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Best Books for Toddlers

By the time my kids were two, even my favorite classic board books were starting to get a litttttttle old. Don’t get me wrong — I love Goodnight Moon, everything Eric Carle and Where the Wild Things Are as much as the next person (really, I do), but sometimes the best books for toddlers are the ones you haven’t read yet. If you’re in a bit of a book rut with your tot, here are some fun, (at least somewhat) lesser-known books (from today and yesteryear) to get you back in your groove.


Reading List — Toddler Edition

The Circus Ship, Chris Van Dusen — Small-town Original Pick

Best Books for Toddlers Circus Ship

I may be biased (this is a local author/illustrator in my neck of the woods), but this is one of the most fun reads for toddlers, IMO. Based (very loosely) on a real story, this rhyming book with unbelievable illustrations tells the story of a troop of circus animals who swim to a nearby island after a shipwreck. 

Best Books for Toddlers van dunes

Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth, Oliver Jeffers — Green Pick

Best Books for Toddlers Here we are

From the creator of The Day the Crayons Quit and Stuck, this book is a beautiful and sweet guide to being a human on a shared planet. Written to teach Jeffers’s own son about space, place and humanity, Here We Are is an elegantly simple introduction to the world around us with underlying messages of unity, grace, and diversity. (Pssst — Apple TV+ now has a short film adaptation, and it’s as sweet as the book!)

Best Books for Toddlers jeffers

The Lorax, Dr. Seuss — Green Pick, classic edition

Best Books for Toddlers the lorax

This classic Dr. Seuss book about one creature’s determination to save and then restore a natural resource and landscape feels so timely right now. Like any Seuss story, it’s a fun read, and it’s steeped in environmentalist values like preservation, kindness, empathy, and generosity. [Also: there’s this.]

Best Books for Toddlers seuss

The Lion and the Mouse, Jerry Pinkney — Wordless Picture Book Pick

Best Books for Toddlers lion and mouse

This wordless adaptation of one of Aesop’s fables depicts the unlikely friendship between a lion and a mouse on the African Serengeti. Features striking illustrations and vivid facial expressions, this is a fun book to talk through with little ones who like to piece things together on their own. 

Julian is a Mermaid, Jessica Love — Defying Gender Norms Pick

Best Books for Toddlers Julian is a mermaid

This magical book tells the story of Julian, a young boy who desires to transform himself into a mermaid. Love’s illustrations are a beautiful showcase of racial and generational diversity, and the story itself is an imaginative challenge to traditional gender conventions. Love this!

Elephant and Piggie books, Mo Willems — Series Pick

Best Books for Toddlers Mo Willems

The Elephant and Piggie stories from renowned illustrator Mo Willems are universally fun and silly read-alouds with littles. Gerald the elephant and his friend Piggie are such lovable characters, and each story has simple but teachable moments that help young children learn about friendship, overcoming adversity, kindness, and creativity. Your toddler (and you) will definitely LOL with these. (Plus, the collection is at ~$9 for 5 books, the “biggie” book is a great value!)

Best Books for Toddlers elephant and piggy

The Very Cranky Bear, Nick Bland — Adjunct to Learning About Emotions

Best Books for Toddlers very cranky bear

This funny, rhyming book about a bear who brings out all the grump after he’s awakened from hibernation by four unsuspecting animals never fails to crack kids up. With big, expressive illustrations, it’s also a great teaching tool for talking about emotions — plus the storyline highlights the importance of kindness, listening, and empathy. 

Best Books for Toddlers Bland

The Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler —  For Kids with Big Imaginations

Best Books for Toddlers the gruffly

Kids love this rhyming book about a clever mouse who invents his intimidating “gruffalo” friend to scare off would-be predators. Spoiler alert: the mouse is in for a big surprise. 

Giraffes Can’t Dance, Giles Andreae — Inspirational Read

Best Books for Toddlers giraffes can't dance

This book about a passionate dancing giraffe named Gerald will make you smile after even the toughest of days. It’s fun and lighthearted while also instilling confidence and teaching children that they can dance to their own tune.

Best Books for Toddlers inspirational

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, Michael Rosen & Helen Oxenbury — Pick for Active Listeners

Best Books for Toddlers bear hunt

This favorite story about a family who spends the day trekking all over the place in search of a bear takes children on a mini-tour through different weather and types of terrain, and children love to act it out along the way. 

Circle, Mac Barnett & Jon Klassen — A Whimsical Pick

Best Books for Toddlers circle

The beloved finale in the shapes trilogy (which also features Triangle and Square), Circle teaches basic shapes and helps demonstrate for young children that staying calm and thinking things through usually goes a long way.

The Book With No Pictures, BJ Novak (yes, the author is Ryan from “The Office”) — It’s a book with no pictures, folks… superlative-in-title

This hilarious and unique publication turns the standard picture storybook upside down by dialing up the audio engagement — WAY UP. We like that it teaches kids that words are important parts of any story. For kids, this amounts to a completely different “reading” experience. And parents, prepare for the silly, playful, and inane. 

Best Books for Toddlers no pictures

Do you have other books to add to the “best books for toddlers” list? Let us know!

See also: Best Board Books and Best Summer Reads for Adults in 2020.

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