Throughout the holiday season, we’re gathering books that make the perfect gifts for everyone on your list—from your mother and the teen in your life to your foodie friend and the coworker who loves Harry Potter. Need more ideas? Check out all of our amazing gift guides!
Trying to narrow down bookshelf essentials is a challenge for a book-lover (hoarder?) like myself, but it can be done after much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Granted, many treasures fall by the wayside in this nearly impossible process, but here are fifteen books I’d recommend for your youngest bookworm. These selections range from simple board books to picture book classics with more sophisticated plots. And, when it came to famous authors, like Dr. Seuss and Richard Scarry, I attempted to suggest some of their “sleeper hits.” At any rate, here’s a basic start to a lifetime of good reading.
Bread and Jam for Frances, by Russell and Lillian Hoban
Frances and her reverse psychology-loving parents have valuable lessons to teach little kids. Such as: you can’t live on bread and jam alone, but it sure is fun to try! This book speaks to the indignant badger in all of us.
Good Night, Gorilla, by Peggy Rathmann
Good Night, Gorilla is one of those visual masterpieces that conveys more through its drawings than through its text. This is a must-have book for little investigators. Take note of the zookeeper’s colored keys, the balloon’s escape, the mouse’s banana, and the family photos. There’s a lot going on behind the central plot of this smart and funny book.
First 100 Words, by Roger Priddy
You can never have enough Priddy Books. These nearly indestructible publications of bright categorized photos are akin to an encyclopedia set for toddlers. This particular one teaches kids 100 common words, but there are many other options out there, from Baby Animals and Rescue Vehicles to the Coral Reef. Priddy is a pro at introducing kids to the world around them and keeping them entertained in waiting rooms and on airplanes.
Interrupting Chicken, by David Ezra Stein
This laugh-out-loud tale about what happens when a little chicken can’t keep quiet during storytime is destined to become a classic. Kids and adults alike will relate to the perils of bedtime reading, and the pictures are as funny as the text.
Peter’s Chair, by Ezra Jack Keats
Peter’s Chair carries the same poetic charm of the more famous The Snowy Day, but it delivers a bigger plot AND tackles an important emotional issue for lots of young ones: the arrival of a new baby.
And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, by Dr. Seuss
This is my favorite Dr. Seuss book because it’s not a tongue twister, nor does it force rhyme, yet it still comes through with reliable Seuss wackiness and unforgettable images.
I Am A Bunny, by Ole Risom and Richard Scarry
Every child’s library needs lots and lots of Richard Scarry, but if you could only choose one of his delights, I’d pick this one. It’s actually written by Ole Risom and illustrated by Scarry, but it’s perfect for younger kids because, instead of hundreds of things happening at once in typical Scarry fashion, this one simply teaches kids about the wonder of nature and the four seasons. Plus, it’s so cute I could scream.
My World, by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd
This is a lesser known option by the same author/illustrator duo of Goodnight Moon. My World has the same magical primary colored drawings and sweet text of its famous sibling, but it takes place in a young rabbit’s world AND home, not just his bedroom. It’s an adorable and idyllic story.
A Visitor For Bear, by Bonny Becker and Kady MacDonald Denton
A very funny, sweetly rendered book about persistence and making friends and getting out of a bad mood. Who doesn’t need to learn those skills? Especially through watercolor and uncontrollable laughter? This pastel treasure makes the perfect shower gift.
The Daddy Mountain, by Jules Feiffer
To a toddler, nothing’s bigger than a grown man. In this hilarious and perfectly drawn picture book, a little redhead decides to climb her Mount Everest of a father. The Daddy Mountain is riveting for kids and touching for grownups.
Fortunately, by Remy Charlip
Here’s a true jewel of a picture book that delights kids with its “good news, bad news” plot. No one will ever get bored with this selection’s sequence of events. Fortunately teaches cause and effect in a hilarious way.
Library Lion, by Michelle Knudsen and Kevin Hawkes
Children will love this book about a sweet lion, a quiet library, and when and how some rules can be broken. Plus, the soft watercolors will have you considering a wild animal for a pet.
Pancakes, Pancakes!, by Eric Carle
This is my all-time favorite Eric Carle. I don’t know why it’s not giving The Very Hungry Caterpillar a run for its Swiss cheese! In short, this follows a farmer boy through the entire process of pancake-making, from milking the cow to threshing the wheat to eating all those pancakes up.
Stone Soup, by Marcia Brown
Stone Soup teaches lessons both fun and firm: sharing, outwitting, friendship, and gratitude. It’s an important classic with a moral that’s not too hidden in allegory. Marcia Brown’s version is particularly a visual feast.
Frederick, by Leo Lionni
This book stuck with me more than any other book read to me as a child. Maybe it was the simple, colorful collage, but it’s likely because the book’s message is so beautiful: the dreamers of this world have an important gift to share. It’s a great book about a tiny mouse with a big imagination.
Obviously hundreds of fabulous selections didn’t make it onto a list this concise! What are some of your favorite books for the very young?