Cassidy is an author, a scientist, and a new father facing the world of parenting head-on with his lovely wife.
Every parent wants their kids to read, but it can be hard to find books your toddler will enjoy. Some books they will insist you read to them over and over again, while others will be tossed aside immediately for no apparent reason. Here are the books my toddler loves and hopefully yours will as well.
1. Llama Llama Red Pajama
Far and away my toddler's favorite book is Llama Llama Red Pajama by Ann Dewdney. This is a story about a young llama named Llama who is put to bed by his mama. He wants a drink and calls down to his mama, but she takes a while to come upstairs. The longer she takes, the more worried Llama becomes. He works himself up into an anxious frenzy, and his mama rushes to his side to comfort him. Then he finally falls asleep.
The story is very relatable as a parent of a young child, and my child loves it. He likes the pictures and the rhyming. The images are very animated and colorful, and the text expresses a lot of feeling. My toddler especially likes when I act out parts of the story and make it interactive. As soon as I finish reading it to him, he instantly gives it back to me and demands that I read it again, and then again, and then one more time just for good measure.
As a board book, it is fairly substantial, which can be good for a child who likes to pick up and carry objects. It was good practice for my child to learn how to turn pages. Now he loves to help me turn the page as I read, although half the time he will flip too far or flip backwards instead of forwards. When this happens, I just go with it. Allowing my child's interactions with the book to change the story slightly helps him to connect with the story better and continue to get great enjoyment out of it. This is always the first book he brings me to read, and recently he has begun to climb up into my lap to enjoy the story. My son has liked this book the most ever since we first got it when he was just a few months old, and he continues to love the book now that he is a toddler.
I would highly recommend it.
2. Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb
Another early favorite for my toddler was Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb by Al Perkins and illustrated by Eric Gurney. This is a short, fun board book about monkeys playing music—mostly drums. It starts with one monkey playing a drum with his thumb and crescendos into millions of monkeys banging on drums.
It's a very interactive story. Depending on your child's age, they will love to bang along with the story or watch you drum with your fingers and hands as you read. This sort of interaction can help your child to be engaged with the book and keep their attention. Most kids love to make noise, and this is a great chance to make noise in a productive and controlled way. It can help your child to start to appreciate music and see that they can be involved in making their own music.
The artwork is cute and fun for kids. The monkeys look goofy and the story is even moreso. The text is repetitive and amusing and easily gets stuck in your head, which is probably why kids like it. You can read it plainly or sing it if you prefer. It lends itself to a singsongy delivery.
The board book is small and easy for a toddler to carry around. That also means it's easy to take with you on the go. It doesn't take up much space, and it's light. It's a great book for your toddler to practice picking things up and turning pages in addition to following along with the story by drumming with their hands, their fingers, and their thumbs.
3. This Little Piggy
This Little Piggy by Jarvis is another great book. A play on the rhyme, the book starts with this little piggy went to market and then moves forward into creative and original territory while counting from 1 to 10. The piggies get into all sorts of fun covering everything from crafts, exercise, eating, and bathing. The storyline is very simple but the artwork opens up all kinds of opportunities for improvisation. You can tell your toddler about all of the foods that the piggy gets at the supermarket, discuss the piggies actions and appearances, and talk about the side characters that make an appearance, including a gorilla, giraffe, and elephant among others. Each reread can be different experience for your child, a chance to learn new things.
One fun character in the story is a bird that appears throughout. The bird makes little comments about the story and reacts to what the piggies are doing. Your child can identify with the bird and either take cues from its reaction or just agree with its sentiment. It can be nice to feel like you have a fellow audience member watching the piggies.
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The artwork is relatively simple but functional. Each piggy is distinctive, and you can tell them apart by either skin color or clothing if you pay close attention. Keeping track of each piggy can be one fun activity for your learning toddler. The piggies' facial expressions are pretty dynamic, varying wildly depending on the scene. They can be pretty funny at times.
Another nice aspect of the book is that it ends with a summary of both the numbers 1 through 10 and the activities the piggies were doing. This allows you to count along with your toddler and help them connect the story with the numbers.
