Your Must-Have Kids’ Book List

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At only seven months old, my wee one already has over one hundred books in her library. We read about ten books every day and go to at least one story time each week. She has been to more author readings and book signings than most adults (Deborah Diesen, author of The Pout-Pout Fish, was her first; she saw Dan Santat, author of the Caldecott medal-winning Beeklelast week). This may seem a bit extreme for a baby, but let’s face facts: I’m pushing books hard.

So, when a friend asked me a couple weeks ago for some board book suggestions, I rattled off five or six without hesitation. Her reaction was a bit surprising. She responded:

I have to say, I mentioned to a couple of new mom friends that you gave me a few recommendations and they all went ape shit. I’ve had to send your list a couple of times. If you were to ever compile a Christi approved list of kid/baby books I think many moms would find it very helpful. There is just so much noise out there that it is really nice to get recommendations from someone who is actually using them and recommending more than the same old board books that everyone has several of in their library (I mean, Pat the Bunny is a classic, but it isn’t really stimulating and those pictures are downright creepy).

There are literally gajillions (LITERALLY) of board and picture books out there. And my friend is right–there aren’t many reliable, up-to-date lists to steer you in the right direction. To make matters worse, the pressure to add only quality books to your kid’s collection is high. Because, unlike adult books, which you normally read once before letting them collect dust on a shelf, you read each kids’ book approximately 700 million times.

So, here is a list of my favorite board and picture books. I tried to avoid the classics that everyone already knows and loves (but, just to be on the safe side, I did include a few that cannot be overlooked). Happy reading!

BOARD BOOKS

Board books can be mind-numbing, because they are so short and simple. My rule of thumb: they should either be straight-up skill-and-drill books (letters, numbers, shapes) or really cute and fun to read. If they don’t fall into one of those two categories, they don’t deserve space on your bookshelf.

Skill-and-drill board books: Most (if not all) of these books require a significant amount of parent talk/interaction/elaboration to make them effective and engaging. 

  • ABCD Eat by Ed Heck (Ed Heck is an amazing pop artist out of NYC. He has several board books that are illustrated in his signature style. This is my favorite, but Many Marvelous Monsters, which teaches letter sounds using alliteration, is also a fun one).

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  • Paris: a Book of Shapes by Ashley Evanson (This is part of the Hello, World! series. We own the New York and San Francisco books, as well, but this is BY FAR the best.)

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  • 20 Big Trucks in the Middle of the Street by Mark Lee, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Most board books that focus on numbers/counting are nothing more than a number on the page with an illustration of the corresponding number of some random item. I like this one, because it actually tells a cute story. The rhyme-scheme is a little wanting, but whatever.)

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  • The Jungle Book: A BabyLit Animals Primer by Jennifer Adams, illustrated by Alison Oliver (BabyLit primers use the characters and plots from classics in skill-and-drill board books. It’s an adorable idea, but they are very inconsistent. I’ve read LOTS of these, so if you have questions about any in particular, feel free to ask. Word to the wise: steer clear of Dracula.)

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  • Hello, World! by Disney Book Group (This book introduces kids to different places and teaches them how to say “hello” in several different languages. Each page is a different country–from Brazil to China to Egypt–with an “It’s a Small World”-esque illustration. Arguably a bit stereotypical, but adorable nonetheless.) 

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Honorable mentions:

  • Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle, illustrated by Jill McElmurry (This is a great book for helping kids practice animal sounds, and its message is a good one. Nevertheless, this can never get beyond an honorable mention in my house, because my husband inexplicably hates it.)

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Classic skill-and-drill board books that you should own:

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  • Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault, illustrated by Lois Ehlert (This book makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, but kids LOVE it, and I think the rhyming is an effective tool for teaching letters.)

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Cute board books:

When it comes to cute board books, there are only two authors you need to know: Sandra Boynton and Leslie Patricelli. These ladies know what’s up.

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  • Toot by Leslie Patricelli (This is my favorite of Patricelli’s books, but there are several that are quite cute. And Patricelli’s holiday books–like Hop! Hop! and Fa La La–make excellent holiday baby gifts.)

