Don’t lie. You know you’ve done it. 30 pages into The Lorax and you can feel yourself losing your audience. Despite the bright pictures and incredible message about our environment (he’s speaking for the trees after all), your two year old is starting to fidget. In an attempt to salvage bedtime, you desecrate the good Dr. and start skimming…out loud. Maybe you’re grabbing two pages at once, maybe you’re only reading the first line or so, maybe you’re just going to summarize what’s going on in the photos, but at this point, it is survival.
No need to worry. I am here for you. Whether you’re compiling a list for the holidays, love a good book instead of a card for a shower, or are just likely to be found smothered underneath a massive pile of children’s books (guilty). It is important that we find those books that meet a very specific criteria. Engaging. Thought provoking. Short.
Below are some of my favorite books to read to my son. These are the ones that I don’t “accidentally” kick under the bed or groan when they’re handed to me. You won’t find many classics on this list, not because I don’t love them but because I was trying to provide some fresh options.
Little Green Peas, Keith Baker
This is a fun way to explore colors with your little one. Each page features a different color, but it always comes back to those “little green peas.” It’s silly, repetitive, and the illustrations are great for prompting toddlers to fill in the next word or phrase.
The Color Monster, Anna Llenas
Absolutely one of my favorites, especially as you start to dive into the ever-varied and often-frustrating toddler emotions. This book starts off with a multi-colored monster who just doesn’t feel right. With the help of a caring narrator, the different emotions (red for anger, blue for sad, etc.) are sorted into different jars. The simple lessons in this book have really helped my two year old when dealing with his own feelings and emotions.
Tell Me a Tattoo Story, Alison McGhee
This choice is definitely geared to a particular family, but as somebody with a tattooed husband, I found it charming. The book is a sweet story of a dad explaining his body art to his young son. He has tattoos dedicated to his parents, his time in the service, and both his partner’s and son’s birthdays. Not going to lie to you: this one choked me up when I was reading it. It is a warm hearted addition to any tattooed family.
On the Night You Were Born, Nancy Tillman
Nostalgia! Pretty sure this one is written for us parents to snuggle with our little ones, sniff their hair, and reflect on when they were brand new to us and the world. Gorgeous illustration and poetic writing celebrates the importance of every child. I love this one for a baby shower gift.
How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?, Jane Yolen
Most kids love dinosaurs. This mom loves this book. I love the artwork; the retro-inspired illustrations almost deserve a frame and a spot on the wall. The story calls to attention all of the tricks that little ones can use to get out of a quiet bedtime (stomping, wanting “one book more,” pouting, etc.) and allows the oversized dinos to set a good example for bedtime rituals.
ABCs of Biology (Baby University), Chris Ferrie
Written by a physicist and mathematician, this book is a great introduction to biology for even the smallest scientist. Each letter of the alphabet introduces a concept and is further explained below, so you can continue to build concepts as your child grows. This is only one book of a series (Engineering, Organic Chemistry, etc.), and they are all great choices for the more intellectual kids and parents.
Dear Zoo, Rod Campbell
A lift-the-flap book for younger readers, this is a fun read for introducing and learning animals. If you’re a patron of the zoo, it is fun to read before or after a visit, so you can point out all of the animals you read about and discuss their characteristics.
One Family, George Shannon
Rhythmic, easy read that begs the question “How many things can ‘one’ be?” This book is loved because it is a great introduction to diversity, opening up the conversation to how many different configurations can still mean one family. Featuring multigenerational homes, single parents and inter-racial relationships, there is a lot of exposure for little ones to realize that “one is one and everyone” while learning acceptance and practicing their numbers.
One of the best gifts we can give our children is the gift of story time. Reading to children from an early age builds bonds and vocabulary and offers cognitive benefits that extend into adulthood. It is my hope that this list will give you some ideas for gift giving or building your own little library.