When my son started learning what knees were for and took of toddling around my house, he went into book boycott mode. As a bibliophile myself, I despaired every time my efforts to read to him were greeted with emphatic screams and violent arm flailing. I should not have worried. By the time he was fifteen months old, he’d developed into a tiny little bookworm. Now, at seventeen months he has lost interest in most of his board books and has graduated to simple picture books. He starts asking to be read to as soon as he wakes up and doesn’t stop until we force him into his crib at night. I am on a constant quest for new things to read to him. In my searches of lists of great books for toddlers, I find the same books come up over and over again. While we also enjoy Sandra Boynton and Eric Carle, when you spend hours every day reading out-loud even their impressive repertoires get old. Here are some of our favorite lesser-known gems:
Il Sung Na’s vivid illustrations are a hit with young toddlers and caregivers alike. In Hide & Seek, Chameleon challenges his animal friends to the classic children’s game that gives the book its name. The illustrations are expressive, the animals’ choice of hiding spaces is entertaining, and toddlers will love searching for Chameleon on ever page. They can also practice their counting skills with Elephant as he waits to seek out his friends.
I will be honest, I didn’t expect my toddler to enjoy this book. It is aimed at three to five year olds, and Susan Marie Swanson’s prose is neither silly whimsical. It is, in fact, beautiful and poetic. A young girl meditates on the transformation of sunflower seed into sunflower and the work the flower does in order to “be like the sun.” I think it is Margaret Chodos Irvine’s illustrations that draw my son into the book. Her printmaking evolved from a “desire to maximize color, texture, and shape“–three of a toddler’s favorite things. For me this book is proof that it pays to think beyond my assumptions about my child’s reading level.
There Are Cats in This Book by Viviane Schwarz might just be the perfect book for toddlers. It is interactive: the cats in the book talk to the reader, there are flaps to lift, and when your toddler leans over to blow the cats dry after they are swamped by a tidal wave of fish I promise you will nearly faint from the cuteness factor. And it is much, much more fun to read aloud than your average lift-the-flap books, which, to be perfectly honest, I usually cannot stand.
Once again, I think I Want My Hat Back is aimed at an older audience, but it provides a wonderful opportunity for silly voices and facial expressions. My son now anticipates the big moment when the bear remembers that he has, in fact, seen his hat and starts grinning from ear to ear. A word of warning though, the humor is a bit on the dark side–if you don’t feel comfortable reading books in which bears eat rabbits this is not the book for you.
For a long time I avoided any book with the title “Goodnight [insert thing here]” after reading too many bad clones of Goodnight Moon. I am really glad I opened my mind in time to find The Goodnight Train by June Sobel. The book is not, as I first assumed, about saying goodnight to a train. Instead, it is about the train that carries you from wakefulness to sleep. It rhymes delightfully, and Laura Hulisa-Beith’s detailed illustrations give plenty of opportunity for conversations with your child. In particular, watch for the relationship between the skunk and the man with the giant toothbrush.
I hope that this list provides some new ideas of books to read with your little ones. Please feel free to add your own favorites in the comments!