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The Secret to Raising a Reader? Start Early — Really Early

Build your child’s literacy ladder from bump to bundle and beyond with these great books

Published on: September 23, 2022

Pregnant woman sitting in a bed reading "Goodnight Moon"

There’s no question that reading is good for us, no matter our age. From baby bump to newborn and throughout early childhood, even the littlest of littles benefits from being read to. Reading to and with your child creates connection and supports language development. With each stage of development that a child progresses through, there are books out there to support their journey to literacy.

Whether you’re looking to buy the perfect baby shower gift for a friend or wanting to build out your family’s home library, this list is certain to have a book (or two) for you.

Hello in there, baby! (zygote to birth)

Reading to a giant belly might seem silly, but there are multiple studies that have confirmed the positive impacts reading can have on your gestating infant and their road map to language acquisition. Reading to your unborn child will be relaxing for you as well! Choose a book you enjoy, get cozy and commence reading — remember, all your baby cares about is hearing your voice, so any book will do!

Book cover of Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong -- and What You Really Need to KnowExpecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong — and What You Really Need to Know” by Emily Oster

Award-winning economist, professor and author Emily Oster uses data to inform and soothe parents-to-be, helping them make the best decisions for their body and baby.

Book cover of Good Moms Have Scary Thoughts: A Healing Guide to the Secret Fears of New MothersGood Moms Have Scary Thoughts: A Healing Guide to the Secret Fears of New Mothers” by Karen Kleiman

Warm, lighthearted (though occasionally serious), this illustrated resource supports moms, partners and parents through the newborn phase and beyond.

 

Book cover of The Montessori Baby: A Parent’s Guide to Nurturing Your Baby With Love, Respect, and UnderstandingThe Montessori Baby: A Parent’s Guide to Nurturing Your Baby With Love, Respect, and Understanding” by Simone Davies and Junnifa Uzodike

Brimming with practical ideas for your baby and family that are based on Maria Montessori’s education principles, this book brings the practice of mindfulness to parenting, starting from day one.

 

Book cover of How to Raise a ReaderHow to Raise a Reader” by Pamela Paul and Maria Russo

As a mom and librarian, I have found this book to be indispensable. Providing specific ideas and helpful pointers to assist the development of literacy at each age and stage of development, this guidebook charts the path to raising children who love to read.

 

 

Let’s get this readathon started (newborn–6 months)

Think striking illustrations, crinkly sounds, soft (and even waterproof!) fabric options for this earliest phase of reading. By engaging all of your baby’s developing senses, you’ll get them excited about the wonderful world of books. Don’t worry about finishing a story if they get bored (consider any reading sesh an utter success if your child falls asleep on you!) — take a break and come back to it later (or even the next day). Books with black-and-white or high-contrast illustrations are go-tos for this stage.

Book cover of “What Color Am I? Color Magic Bath Book” by Erin JangWhat Color Am I? Color Magic Bath Book” by Erin Jang

This bathtub-ready classic features six color-changing pages that magically transform when submerged in water. Its small format makes it just right for little hands to seize.

Book cover for “Sloth, Hurry Up!” by TaggiesSloth, Hurry Up!” by Taggies

This soft book features crinkly pages, a squeaker and plenty of other textures to keep tiny hands reaching for more.

Book cover of “Baby Sees Colors: A Totally Mesmerizing High-Contrast Book for Babies” by Akio KashiwaraBaby Sees Colors: A Totally Mesmerizing High-Contrast Book for Babies” by Akio Kashiwara

This attention grabber has everything you could desire for the newest baby on the block: patterns, rhymes and silly sounds galore!

Book cover of “Tummy Time! A High-Contrast Fold-Out Book With Mirror for Babies” by Mama Makes BooksTummy Time! A High-Contrast Fold-Out Book With Mirror for Babies” by Mama Makes Books

Tummy time can be tough, but this bright and engaging book makes it fun with its photos of real babies, a mirror and plenty of high-contrast images.

