Think rhythm, think repetition, and think loveable characters and pictures that are interesting to look at. I can tell within seconds, as I pull out this or that book at the local library, whether or not the illustrations resonate with me — whether or not I won’t mind looking through those pages dozens of times over the course of the next few weeks.
From the very, very beginning, I spent hours reading all sorts of books to my two little ones. We end our busy day with some calm time cuddled in the ole nursing chair, as they settle into relaxation mode and listen to my voice and my breath, forming associations with the words they hear and the images they see in front of them.
They help turn pages, recite along with their favorite stories, and request certain ones by name.
They can go retrieve almost any book in our collection when instructed.
Our favorites tend to be sing-songy books that flow like poetry, books featuring kind-looking animals (especially bears), and stories featuring little babies or young animals that my little animals can identify with.
Sharing this list today feels personal, like I’m divulging a special secret about the most intimate times with my little family, but I’m happy to do it in hopes that you can have even more fun reading with your young kids, too.
For your next library or used bookstore trip, here are 20 books to share with tiny tots that parents won’t mind reading over and over again.
20 Bear Snores On
“In a cave in the woods, in his deep dark lair, through the long cold winter, sleeps a great brown bear…”
My husband and I (and our two toddlers) can recite most of this book (by Karma Wilson, 2001) from memory.
Whereas some rhyming books seem to be sort of forcing it or just trying too hard to be cutesy, this author is a legitimate poet, and the carefully chosen words flow happily from page to page as the sweet ole bear bonds with his friends in a way that feels warm and fuzzy and yet not at all overly cheesy or sappy.
There are many other “Bear” books, too, most of which are almost as awesome.
19 Bear Says Thanks
You should have seen how excited I was to discover the Karma Wilson section on the library shelf the other day and realize that there were even more “Bear” books than I had initially realized.
At my house, we already had Bear Snores On (the longtime favorite), Bear Wants More (also alright), and Bear Stays Up for Christmas (a nice Christmas book because it’s not religious, just cheerful and festive), and I found there were also Bear Says Thanks and Bear Sees Colors!
Bear Says Thanks is one I may have to add to our personal collection, as we love the upcoming holiday Thanksgiving, and this is a cute spin on it.
Bear has nothing in his cupboard, but he has his stories to share with his animal pals, who bring baked goods, nuts, and various items to share for a woodland feast.
18 The Berenstain Bears Go to School
I know it seems like I’m obsessed with bears or something, but dude, little kids love stories about the somewhat cartoony creatures.
I mean, the teddy bear is a classic for a reason, I guess.
And the Berenstain Bears are such a classic for many in my generation. I remember just lusting after that pink lunchbox with the shoulder strap that Sister Bear carried with her as she made her way to the schoolhouse down the country lane.
Now I get to read it again with my own kids, who are still a ways off from school but already getting thoroughly pumped.
They’ve already followed along many times as Sister visits the kindergarten room with Mama Bear, meets the teacher, and then starts school, where she has a blast coloring, making a giant clay donut, having a snack, and taking a nap.
17 Disney’s Winnie the Pooh First Look and Find
So, funny story on this one.
I was at some department store that sold a little bit of everything one weekend, and I remembered I knew a family friend who was soon to have her first baby.
I perused a bit and found a big board book with a sort of delightfully bubbly / soft cover with raised artwork, with all the loveable Pooh characters smiling up from it.
It was for all those very early ages, whether to just look at the pictures, or to sit and listen to the short stories, or to actually hunt for matching pictures of things like honey (I just wrote “hunny” on accident… Pooh brain…), rainbows, letters, numbers, and more.
Although I was not yet even trying to become pregnant, I couldn’t let the thing go, and within a few short years, it became one of the very first books on my first baby’s shelf.
16 Where Is Baby’s Belly Button
While some of the others I mention in this list may be a little more obscure, some of them, like this one, are practically unavoidable, and for good reason.
Babies and young kids LOVE lifting flaps to find things in books
Although these ones are not the most sturdy in the world, they’re also not the flimsiest, and our copy has held up, if a bit creased, for years of fun already, as we find the baby’s mouth, eyes, toes, and of course navel hiding behind a cup, under a hat, behind a cat, and under a shirt.
Fun times, tickles, and giggles galore…
15 Where Is Baby’s Valentine
I am all about seasonal books, and so one of the many “Baby” books that are out there that I first had to pick up was this one, which has sparkly images throughout (you can even feel the texture of the glitter!), roses, candy, and of course one very special valentine, which Baby finds at the end, with her cutesy kitty pal at her side and her loving Mommy there to happily receive it.