4. Skippyjon Jones: 1-2-3
Another counting book my toddler enjoys is Skippyjon Jones: 1-2-3 by Judy Schachner. There is no real storyline in this book. It is about a cat named Skippyjon Jones and the numbers 1 through 10 of various objects. Though there doesn't appear to be any rhyme or reason for why different objects are picked to represent each number, the images tend to be amusing.
I think the main reason that my toddler likes the book is that he relates to some of the images. For instance, one of them shows Skippyjon Jones causing mischief with a terracotta flower pot. My son has personally broken three terracotta pots, so he has a lot of experience causing the same kind of trouble. He likes that the kitty is a little bit like him. Another image he particularly enjoys showed four different dinosaur toys. One of them is a small, green stegosaurus. We actually have the exact same dinosaur toy that was used as a model for the book image. My toddler was very excited when I showed him how the toy and the image were the same and he could make the connection between them. These sorts of connections can be very good for children because it helps them to relate images to real-life objects.
Another good feature of the book is a list of the numbers at the end in both English and Spanish. It's always nice to expose your child to other languages and cultures. However, in this vein, there is one issue that I have with this book. After reaching 10, the book ends with a line in mangled fake Spanish for no apparent reason. While my son enjoys how it sounds, it doesn't really help to teach him language skills and could cause issues if he comes to believe that these are real words. I would have preferred the line to either be in actual Spanish or just in English like the rest of the book.
5. My First ABC Lift-The-Flap Board Book
My First ABC Lift-The-Flap Board Book by Diane Thistlethwaite is a fun book for toddlers. For every letter of the alphabet, it displays multiple labeled pictures of things that begin with that letter along with flaps that kids can lift to reveal other related pictures or parts of pictures that also begin with the same letter.
This book is a ton of fun for toddlers because it is so interactive. There are 45 flaps that they can lift, allowing for lots of moments of discovery. It can keep your child busy for much longer than an ordinary board book with a story because they get to physically interact with it. Even if you're too busy to read the words every single time, your child can still look at all of the images and play with the flaps. Reading the labels aloud to them also helps to build their vocabulary and to introduce them to the alphabet.
The book is a bit large and unwieldy for a toddler to hold, but that's part of its charm. My son delights in the challenge of carrying it around and giving it to me to read to him. He points to different images or pulls open flaps, and I read him the corresponding labels. It's sort of like a game. Often if he is having a temper tantrum, I can show him this book, and it manages to calm him down because he is distracted by all of the different pictures. The images are high quality and there is a big variety of different words represented. It can be amusing to see which images your child especially seems to enjoy. There is also a number version and an animal version, which my toddler also likes quite a bit.
6. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr and John Archambault, illustrated by Lois Ehlert, is a great book for little kids. The overall goal of the book is to expose kids to the alphabet. It runs through the alphabet twice, personifying the letters as they climb up a coconut tree and then fall off.
There's not much to the story. Each letter climbs up the coconut tree in sequence, then they all fall off and clamber out of the pile of letters. Don't worry about any letter injuries, though. Once they're all back on their feet, they're ready to climb up the coconut tree once more.
Toddlers love listening to this book. It's written in a rhythmic way that makes you read it like a song or chant. It has its own beat, and kids sometimes like to bop along to that beat.
I think one of the best things about this story is the way that it personifies the letters. This allows kids to relate to the letters, seeing them as more than just a first letter of a word (A is for Apple, etc.). For instance, "a" is a bit mischievous, and sometimes letters get out of breath trying to climb up the tree. To make it even more relatable, it focuses on lowercase letters, which are all the children of their uppercase counterparts.
The artwork is very two dimensional, which is fine since the focus is the letters. What is nice is that the letters are drawn as they are described in the story. When the letters get hurt from falling off the tree, they end up twisted or bandaged or with black eyes. Again, this helps to personify the letters to make them more relatable. Hopefully your child will soon be able to identify each letter as you read.