Fewer moments are more precious than storytime with your toddler because little ones love being read to. Their eyes grow wide at colorful illustrations, and they feel proud when they commit a tale to memory. But at such a young, impressionable age, stories don’t only serve as entertainment; the best books for toddlers are also educational tools that can help your growing baby better understand the world around them.
As a passionate bibliophile herself, this writer has contemplated which types of stories she’ll fill her future child’s bookshelves with someday. Classics like Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, anything by Richard Scarry, and every installment of Eric Hill’s Spot series are a given, as these types of books teach toddlers the alphabet, numbers, colors, and critical sensory skills. Silly and nonsensical books serve a purpose, too; they invite little ones to use their imaginations, think outside of the box, and make reading fun.
But in addition to shopping for the nostalgic titles you loved as a kid, it’s important to diversify your home library’s selection with books being written for toddlers in 2021. Contemporary picture and board books are helping parents broach some of the more hard-hitting topics, like racial equality, other social justice issues and gender identity. It’s important to share these stories with our children, as well as stories written by authors of different backgrounds and walks of life. This ensures the many different people and relationships of this world are represented on your shelves.
Below, we’ve rounded up some of the best books for toddlers currently on shelves, to help you start your collection. Happy reading!
1. Love Makes A Family by Sophie Beer
BEST ABOUT FAMILY
One of the most important lessons you can teach a child is that love is love is love, and from these different types of love come all different types of families. Sophie Beer’s beautiful picture book is a representation of what families might look like outside of your own — families with two moms or two dads, just one parent, or one of each — and teaches acceptance of them all.
2. Pink is for Boys by Robb Pearlman
BEST FOR CHALLENGING GENDER NORMS
In the year 2021, gender norms should be a thing of the past. Unfortunately, society still has a lot of work to do on the subject, but fortunately, parents have the power to challenge stereotypical gender binaries, like the age-old belief that blue is for boys and pink is for girls. To help, author Robb Pearlman and illustrator Eda Kaban teamed up to create Pink Is For Boys, a vibrant picture book that “empowers kids-and their grown-ups-to express themselves in every color of the rainbow,” because not only is life not color-coded, it’s the representation and acceptance of all the colors in the rainbow that makes this life so beautiful.
Pink is for Boys by Robb Pearlman
3. Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi
BEST ABOUT RACE
Over 174,000 votes were cast to crown the Best Picture Book of 2020 on Goodreads, and it was Antiracist Baby by National Book Award-winning author, Ibram X. Kendi that clinched the title. Vibrantly illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky, the board book breaks down how to raise an antiracist child in nine simple steps, and serves as a reminder to parents that humans are not born racist, but raised as such. So while Ibram X. Kendi’s text is playful, the message of this book is not any less powerful: change your vocabulary, start having these tough conversations at a young age so that you can raise an antiracist child.
Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi
4. The Feelings Book by Todd Parr
BEST ABOUT EMOTION
It’s hard enough for adults to properly express their feelings, so you can imagine how frustrating it must be for little ones who don’t yet understand what emotions even are. From Todd Parr’s collection of over 40 beloved children’s books comes The Feelings Book, a vibrantly illustrated breakdown of the very real and, oftentimes, complicated emotions we all feel (yes, parents included). From serious feelings like loneliness and sadness to the nonsensical silliness urges humans experience, Parr’s book is entertaining, yes, but it’s also educational and can help kickstart a dialogue between you and your child when they struggle to pinpoint what it is they’re feeling at any given moment.
The Feelings Book by Todd Parr
5. Waiting Is Not Easy! (An Elephant and Piggie Book) by Mo Willems
BEST ABOUT PATIENCE
Patience is a virtue, and one that very few grown-ups possess, let alone toddlers. In order to instill the trait in your toddler early on, pick up Mo Willems’s book Waiting Is Not Easy! When Piggie the pig tells her best friend Gerard the Elephant she has a surprise for him, Gerard is thrilled, but his initial excitement quickly wanes when Piggie says he’ll have to wait to receive it. The moral of the story is a classic, and hopefully, one your toddler picks up on: Good things come to those who wait, so try your hardest not to moan and groan until time’s up.
Waiting Is Not Easy! (An Elephant and Piggie Book) by Mo Willems
6. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
BEST FOR BEDTIME
In order to get restless toddlers on board with bedtime, crack open this classic board book by Margaret Wise Brown. The writing of Goodnight Moon is so precious you almost feel obligated to whisper each word, while Clement Hurd’s detailed illustrations are shaded in with aesthetically serene hues. It’s the story aloud of a little bunny bidding goodnight to all the components that make up its bedroom, which is as sweet as it is clever. The story could inspire your little one to take up the same adorable (albeit kind of annoying) routine, but at least by the end of it, they’ll have no excuse not to go to sleep.
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
7. It’s Not Easy Being A Bunny by Marilyn Sadler
BEST FOR SELF DISCOVERY
Tired of eating cooked carrots and feeling invisible in an overcrowded household, PJ Funny Bunny embarks on a journey to find where he belongs best in Marilyn Sadler’s beginner book, It’s Not Easy Being A Bunny. With his exaggerated floppy ears and beady little eyes, the determined bunny bounces from one home to another, trying to acclimate himself to the lifestyles of bears, birds, pigs, skunks, and more, ultimately realizing that there truly is no place like home. PJ Funny Bunny is one of this writer’s most beloved children’s book characters, and his story of self-discovery is one everyone (children and adults alike) can relate to.
It’s Not Easy Being A Bunny by Marilyn Sadler
8. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr.
BEST FOR COLOR RECOGNITION
Bill Martin Jr.’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? has everything a parent could want in a book for their toddler. Eric Carle’s bold illustrations are rich in color and will capture your little reader’s attention, hooking them from start to finish. And like lyrics to their favorite lullaby, the author’s rhythmic storytelling and singsong repetition make a lasting impression on your little one’s memory, so that the next time they pick it up, they can engage with the story even more.
Read More: Best Dr. Seuss Books
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr.
9. Tacky The Penguin by Helen Lester
BEST ABOUT INDIVIDUALITY
Another book for toddlers that scrounges up all the nostalgia for this parenting writer is no other than Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester. Tacky the Penguin is loud and proud but, unfortunately, the other penguins in his pack (not coincidentally named Goodly, Lovely, Angel, Neatly, and Perfect) judge him for his slightly unruly behavior. That is, until a pack of hunters comes to make trouble, and Tacky’s loud tendencies scare them away. It just goes to show, following the crowd isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and Tacky the Penguin will prove to your toddler why being unapologetically yourself is so important.
Tacky The Penguin by Helen Lester
10. P is for Potty! by Naomi Kleinberg
BEST FOR POTTY TRAINING
It’s been 41 years since Elmo joined Sesame Street, and to this day little ones from toddlerdom to kindergarten age can’t get enough of the fuzzy red monster. But not only do kids love Elmo, they trust him, which is probably why Naomi Kleinberg’s P is for Potty! picture book is so beloved by both little ones being potty trained, and the parents trying to survive it all. The book for toddlers is more than illustrations and encouraging words, though; it includes over 25 flaps for toddlers to lift and flip as they practice sitting or pumping themselves up to use the toilet.