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Best books for babies and toddlers 2022: Storytime favourites to read with your child

Lise Smith
3 Mar 2022
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Foster a love of reading in your little one with our pick of the best books for young children

It’s never too early to start fostering a love of reading, and the best way to do that is to read with your child. Even very young babies will enjoy the sound of a story or rhyme read aloud in a soothing voice, and toddlers will love identifying favourite characters and joining in with the ends of sentences in familiar texts.

If you’d like to introduce books to your routine but aren’t sure which are most suitable, books from your own childhood are a good place to start; anything you remember fondly from the past is likely to go down well in the present. Several of our choices below are time-tested classics for exactly this reason, and we’ve also included some newer titles you may not yet know. Each of them will help babies and young children as they begin exploring the world through image and language.

How to choose the best books for babies and toddlers

How many words?

Books for babies and very young children are mostly picture-based, with just a few words per page and just a few pages per book. Your baby’s first books will probably contain words identifying simple concepts - such as animal names or colours. Over many repetitions, these tiny tomes will help your baby associate the sounds of the words with the images, which is the beginning of language acquisition.

As your child gets older, they’ll be able to comprehend longer texts over more pages, and eventually they’ll start joining in verbally with well-known stories. Rhyming stories limited to a couple of sentences per page work well for two- to three-year-olds learning to memorise texts, and repeated phrases also help your child make sense of the story structure. Stories with more than a couple of sentences per page are better suited to ages three and up.

What’s it made of?

With very young children, your choice of book material may be more important than the subject matter or language used. Delicate paper pages aren’t suitable for babies who are still developing fine motricity. So, look for sturdy board books that can’t be easily torn or chewed up (although we can pretty much guarantee they will be lightly nibbled); fabric books; or waterproof books you can safely take into the bath. Books with added sounds and textures will stimulate your baby’s senses and begin the process of associating words and concepts.

Toddlers will be able to turn paper pages more safely, but it’s still worth looking out for wipeable covers and large formats that are easy to manipulate rather than small and fiddly pages. Many children’s books now also come in Kindle and audio editions, but really nothing beats the feel of paper (or board) in the hand and the sound of mummy or daddy reading.

What’s the best setting for storytime?

Be guided by your child. Some children prefer to read in the daytime when they’re alert and receptive; others will prefer a bedtime snuggle with a story. You may find your child has preferred books for different contexts, like exciting new books in the daytime and a familiar story at night.

At any time of day, try to read without other distractions (TV, for examples) so you and your child can focus on the story. If your child likes to read with a cuddly friend, like a teddy or a soft toy character from one of the stories, make sure they’re in the room and sitting comfortably too. Relax and allow enough time to read through the story several times, and to ask and answer questions about what’s happening.

With older children, leave a gap or two at the end of a line and see if they can fill in some of the missing words – this is where rhyming stories and repeated phrases work well.

What are some other things that will help my child to read?

If you’d like your child to start learning the letter symbols, keep flashcards, letter blocks or alphabet foam squares in the nursery or the room where your child plays. You might also have an alphabet frieze around the wall. Help your child identify the letters as and when they ask. Without going full synthetic phonics, you can start associating the letters with the sounds they make. Songs can help, too, and the Sesame Street A-B-C song is a tried and tested favourite that has helped generations learn their alphabet.

When it comes to encouraging your child to read, however, nothing beats reading together and ensuring that storytime is a relaxed, positive thing to do. Make reading fun for both of you by choosing stories you both love, whether timeless classic or modern tales. Our favourites are below.

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The best books for babies and toddlers

1. Baby’s Very First Cloth Book: Faces – Jo Lodge

Price: £5.92 | Buy now from Amazon

We mentioned above that the most important consideration in books for very young children is a robust construction, and this fabric book is built to survive as much chewing, sucking and dribbling as your baby can throw at it. The eight square pages feature simple line drawings of faces set against high-contrast backgrounds that newborns will find attractive. There’s also a mirror on the front so your baby can marvel at their own lovely countenance. Best of all, the textured pages crinkle, so if the illustrations don’t catch baby’s attention, the pleasing rustles surely will.

Key specs – Pages: 8; Age suitability: From birth; Format: Fabric pages with crinkle effect; Dimensions: 15.2 x 3.8 x 21.6 cm (including strap)


2. Touchy-Feely Board Books: That’s Not My Puppy – Fiona Watt

Price: £7.99 | Buy now from Amazon

One in a series of over fifty textured titles, That’s Not My Puppy is one of Fiona Watt’s fantastic books introducing children to a whole host of sensory concepts. The bright, bold illustrations and simple text are paired with textured panels in a range of materials, which encourage babies and toddlers to explore through touch. Over the course of the series, words introduced include “soft”, “hairy”, “shiny” and “rough”. Not a puppy fan? Watt’s books come in kitten, monkey, dinosaur and even robot varieties.

Key specs – Pages: 10; Age suitability: From birth; Format: Board pages with textured panels; Dimensions: 16.5 x 2.5 x 16.5 cm


3. The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle

Price: £4 | Buy now from Amazon

First published in 1969, Eric Carle’s classic of minimalist storytelling has inspired generations of children – 41 million of them so far – to learn about counting, fruit and butterfly gestation. The 26 pages have peekaboo holes to show where the caterpillar has been munching, which toddlers love to explore, wiggle and poke their fingers through. As your child grows, they’ll enjoy counting the fruit and joining in with the memorable formula on each page (“but he was still hungry!”) The colourful collage illustrations on clean white pages are at once of their time and absolutely timeless, and we’ve yet to meet a child this peckish larva doesn’t appeal to.

