In this article you will find a list of recommendations that include what we consider the best books for 1 year olds, plus useful information about reading to babies. At the end of the article there are two controversial books that take reading to babies a step further.
Babies love to communicate! They come into the world with this willingness for human interaction. We were all like this, because we are sociable beings by nature. So it is never too soon to start reading to children and studies have shown that there are tremendous benefits to early reading practices.
Our understanding of brain development has expanded tremendously in more recent years and developmental psychology studied the impact early engagement with reading can have on the brain.
Among the many benefits researched, reading aloud to children has the benefit of improving language development by creating new language networks in the brain.
We believe that parents need to read to children from the very first year of life and research supports this as being an essential element of a child’s development.
You can read much more about the benefits of reading to babies but my focus now is on understanding what and how to read to babies.
How to choose the best books for 1 year olds?
The two processes that are central to reading are: word recognition and language comprehension. For the first year of a child’s life, focus on books that offer one image per page, with clear and bright illustrations, and no clutter. The recommendation is also to choose books with which children can identify and engage emotionally.
To keep the child engaged, make sure you choose familiar topics, either fiction or non-fiction. Children will identify character traits and behaviours that are similar to theirs. For example, a book about mum and baby penguins who eat, play, have a bath and go to bed cuddling will represent very familiar everyday routines, which are easily recognisable to a child.
You can test if the child is engaging with a text by observing his/her reactions. Clapping, smiling, laughing, patting pages, turning the page and pointing to pictures are signs of engagement.
When highly engaged, babies were described as cooing, babbling, even attempting to repeat words.
Liz Attenborough, a famous author and children’s books illustrator, asks us to find books that offer clear and uncluttered illustrations. Also, the best books for 1 year olds are considered to be those which offer illustrations that go beyond simply telling the text are those that children will choose to go back to again and again, she says, as they will always find more and more elements previously unnoticed.
Story books that have texts that rhyme are preferred by very young children as nursery rhymes serve the function of playing with language, helping children understand word patterns and rhythm, thus they learn to remember words easily.
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How should I read baby books?
Make sure you are slow and clear, find a pace that the child can follow and do not turn the page before the child shows signs to do so. Give the child time to respond to your reading as this shows to the child you are listening to them too and it encourages communication. You wouldn’t find much pleasure in a conversation in which you are not invited to talk, would you?
Don’t shy away from stroking a cat on a page, making silly noises, animal sounds, use plenty of gestures and facial expression. Add to the text as you see fit, but always read the actual words too so that it is the same every time you read the book.
Also, research shows that asking questions and making comments while reading will help children develop expressive and receptive language.
What do I mean by that?
Expressive language refers to how children uses language (words and signs) to express themselves. Whereas receptive language describes how a child understands the language he/she hears. So, by interacting and using dialogic reading you help the child mimic your gestures and facial expressions, and also discover these as cues to aid communication.
During shared reading, parents use more complex sentences and a greater variety of vocabulary than they do during free play. Books represent the perfect way of initiating communication with the child and helps all those who say they don’t know how to talk to their babies.
Reading aloud to children combines the benefits of talking, listening and storytelling into one single activity.
We wrote about the importance of reading to children before and will continue our series of reading stories as we believe books offer the greatest opportunity for children to have a great start in life.
A collection that includes the best books for a 1 year old
Your book collection for the first year of a child’s life should probably include:
books with texture pictures that invite touch and feel
books made from a variety of materials
lift the flap/pull a lever type of books
picture books about other babies
books about animals and imaginary creatures
simple traditional stories from different cultures
books that involve lots of joining in: clapping, singing, pointing etc
counting rhymes and lullabies
Books we loved and wholeheartedly recommend for 1 year-olds
I put together a list of books based on our own experience and the experience of mums I know and now we can offer you an amazing list of books that babies are guaranteed to love.
- Books that show other babies
When children see other babies in books they relate more to the universe the book portrays and so you can create more engagement. Try anything similar to the books below:
Is this my nose?
A wonderful book that teaches the child about different parts of the face. On each page there is a question and a beautiful illustration of a baby. “Can you find your eyes, eyes, eyes? Yes, you can!” accompanies every page and children can point to their eyes as seen in the picture.
When reading aloud, point to the pictures, point to your own body parts and your babies body parts.
With this book, you have the chance to teach your child about different feelings:sad, happy, surprised etc, but also to mime various everyday action that are easily recognisable by the child. By reading this book as part of a routine, your baby will soon learn that our face expresses different emotions.
“Are you feeling sad? Boo-hoo” is part of the type of text you will find in this book, accompanied by simple, uncluttered and bright illustrations. We loved the fact that the book was very strong no matter how hard my son pulled and it was also easy to manipulate.
