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Best Books to Read Before Your Baby’s First Birthday

From classic board and picture books to lovable lift-the-flap options, these simple reads are sure to win itty-bitty bookworms over.
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Updated
November 30, 2022
Baby Books Hero
Image: Amazon, Target | The Bump
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Reading is an activity baby has been a part of since the days you sat skimming all those pregnancy books. But now that your little one is here, you can bring them into your book club and switch up the storytelling syllabus. So what should you stock baby’s bookshelf with to ensure your reading journey starts off on the right foot? Truthfully, anything you can read aloud will engage baby, but particular types of books are better at jump-starting early language development and fostering fine-motor, social and problem-solving skills. We’ve put together a list of the best books for babies to get your bookworms squirming (in the best way!) from a few weeks into their lives right on through to their first birthday and beyond.

Why You Should Read to Baby

According to experts, you don’t have to feel pressured to read to a baby from sun up to sun down. A little daily reading is all it takes to foster an early love of storytelling, learning and language. That’s not all though. Book time can introduce routine and encourage bonding. So when should you start reading to baby? No time like the present. It’s never too early to bring out the books.

What to Look for in the Best Baby Books

Anything that can be narrated—particularly in an enthusiastic and energetic manner—is sure to be a hit with baby. That said, the best baby books are ones that are easy-to-follow, feature bold and bright illustrations and use language with a natural, rhythmic cadence. Thankfully, the majority of board and picture books follow this formula.

Still wondering what kinds of books are best for baby? Start with durable board books. These types of picture books are your best option when reading to a baby under the age of one; they fit especially well in tiny hands, and can be tossed and thrown around without getting too roughed-up. They’re also safer for an endlessly exploring baby who bangs, rips and chews everything in their path. Sure, by the end of toddlerhood, you might be left with dozens of board books with gnawed corners, tabs and flaps ripped off and pages scribbled on, but at least the stories (and memories of reading time!) will still be intact. Here, a few other things to look for in the best baby books for new parents to read with their little ones:

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Books that introduce concepts. Every day is a new adventure for baby, and they’re learning about the people, places and things that make up the world around them. From shapes and colors to letters and numbers, fruits and vegetables to animals and the places they live (farm, ocean, desert, rainforest, etc.), these are the basic, simple ideas highlighted in a concept book. You might also find that baby enjoys concept books that touch on things they see siblings or you and your partner doing every day, like waking up, brushing your teeth, eating breakfast, going for a walk, taking a bath and falling asleep.

Feature sensory stimuli. Large and colorful illustrations (and even mirrors!) are like catnip for babies. But sight isn’t the only sense you can activate with the best baby books. Touch-and-feel books written for babies one and under feature a variety of textures—like an animal’s soft fur or a dinosaur’s bumpy scales—to explore. Lift-the-flap formats, in turn, let babies hone their tactile senses. Not only will they learn how to discern what is just a picture and what is actually a 3D flap they can interact with, they’ll also begin to memorize and anticipate what’s underneath a flap. You’ll actually start to see the wheels turning in their head when they flip to the next page of the book and get excited because they know exactly what kind of animal or bug or plane, train or automobile is hiding behind the flap.

Use rhymes and repetition. Granted, once baby discovers a book they love, you’ll be reading it morning, noon and night (and then dreaming about it after you go to bed). We have a feeling their fave will feature words that rhyme or have a bouncy cadence that you’re likely to end up singing while you read. It’s the catchy tempo that really mesmerizes babies and keeps them interested. And as they continue to learn more about language and the sounds and similarities words make, they’ll be flexing early literacy skills while enjoying the best baby books.

Best Books for Babies 0 to 12 Months Old

Chances are, you’re already on your way to building an impressive nursery shelf filled with the best books for babies—especially if you or the hosts of your baby shower requested guests bring a book for baby in lieu of a card. But if your collection could use more classics—or your library lacks in the lift-the-flaps department—then you’ll definitely want to take a peek at our picks of the best baby books for the first year with your little love.

Pajama Time!

