Need new reading material for your favorite 2-year-old? Check out our lineup of today's top 11 toddler-age books that are bookshelf worthy. We extensively researched the market (which is no easy feat considering the vastness of the world of children's books) before purchasing well-loved and promising contenders for hands-on testing to determine the best. After lots of reading (and re-reading) with toddlers, we evaluated each contender for book format and appealing features that catch toddlers' attention. Our expert recommendations can help guide you and your little one to the perfect book.
The Pout-Pout Fish is a fishy tale about Mr. Fish, who feels unhappy, spreading the "dreary-wearies all over the place." Other sea creatures notice Mr. Fish's mood and advise on how to turn his frown upside down. Will Mr. Fish cheer up? Swim from page to page to find out. The rhyming text is creative, playful, and catchy, making it a story you will not mind reading over and over again.
Compared to some books in our lineup, this story is slightly longer (although not the longest), but it's a quick read, thanks to its repetitive, rhyming text that has a jolly cadence. You may even notice your toddler memorizing and reciting along. We think this book is a keeper if you appreciate fun underwater life illustrations and melodic rhyming.
There's a good reason why Goodnight Moon has been a classic bedtime story since 1947 when it was first published. This sleepy tale (in a good way!) is about a little bunny tucked snuggly in bed, and they say "goodnight" to objects around the room or seen from the window. By the end, the lights are out, the moon is high, and the little bunny says, "Goodnight stars. Goodnight air. Goodnight noises everywhere." This story is as sweet as a lullaby, and while reading aloud, we notice our voices growing softer and softer until the last page. The book's illustrations alternate between bold and monochrome colors, and some little ones enjoy identifying objects around the room.
The book's color palette is not as diverse as other options in our review, but we don't think this is a deal-breaker. We highly recommend this classic bedtime book to friends and family. For extra fun, see if you can spot the little mouse hiding around the green room.
The First 100 Box Set is excellent for early learners and talkers. Whether your baby enjoys looking at the pictures or your budding toddler is discovering and practicing vocabulary, books with a single word and images, like this book set, can help develop early literacy skills. Honestly, we think this option is a hit. The books are durable and may endure lots of page-turning, plus the colorful, eye-catching photos of other babies and familiar objects will catch your child's attention.
The books do not offer a storyline, but your child will benefit from listening to vocabulary and repetition. We think this set is a bookshelf must-have if you seek books to build and expand your child's vocabulary and language development. Despite the upfront cost, it is budget-friendly, as the set includes three books.
Press Here is a brilliant and unique interactive book that provides screen-free entertainment. Follow the instructions and let the magic begin as dots move, change colors, multiply, and grow. Will the yellow dot return to normal? Explore the pages to find out.
A tot may need some assistance here and there, but it won't take long before mastery. We think this fun book will bring giggles and smiles to children and parents, and we believe it is a must-have book for your toddler's reading list.
The lift-the-flap feature of Where's Spot? makes this book a baby's favorite. Indeed, babies love to open and close the flaps, an activity that doesn't get old, and they may spend lots of time reading this book. The warm pictures and simple text make this book perfect for early readers. So, see if you can find Spot, a mischievous but adorable puppy! If you seek more lift-the-flap books, consider Where is Baby's Belly Button?
The flaps may tear over time, but we think this possibility is worth the gamble, given the benefits of babies playing and exploring books. We believe this book is perfect for your baby's first lift-the-flap book, and your child will be excited as they discover the surprises beneath.
The Good Night, Little Blue Truck is not only fun to read aloud (thanks to its rollicking rhymes), but it also shares an adorable tale of friendship and helping others, especially during a storm that is creating some racket. We are sure this book with whimsical illustrations will leave you and your child smiling. If your child is a fan of Little Blue Truck, there are plenty more books to read, like Little Blue Truck Leads the Way, available in hardcover and board book formats.
We don't see any significant drawbacks with this book. It is a hardcover book, which can be more fragile than board books. Besides that, if you're looking for a popular book to add to your child's bedtime routine, we suggest giving this one a go.
