He's always been happy to sit in my lap for hours and read endless books. My daughter is nearly 2 years old and is only up to Phase 3, she has absolutely no attention span for anything with a story. By the time she is into storybooks she will be fine with paper.

    Phase 2 is pretty much only sold in board form since it's by definition for babies/toddlers. Phase 3 can be enjoyed throughout preschool, but a lot of babies like them so it's worth getting at least a few in board form. Phase 4.. we have some that we keep up on a bookshelf so the toddler can't tear them to shreds, but honestly we just go to the library every week and get a new sack of books for my son (3.5 years old). Buying a bunch of storybooks is not the best investment, IMO. When I was pregnant I bought some nice storybooks to start a children's library... the lovely bound Peter Rabbit collection makes me happy, but it is not my son's favorite. When you are in the midst of your 10th reading in 20 minutes of Baby's First Words, you'll wish you had bought more variety of the terrible word board books than some heirloom storybook they won't care about until they are 4.
    posted by gatorae at 8:59 PM on June 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


    Yes, start with board books, or even cloth books, for the tiny ones. There are also 'indestructible' tyvek type magazines for babies - awesome for travel.
    My 18 month old still prefers just looking at pictures and talking about them over being read to (but your little one's preferences may vary). She definitely started caring for books at around 9 months to a year and now, loves picture books.

    Favorites:
    - Anything by Eric Carle. These are pleasing to the eye. Adult eye, even. Very simple, repetitive, but not dumb.
    - Anything that has photos of babies (there are a lot of those. Look for 'Baby Faces' on Amazon.)
    - Priddy books (high contrast pictures) - these are not beautiful to adults but baby crack. OMG how many times have I 'read' the page with the 100 rubber ducks to my daughter? 'DUCKY! DUCKY! DUCKY!' - so exciting.

    - later on, I would honestly just go to the library and let them choose. And then maybe buy more of what they like. Or find used books (they are so cheap). There's sooo much out there and tastes vary a lot!

    The Caldecott winners...are a special flavor that does not appeal to my older daughter (or me). Taking themselves too seriously. We like anarchy, so Pippi Longstockings is our favorite by far, but that's a few years down the road for you...
    posted by The Toad at 9:14 PM on June 20, 2017


    I started reading board books as part of our bedtime routine around 5-6mos. Babies don't really care about books at that age, but over time they come to associate reading with togetherness, comfort, and connection. This is a great foundation for instilling a love of reading later.

    Somewhere between 9-12mos I started to see some preferences. There's a great book by Rachel Hale called Baby Giggles that both of my babies loved. It's just pictures of babies, with various facial expressions. I pointed out each baby and pointed out what their expressions meant. I read Polar Bear by Eric Carle a million times, but the babies loved the repetition. We look at lots of picture books featuring animal mother and baby pairs.

    Later, around 2yrs, the Llama Llama series is great for talking about feelings. Mad at Mama is great because being mad at mom can be a really scary emotion for a baby, and it teaches that it's okay to be mad at each other, but we still love each other anyway.

    Caldecott books are fantastic. We spend a lot of time pointing out the various elements of any given picture, and saying "what do you see?" to help build their vocabulary.

    There have been a few questions in the past about what people should give as baby shower gifts where books are the theme or requested gift. There are lots of great specific suggestions in those threads (sorry I can't link to them right now).
    posted by vignettist at 9:15 PM on June 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


    When my two kids, now in their twenties, were little, I loved the Barnes & Noble Guide to Children's Books. It hasn't been updated since 2013, but I think it still well worth getting your hands on any edition, even a very old one. You can find it easily on ebay.
    posted by merejane at 9:17 PM on June 20, 2017


    A family friend who is a nurse administrator says that the thinking right now is that reading to infants is good for them, especially, she says, rhyming sing songy books. She says they do it in the NICU at her women's hospital. She sends us a lot of Seuss but when my daughter was very vey young I read her Shel Silverstein.
    posted by vunder at 9:42 PM on June 20, 2017


    "What do you read to a newborn? Is she going to care at all if I'm reading Knuffle Bunny vs The Hobbit? What about a 1-year-old? At what point do they start caring what you read to them? What do I want in board book form vs normal paper form?"

    ANNNNNYthing to a newborn! They just like to hear your voice. I worked as a nanny in law school and I used to just read them my law books, they gaze at you with big fascinated eyes. With my own kids (since I was no longer in school) I read a lot of poetry in the newborn phase because I love poetry and it's nice to read out loud. But they'll listen to anything, it's the voice they want at that age.