Key specs – Pages: 26; Age suitability: From approx. 9 months; Format: Board pages with interactive die-cuts; Dimensions: 13.2 x 1.2 x 18.1cm


4. Dear Zoo – Rod Campbell

Price: £4 | Buy now from Amazon

Is it a lion? A giraffe? A monkey? Children will love lifting the flaps to find out what the zoo has sent this time. For young toddlers, the game is finding and naming the animals; as your child gets older, they’ll enjoy guessing the animals from the clues in the text before looking. Even if it’s slightly unusual for a zoo to function as a mail-order service for fauna, Campbell’s funny story and bright illustrations will keep parents and children coming back again and again.

Key specs – Pages: 18; Age suitability: From approx. 12 months; Formats: Board and paperback with interactive flaps; Dimensions: 17.5 x 1.2 x 17.5 cm (board)/ 20.3 x 0.6 x 20.3 cm (paperback)


5. Where’s Spot? – Eric Hill

Price: £4.63 | Buy now from Amazon

Another classic in the lift-the-flap genre, Where’s Spot? introduces young readers to Spot the mischievous puppy, and a whole host of animal friends. There’s a lion under the stairs, a bear behind the door, a hippo in the piano and plenty more animal names, household objects and positional language to stimulate your child’s vocabulary. Even better, when the time comes, older children will find the large-print text and clean pages easy to read.

Key specs – Pages: 12/24; Age suitability: From approx. 24 months; Formats: Board and paperback with interactive flaps; Dimensions: 15.7 x 1.6 x 16.1 cm (board)/ 24.9 x 0.5 x 24.4 cm (paperback)


6. Goodnight Moon – Margaret Wise Brown

Price: £5.42 | Buy now from Amazon

Written in 1947, Margaret Wise Brown’s American classic - part story, part bedtime ritual – has lulled countless millions to sleep over the decades. The titular moon is shining through the window of the great green room, and our heroic narrator bunny makes it his mission to bid goodnight to everything in the same room. There’s something near-hypnotic about the rhythm of the words that has an immediate calming effect on the most active of toddlers (and works pretty well on sleepy parents, too). Not quite sure how to capture the ebb and flow of the mantra-like text in your reading? Let no less a talent than Susan Sarandon be your guide.

Key specs – Pages: 32; Age suitability: From approx. 12 months; Formats: Board and paperback; Dimensions: 20.2 x 2 x 17.6 cm (board)/ 26 x 0.5 x 22 cm (paperback)


7. Sleepy Kittens – Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio

Price: £5.77| Buy now from Amazon

Movie tie-ins are not always notable for their success, but Sleepy Kittens (from the first Despicable Me film) has been such a hit in our household we couldn’t leave it off this list. Short and simple and with sweet rhymes, Sleepy Kittens encourages plenty of joining in with its three colourful and cute integral kitten puppets. We defy you to read this sleepy-time tale without an affectionate tear in your eye.

Key specs – Pages: 16; Age suitability: From approx. 24 months; Formats: Board with interactive puppets; Dimensions: 15.2 x 0.8 x 26.7 cm


8. Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak

Price: £4.99 | Buy now from Amazon

A masterpiece of minimalist narrative paired with beautiful illustrations, Where the Wild Things Are tells the story of mischievous Max and his imaginary journey to the island of wild creatures. The combination of a simple, spare text and vivid illustrations draws children in and allows them to picture themselves in the place of Max – or one of his Wild Thing subjects. Rarely have so few words said so much about the power of young imagination and parental love.

Key specs – Pages: 48; Age suitability: From approx. 24 months; Formats: Paperback and hardcover; Dimensions: 23 x 0.5 x 25.5 cm


9. The Tiger Who Came to Tea – Judith Kerr

Price: £4 | Buy now from Amazon

“Excuse me, but I’m very hungry. Do you think I could have tea with you?” is the “Reader, I married him” for the under-fives set: an iconic literary line that resonates through the ages. Kerr’s large, furry, stripy tiger – who joins Sophie and her Mummy for tea and eats everything in the house – is a classic of the anthropomorphised creatures genre, and has kept children naming foodstuffs and eagerly following the tiger’s antics for forty years. We think it’s a bit cheeky of the tiger to steal all of Daddy’s beer, but the small people of our acquaintance seem to find this a forgivable misdemeanour.

Key specs – Pages: 32; Age suitability: From approx. 24 months; Formats: Paperback and board; Dimensions: 22 x 0.4 x 28 cm


10. We're Going on a Bear Hunt – Michael Rosen

Price: £4.99 | Buy now from Amazon

The appeal of Rosen’s text (adapted from an American folksong) is its rhythmic pulse, giving the simple rhymes about the journey to find a bear an urgency and drive that drills them into the memory. Helen Oxenbury’s illustrations have their own captivating charm; We’re Going On A Bear Hunt is also a great book to bring to life with your voice and body. Try chanting the words along to a clapping rhythm or making up your own actions to go with the story. Under-3s will love hearing you chant and sing, over-3s will enjoy acting the story out themselves – but we don’t recommend going on any actual bear hunts, and we’re sure the author would agree.

Key specs – Pages: 40; Age suitability: From approx. 30 months; Formats: Paperback and board; Dimensions: 27 x 0.5 x 24.1 cm


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