My mother tells the story of how, when I was an infant, my pediatrician told her, "There's no better gift you can give a child than the gift of speech." They say that talking or reading to your child regularly, regardless of how young they are, will significantly enhance their vocabulary. In fact, just narrating your daily activities can help expand your child's vocabulary. And even if your baby would rather just grab and chew on the pages of their board book (they always do!), your voice is still comforting. In time, your baby will grow to understand your words and the stories.
"There's no better gift you can give a child than the gift of speech."
The time to start building your baby’s library (and vocabulary!) is now, and here are 10 great baby books to help get you started.
“Read to Your Baby Every Day,” by Rachel Williams, is an essential must-have for every nursery. It features 30 Mother Goose nursery rhymes, from Mary Had a Little Lamb to Old Mother Hubbard, that so many of us grow up learning.
“Where is the Green Sheep?” by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek has been a favorite in my household through four kids. In this sweet search for the green sheep, you’ll come across others like the blue sheep, the red sheep, the bath sheep, and the bed sheep.
- Originally published in 1940, “Pat the Bunny” has been and always will be a mainstay for new baby gifts. Written by Dorothy Kunhardt, this very classic touch-and-feel book prompts baby to play peek-a-boo, for instance, and to pat the fake fur of a rabbit. It’s sweet, simple, and a book that generations before and to come will appreciate.
- Like so many of Sandra Boynton’s books, “The Going-to-Bed Book” is fun to read, silly, and heartwarming. Join the animals as they prepare for bed: bath time, picking out pajamas, brushing their teeth, then they “rock and rock and rock to sleep.”
"Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle was originally published in 1967 and remains one of today’s top-selling children’s books. Simple repetition and bright, bold pictures make this a must-have for baby’s first library.
- There are lots of “first words” books out there for babies but Jane Foster's books always top our list. “First Words” (below) features bold, vibrant, retro-inspired images that babies love.
“Peek-A-Who?” by Nina Laden, was another favorite with all four of my children. (Amazingly the book lasted through all four of them as well!) This tiny 10-page board book is filled with vibrant pictures that grab a baby’s attention. Simple rhyming text—Peek-a-zoo! Peek-a-boo!— keeps little ones guessing what's peeking through the die-cut windows of each page.
- Another favorite with few words (three to be exact), “Hug” by Jez Alborough, tells the story of a lonely monkey in search of a hug. His sadness grows as he sees his friends hug their mothers. Spoiler alert: not to worry, Bobo the monkey finds someone to hug.
- Rod Campbell’s classic lift-the-flap book, “Dear Zoo,” is always a hit. Little ones enjoy lifting the flaps to discover which animals were sent by the zoo as a pet. The elephant is too big, the lion is too fierce, and the frog is too jumpy.
- I’ve always been a fan of Mem Fox’s stories, and her book, “Time for Bed,” has delighted all four of my children. It’s a simple poetic story about different animals getting ready for bed. “It’s time for bed, little mouse, little mouse, darkness is falling all over the house.”
- When it comes to children’s books, there’s something about a book with little to no words that I love. I enjoy just talking about the pictures, describing and pointing to things I see, and I enjoy having the freedom to change the story each time. “Goodnight Gorilla,” by Peggy Rathmann, is one of these wonderful stories. While the zookeeper wishes all of the animals a good night, the gorilla follows him on his rounds and lets all of the other animals out of their cages. The detailed drawings allow for plenty to talk about.
“Freight Train” by Donald Crews has very few words but little ones love the simplicity, as it describes the inner workings of a cargo train, and vibrant illustrations.
- Ruth Bornstein’s “Little Gorilla” is a story about a gorilla who’s loved by all: his mother, father, aunts, uncles, and even all the other forest animals. But Little Gorilla grows bigger, celebrates a birthday, and finds that regardless of his size, everybody still loves him.
- From beneath the tickles and kisses showered on them by grownups, the children in Vera B. Williams’ book, '"More More More, Said the Baby” want more. The stars of three little love stories - toddlers with nicknames Little Guy, Little Pumpkin, and Little Bird - run giggling until they are scooped up by adoring adults to be swung around, kissed, and finally tucked into bed.
- The “Little Feminist Board Book” set comprises four small chunky board books, each featuring a different category of real women who have made historical impact on the world: Artists, Leaders, Activists, Pioneers. Harriet Tubman, Marie Curie, Cleopatra, and others. The illustrations are bold, sweet, and simple, as is the accompanying text with each historical figure pictured.
About the author: Kathryn is the owner of Bicycle Pie and mom of 4 little ones. Also a writer, editor, and former owner of one of Boston's premiere baby boutiques, she continues to write about motherhood, children's products, family life, and all other things that test our skills and patience as parents.