Before I had kids, I didn’t know anything about children’s books. If I were gifting a book for a shower or birthday party, I’d either stick with a classic I had loved as a child (Where the Wild Things Are is a go-to), or pick a beautiful book I thought would look pretty on a nursery shelf. Then I had kids and I realized that kids’ tastes are a bit trickier than pretty pictures or a trendy color scheme.
Below is a list of books that are favorites in my house. (For reference, I have a 3-year-old and an infant.)
Llama Llama anything, but particularly Llama Llama Red Pajama and Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney
These books have great rhyming schemes that are catchy for bedtime books, and as a parent I love that little Llama has relatable feelings like separation anxiety from his mama, something we also struggle with in our house. Author Anna Dewdney has written Llama books for many occasions—Time to Share, Mad at Mama—making these a bit of a modern-day Berenstain Bears series.
Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin
This was one of the few kids’ books I knew about before having kids, mostly because it’s such a catchy title. The illustrations in these books are cool and funny (like a boat filled up with tacos), and while these books don’t rhyme, they have a nice cadence for reading aloud. Now inevitably anytime we talk about tacos, dragons come up, and vice versa. Also, it got my toddler to try tacos (because dragons love them, of course)!
Shop on Amazon
We have a lot of Toy Story books, but this one remains the favorite. It made a good prep tool before we saw Toy Story 4, and I love it as a parent because you can choose to read as much or as little on each page and it still makes sense (great for bedtime reading when both parent and kid are exhausted).
Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee by Chris Van Dusen
The vacation house we rented this summer had a copy of this book, and after reading it to my kids approximately twenty times a day on vacation, I ordered it for our house and made sure it arrived before we returned home. The story is silly, it rhymes, and it has great illustrations. Mr. Magee and his dog head out on their boat, only to get trapped in a tree after a playful young whale blows them up high in the sky. My older son’s favorite part is the list of food that Mr. Magee packs for his day on the boat, which includes punch and sweet pickled beets.
The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton
Boynton has a collection of funny and catchy books, and we haven’t met one we didn’t like, but this one happens to be our favorite. My husband and I discovered early on with our first son that we wanted to read him books before bed but also not have the light keep him awake. So we faked it and memorized Goodnight Moon, and then followed it up with a memorization of The Going to Bed Book, both of which have the lulling cadence you want in a bedtime story.
The Sandcastle That Lola Built by Megan Maynor and Kate Berube
This book was a discovery from our Prime Book Box subscription (age 3-5). I like to pick books for my sons where the characters aren’t just boys that look like them, so I was excited to try this book with a girl as the main character. This is a take on The House That Jack Built, and it’s one of those books I never would have predicted my kids would like—it doesn’t rhyme and it doesn’t contain airplanes or Buzz Lightyear (both recipes for success in our house). But it’s requested almost every night as a bedtime book.
Shop on Amazon
Alis the Aviator by Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail and Kalpna Patel
As a parent, there’s a lot to like here. This is an ABC book based on Dr. Alis Kennedy, likely one of the first indigenous women to get a pilot license in Canada. The illustrations (done by Kalpha Patel) are beautiful and in the style of paper art, and Alis (and her pup) grow gracefully older on every page. My older son loves airplanes, and I try not to be disturbed that his favorite page is “Q is for Queen, that crashed into the loam.” In happier news, he may be the only toddler who regularly uses “loam” in his vocabulary.
Groovy Joe: Ice Cream & Dinosaurs by Eric Litwin and Tom Lichtenheld
Fans of Pete the Cat will love this book—the author wrote the first four Pete the Cat books. Groovy Joe is a mellow dog who gracefully shares his ice cream with three hungry dinosaurs, teaching the lesson that sharing is cool. It’s quirky and has been a long-time favorite in our house.
The Wonderful Things You Will Be by Emily Winfield Martin
This was a book we were given as a baby gift that has stayed in the stack of most beloved books in my boys’ room. This is undeniably a beautiful book with a sweet message about what parents see when they look at their children. I almost always tear up when I read this—it’s truly a book that captures how I feel about my boys. This is also my new go-to if I’m gifting books to new parents, along with a little something for mom by way of Jancee Dunn’s How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids.
It’s worth noting that while my toddler has a lot of opinions, my baby does not (yet). He’s happy to be read anything, but particularly happy when he can chew on a book. His favorite type of books are the Indestructibles line, such as Indestructibles: Baby Let’s Eat by Amy Pixton. We keep one in the diaper bag for adventures, one near his crib to entertain him when he’s contained, and one on the changing table to distract him while we’re changing his diaper. Not only can babies drool all over them without ruining the book, the books also make that satisfying crinkly sound that babies love so much.
You might also like:
- Best books of 2019 so far
- Editors' picks: Best books of the Month
- Celebrity picks
- All ears: The Amazon Book Review Podcast
- Book award winners
Sign up for the Amazon Book Review: Best books of the month * author interviews * the reading life * and more