    Once they start to get grabby you're going to want more board books. The chief benefit of board books is that babies can handle them without ripping them to shreds, and part of learning to love books for a little kid is being allowed to handle them, manipulate them, and chew on them, because babies and toddlers put everything they love in their mouths. If you want them to love books, books are going in their mouths. Like probably most parents we have a mix of paper books and board books, but the paper books are strictly for lap-snuggle reading where a grown-up handles the books, whereas the board books are for anytime reading and they can play with them as well as "read" them. Most classic children's books are available in both formats!

    joyceanmachine's recs are great, including Global Babies (THE BEST!) and babylit -- we particularly like Pride & Prejudice counting.

    It's a glorious time for children's books, there's an incredible diversity of traditional and experimental books, books that play with language and pictures, books that rhyme and books that subvert, books that use myth, literature, art, music, whatever to show the world to babies, books full of giggles, books full of diversity, books full of modern morals. It's pretty hard to go wrong (until you get your fourth version of Duck's Truck is Stuck in the Muck, what the Fuck is with this Schmuck.)
    posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:54 PM on June 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


    Get a subscription to Highlights!!! Remember the black and white ones when you were a kid? The new ones are in color.

    The baby highlights magazine is nearly indestructible and it has fun activities I probably read four of them a day to my 2 year old.
    posted by ibakecake at 10:10 PM on June 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


    most of Sandra Boynton's books in board form are wonderful.

    Yep. Good cadence, nice length, cute stories. These are some of our favourites.
    posted by ODiV at 10:14 PM on June 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


    Our favourites were Sandra Boynton (Pajamatime, which became a ritual and "jamajamajamajama PJ" was said for YEARS. Better yet my mom modified it to make it tactile by adding texture to the pictures, but that isn't necessary.

    My son also loved board books that were just full of photos of faces. It was a gift from a children's librarian who said babies love faces and lord it was true, he looooved looking at that book. It didn't have much story but we did talk a lot abut the pictures, the feelings expressed, the parts of the face.

    We also enjoyed Jamberry by Bruce Degan and other books with excellent rhyming which were more fun to read than some others.

    To your point, my husband read my son the Hobbit when he was about 4-5 and it was a good fit for them to enjoy together. Not sure if it was edited, but my son didn't tend to be scared by fantasy violence. Stories about kids getting in trouble at school were another matter.
    posted by chapps at 10:25 PM on June 20, 2017


    Mo willems has 2 original pigeon board books
    posted by brujita at 11:41 PM on June 20, 2017


    Children's author here. I agree with the consensus advice that with the youngest kids, the definition of a good book is "anything a grownup can stand to read over and over again." I would add that once kids are old enough to have opinions, the definition changes to "anything that causes your specific child to associate reading with pleasure."

    Seriously, I can't emphasize that point enough. As long as it doesn't have a message that you find actively offensive, a horribly written book that your kid loves is better than a masterpiece that leaves them cold. This is true not just for picture books but for all books your child will read for the rest of their life. A teenager who loves reading Dan Brown has a better chance of eventually reading Dostoyevsky than a teenager whose love of reading is squelched.

    Of course, when you're reading out loud to them, your own enjoyment will help spark theirs, so ideally, you'd find books you both love. You are your own unique person, and your baby will be a unique person too, so what worked for me and my kids might not work for you. But just to give you my own personal report, here is a small sampling of things my kids and I loved at various ages.

    (Important note: I'm divvying them up based on the stages at which my kids appreciated them. But whatever age your kid likes them is the right age to read them to your kid. 9-year-olds sometimes like going back and looking at board books. A six-month-old may develop a bizarre fondness for a complicated book they can't possibly understand. If everybody is having fun, just go with it!)

    BOOKS FOR VERY FIRST MONTHS
    When my kids were so little they couldn't even process the idea of pictures on a page, they seemed to like books that were just high-contrast patterns, like these. At this stage, specific recommendations are kind of irrelevant.

    Similarly, they liked anything with crackly cloth pages that little hands can squeeze-- books as toys, basically.

    BOOKS FOR FIRST MONTHS
    Then they came to a stage where they understood photos and very simple drawings. Examples:

    • Sandra Boynton. (My top choice. Thanks to some strange magic, her books remain delightful on the ten billionth read.)

    • Anything with photos of babies. We particularly enjoyed Global Babies and Baby faces

    • Broadly speaking, DK Books publishes lots of sturdy and attractive photo-based board books, so if there is something you or your baby particularly like looking at, you can see if they have a photo book about it. For example, here's one about puppies and kittens.