Blue Hat, Green Hat may be simple, but it is silly, and toddlers delight in yelling, "oops!" Every animal tries on clothing, each wearing a different color; however, the last animal can't get it right and messes up the pattern. This adorable story is written and illustrated by Sandra Boynton, and the illustrations are charming and simplistic; plus, they teach about colors and clothing in a silly way. We think Sandra Boynton is a talented children's literature author and illustrator, especially for this age group. If you agree, you may also like Moo, Baa, La La La! and Doggies.
The book is a quick read, but the story will keep you and your child smiling. If you seek humor, this amusing book is perfect for younger audiences, and it is a book we often read with our little ones during storytime.
Giraffes Can't Dance is a tale about individuality, confidence, and overcoming challenges. At the jungle dance, the warthog's waltz, the rhinos rock 'n' rolled, the lions tango, but Gerald, the giraffe, is clumsy and can't seem to dance. Will Gerald find his rhythm? This book offers humor, rhyming lines with a catchy cadence, and colorful illustrations full of details.
The story is longer than other books in our review, making it more fitting for children with a longer attention span, such as older toddlers or preschoolers. Besides, it's an endearing story that we think you will love.
Format: Board Book | Authors: Janet and Allan Ahlberg
REASONS TO BUY
An excellent introduction to "I spy"
REASONS TO AVOID
British book, which may influence rhyming
Each Peach Pear Plum is a pure delight and a British classic. Written in an "I spy" format, you must find beloved fairy tale characters hiding in the illustrations, like Tom Thumb, Mother Hubbard, Cinderella, and more. We think this book is a must-have with rhyming words and Mother Goose nostalgia for caregivers. Also, the hide-and-seek concept is fabulous and encourages interaction.
Keep in mind that the author is British, and to rhyme, you may need to stab at a British accent for a word or two. Who knows, it may make you giggle. We recommend this book to all ages and believe it is undoubtedly bookshelf worthy.
The Mitten is a Ukrainian folktale retold and illustrated by Jan Brett. The story unfolds as a little boy named Nicki accidentally drops one of his white mittens in the snow. Curious animals of all sizes come to check out the mitten, but will Nicki find his mitten again? The beautiful illustrations overflow with details, and the reader can see Nicki on each page's borders, walking around the woods, unaware of what is going on.
This book may not be your top pick if you appreciate stories with rhyming words. But, the story is a delight to read. We recommend this book to children who will enjoy a classic folktale.
The Wide-Mouthed Frog is curious about what the other creatures like to eat until he meets the alligator… "splash!" The pop-up illustrations are large and adorable for any age, plus the educational lesson of learning what other animals eat is a perk.
Unfortunately, this book is short, and we wish the frog would meet more characters. We also understand pop-up books provide movement and excitement but are fragile, and children are not always gentle creatures. However, don't let these flaws stop you. We believe reading and using a book is more important than allowing it to collect dust on a bookshelf. We recommend this funny pop-up book to babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. Plus, have a stab at giving each character a different voice.
Tip for Wiggly Toddlers
If your wiggly toddler has a short attention span and struggles to sit still for storytime, don't fret. There's no need to finish each book. Instead, frequently read quick and simple books before building up to longer stories.
Why You Should Trust Us
BabyGearLab has tested various child-related gear over the past decade, including the best car seats, strollers for every occasion, products for your baby's nursery, and more. We develop extensive testing methods for each gear category we test to determine the best. We believe the combination of our experiences and knowledge has made us experts.
Leading our review is Molly Bradac, Senior Review Editor, Nanny, and previously an Early Learning Specialist for AmeriCorps, where she created and promoted school readiness within preschool and kindergarten classrooms. It is safe to say that Molly has read countless children's books to babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age children over the years. She can effortlessly recommend top-notch books that are enjoyable for various audiences. Since there's a good chance your child will ask you to read a favorite book repeatedly, it's essential to ensure it's a good one.
