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The Best (Strategist-Approved) Children’s Books

Photo: Courtesy of the vendors

After speaking with tons of parents and child-development experts, we noticed some trends in the advice they gave about shopping for kids. Whether they were talking about the best gifts for 6-month-olds or 6-year-olds, our expert sources warned that anything you give to a child is also a thing you’re giving to their parents. So while popular toys that play “Baby Shark” on repeat might be met with cheers from a toddler or an elementary schooler, they may not be as appreciated by Mom and Dad. However, if the child you’re buying for receives a beautifully designed (and age-appropriate) book, both kids and adults will likely begin to think of you as their favorite. To help you find the best kids’ board books, picture books, chapter books, and even cookbooks, we sifted through everything we’ve written about before. Below, 33 children’s books that would also make great gifts for all the kids (and, in turn, parents) in your life.

For babies

According to the child development experts we spoke to about the best gifts for 6-month-olds, babies at that age really love looking at pictures of other babies. “They are starting to be more inclined to pay attention to a book and they’re starting to notice other babies’ faces,” says Sarah MacLaughlin, senior writer and training specialist of Zero to Three. This board book will both stand up to drool and mesmerize your little one.

Patricia Cantor, a professor of early-childhood education at Plymouth State University, told us she likes this board book that encourages language-enhancing interaction between babies and caregivers. “Babies really learn language when you use a word while matching it to an action or an object. So if you’re reading the book Clap Hands while actually clapping your hands, they’re gonna pick up that language much faster,” Cantor says.

When writing about the best board books for babies, Strategist writer Lauren Ro learned that newborn babies are still developing their eyesight and see the world in black and white. For that reason, she wrote that this highly graphic book — which unfolds accordion-style so babies can stare at it during tummy time — is another great one for infants.

This die-cut board book, which came recommended by Brooklyn Public Library’s Rachel Payne, is kind of like an interactive work of art that’s designed to introduce your little one to colors. Hold it up to a window or a lamp and explore how the light changes through each translucent circle.

For parents who think it’s never too early to encourage mathematical thinking, this book about a little elephant and his building blocks is just the ticket. Plus, it features repetition and rhythmic cadence that will hold 1-year-old babies’ attention, according to MacLaughlin.

For toddlers

We have included Eric Carle’s gorgeous and charming story about a caterpillar who eats its way through an entire picnic in several gift guides before, including one with the best gifts for 2-year-olds. It encourages curiosity about science and nature, has cutouts that kids can put their fingers through, and the story is simple enough that children and parents can improvise as they read together.

In her story on the best books for teaching kids about the environment, author Jen Doll says that this picture book (from the same illustrator who created The Day the Crayons Quit) is one that can help any parents teach their little ones about the world — from Earth to space to humanity — and how they should treat it. Doll adds that the author created the book for his own son, so you could say it’s fully user-tested.

When we talked to experts about the best ways to keep kids busy at home, Marie Masterson, the director of quality assessment at the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership, recommended “quiet books” made of felt or quilted material that have something for children to fiddle with on each page, from Velcro to zippers to buttons. Designed to help children develop concentration and extended play skills, quiet books — like this chef-themed one from Melissa & Doug — are “like gold” for toddlers, according to Masterson.

Press Here, which was also included in our gift guide for 2-year-olds, teaches toddlers cause and effect. Each page has a new proposition for interactive play.

In this sweet board book by Japanese author Taro Gomi, the main character learns to run, jump, and swim from her friends the horse, the monkey, and the fish. It has a repetitive sentence structure that makes it great for reading aloud to toddlers.

This board book of Picasso’s animal line drawings showed up on writer Stephanie LaCava’s spectactular list of children’s books by artists.

There’s lots to look at and study in this metropolitan-themed board book. “Each page is cut into the shape of a letter of the alphabet, creating a sort of peek-through guessing game around the letter form itself,” says Vina Castillo, a co-owner of Kew & Willow Books.