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How and What to Read With Your Baby From Birth to One Year

Marianne is a mother from Scotland who is passionate about providing accurate information about breastfeeding and parenting.

It's never too early to get your baby to enjoy reading books.

It's never too early to get your baby to enjoy reading books.

Reading to Your Baby is Essential

Reading with your baby is a great way to bond with them. Books for babies are multipurpose and help your baby learn about texture, rhythm, language and life. They learn motor skills by turning the pages and they learn about sequences and stories.

Here are some suggestions of books to read with your baby that works well for babies under one (and beyond). Other areas in focus include the following:

  • Reading Tips
  • Black and white image books
  • Warm and fuzzy books
  • Texture books
  • Nursery rhyme books
  • Flap books

Reading Tips

Don't Stress

It's never too early to read to your baby. However, reading to your baby in the early days is also not something to stress about. It's not going to harm your baby's development if you don't read to them at two weeks old. Make sure you talk to your baby and you show them different things—for example by taking them for a walk (even a walk around your house is exciting for a new baby).

I didn't read to my baby for the first few weeks, because I was too exhausted trying to feed him and function. Once everything was more on track I found sharing books with my baby a relaxing way to spend time with him.


A lot of people make reading books part of a bedtime routine. This never really worked for me. Read to your baby at the time that works for you, whether at bedtime or not. If you are going out somewhere pack one (or two) books in your bag to entertain your baby as you go.

Now that my baby is one he pulls out his own books and brings them to me demanding I read them to him. (He starts crying if I don't drop whatever I am doing straightaway to read to him, and sometimes also throws the book at me—which I am trying to teach him not to do!)

They Are Taking in More Than You Realise

Young babies often have short attention spans. I used to sometimes wonder if it was worth reading to mine as after a few seconds of reading he gets distracted and moves away. He also often helps turn the pages very fast or shuts the book- missing out half the pages. However recently I realised he is taking in a lot of information, but it wasn't obvious at first. Recently (at about 13 months) he started following verbal instructions and we realised he understands a lot, even though he isn't speaking yet.

You Can 'Read' a Book in Different Ways

The way your baby interacts with books will change as they get older. Books can be teethers and toys as well as read.

Explore a book with your baby in the way they want to. If they want to turn the pages faster than you can read, or skip ahead—let them.

Point out different things in books. You can just talk about the pictures rather than read the words if you like.

Black and White Image Books

Newborn babies have limited vision and can only see high contrast. This is why a lot of books for babies have black and white images. At only a few weeks old babies will be fascinated by patterns. Go into any bookshop or type 'black and white baby book' into a search engine and lots will come up.

However, you can also improvise black and white images at this age. Show your baby pictures in a magazine, or art prints, or anything else that is high contrast—it doesn't need to be a baby book. You could even get a black marker and draw some pictures for them.

Warm and Fuzzy Books

I was lucky to be given the book Baby, I Love You produced by Unicef for free. This little poem is so beautiful and captures the feeling of early parenthood perfectly, and almost makes me cry. I'm not sure if you can buy it, but you can listen to a video of Ewan McGregor reading it on YouTube and read along with your baby.

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Share this with your baby and he will find it soothing and probably you will too . . .

Texture Books

Cloth Books

When babies get to about 4 months old they start putting anything they can into their mouths. This is an early way for them to explore objects including books they can chew. They are also just starting to learn about texture. Cloth books act as teethers and comforters as well as reading material. One of my baby's favourites at this stage was Pet Tails, it has lots of different dangly bits he could pull on and textures he could feel. It was also satisfying to chew! One time he even fell asleep holding on to it.

That's Not My . . .

The That's Not My . . . books are a classic series of books by Usbourne. Each book is based around a different animal (or sometimes an object like a vehicle).

My baby loves these books. It was so exciting watching him work out there there were different bits of the pictures he could feel with different textures.

As an adult I find reading these can be a little repetitive, but repetition is good for baby language development. Reading the same book over and over again and trying not to let the boredom show is part of being a parent...especially as your baby gets older and able to communicate when he wants you to read.

As well as the featured animal with texture, each page also features a mouse and other images (like flowers or a ladybird) and as baby gets older you can start talking about these with them, and play 'where's the mouse? My 15-month-old can (mostly) spot the mouse now, when I ask him.

We own a few of these. I recommend buying no more than four or five as there are many other exciting books. My favourite from this series is That's Not My Bee because I love bees. If you have a favourite animal, it's likely you'll find a 'that's not my' book for it. One of my friends with a 7 year old says That's Not My Dragon is still one of his favourites. We also made a point of reading That's Not My Reindeer at Christmas time.

Nursery Rhyme Books

Singing and reading nursery rhymes are a great way to spend time with your baby. I recommend getting a nice treasury book of nursery rhymes, especially if like me you had forgotten most nursery rhymes before having a baby. This is also a great gift to give someone for their baby. It's good for your baby to hear your voice.

If you want a reminder of the tunes that go with nursery rhymes some books also come with a CD or link to songs online. You can also find the tunes online. I find it a The BBC Baby Club videos are great. 'Wind the Bobbin Up' is one of my favourites As your baby gets older (from about 5 months or so) do the actions with your baby.

It is also good to buy books with nursery rhymes you can sing along to. For example we have Sing and Sign Along: Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. My baby loves when I sing the song and turn the pages at the same time. He likes seeing the drawings of other babies too. This also has signs for the song you can teach your baby to make.

When to Read to Your Baby

Read whenever you feel like it. In the morning, on a trip to the park, at bedtime.

Flap Books

A lot of baby books have flaps, that your baby can look under. As well as being fun for your baby, this is also educational. Like playing peek-a-boo it helps teach them that things are still there, even when they can't see them!

Felt Flaps

As a first baby flap book I recommend the baby board books illustrated by Ingela P Arrhenius such as Where's Mr Owl?.

The reason is that these books have an ingenious feature; flaps are made from felt! Felt flaps are great because its easier for younger babies (about 6 months or so) to grab the flaps. The book also has great illustrations.

As your baby gets older reading books with animals is extra fun, because you can make animal noises for baby—this makes my baby giggle.

Other Great Baby Books With Flaps

My baby's favourite book since he has been 11 months is Dear Zoo. If I could only buy one book for my baby I would get this one. This book has stood the test of time as it was first published back in 1982.

It's a simple flap book with flaps showing different animals sent by the zoo as a pet. My baby loves it when I make the animal noises for a lion like 'roaaarrrrrrr' or stretch upwards to explain that the giraffe is too tall. You might want to do a little research so you can make the appropriate noise for a camel, as the camel is 'too grumpy' mine tends to just go 'hump hump hump'.

It is very rewarding seeing my baby laugh, and also watching him develop the understanding to look under the flaps.

Other options that are good choices are:

  • The Spot the Dog series of board books about a puppy called Spot—this is a classic series I remember from when I was small.
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar Board Book by Eric Carle
  • A Boot, a Hat, Now Who is That by Sally Symes
  • The Tales from Acorn Wood Series by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler.

My baby only really started to interact properly with most of these after he was a year old, so don't feel bad if yours doesn't seem that interested yet. Keep reading and one day they will suddenly show how much they understand.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Anna Sherret


Liz Westwood from UK on June 29, 2020:

This is a very helpful article. It is not just a reading guide for parents and carers, but also offers gift suggestions for friends and relatives. Some of these books are familiar to me.

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