Moms are bound to love it because, in the end, it’s all about the little girl loving her mama. Babies and toddlers love it for the same reason — and the glitter.
14 Kitten’s Summer
Although I don’t see these books around all that often, they are my very favorite children’s books that I’ve stumbled across as a parent, and all thanks to my local library.
Back when my first baby was still very small, I was pulling out books at the library when I was stopped in my tracks by this one’s illustrations.
They appear to be crafted from incredibly intricate paper cutouts and collages, and they are artistic in the most pleasant and beautiful way.
The various other seasons are great, too, but Summer is my forever favorite, with the kitten passing all the various wild animals on the farm as she makes her way into the farmhouse to escape the thunderstorm.
13 Let It Fall
As with the book above, few words and beautifully interesting illustrations make this book easy to read over and over again.
A phrase or sentence on each page rhymes in couplets with the subsequent page, so you breeze through and set up a little story that’s easy for kids to love and remember as they hear it over and over again.
You may pick up on the fact that I’m already super pumped for fall: Many of my favorites cover topics such as changing leaves, getting ready to hibernate, Halloween, and Thanksgiving.
This one follows a family doing all sorts of both classic and creative activities together, such as apple picking, hiking, going to the fair, and eventually settling in at home as the snow starts and the season changes again.
I’ve had to tape our copy back together a handful of times already.
12 Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?
Okay, so I grew up reading and listening to a LOT of Dr. Seuss books. So of course I had Green Eggs and Ham memorized by the time I could read, and those silly illustrations and wacky rhymes were of the sort that just I couldn’t get enough of.
As an adult, I tire quickly of it all, honestly, even though I will admit to loving the challenge of reading the most tongue-twisting tomes aloud quickly and flawlessly to my little ones’ very impressed ears.
They’ve (smartly) put out a good amount of Seuss and Seuss-style little board books that are SHORT and simple and perfect for small hands, and this is my kids’ favorite.
The more fun I have making whisper, lightning, and of course, cow sounds, the more thrilled they are, and that sing-songy rhythm really gets ’em going (I catch them working in renditions of it into their babbling and playtime musings).
11 Goodnight Moon
Remember when Christopher Walken read this classic on The Simpsons (YouTube.com)?
Some of us have distant memories of these interestingly unique illustrations from our own early days.
I don’t remember actually hearing the book often, but you better believe that green color scheme left a lasting impression.
I’d guess it’s a classic because there are few words, vivid colors, it’s short (so parents tend to read it more often during that classic read-aloud time: bedtime), and it’s about a sweet little one (who happens to be a bunny) settling in for the night before finally drifting off to sleep.
There’s a bizarre quality to it, and also a very basic and practical one, as kids are like, hey, I know what a chair is! I see bears sitting on chairs!
10 Five Little ladybugs
While I’ve found that babies and young kids, of course, love anything with sing-songy rhythm and simply rhyming, if there’s anything they love almost as much, it’s simple counting.
We got this one as a hand-me-down, and there’s a lot to love about it.
Around my first little one’s first birthday, we were reading through it multiple times throughout each and every day.
The genius is in the design of this very small board book (by Melanie Gerth), with thin pages that are turned to reveal fewer and fewer 3D ladybugs in various shades of orange and red.
Even I am drawn in by the sensory experience, those little holes where the bugs peek through, and their glossy wings shining under the reading light.
And don’t even get me started on the brightly dreamy palette used in the pictures.
9 Ladybug Girl and Her Mama
This book from 2013 is part of a large series of Ladybug Girl books that are very easy to find or stumble upon these days.
The character is your average little girl, facing the world, or at least her family’s backyard or campsite, bravely and with great imagination.
The stories are SO simple, and yet take you through the important emotions a young child may feel while experiencing different things, such as, in this case, having a day with just her and her mom.
I mean, of COURSE, this is my favorite one of the collection, although Ladybug Girl and Her Papa is SUPER cute, too.
8 Peekaboo Sophie!
This was one of the first books that helped me to realize how much babies seem to love lifting flaps, and it even allows them to play that classic baby favorite, Peekaboo!, as they turn the pages and lift the sturdy cardboard flaps to reveal Sophie’s various friends.
Then they get to tickle her at the end!
There are soft, scratchy, and other textures to explore in this book, as well, which was smartly created to feature that character that is probably the most posh and popular teething toy on the planet. (Hey, I know that giraffe!)
The cutesy pastel characters play outside, have a snack, take a bath, and then you’re basically done with it, but then it’s time to read “Again! Again!”
