How do you pick the best books for the baby or toddler in your life? After three years of research with my daughter, I think you should take them to the library and let them find books themselves.
When my daughter was born, I hadn’t read a kid’s book in many, many years. I learned almost everything I know about children’s literature by exploring the Pacific Palisades branch of the Los Angeles Public Library with my daughter.
Before Olive was able to walk, she could still browse at the library, digging through the baskets of books our librarians filled for the littlest readers. We checked out a stack of board books every week—books printed on hard cardboard stock to endure toddler readings.
As soon as she could toddle through the library, Olive would pluck books off the children shelves and carry them proudly to the checkout desk. We read so many amazing books during that time, but here are some favorites: Sandbox by Rosemary Wells, Please, Baby, Please by Spike Lee, Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann, Hug by Jez Alborough, and Ten Tiny Tickles by Karen Katz.
Olive soon graduated into longer books, including the entire Munschworks storybook collection by Robert Munsch, Nate the Great by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, and anything by Dr. Seuss. Olive still likes to check out at least one Dr. Seuss book every week, and fortunately our library stocks plenty of circulating copies.
I wrote about our reading adventures in my upcoming book, Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age. I didn’t used to blink when I passed the children’s section at the library, but now I can spend hours browsing the stocks with my daughter.
I now follow the upcoming book lists from the major publishers with the same enthusiasm I used to follow the adult bestseller list. There are a few books I’m very excited about this year, and all of them come with Olive’s stamp of approval.
Gorilla by Anthony Browne: The 30th anniversary edition of one of our favorite books, the tale of a lovable gorilla who takes a young girl on a nighttime adventure. The LAPL has a great collection of Anthony Browne books that introduced us to this artist and author’s work.
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury: This was one of our favorite read-along books when Olive was two years old, and a jigsaw puzzle version of this book is coming out this year—letting kids enjoy the book and solve a series of puzzles too.
Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman (Chu’s First Day of School by Neil Gaiman, illus. by Adam Rex): I am a big fan of Gaiman’s work for adults, and Olive giggled all the way through Chu’s Day, the novelist’s first book about a lovable panda bear with a sneezing problem. We are looking forward to this new installment.
Bedtime Math: This Time, It’s Personal by Laura Overdeck, illus by Jim Paillot: This book introduces kids to math, a crucial skill that parents tend to skip at storytime. The series helps math-challenged parents like me introduce math with all the fun of a bedtime story.
Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm Xby Ilyasah Shabazz: This upcoming biography explores the childhood of a great leader, complete with gorgeous illustrations by AG Ford.
Hearts by Thereza Rowe: In this magical book, Penelope the Fox loses her heart and chases it through a surreal landscape. This book is part of the TOON Books series, a collection of books by world-renown illustrators. Olive and I discovered this series in the LAPL stacks, and it introduced my daughter to the joy of comic books.
Finally, if your kid spends more time on the iPad instead of reading, I recommend you try the Reading Rainbow app.
This is the digital reincarnation of my favorite show from childhood, LeVar Burton’s Reading Rainbow. The subscription app contains hundreds of digital books and a selection of videos culled from the television show’s archive.
At our house, we let Olive watch one Reading Rainbow video during her daily iPad time. While reading books, she also learned about crayon factories, quilt makers, Olympic athletes and the press secretary for President Barack Obama. And she always ends these iPad sessions with a good digital book, narrated by some of the best readers in the storytelling business.
“But you don’t have to take my word for it,” Burton always used to say on Reading Rainbow. He’s right. Start with my recommendations, but take the kid in your life to the library to find more books…
–Posted by Jason Boog
Jason Boog is the author of the forthcoming book, “Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age.” He lives in Los Angeles with his family.
Author photo by Mike Henry.