 

 

 

Books they’ll literally sink their teeth into (ages 6–9 months)

This stage is a great time to introduce short and simple stories to your little one. Let your baby explore each book however they want to, whether it be viewing it upside down or backward, or even “reading” it with their mouth. They might try to open and close the book, or start to try to turn pages on their own. Closer to 9 months of age, your baby may begin to recognize certain pictures or stories. Interactive books with mirrors, finger puppets, textures and flaps are all winners for this set.

Book cover of “Indestructibles: Hello, Farm!” by Amy Pixton and Maddie FrostIndestructibles: Hello, Farm!” by Amy Pixton and Maddie Frost

If you purchase only one book for the new baby in your life, make sure it is from the “Indestructibles” series. These nontoxic, washable, rip- and chew-proof books are perfect for even the toothiest, drooliest tot.

Book cover of “Everything Is Mama” by Jimmy FallonEverything Is Mama” by Jimmy Fallon

This sweet, fun-to-read board book by comedian and late-night talk show host Jimmy Fallon is a hit with all beginning babblers — it’s also fun to read for parents, too! (A serious bonus, trust us.) Don’t miss Fallon’s other early-reader classics in the making: “Your Baby’s First Word Will Be Dada,” “This Is Baby” and “Nana Loves You More.”

Book cover of “Taco Tuesday” by Cottage Door PressTaco Tuesday” by Cottage Door Press

Cottage Door Press publishes a series of finger puppet board books that are adorable, silly and very entertaining to read. Another one of my favorites is “Little Avocado’s Big Adventure.”

Book cover of “Where’s the Dog?” by Ingela P. ArrheniusWhere’s the Dog?” by Ingela P. Arrhenius

Outfitted with felt flaps and bright illustrations, this board book will become an immediate favorite in your cutie’s reading rotation. Check out other titles in the series, including “Where’s the Penguin?” and “Where’s the Ladybug?

Book cover of “What a Wonderful World” illustrated by Tim Hopgood, based on the song popularized by Louis ArmstrongWhat a Wonderful World” illustrated by Tim Hopgood, based on the song popularized by Louis Armstrong

Cozy up and read (or, better, sing!) this book out loud with your baby while you appreciate all of the wonderful things this world really does have to offer.

Recognizing the world around them (9 months and older)

Your growing child will love rhyming books and stories with repeated phrases. This is a great stage to introduce books featuring photographs of people, animals and objects that your little one is beginning to recognize from the world around them. As your child nears age 1, you might even start to ask simple questions while you read, such as “Where is the ___?”

Book cover of “Making Faces: A First Book of Emotions” by Abrams AppleseedMaking Faces: A First Book of Emotions” by Abrams Appleseed

This photo-filled emotion guide (which comes with a mirror) will help your child “see” what feelings might look like in their everyday life.

Book cover of “Eat Your Colors” by Amanda MillerEat Your Colors” by Amanda Miller

As your baby begins their gastronomic adventures during mealtimes, this book will help them eat the rainbow as they try new (super)foods.

Book cover of “If I Were a Lion …” by JellycatIf I Were a Lion …” by Jellycat

The happy illustrations and textures found in this series (which features titles about dozens of our fave animal pals) by Jellycat are delighting distractions for brainy babies on the go.

Book cover of “Global Baby Playtime” by The Global Fund for ChildrenGlobal Baby Playtime” by The Global Fund for Children

This is my favorite series for babies, and that’s saying something! These titles introduce the youngest “readers” to different countries and cultures through exciting images and positive storylines. Be sure to check out other titles in the series: “Global Baby Bedtimes,” “Global Baby Girls,” “Global Baby Boys” and the original “Global Babies.”

Book cover of “A Parade of Elephants” by Kevin HenkesA Parade of Elephants” by Kevin Henkes

With plenty of cute baby elephants and a dash of counting, this board book has it all.

 

Book cover of “Happy Birthday!” by Little Hippo BooksHappy Birthday!” by Little Hippo Books

Happy birthday, dearest baby! This celebratory board book presents (ha!) a handful of textures and a perfect theme for any newly minted 1-year-old.

Happy reading!

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