There are a few things that make for the best toddler books. First of all, a toddler book needs to be short enough for their wee attention spans. These small pages can’t be covered in long paragraphs. Little ones need the pages to turn ASAP so they can stay occupied. It helps if a picture book rhymes, since that makes reading aloud easier — most toddlers aren’t going to be doing the reading themselves. Which, of course, leads to one of the most important elements in a great book for toddlers: re-readability for the adults in their lives. Toddlers can be very unpredictable in their tastes, and their tastes, undeveloped as they are, can latch on to books that are…less appealing, we’ll say, to their adult care givers.
The best toddler books, which I’ve listed here, pass all three tests, and each brings something special of its own, whether it’s a sweet storyline, a danceable rhythm, or a surprise hidden behind a flap.
Some toddlers are getting ready to read picture books — the hardcover kind with the easily ripped pages — but most of these books are available as a sturdy board book that can take some extra love.
Classic Toddler Books
These “classics” are all books that have stood the test of time. You might have gotten them (or given them!) at a baby shower, but that’s just because they’ve been beloved by so many people. And they’re going to be beloved by your little one, too!
Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox
Mem Fox is one of those authors whose catalog is so vast and wonderful that it’s hard to choose just one book. This one is about the search for a little green sheep, but first you’ll have to examine a whole herd of swimming, playing, clowning, and bathing sheep.
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
This is the story of one boy’s adventure in his Brooklyn neighborhood that has been covered with a blanket of snow. Keats has a wonderful understanding of what it feels like to be a child understanding snow for the first time.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
It almost seems silly to recommend The Very Hungry Caterpillar, but it also feels silly to have a list of books for little ones without it! This is the story of a very hungry caterpillar and everything he eats through the course of a week.
Corduroy by Don Freeman
My goal for this list was to make sure that these books were short enough for a toddler’s short attention span, and this one might just push that limit, but it’s perfect for an older toddler who is starting to enjoy more complex stories! It’s the story of a department store bear who loses his button and finds a home.
Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
Introduce your little one to nursery rhymes and fairy tales with this rhyming story from husband and wife team Janet and Allan Ahlberg.
There’s nothing better than a baby’s laugh, and these five silly books will get everyone giggling!
Whose Toes Are Those? by Jabari Asim and LuUyen Pham
Whose toes are those? This is a silly, interactive book that will have you counting toesies and sending little piggies off to market with the best of them.
Vegetables in Underwear by Jared Chapman
It’s what it says on the tin: this is vegetables, all sorts, wearing underwear, all sorts. Jared Chapman’s playful illustrations display vegetables in all shapes, sizes, and colors wearing undies of all kinds. (This makes a great addition to your potty-training library, by the way.)
I Love You Stinky Face by Lisa MaCourt
Would you love me if I were an alligator? Would you love me if I were a super-smelly skunk? Of course you would! This is a sweet book disguised as a silly one.
I Got the Rhythm by Connie Schofield-Morrison and Frank Morrison
This book will get you and your toddler dancing! When a young girl goes to the park, she’s overtaken by the music in the world around her: street performers, butterfly wings, everything. As she starts to dance, the world dances with her.
Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton
Four friends head off into the woods to try to catch a brightly colored bird. Shh! They have a plan! Except their smallest member might just have a better plan. The monochromatic illustrations are a stunning backdrop to the simple, silly story.
Books That Do Things
Toddlers love books with doo-hickeys on them. You know: flaps, tabs, puppets, and things that spin. All of these books (but one) have articulating parts that will keep your little one busy!
These books are all about the poke-a-dots, little clicking dots, sort of like eternal bubble wrap. The stories that go along are really just a bonus, but I like this alphabet eye-spy one!
Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt and Edith Kunhardt
This was one of the first touch-and-feel books, and it’s still one of the best! Simple words accompany gentle actions in this classic.
Garbage Truck Tales by Jack Redwing
This is part of a series of books that explore the worlds of different vehicles, but I’m partial to the garbage truck book! (As are some of your kids, I am sure.) This book features real, rolling wheels, and three pull-out stories that teach your little one about a day in the life of our sanitation heroes.
I mean this sincerely: I have never seen a board book with this many flaps, pull tabs, wheels, and more. This “very busy” book is perfect for keeping in your car or for pulling out on those days when you really need to keep someone busy for more than a few minutes. Also in the series: Pirates and Narwhals and a Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood book.