All of Baby, Nose to Toes
Such a wonderful book! Each two pages focus on a particular body part and encourage you to point, perform an action, spot other children and much more. The illustrations are baby-friendly and clean, portraying a cute little baby and mummy.
2. Interactive books for babies
Babies absolutely love interactive books: books where you lift the flap, pull something, touch and feel the texture, follow with your finger, look in a mirror, move parts or play peekaboo.
My son looooved this book. A book by Melisa and Doug, this offers the perfect combination of surprise and dialogic reading. As your child is manipulating the book, ask various question: Who is hiding? Who could it be? What is this? What does the dog say? You could point to different parts of the body, mime the animals, make sounds while making visual contact with the child.
The fabric is soft, the illustrations are lovely, and the child has no problem manipulating the parts.
Finger Puppet Board Book
You will love this book. It combines three elements that make it one of the best books for 1 year olds: it has a memorable tune, with words that rhyme and are easy to remember; it includes a lovely finger puppet that you can use to perform the actions while singing; it is a small cardboard book that little hands can easily work with.
What’s more, the beautiful illustrations give you the chance to teach your child about the various details on each page. Encourage your baby to point to them with you.
This book is all about actions! Have fun with your little one as you point to the actions in the book and then demonstrate them. Laughter guaranteed! With a tickle tickle, and a splash in the bath, or a slurp slurp while you eat, you will certainly manage to engage your child!
The book helps you create a moment of bonding while reading which makes the experience more memorable!
3. Touch and feel books for 1 year olds
You could either use various touch and feel books, or baby books of different textures and fabrics to make reading a sensory experience as well. Here are some of our favourites:
That’s not my dinosaur
Beautiful and interesting textures! This book offers them plenty! Not to mention the bright illustrations and uncluttered pages. What makes us include this in our collection of the best books for 1 year olds is the fact that in focuses on animals which babies love, and that it offers the child the chance to interact with the book through touch.
We truly recommend this type of book as it makes learning a sensory and memorable activity!
Magnificent animals that you get to pet and stroke! The photography approach of the book helps the child perceive the animals as real-life and by also touching them they feel more engaged in the activity.
There are polar bears, pandas and koala, cats and lambs and many more animals to touch, learn their sounds and talk about various body parts!
Cloth Books for Babies
A wonderful collection of cloth books containing numbers, letters, animals, food, and shapes. Of course your main focus is not to teach letters or numbers, but it helps if the child is exposed to their sounds as early as you start reading. You are simply teaching vocabulary, not literacy and numeracy.
The pack offers a great start for preschool learning so it could also be used as the child grows older, so they are indeed a good investment.
4. Nursery rhymes and songs
With nursery rhymes, you can never go wrong. They are perfect books for 1 years olds as they expose children to rhythms and patterns of language, encourage open-ended play, and provide a great foundation for early literacy and math. Here are some lovely rhymes for babies:
Ditty Bird Children’s Songs
This pack includes a great collection of 6 nursery rhymes, the audio for all the songs so the child can use it independently, plus two maracas, perfect for little hands!
Among the nursery rhymes included you will find the classic Wheels on the bus, B-I-N-G-O, and If you’re happy and you know it.
Laugh and Learn Storybook
You can take your rhymes everywhere with this portable musical book, making it among the best books for a 1 year old who is eager to learn. The book contains 6 classic nursery rhymes, but also light-up buttons that teach children numbers, colours, shapes and more.
Count With Nursery Rhyme
A great book for 1 year olds that makes songs educational with their focus on counting. You push the button and start singing while pointing at the pictures. There are songs such as One, Two, Buckle My Shoes and Ten Green Bottles among others that children will surely enjoy.
What is more, the book offers a one-year warranty which sounds excellent. Another great thing about this book is that there is an on/off button in case you want to remove distractions while singing to your child.
Books offer children the opportunity to learn, mesmerise, interact, recognise and learn new language, empathise and learn to become storytellers themselves. Through books, children learn to label, but they also how to use language to express themselves.
I recommend two very interesting books for those of you who want to take it further, namely Teach your baby to read and Teach your baby Math, written in 2008 by Glenn Doman. I am curious to find out what you think of this idea and if you think it is something worthwhile.
Some research argues that the method is simple, happy and easy to do.
What do you think?
Towell, Janet L, Bartram, Lydia, Morrow, Susan, and Brown, Susannah L. (2019). “Reading to Babies: Exploring the Beginnings of Literacy”, Journal of Early Childhood Literacy.
Goodwin, P. (2008). Understanding Children’s Books a Guide for Education Professionals. Edited by Prue Goodwin. Los Angeles, London: SAGE.
Hi. I am Monica, an experienced ESL teacher and early years student, mother to a preschooler and passionate reader.