Ask any new parent, and they’ll tell you that the best book for baby is one that encourages sleep. And iIf bedtime ends up being baby’s favorite time to read, then they’ll love this pre-slumber story by famed children’s author, Sandra Boynton. The sing-songy story follows a group of animals who start getting ready for bed when the sun goes down—and, let’s just say, they have a great time. Not only will this get your little honey excited to put on their PJs and hit the hay every night, it’ll also help them start recognizing their routine.
Age range: One+

Wild Animals

Wild Animals
Image: Amazon

This is one of the best board books for babies. This 12-page concept book is perfect for any baby who is wild about animals—and possibly even wild about chomping whatever falls into their paws. Each page spotlights a different animal (tiger cub, crocodile and koala, to name a few); the sounds they make and a tactile element that simulates their coat, their scales and the tree branches they climb. If baby is hopping around and shouting “boing, boing!” like a kangaroo by month number two, then you’ve absolutely done things right.
Age range: 0 to 3 years old

Love You Head to Toe

Another one of the best board books for babies is this pick by Ashley Barron. It compares everything baby does in a day—from waking up and stretching to splashing around in the pool with Mom—to animals doing the same thing. Your little kitten will be smitten seeing another little one like them dazzling the pages. (A different baby is showcased on every page as a clear nod to diversity and its importance). And if you want to “quiz” baby throughout the day, you’ll be shocked at just how much they can recall. Fill those cheeks, you cute chipmunk, you!
Age range: 0 to 3 years old

Where's Spot?

Mama is looking for Spot, and she needs baby’s help to find him! If you only have room for one lift-the-flap book on your bookshelf (and, let’s be honest, who can have just one?!), let this iconic book, by Eric Hill, be it. Sure, they’ll have fun playing detective, but equally exciting is the language-enriching question-and-answer format they’ll love participating in.
Age range: 0 to 2 years old

Alphaprints: Colors

There’s truly no time like the present to introduce baby to the colors that make up the world they live in. This incredibly creative book shows colored animals frolicking in their colored worlds—an orange ape swinging through an orange jungle, a yellow snake slithering through a yellow desert—while your baby pets their textured bodies (pieced together by raised and embossed fingerprints). Once they get a little older, you can also play an elementary game of “look and find” to have your babe spot everyday objects in each of the animal’s realms. Rulers for hanging vines. Strawberries for owl eyes. Pencils for spider legs.
Age range: One+

Tummy Time: Love Is All Around

Tummy Time: Love Is All Around
Image: Amazon

Reading sessions don’t always have to start and end with you sitting in a recliner, baby on your lap. In fact, building reading time into other daily activities—especially ones that aren’t usually such a hit—can be wildly successful. With a two-in-one fold-out book like this one, you can pull double duty with tummy time. Lay baby on their stomach, and let them marvel at two accordion-style wordless books. One side has full-color illustrations of love and affection, the other takes on love and family time in high-contrast black and white (great for strengthening baby’s developing eyes). Later, when your titan of tummy time turns into a toddler, you can encourage them to make up their own stories with the illustrations as inspiration.
Age range: 0 to 4

Indestructibles: The Itsy Bitsy Spider

This rhyme stands the test of time, but so will this rip- and water-proof book. Maddie Frost’s friendly and colorful rendition of the classic nursery rhyme introduces baby to basic rhythm and the more metaphorical rewards of perseverance. But the even bigger win? It’s designed to stand up to the way babies “read,” with their hands and mouths—so it can be chewed on, drooled on and then thrown into the wash without getting wrecked!
Age range: 0+

The Pout-Pout Fish

If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading Deborah Diesen’s Pout-Pout Fish with baby, it’s time to dive in and never look back. Teeming with bright underwater motifs and told in a playful rhyme fashion, the fishy fable teaches baby that life is full of color and wonder, and hardly deserving of a forever frown. And with dozens of follow-up adventures for Mr. Fish and his swimming squad (festive seasonal editions, for starters), neither you nor baby will ever have to deal with the dreary wearies IRL.
Age range: One+