7 Guess How Much I Love You
I would be surprised if you’ve been in a bookstore, like, ever and haven’t already stumbled across this one.
It seemed one of the most calming, sweet, and yet not overly weepy or cheesy parent-and-me bedtime stories out there, in board book form, to boot, when I was putting together my own baby’s first little library.
Plus, I had to get a copy, as the baby book I’d chosen followed along with the same theme.
The parent rabbit (hare) loves the baby one even more, and proves it by jumping higher, reaching arms out wider, and saying (little tear…) they love that little bunny “right up to the moon… and back,” before settling down for sleep.
6 Goodnight, Little Bear
I am a huge fan of how easy it is to find vintage stories in the form of Little Golden Books these days.
They must know, out there in marketing land, who all is becoming a parent or grandparent these days.
But for me, this one is not about nostalgia, completely (I never read the story growing up), just in so much as I remember admiring those shiny golden book spines greatly as a little girl. (That shiny foil was usually reserved for such exciting treats as chewing gum – or Christmas presents!)
Format aside, though, this Little Golden Book Classic (by Richard Scarry, of all people) is 1960s sweet, which makes sense, as it was originally published in 1961.
Just check out the daddy bear’s smoking jacket, the household (or, er, cabin) décor, and the easy-breezy vibe as this little bear thinks he’s fooling his papa by “hiding” on his shoulders instead of going to bed.
5 Little Fur Family
This classic is also in the midst of a full-on revival. You can even get little boxes that look like they might house a deck of playing cards but instead contain a mini version of the book with a cover that is completely made of synthetic fur.
Boy, do the little ones love that!
We have two such copies, as well as a handed-down board book version of the story.
Honestly, at first it kind of weirded me out, and the disregard for grammar and punctuation, I must admit, kind of bothered me.
But then, the magically folksy illustrations drew us all in, and the carefree nature of it was what was so easy to love, and I understood.
It ends with the fur parents holding their fur child’s paw and singing him to sleep. Awww.
Always a good conclusion for a toddler book.
4 Pajama Time!
Sandra Boynton has found a way to write a whole bunch of board books that feel like a super fun party and yet also somehow help kids wind down for sleep.
There’s rhythm, there’s rhyming, and you better believe there are loveable animals, with hilarious expressions, in all shapes and sizes.
They all seem to just hang out together, whether it’s on a boat, in a sort of preschool setting, or at home as a family.
Pajama Time is the classic favorite around these parts.
It’s like singing the silliest jazzy song each time you read it. Kids can’t get enough!
And just try not to get into it as you say, “Ooooo, yes. It’s pajama time!”
3 Barnyard Dance!
Okay, I said that Pajama Time was my favorite Sandra Boynton book, but I might have lied, because I can’t get enough of Barnyard Dance (1993). (I love how I’m writing this entire article almost completely from memory, by the way. That’s how many times I’ve read all of these, and that’s parenthood!)
The fun flavor of these books feels super ’90s to me, but in a “fun mom” sort of way.
It’s like, hey, let’s just be silly and get a little groovy while we also very casually have a dance party or, say, get you to go to bed.
It seems goofy on the surface, but really, it’s making the basics (eating, sleeping, tickling, getting dressed) of parenthood — and being a little kid — fun, in a profoundly silly way.
2 Sandra Boynton's Snoozers
I decided to limit myself to including only three Sandra Boynton books in this list of 20 total stories for babies and young kids, and that should tell you something.
I was handed down a copy of this one, many very short stories / rhymes on single spreads, about various animals getting ready to go to sleep at night.
The genius of this one is how appealing the design is. Each story in the board book has a tab featuring a recognizable animal from that particular rhyme. I suspect this is to make it easy for parents to say a kid could choose just one or two, and flip to those pages themselves, but we have never read any less than the whole thing in one sitting.
She has got the appealing rhyme thing figured out.
1 The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Let’s end with a classic. Children’s libraries and classroom supplies are adorned with that simple and loveable face in so many primary colors.
First there’s an egg, then there’s a ravenous little caterpillar, first munching leaves and then devouring bite after bite of human treats and foods.
I never really got this when I was a school-aged kid, and I think that’s because I first encountered the book through the Reading Rainbow show, and this book is all about the physical experience.
As a parent, I see how my young kids can’t wait to flip each page, small at first and then bigger and bigger and bigger until they extend the full width of the book — and how about those hole-punch sized openings that the caterpillar “ate” through?!
Such a clever way to get your little ones hungry for reading…
References: YouTube.com, this one mom’s experience, Amazon.com