    • Similarly, the whole "That's Not My..." series is sturdy and well done, so choose any ones that appeal to you.

    BIG BABIES THROUGH TODDLERS
    With my kids, there was a stage where they started being able to process books with more than a few words on each page, but they weren't quite ready to follow sophisticated stories. Books we loved at this stage:

    • The Baby's Catalog

    • Everywhere Babies

    • Pretty much any lift-the-flap books. Favorites included anything by Rod Campbell, especially Dear Zoo. (Two important tips on lift-the-flap books: One, different size flaps seem to work with different size fingers, so if your kid finds them frustrating, you might want to try a larger or smaller book. Two, toddlers and babies are inevitably going to destroy them, so be prepared to buy replacements when the flaps get ripped.)

    • We also loved Eric Hill's Where's Spot books.

    • Pat The Bunny (although it seemed particularly fragile -- we went through multiple copies of it.)

    PICTURE BOOKS
    Once my kids got to the point where they could focus on longer stories, they could really appreciate picture books. This is a hugely rich field and this post is already too long, so for specific recommendations, I refer you to previous AskMe threads.

    But to address your question about awards -- awards are given by human beings, and any group of human beings is going to have their own tastes. I personally think the Newberry and Caldecott picks are always worth reading, but all art is subjective, and you might disagree. So I would encourage you to check out the most recent honorees for yourself. If you love them, you should check out previous honorees. If hate them, that doesn't mean you're wrong. It just means you have different tastes.

    If you're looking for some other lists of great children's books, compiled by flawed humans you may or may not agree with, here are some resources. (Note that some of them are just for picture books, while others include books for older readers.)
    • The Sid Fleischman Award For Humor
    • 
    Theodore Seuss Geissel Award
    • The Roald Dahl Funny Prize
    • The School Library Journal's top 100 picture books
    • Smarties Book Prize
    • Carnegie and Greenaway Awards
    • Children's And Teens Choice Book Awards (voted by kids)
    • SCBWI Golden Kite Award (voted by children's authors)
    posted by yankeefog at 3:08 AM on June 21, 2017 [7 favorites]


    One Weird Trick to make your collection even better: although you'll find an absolute dearth of female and/or gender non-conforming and/or nonbinary characters, this can be easily remedied by changing the pronouns. I read Where the Wild Things Are with Max as a girl almost every time and it's utterly delightful. Most everything else, I decide upon each reading who's getting which set. My kid will be two next week and hasn't started objecting yet; other parents have reported that that lasts until age four or so (or whenever they start recognizing the actual printed words).

    There are, of course, books out there that aim to correct this imbalance, but they're rarely in board book format and can be very expensive compared to getting gently used classics gifted/second-hand.
    posted by teremala at 3:48 AM on June 21, 2017 [5 favorites]


    Phase 1: newborns. Read anything, they don't care.
    Phase 2: Picture books (literally just books of pictures so they can learn words). Roger Priddy books, Baby Touch and Feel, etc.
    Phase 3: Simple books. These are either visually interesting or are songbooks. Hungry Caterpillar; Brown Bear, Brown Bear; Lift-the-flap books like Where is Baby's Belly Button?, and songbooks like Wheels on the Bus and Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.
    Phase 4: Storybooks. Curious George, Llama Llama books.


    Seconding everything gatorae said. Phase 2 took me by surprise – we had a long stretch where our daughter would arch her back and struggle to escape if we tried to read a book with actual sentences. We’d pull Little Blue Truck or Brown Bear, Brown Bear off the shelf and she’d act like we were trying to torment her. This lasted pretty much from 5 months to a bit over one year. Nothing with more than 2 or 3 words per page. I was afraid that she just wasn’t going to be a book person, but she got to like the phase 3 books from about age 1-2 and moved on to storybooks by age 2 (and could mostly be trusted with paper). Now at 3, she loves reading, memorizes books so that she can "read" them to herself, and begs to go to the library.

    Speaking of which, if you live somewhere with a decent library, that is even better than building your own collection, because after a few weeks I am sometimes ready to not see even an award winning book again for a while. We usually check out 4 books – I pick 2 and she picks 2. Sometimes she picks crappy (IMO) books based on a TV show or something, and that’s OK. I feel like giving her some autonomy is part of building a general love of books and reading.
    posted by Kriesa at 6:04 AM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


    I read to my first kid a lot until 6 months then from 6 months to about 15 months I had to either read books he would dance/walk to (Barnyard Dance) or with something he loved (Big Blue Truck) or follow him around reading. By two he really loved reading, so don't despair if an active kid makes it hard to do the traditional child in lap storytime during a specific phase.