First 101 Words: A Highlights Hide-and-Seek Book with Flaps

Baby has lots to learn about the world, but if they can use this amazing concept book as a springboard, they’ll be navigating life in no time. Filled with 101 different words and clearly labeled illustrations of animals, foods, modes of transportation and toys, the book is a fantastic early language tool. Baby may not be able to articulate the words “avocado,” “tractor,” “flowers” or “eyes,” but there’s a good chance that after only a few repetitions of the book, they’ll be able to point to what you’re asking them about and possibly even touch them (eyes, nose, ear or hands) on their own bodies. Plus, with a wipe-clean surface, any rogue spills, splatters or spit-up dribbles are total non-issues.
Age range: 0 to 2

Hello, My World: A High-Contrast Board Book

The best books for babies are highly visual. Newborns don’t see things (color, people and objects in fine focus) the way older babies and toddlers do. But from birth, they can pick up on shapes and patterns in high-contrast black and white. So if you need something to break up the tedious first few weeks of life for your little one, take this sturdy board book for a spin. With simple text (two to three words on a page) and bold, exaggerated art, baby will get an introduction to everyday things like clouds, flowers and birds, and how we say “hello” in a sampling of languages.
Age range: 0+

Color Me: Who’s in the Pond?

A bubble bath and bestselling book in-hand sounds like a fantastic Monday night for Mom or Dad, but what about baby? We’d venture to say that tub-time with a bath book that goes from black and white to color as soon as it’s dipped in the water is exactly what the pediatrician ordered. Baby will get to know the animals hanging out in the pond and get a lesson in cause and effect: If I put this page under water, it’ll change color. Yay! Let’s do it again.
Age range: 0+

This Little Piggy: Touch and Trace Nursery Rhymes

This Little Piggy: Touch and Trace Nursery Rhymes
Image: Amazon

Nursery rhymes are always a good choice for babies, but when you sprinkle in an interactive element, like traceable tracks, the stories come to life even more. As you read the rhymes aloud, take baby’s finger and guide it through the divots that correspond with “This Little Piggy,” “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” “Little Miss Muffet” and more. It may not seem like it, but this book, by Emily Bannister, can help baby develop the mechanics they’ll need to start writing one day.
Age range: 0 to 2

I Love You Like No Otter

I Love You Like No Otter
Image: Amazon

Here at The Bump, we’re always pro-pun, and we can’t imagine we’re the only ones. If you’re a fan of sweet word play, then you’re bound to fall head over heels for this USA Today bestseller by Rose Rossner. One of the best board books for babies, it’s easy for your little one to grasp and cuddle, as they learn about animal and insect families and the un-bee-lievable amount of love moms and dads have for their offspring. The illustrations are perfect, and with a limited amount of words, it truly sets the stage for dialogic reading between you and the cub you love beary much.
Age range: 0 to 2

Mirror & Me Moo Am I?

Mirror & Me Moo Am I?
Image: Amazon

While baby is probably a little too young to understand and appreciate personalized baby books, they can put themselves into books with interactive, mirrored pages. This farm-set storybook leverages mirrors in an attempt to inspire baby’s imagination, curiosity and self-awareness. You’ll read the blurb describing the animal or familiar farm face with a handful of clues, and then ask baby “Who am I?” Will they be a cow? A horse? A scarecrow? They might not be able to define who they are, but they’ll still get a kick out of seeing themselves in farm-animal form.
Age range: 6 months+

Seek and Find: Animals

Seek and Find: Animals
Image: Amazon
Buying Options
Amazon | $9.99

Where’s Waldo books won’t be on their radar for a few more years, but that doesn’t mean you can’t explore simpler iterations of the search-and-find format. This beautifully illustrated board book opens up to a setting (like the ocean or forest), and then encourages readers to find the animals that live there. Parents, you can read the animal names that appear in circles on the top of the page and ask baby to point to the animal that matches. High-fives for every creature they come across!
Age range: One+

Pat the Zoo (Pat the Bunny)

