Gift buyers and parents are often baffled when it comes to shopping for a book for a toddler. A toddler can't really tell you what they want, and what interested them yesterday is often not the same as what will interest them in a week. So, what will keep them coming back to a particular book time after time? What attributes earn affection? What will help create a lifelong reader? What are some of the best books for toddlers?
The answers are as varied as the toddlers themselves, but there are some specific attributes you can look for when shopping for literature for little ones. They love bright colors, familiar objects, recognizeable words, rhymes, and the opportunity to participate in the content of the pages, so naturally the best books for toddlers will utilize as many of these qualities as possible.
Some of the first things toddlers learn about are themselves, so a good book might have numerous pictures of babies or young children. Illustrations are good, but photographs are better. Scholastic has a series called Baby Faces featuring full page photos of babies (it's a board book so the pictures are only about 5"x5", easy for a little one to hold close). DK is another great publisher featuring photographs of babies. Both help young children identify body parts and even facial expressions such as happy, sad and sleepy.
DK puts out some of the best books for toddlers period. They make color books, shape books, number and letter books, animal books and other books with photographs that young children love to look at. All of their pages are brightly colored and the photographs are easily recognizable. Kids love pointing out items that they are interested in and the pages are full of different objects to choose from. The words might sometimes seem advanced, but it's a wonderful thing to behold when you hear a 2 year old identify an "excavator" instead of simply calling the yellow construction vehicle a tractor.
Younger toddlers might enjoy other board books with only one picture and word pair per page or a touch and feel book to get them involved on a tactile level. DK publishes this type of book as well, but some of the best touch and feel books are put out by Usborne and written by Fiona Watt. The titles range from "That's Not My Dolly" and "That's Not My Robot" to "That's Not My Snowman" and "That's Not My Dragon". Each page features a different textured title "dolly" or "robot" that is easy to identify as "not mine" until you get to the last page where you finally find your "dolly" or "robot" by its own distinguishing texture. It's a story and a tactile adventure all at the same time.
Older toddlers might be more interested in lift the flap books or story board books. Lift the flap books are often few and far between in a large chain bookstore but some of the more popular series are the "Little People" books by Fisher Price and the "Spot" books by Eric Hill. Story board books are simply picture books printed in a hard board format, often with fewer pages than their large copy counterparts. Some of the best examples are "Guess How Much I Love You" by Sam McBratney and "Goodnight Moon" by Margaret Wise Brown.
Picture books truly offer the greatest variety and are some of the best books for toddlers, if they have the attention span for them. The Bright and Early books for Beginners (these all have the Cat in the Hat in upper right hand corner of the cover) are tried and true classics that kids enjoy. While there are exceptions to every rule, the best way to select a picture book for a toddler is to open the cover.
If there are bright colors and easy to decipher illustrations and a rhyme (as long as it flows nicely and isn't too long), you've found a treasure. Some of the best examples are "Giraffes Can't Dance" by Giles Andreae, "Bear Snores On" by Karma Wilson, the "How Do Dinosaurs..." books by Jane Yolen and the farm books by Doreen Cronin such as "Thump, Quack, Moo" and "Giggle, Giggle, Quack". Though they don't follow the rhyme rule, the Pigeon books by Mo Willems are fun and interactive and will have any toddler laughing by the end.
Overall, when searching for a story to share with a little one, remember that the best books for toddlers are the ones that someone they love reads with them. A toddler will be interested, at least for a little while, in almost anything as long as they get to participate in the action on the page. Ask questions like "Where's the cat?" or "What color is the boy's shirt?". Let your toddler sit on your lap while you read and really focus on them. This special time with someone they love is truly how life long readers are born.