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PICTURE BOOKS

For me, a picture book has to fall into one of four categories: 1) it has to have a great message; 2) it must be a work of art; 3) it will teach my kid about different people or places or cultures; or 4) it’s just plain fun (i.e., when I read it for the four hundredth time, it doesn’t make me cringe). 

Great messages for little ones: 

  • Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts  (If you’re going to add ONE book to your library, this should be it. Amazon always seems to sell it at a really good price, so go ahead and order it now. In fact, order a couple copies. You’re gonna want to give this one as a gift at some point. The other book in this series, Iggy Peck, Architect, is also excellent . . . and I am awaiting the soon-to-be released Ada Twist, Scientist with bated breath.)

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  • The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires (There’s a grammatical error in this book (“none . . . are”), but I still love it. That speaks volumes.)

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  • Fiona’s Luck by Teresa Bateman, illustrated by Kelly Murphy (This book falls into several of my picture-book categories. It has a great message, it’s set in Ireland, and it’s fun to read, because you get to practice your Irish accent!)

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Honorable mentions:

Works of art:

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  • Some Bugs by Angela DiTerlizzi, illustrated by Brendan Wenzel

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Honorable mention:

Great multicultural books:

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Honorable mention:

  • Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson

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  • My First Book of Japanese Words by Michelle Haney Brown, illustrated by Aya Padron (This is only an honorable mention because it is very family-/interest-specific. There are tons of “My First Book of [fill in the blank] Words” books, but I have not seen any others that rhyme or are as attractively illustrated.)

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Fun books:

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  • The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak (This book was written before my daughter was born, but that didn’t stop me from going to an author reading when B.J. Novak came to town to promote it. You can read more about that–and see video of it–here.)

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  • Olivia by Ian Falconer (I am a fan of all of the Olivia books. My husband is not. He thinks Olivia will teach our daughter bad behavior. Olivia is a bit of a sasser and a story-teller, but I like her spunk.)

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Honorable mentions:

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Classic picture books that should already be in your library (and that you should buy immediately if they are not!):

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And that’s that! If you think there is a glaring omission from this list, leave a comment below with the book (or books!) you think should have been included (and feel free to let me know if there are books that I included that you think I should have left off!).

Want even more suggestions? A couple years ago, I wrote a post about a few of the books that were my favorites when I was a kid. So as not to be redundant, I purposely did not include any of those books on this list . . . but you can read about them here. And, if ever you’d like additional suggestions, feel free to contact me!

One final note: Thank you, Mykaila, for suggesting I put this list together!

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11 thoughts on “Your Must-Have Kids’ Book List

  1. Christi, I am so happy you put this list together! Our baby is not even born and we already read to her (so far we own only the Happy Lion, the Hungry Caterpillar and a few Dr. Seuss books). I cannot wait to build her library. Here are my two favorite children’s books so far:

    Once Upon an Alphabet- Oliver Jeffers. I found this book in a local museum and flipped through it. Now I have it on my registry. This book is hilarious. It reminds me a bit of Where the Sidewalk Ends with very short stories (as opposed to poems) that are sure to cause a chuckle. Are you familiar with this author? Oliver Jeffers has quite a collection. I believe his most popular book is The Day the Crayons Quit, but after flipping through the pages this particular book seems geared towards older children. I plan to pick it up in a few years. The illustrations of his other books are very nice too.

    The Happy Lion-Louise Fatio and Roger Duvoisin. My husband and I love this book. We received it as a gift at our gender reveal. The french villagers’ names are very fun to say out loud when we are reading. The story is about a lion. The book introduces you to each of his daily visitors with the french names. One day, the gate to his enclosure at the zoo is left open so he ventures out to the village to say hello to all of his usual visitors who, understandably, are terrified to see him in the village. You get to say each of their names again. After he encounters almost everyone, the lion doesn’t understand why everyone is being so rude to him and becomes a bit sad. Ultimately, the missing visitor, the zookeeper’s son, Francois, IS polite to him and takes him back to the zoo, where he is happy again and where all of his visitors continue to visit. The zoo is where the happy lion decides to stay. The illustrations look vintage and have lots of little things going on that are fun to notice each time we read the book.