In real life, petting a panda bear or messing up a macaw’s feathers at the zoo would never be permitted, but in this popular off-shoot of Dorothy Kunhardt’s Pat the Bunny, it’s actually encouraged. Baby can touch a sea lion’s frisky whiskers and feel a frog’s sticky tongue.
Age range: 0 to 3

If Animals Kissed Good Night

Ending the day with a goodnight kiss from baby is #goals for every parent. In this delightful story by Ann Whitford Paul, a mom comforts her daughter before she drifts off to sleep, asking her to imagine what animals do when they settle in for the night. A sloth and her cub would smooch slowly, starting when the sun went down, and a mama python and her hatchling would twist and turn around each other, kissing as they hiss. The book may not be bold with teaching moments, but it definitely promotes bonding when the reading is shared. The first time baby wraps their arms around you and kisses you for what seems like forever, you’ll know they’ve learned something.
Age range: 0 to 3

We Say Hello (A Lift and Learn Language Book)

Hearing words out loud is all baby needs to level up their language acquisition, so imagine what you can do for them by saying “hello” in seven different languages. In this vibrant and culturally aware board book, a little boy asks you to come along with him as he says “hello” to all of his friends at the park. Using an innovative design, author Salina Yoon invites readers to lift a flap and uncover a speech bubble with the special word (hello) translated in every language the boy and his friends speak: English, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, Hindi, Arabic, French and Tagalog. And once baby has “hello” under their belt, you can move onto Yoon’s companion book, We Say Good Night.
Age range: 0 to 3

Lovevery Colorful Animals Wooden Book

Lovevery Colorful Animals Wooden Book
Image: Target
Buying Options
Target | $12.99

While most of the best books for babies have cardboard or thick paperboard construction, there certainly are other books with the heft needed to keep them safe in the clutches of little hands. This sustainably crafted wooden picture book from Lovevery (with its water-based, non-toxic finishes and yarn-threaded pages) is a sense-engaging and language-enriching winner. Just imagine the smile on baby’s face as they touch and inspect each beautifully hand-painted animal. Plus, the minimalist Montessori-style aesthetic is one you’ll be happy to have on your coffee table.
Age range: 0 to 6 months

Don’t Tickle the Bear!

Babies are notorious for hearing “no” and doing things anyway. But with this sweet touch and feel board book by Sam Taplin, we kind of hope they tickle the bear and all of his buddies. The four soft touchy-feely patches make silly sounds when baby presses, pokes or strokes them—clueing them into cause-and-effect processes. They’ll think it’s so funny, they’ll want you to try too!
Age range: 0 to 3

Opposites with Frank Lloyd Wright

We love Mudpuppy’s version of opposites using Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous and dynamic works to highlight the differences between round and pointy, inside and outside, hard and soft, day and night and more. A coffee table book, but make it baby POV.
Age range: 0 to 5

Kindness Makes Us Strong

Raising kind humans is one of the biggest priorities we have as parents. Beyond hoping our kids will model our own altruistic actions and benevolent behavior, we can use books with related themes to reinforce the “right” way to do things and connect with family and friends. Kindness is… saying hello. Kindness is… being patient. Kindness is…helping. Kindness is… trading treats. The big, durable pages and colorful illustrations in this Sophie Beer book make it a wonderful choice for little learners with the biggest hearts.
Age range: One+

Taco Tuesday Finger Puppet Board Book

If you and your fam are big fans of Taco Tuesday, baby is sure to eat this fun finger puppet book all up! Similar to the Turkey in Disguise theme that you may have seen play out in preschool classrooms, this book shines a light on a happy little taco trying his darndest to make you change your mind about what’s on the menu for dinner. With a rhythmic cadence, thick and sturdy pages, bold and bright artwork and a finger puppet built right into the book, holy [guaca]mole, this bite-sized board book from Cottage Door Press is a real treat! Serving interactive play, hand-eye coordination and language development for days.
Age range: 6 months+