BabyGearLab purchased each book for our review and completed hands-on testing (lots and lots of reading and page-turning) to evaluate toddler enjoyment.
Analysis and Test Results
To rank our lineup, we read each book to multiple toddler testers. We assessed each one for exciting features and stories that may appeal to younger audiences, along with book format, so you can consider what works best for your needs.
Make reading a positive experience for your child by building a library with various books and features. Since babies explore books using their senses, incorporate books with sensory stimulation. Where's Spot? with liftable flaps is an exciting feature for younger audiences as it helps keep little hands busy. Honestly, if your baby sits and plays with the flaps over and over again, which may not seem like reading, this activity is fun for them and encourages reading. Also, babies like pictures of people and everyday objects, especially those with bright and bold colors, and we think the First 100 Box Set is perfect for pre-literate babies. The only book in our lineup that offers pop-up illustrations is The Wide-Mouthed Frog, which can be thrilling for little ones to experience. Books in our lineup that offer rhythmic lines include The Pout-Pout Fish, Good Night, Little Blue Truck, and Giraffes Can't Dance. If your child wants to read these books on repeat, have no fret, they are fun for parents to read.
If you seek humor (a big selling point for babies and toddlers), we suggest Blue Hat, Green Hat. Also, for toddlers who enjoy "I-spy" books, the Each Peach Pear Plum is an excellent match for this age group. It offers illustrations of beloved characters, with some playing a game of hide-and-seek - see if you can find them. The most interactive book in our lineup is Press Here, hands-down a fun book as it requires your tot to follow a sequence of requests.
Regardless of which books you choose, we recommend offering a diverse selection of books with exciting features. Also, if your child is curious about a topic or a particular book, offer them similar books to keep them engaged. In our opinion, nurturing a love of books and reading starts early.
Children's books come in many formats, including board books, hardcover books, and paperback books. Since younger children don't always handle items with care, we suggest offering durable and sturdy books like board books. These books can be slightly smaller (more suitable for little hands to hold) and have thicker pages that will not easily bend or damage. Once your little one develops fine motor coordination, you'll notice that they can more easily turn the pages of these books themselves. Be warned that your little one may mouth, teeth, and drool on their board books, and you may notice some wear and tear. But, we believe that all well-loved books should show use.
Hardcover books combine a hardcover with standard pages that can rip or crease in younger children's hands, making them more delicate than board books. The same is true for paperback books. We think this is a factor to consider when purchasing a book, but don't let it be a deal-breaker. In our review, all of the books are board books, except for The Wide-Mouthed Frog, The Mitten, and Good Night, Little Blue Truck.
Benefits of Reading
The human brain is truly amazing as it develops at an extraordinary rate during the beginning years of a child's life; in fact, science shows that 80 percent of a child's brain forms during their first three years. Reading to your child significantly impacts their development within this window of time. It creates neural connections, and those brain connections strengthen, link, and build over time, setting the stage for everyday life tasks, such as thinking, communicating, learning, etc., creating success in school and beyond. Plus, the benefits don't stop there. Reading is a bonding experience between caregiver and child, providing a safe and nurturing environment that promotes a love of reading. So, don't hesitate or feel silly while reading, singing, and playing with your child, even if they're a little newborn. Interactions during these early years are rich in learning and can make all the difference.
A Note on Repetition
Read, sing, and play over and over again. Repetition is an essential part of your child's learning journey.
With many children's books to choose from, we believe our review includes top-notch books that will help build your child's book collection. Children who enjoy shared book reading often become lifelong readers, so snuggle up with your little one and read away.
BabyGearLab was founded by a Pediatrician Mom with a mission to provide a reliable, independent, source of information to new parents. Our experts have tested thousands of baby and kids products to share key performance, health, and safety findings. We spend tens of thousands of dollars crash testing car seats to inform our ratings. And, we combine our review work with gobs of expert parenting advice. To assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing by people who care.