    As a little girl I loved “The Jolly Postman,” but this book too is geared towards older children. I loved that you could take the actual letters out of the envelope and become part of the story.

    Nick’s favorite book as a child was “Scuffy,” a Golden Book about a tugboat that wants to see bigger and better things. After a big adventure, Scuffy decides he is happiest with the little boy at home.

    Finally, a lot of people have recommended the board book “Press Here” to us. Are you familiar with this book? If so, why did you leave it off the list? I’ve also registered for “Little Hoot” by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and “In My Heart: A Book of Feelings” by Jo Witek. Have you heard of these two? I haven’t read them cover to cover yet, but they seemed really cute on my Instagram feeds (I follow several publishing houses) and when I flipped through them at the book store. “Little Hoot” is about a little owl who wants to go to bed but cannot because he is nocturnal. “In my Heart: A Book of Feelings” is stunning and beautiful to look at. So stunning, I did not actually read the words. I plan to do so on my next visit to the bookstore.

    Sending my love to you and your family!

    • Congrats again on the baby! Such an exciting time. I read to my little one every day before she was born (and, with the exception of a few of the very early, very rough days, every day since!).

      I am, indeed, familiar with Oliver Jeffers. We own several of his books, and Once Upon an Alphabet is definitely a cute one! And The Happy Lion is a classic!! I haven’t read it to Molly yet, but I should. We have a couple books to introduce French words/phrases/sounds to her, but this would be a good one to add to the collection. Merci de ce rappel!

      And, yep, I know Press Here. It’s definitely a cute book and the interactive component is fun (although Molly is, of course, still too young for that). But there’s not much to it. Perhaps I’ll appreciate it more when Molly is able to follow the instructions?

      Little Hoot and My Heart: A Book of Feelings are new to me. I will check them out! Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. And best of luck with the rest of your pregnancy!

  2. I love this! My little girl has a ridiculous book collection too because I’d rather buy her books than anything else. It makes me so happy when she sits down and flips the pages by herself. We have quite a few off your list and now I have some more titles to check out!

    I’m a fan of the Ahlbergs books, Oliver Jeffers (I love “The Day the Crayons Quit.”), Jon Klassen, Robert McCloskey, to name a few. I’m a sucker for illustrations. Have you ever seen Miroslav Sasek’s travel books for kids? (Your mention of the Hello World books reminded me.) I’ve had them for much longer than I’ve had a child because I loved them as souvenirs of places I’ve been.

    • That’s two votes for both the Ahlbergs and Jeffers. Sounds like I’ve been outnumbered! I, too, am a big fan of the Crayons books. I do a different voice for each crayon, but I fear Molly will call me out for being inconsistent when she’s a little older!!

      I hadn’t heard of or seen Sasek’s travel books. Just looked them up, and they look fabulous! Thanks for introducing me to them!!

  3. Just one to add. I think your list is fantastic! We love Dooby Dooby Moo by Doreen Cronin (no relation!). And Olivia and Little Blue Truck are awesome board books! (Porter flexes his muscles when the toad comes in to help out…)

  4. I love this post and the ongoing conversation! I taught K/1 for 15 years before having my kids and switching to Special Ed, and I was really inspired by your thoughts. I am desperately working towards the summer holidays when I hope to have enough to time to gather my own favourites to share. Thanks for keeping it interesting!

    • Your comments always provide me with motivation to keep posting (even when I feel like I have twenty million other things to do!). Thank you for your kind words and for being such an active participant in my blog!!! I’m so happy that you enjoyed this post; I definitely had fun writing it.

      • I’m sure you have more than twenty million things to do! Babies are labour intensive little people, aren’t they? My favourite thing about blogs – reading and writing – is connecting with people. As a kid I never imagined the ways people would share ideas, information and inspiration so easily, but I love the possibilities! Reading what people are thinking and excited about makes my own curiosity grow. I’m glad you are inspired to keep writing… But I hope one of the things on your to do list is take time for yourself! (Read! Sleep! Play!)

  5. Pingback: Your Must-Have Kids’ Book List: Part II | I Know What You Should Read

  6. Pingback: These Are the Books You Should Read (According to My Two-Year-Old) – I Know What You Should Read

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