kids and babies

The Best (Strategist-Approved) Children’s Books

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers

I’m reaching the phase of my life where my friends are becoming moms, and thus there are lots of gifts to be given and lots of milestones to celebrate. Recently, when one of my friends gave birth, I gifted her a mini-bookshelf comprised of books I loved when I was a kid along with new ones that looked cool, like Very Good Hats, which has a cool illustration style and might look nice displayed on a bookshelf, and The People Could Fly, a book of Black folktales that I listened to on tape nightly until I was 9, and Corduroy, my favorite cartoon bear. She loved it so much I repeated it again, and plan to do it whenever a new member of our community comes along. I’m also highly aware of how things look, and so when gifting books, I look for content, but also aesthetics, picking books with unique art styles that I, childless, might want in my own library.

Below, a list of giftable children’s books — recommended by Strategist writers, pulled from our archives and my purchase history.

For babies

These “quiet books,” which have soft pages and bright colors and manipulatives, tend to be made of felted or quilted material, and keep little hands and minds occupied — ideal for new and experienced parents alike.

Newborn babies are still developing their eyesight and see the world in black-and-white. For that reason, Strategist writer Lauren Ro recommends this highly graphic book — which unfolds accordion style so babies can stare at it during tummy time — as another great one for infants.

And if you’d like to add in a few more hues, Ro also likes this one from Akio Kashiwara, which is a bit bigger than normal books and has mesmerizing swirly colors that keep baby interested.

Rhymoceros is about a rhinoceros who rhymes, pairing words like stinky and inky or caring and daring through various high jinks and scenarios. Strategist senior editor Jen Trolio likes it as a “less obvious” choice than say, The Hungry Caterpillar, and calls it a “perfect mix of simple concepts, good design, and clever, minimal text.”

This board book has been in circulation since 1999, delighting babies with its interactive format. The reader claps their hands while reading, which Patricia Cantor, a professor of early-childhood education at Plymouth State University, tells us helps babies pick language up more quickly.

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

Kind Crocodile

To liven up bedtime, a fun story about a crocodile trying to help his friends who are being chased. Hijinks ensue and Crocodile ends up carrying an ark-full of animals on his back, including an antelope, hedgehog, and mouse.

If you’re looking for ways to celebrate diversity early on, this book by Todd Parr showcases lots of different kinds of families — families with two moms or two dads, big families, and clean and messy ones too. “The general message is that all families are not the same but they basically and ultimately all care about similar things like love,” says Lisa Knowlton, the children’s buyer at 192 Books.

The Hungry Caterpillar is a classic. Eric Carle’s signature paper collage style encourages curiosity about science and nature and has cutouts that kids can put their fingers through.

This peek-through book follows the journey of a bee, Bee, and all the things she does throughout her day. It moves from apple orchards to flower fields and even offers a peek inside the hive.

If The Day the Crayons Quit feels a bit too ubiquitous, consider this book by Oliver Jeffers, which uses the same illustrator. It comes recommended by author Jen Doll, who says it can help any parents teach their little ones about the world — from Earth to space to humanity — and how they should treat it.

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.

For 4- and 5-year-olds

Sister Rosetta Tharpe is the godmother of rock and roll, though her legacy has only been honored in recent years. This picture book tells the story of her life and would work well for the music-obsessed kid.

Oona in the Arctic

On its face, this book is about mermaid Oona helping her Beluga-whale friend find his way home — but at its heart, it’s a story of bravery, perseverance, and friendship.

Christian Robinson is one of my favorite children’s book illustrators, so I’m always gifting works by him. Last Stop on Market Street, which examines poverty and privilege through the eyes of a little boy is a classic, is told through a sweet story about a boy and his grandma.

Whether they’re helping to make actual or pretend tacos, 4- and 5-year-olds will love flipping the flaps on each page of this interactive cookbook, which was featured in our story on the best cookbooks for kids.

Sendak’s classic is a foolproof choice for 4-year-olds, according to George Sachs, a clinical child psychologist and the founder of the Sachs Center, whom we spoke to for our gift guide for children that age.

The true meaning of Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree is still up for debate — some have said it’s a thesis about parenting while others take it as a more straightforward book about how we treat nature. Either way, it’s sure to keep your child entertained.

For the cinephile parents, Daniel Kwan, the co-director of Everything Everywhere All at Once has also written two children’s books, which turn the multiverse and the origin of cosmic energy into a bedtime story.

B.J. Novak’s best seller has popped up on a few of our lists, including the best gifts for 4-year-olds. It’s a kid favorite that uses onomatopoeia to hilarious results, like getting adults to say goofy, silly stuff.

For 6- to 9-year-olds

In The Day the Crayons Quit, Duncan’s crayons have decided on a work stoppage, demanding he uses them correctly. What follows is their resignation letters, along with a peek into inter-crayon dynamics (orange and yellow, for example, are no longer speaking because they both believe they’re the true color of the sun).

Several librarians we spoke to for our roundup of the best children’s books for 6-year-olds told us they can’t keep books by Mo Willems on their shelves. This one, which won the Caldecott, is about a cheeky pigeon who won’t take no for an answer.

This picture book, featured in our guide to gifts for 6-year-olds shines a light on girls in STEM and encourages young readers to stay curious. Main character Ada Twist is a second-grader who loves to ask questions and investigate things, and this book tells the story of how she uses the scientific method to find the source of a strange smell.

This book about a boy named Julian who loves mermaids also came recommended by several experts for our list of books for 6-year-olds. Lindsy Serrano, a librarian at St. Francis School in Kentucky, told us she uses it during story time because of the way it “defies male expectations and stereotypes.”

For 10-year-olds and above

From $15

Persepolis focuses on Marjane Satrapi’s life in Tehran from ages 6 to 14 and coincides with the Islamic Revolution and later the Iran-Iraq War. There are some big themes here, but Satrapi handles it in a way that is both deeply personal and humorous.

Artsy kids will appreciate Yayoi Kusama’s slightly surrealist take on the classic story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which we mentioned in our roundup of artists’ books for children.

They’ll also like The Ultimate Art Museum, which came up in our story about the best Black coffee-table books. It’s about an imaginary museum that contains 40,000 of the world’s greatest art. It’s both visually beautiful and educational: Every piece of art comes with a bit of background about the artist and how the work exists in the greater context of a moment or movement.

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The Best (Strategist-Approved) Children’s Books