Press Here by Herve Tullet
This is the only book on this list that doesn’t have articulating parts, but, through the power of your child’s imagination, it will seem as if it it does! As they press the “buttons,” they’ll see the pages transform.
These are the snuggly, cuddly books. The ones that are all about showing affection for your little one and their loved ones.
Besos for Baby by Jen Arena and Blanca Gomez
This is a lovely little bilingual book featuring very simple Spanish words. Everyone wants to give besos to baby!
Curls by Ruth Forman
This is a celebration of African American girls and their wonderful curls. With just four words on each page, the author writes a poetic ode to Black girl hair, and the accompanying illustrations just glow.
Little You by Richard Van Camp and Julie Flett
“Little you / little wonder / Little wish / gentle thunder” This is a very simple, very tender book about a parent’s love for their child. You’ll love the muted, lovely illustrations from Julie Flett.
Bunny Roo, I Love You by Melissa Marr
While this story is written about a baby’s first few days in the world, I think it’s perfect for a toddler who likes to look back at their baby photos or talk about when they were small. This is a gentle story about a mother comparing her new baby to a scared little rabbit, or a baby kangaroo, or a lizard.
You’re My Little Sweet Pea by Annette Bourland
“Squishy cheeks and sparkly eyes / pure delight and perfect size.” This is a tender, sweet ode to a little baby from their parent and is perfect for snuggle time. I think “sweet pea” is the cutest term of endearment!
Books About Kindness
It’s never too early to start learning about kindness and how we can help others. These are the best toddler books that feature friendship, thankfulness, and community care.
We Are Grateful by Tracey Sorrel and Frane Lessac
Follow a year of Cherokee celebrations as these characters express gratitude for traditions, natural resources, their ancestors, and more.
What is Light? by Markette Sheppard and Cathy Ann Johnson
What is light? It’s the smile on your face when you see a friend, the sparkles in a star, the feeling of giving a hug. This thoughtful book shows little ones how to spread their light.
Kindness Makes Us Strong by Sophie Beer
What is kindness? It’s helping, cheering, giving a boost. Katie Beer’s cheerful, diverse illustrations give life to her simple, inspiring text.
You Hold Me Up by Monique Gray Smith and Danielle Daniel
This gentle, thoughtful book teaches children all the ways that people can show kindness, or hold each other up. The illustrations, in a sort of folk-art style, show families singing together, comforting each other, and learning together.
Counting on Community by Innosanto Nagara
Count all the wonderful ways that there are to be in a community. The striking illustrations show urban farmers, chalk drawings on the sidewalk, community bands, and more. Be sure to find the duck on each page!
The crowning glory of any toddler’s library, at least from a sleepy parent’s point of view, is the going to bed book. These are sure to soothe, and you won’t mind reading them dozens of times.
Sweetest Kulu by Celina Kulluk
This lovely little book is a poem written by Inuit throat singer Celina Kalluk. Each spread shows arctic animals bringing gifts to Kulu, the sleepy baby main character.
The World is Awake for Little Ones by Linsey Davis, Joseph Bottum, and Lucy Fleming
While the title seems to imply that this is a good-morning sort of book, it’s really about exploring the blessings of the wide world, and then going gently to sleep in a warm bed. This is a sweet, loving, faith-based way to tuck your little ones in for the night.
What Color is Night? by Grant Snider
The night is not just black and white! This soothing poem explores the colors of the night world: red neon signs, yellow headlights, silver trains, green-eyed glows. This is perfect if you’re looking for a way to make the dark seem friendlier and not so scary.
Bedtime for Sweet Creatures by Nikki Grimes
What mother can’t relate to the mother in this story? It’s time for bed and, just like always, her child beats the word “no” like a drum, hisses his disagreement like a snake, freezes like a fawn, and leaps back up like an antelope. Soon, all the creatures (and the little boy) are ready for bed.
The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton
You didn’t think I would get through a list of books for toddlers and not include Queen Sandra Boynton, did you? Boynton’s cheerful, happy illustrations and rhymes depict a group of animals onboard a cruise ship as they all get ready for bed together.
I hope you found some of the best toddler books to add to your shelves! If you’re looking for more great board books, check out this list of 50. If you want more books like the classic The Snowy Day, here’s a round-up of several snow books. Want a silly round-up of a different sort of classic? Here are Pride & Prejudice board books, ranked. Looking for brand new board books for your littles? Here’s a list of new board books for 2022.