alphabet book for children
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An alphabet book for children

Choosing the Best Books for Babies and Toddlers

Introducing young children to books can be a delightful experience for parents and caregivers. Infants often watch with interest while an adult turns the pages of a book or magazine, and many babies have a favorite picture or picture book by their first birthday. Looking at books also offers a weary adult the opportunity to sit and enjoy some happy, quiet moments with her child.

New books for children are among the few products in the world that get better and more beautiful each year. Children under age three are now recognized as a separate audience with distinct interests and needs. Adults who remember favorite books from their own childhood sometimes introduce those books to children at an inappropriately early age, possibly preventing toddlers from discovering a body of literature created especially for them.
An hour spent in the infant/toddler section of a good bookstore or library can be an eye‑opening experience for adults, who even a generation ago did not have such literary treasures available to them. A few simple suggestions may be useful in selecting from among the many books available.

  1. Choose books about familiar objects, animals or themes in the child's everyday life. The thrill of recognition often experienced by adults when they read something that has personal relevance or particular significance may come first to a toddler who shouts "Just like me!" on looking at a picture of a child putting on socks, feeding a cat or taking a bath.
  2. Begin with books that have simple, clear illustrations of one or two objects on a page. Some children grow quickly to love complicated pictures in which something new can be found each time they look; but in the beginning, pictures surrounded by blank space may be most appropriate. Remember that the world is a new and unfamiliar place to young children. A picture of a spoon may not be very exciting to an adult, but many babies will study it with rapt attention. Making a connection between a picture in a book and an object in real life may be an important first step on which to build later experiences with reading.
  3. Avoid books about cartoon or television characters. Children may like them because they are familiar, but books of this kind are often poorly written and artistically inferior. Just as we choose food that is nourishing for children's bodies, we can choose books that are nourishing for their minds.
  4. Children begin to form ideas about gender roles at an early age. Many old picture books were surprisingly sexist. Examine books carefully to be sure the ideas about what males and females do are the ones you want your children to believe. Some old books can surprise us, however. For example, many adults have never realized that The Little Engine That Could was female!
  5. Include picture books about people from other cultures in your toddler collection. These books can provide a gentle introduction to our increasingly diverse populations and communities.
  6. Save folk and fairy tales for an age when children will enjoy them more because they have a better understanding of reality and how it differs from fantasy. That doesn't mean we should never use fantasy with toddlers, but a little goes a long way in stimulating their imaginations.
  7. Very young children can be hard on books! Babies may crumple, tear or try to eat printed materials. Sturdy cloth or board books may be necessary until children can enjoy books without destroying them. Some teachers and parents recommend that toddlers who have discovered the joy of tearing can be told, "I've finished with these newspapers so you may tear them up for recycling. But our books are for reading, not tearing." Adults can protect books from destruction by putting them out of reach, except when they are looked at with a supervising adult. This also reinforces that books are special and valuable.
  8. Books can be an expensive luxury for people of any age. Public libraries are a great family resource, with books available to every member of the family. Librarians will help parents and teachers introduce toddlers to books because they know that children who are "hooked on books" have a lifetime or pleasure ahead of them. When books are carefully chosen and lovingly shared with toddlers by adults, who enjoy reading, a precious gift is created that will bring countless benefits to its tiny recipients.

Source: Jennifer Birckmayer, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, New York State College of Human Ecology, Cornell University. Parent Pages was developed by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, HD 4


The following list includes some recent, as well as some old, books for toddlers:

Ahlberg, Janet and Ahlberg, A. (1978). Each Peach, Pear, Plum. Puffin Books.
Carle, Eric. (1990). Pancakes, Pancakes! Scholastic, Inc.
Carle, Eric. (1969). The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Philomel Books.
Cartlidge, Michelle. (1991). Bear in the Forest. Dutton Children's Books.
Ericsson, J. A. (1993). No Milk! Tambourine Books.
Falwell, Cathryn. (1993). Feast for 10. Clarion Books.
Griego, M. C., et. al. (1981). Tortillitas Para Mama. Henry Holt and Company.
Hayes, Sarah. (1988). Eat up, Gemma. Lothrop, Lee and Shepard Books.
Hill, Eric. (1984). Spot Goes Splash. G. P. Putnam's Sons.
Jeunesse, Gallimard and deBourgoing, P. (1989). Fruit. Scholastic‑Cartwheel Books.
Keats, Ezra Jack. (1976). The Snowy Day. Puffin Books.
MacDonald, Amy and Roffey, M. (1991). Let's Play. Candlewick Press.
Morris, Ann. (1989). Bread, Bread, Bread. Mulberry Books.
Muchas Palabras Sobre Mi Casa. (1987). Illustrated by Richard Brown. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
Oxenbury, Helen. (1987). All Fall Down. Aladdin Books‑MacMillan Publishing Co.
Oxenbury, Helen. (1987). Clap Hands. Aladdin Books‑MacMillan Publishing Co.
Pat‑a‑Cake, Pat‑a‑Cake. (1987). Illustrated by Moira Kemp. Lodestar Books.
Rey, H. A. Anybody at Home? Sandpiper: Houghton Mifflin Books.
Schmidt, Karen. (1984). The Little Red Hen. Grosset and Dunlap, Inc.
What Color? (1991). Photos by Anthea Sieveking. Dial Books for Young Readers.
Ziefert, Harriet. (1990). The Wheels on the Bus. Random House.


Anna Steinkraus
Family & Community Development Program Coordinator
(607) 272-2292 ext. 145

Last updated February 18, 2016