Babies Around the World Dancing

Dancing is something that brings joy, happiness and delight to everyone—no matter where they live, what they like to wear, who they love, what language they speak, etc. From Ireland to India, South Africa to China, friendly babies from faraway places welcome you and your little one into their homes with lots of rhythm and uplifting dance moves in this lovely book by Tamara Barker.
Age range: 0 to 4

You Are My Cupcake

The best baby books for new parents to read to their kiddos are sweet, fun and full of charm. If you haven’t yet come up with a favorite term of endearment for your delicious little morsel, then you might want to (taste)-test-drive the adorable nicknames in this adorable board book by Joyce Wan. Not only will your babe love getting kisses and snuggles as you call them “cutie pie” and “sweet pea,” they’ll also have a blast touching the glitter-topped embossed pages.
Age range: One+

Grab Your Pillow, Armadillo

The best baby books for the first year (and beyond!) help to establish routine through whimsical words. Getting your little one to embrace sleep is tough work—so a book that can make getting shuteye seem fun earns a thumbs-up from all of us exhausted parents. This impossibly cute rhyming board book, by Haily Meyers, lets baby lift flaps to see which sleepy animal needs to get to bed. Phrases like “rest snug, lady bug,” and “hop in bed hammerhead” will help your little one learn new sounds and animal names, all while they mellow out for lights out.
Age range: 0 to 3

Friendly Fire Truck

Next up on our list of the best baby books is this sweet and fiery read. It might still be a while before your little firecracker starts sitting at the window waiting for sirens to swirl by, but that doesn’t mean you have to wait to fill them in on the important job firemen and women and their fire trucks do every day. Rhyming text and fun illustrations are coupled with various touch-and-feel elements, allowing children to stimulate their sense of touch. And our favorite part? The sturdy board book from Little Hippo Books is shaped—so once you and baby are done reading, they can grab the book and pretend it’s a toy to drive around all over town.
Age range: 0 to 6

Whose Feet?

The best baby books offer interactive elements. This squeaking, crinkling, foot-flailing cloth book from Melissa & Doug is lightweight and durably constructed to last through storytime, playtime, drool time (and a rinse cycle too)! Have baby open the book using its Velcro closure, and then talk them through all the legs that aren’t Mr. Crocodile’s. A bear’s furry paws make him a champion at catching fish, and the sticky pads on froggy’s feet let him excel at climbing trees, but croc’s lizard legs make him a pro at playing soccer, dancing, skipping, hopping, splashing and skateboarding. With dangling feet that let them grab and simple text that’s a breeze for you to read, this activity book sure has a lot of legs. (Get it?)
Age range: One month+

Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You?

Mr. Brown is a master of imitations, and he’s challenging baby to a riveting round of ‘who can do it best?’ with the creative, playful sounds in this Dr. Seuss read. Can they go “moo-moo” and “buzz-buzz” too? Can they whisper super-soft and super-high like the soft, soft whisper of a butterfly? With your help and hype, they’re certainly going to try!
Age range: One+

Calming Music Book

Calming Music Book
Image: Maisonette

Returning to the big-picture idea of reading as a best way to bond with your babe, this book, by Sam Taplin, features five classical tunes (with a note that says ‘press the page to hear the music’) to soothe and relax your tiny koala as they hold you tight. Charming illustrations of baby animals being lulled by musical snippets from Schubert, Haydn and Fauré will let baby know that they, too, can take a breather and get lost in melody. We’re especially happy that the composers are captioned—if you see your mini loves one of the songs, you can go online to find the full-length audio.
Age range:
0 to 3

Mindful Board Books Bundle

Mindful Board Books Bundle
Image: Pottery Barn Kids

Speaking of mindfulness and meditation, this amazing boxed set brings together titles including ABCs of Kindness, Antiracist Baby, Breathe Like a Bear, The Crayons’ Book of Feelings and Up, Up, Up, Down. The simple language, rhythmic tempo, bold illustrations and question-and-answer prompts across all five books offer great ways to connect with your open-minded munchkin, teach them about the big world, explore their feelings and find healing routes for them to keep calm and carry on. Age range: 0 to 3

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