    We keep his books generally in baskets on the floor. It means a slightly messier room, but he has ACCESS to his books. We have one shelf for books, but the books under the coffee table in the living room and in the baskets in their room are the ones that get read.

    We read a lot of superhero stories and short Lego books to my five-year old (who also loves Richard Scary because he likes to ask questions). He's been practicing his learning to read on a Lego Star Wars phonics series. He loves it, so it works for us even if it isn't Shakespeare.

    Right now my youngest at just not quite two is obsessed with any books that have words he knows (bubbles, choo-choo, elmo, etc). A book about Curious George about spilling juice and using soap to clean it up gets read over and over. We got it free at a book exchange at school (everyone brought a book and traded). So... you may be surprised by the favorites.
    posted by typecloud at 6:34 AM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


    When my cousin's toddler grandson pulled out a badly written picture book for me to read I ignored the writing and pointed out the stuff in the pictures: Here's a horse, kitty, cow, mouse, worm......
    posted by brujita at 7:47 AM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


    Flick through books before you buy and don't buy anything that you find unpleasant for some reason. Why? Because there's a stage where they want the same books over and over and over and over. This is why I can recite the first 80% of The Gruffalo from memory (side note: Julia Donaldson's books are great, and for some reason I always found reading rhyming stories like these less effort).

    Keep an eye out for books which arbitrarily gender the animal characters as male. Dear Zoo is a good example - all the animals are male, for no apparent reason. It wasn't until I read about this on MeFi that I realised. Get used to switching up the gender where it's irrelevant (e.g. we have a book about "Max the cat" where I always read "she" instead of "he"). It'll be a long time before the kid notices that you're not reading what's on the page. On preview, teremala touched on the exact same thing.
    posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:57 AM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


    It's really only the first year that's bewildering book-wise; you'll get a sense of your kid's preferences and the available books as you go. Not to mention that buying kids' books can be really, really habit-forming.

    For the first year, err on the short side, and go for board books because babies are really hard on books. Cloth books are also good in the first year; our kid really liked Peek-a-Boo Forest and Fuzzy Bee and Friends. Your kid will outgrow these, but it's okay because there are always more books.

    Board books/series that have gotten a lot of use in our house (note: due to our kid's tastes this will be truck/train heavy): If you have a good library, make it a habit to take your kid! Not only will they get to see all sorts of new books, you'll get a good sense of which authors and illustrators you really like. And, yeah, expect your kid to occasionally like a book that you can't stand; just pretend to like it and maybe put it on a really inconspicuous spot on the shelf.
    posted by Metroid Baby at 8:35 AM on June 21, 2017


    I read King Lear to my daughter on the day we brought her home from the hospital. (And nobody has gotten the joke! Guh! It's infuriating.) We've also spent some time with the audiobook of A la recherche du temps perdu in the car on the way to daycare. No, neither has made much of an impression.

    But neither have the children's books, either. She's only six months old, so that's not unusual. As others have said, it's more about the interaction with the parent at this age. You could probably read anything, but in my experience, long vowel sounds (especially eeeeeee) and a sense of meter (i.e., da-DA-da-DA) get good reaction.

    Here's an article from the New Yorker about Sandra Boynton's board books, the gist being that they (some of them, at least) can be interpreted in multiple ways, and are therefore Good.

    In terms of specific books, some of the ones that my wife and I have particularly enjoyed (my daughter is as of now withholding her official seal of approval) include:

    -Hiccupotamus by Eric Zanz - fun wordplay, and also my daughter has hiccups all the time.
    -Elusive Moose by Joan Gannij and Claire Beaton - beautiful illustrations and set in the Arctic.
    -Where's the Bone? by Manhattan Toy - it's a plush book with a velcro bone, and you can place it under various flaps in the book; good for learning prepositions.
    -Happy Hippo Angry Duck by Sandra Boynton - about emotions.
    -Hippos Go Berserk by Sandra Boynton - good for getting this in your head.
    -Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andrae and Guy Parker-Rees - about being an outsider and resisting bullying.
    -Hippopposites by Janik Coat - fun illustrations of opposites.
    -Ten Little Rabbits by Virginia Grossman and Sylvia Long - counting, with a Native American theme.
    posted by kevinbelt at 3:47 PM on June 21, 2017


    As your child gets older (2-3 yrs) you may want to think more about gender/race etc. Amd also about the 'values' of your chosen books. We've thrown out a bunch of hopelessly sexist books and I'm glad we did because there's plenty of that dross coming from kinder/other kids already.
    posted by jojobobo at 7:42 PM on June 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


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