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Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover

It’s never too soon to start reading aloud to your baby, because the benefits to their development are monumental. In fact, books, particularly sturdy board books, make some of the best toys to enrich your child’s first year. In our article on how to choose the best baby books, we highlight the different types of books you’ll want to share with your infant, plus how each engages them and lays the foundation for their future literacy.

Below, we’ve compiled a list of 12 engaging baby books to read aloud—2 from each baby book category we recommend—that will help set your baby on the path to becoming a great reader.

Noise Books

Books that draw attention to the sounds that animals, vehicles, and other objects make are cute, naturally popular with babies, and excellent for building awareness of the sounds that make up spoken language.

Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo By Kevin Lewis

Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo is full of fun train noises that your little conductor will never tire of and that provide parents a wonderful opportunity to bring attention to word sounds. The rhyming story follows a toy train through a world made of playthings. As you read, you’ll naturally mimic a train whistle—“whooo! whooo!”—and find your finger pointing out the letters that dance over the pages (great for building print awareness).

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Do Cows Meow? (A Lift-the-Flap Book) By Salina Yoon

In Salina Yoon’s playful book, Do Cows Meow?, each spread features a rhyme asking silly questions about animals. We then lift a flap made from a drawing of the animal’s face to reveal the sound that each makes. This cute volume is sure to capture your babe’s attention and will have parents and toddlers mooing, meowing, and quacking away!

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Nursery Rhymes

Nursery rhymes, whether classics or modern, are also great for helping bring babies’ attention to the sounds of language. Little ones love the rhythmic, sing-song reading even before they fully understand the words being said, so these stories are excellent for promoting the type of interactive reading that’s so beneficial to babies. In addition to collections of classic nursery rhymes, try these modern volumes.

Bitty Brown Babe By Deborah LeFalle

Bitty Brown Babe is a sweet rhyme full of love and affection for the darling baby pictured in the illustrations (or cuddled in your arms). It makes a great book for babies because it only has a small bit of text on each page, cute illustrations, and an enjoyable rhythm. The endearing rhymes will have us naturally reading to our babies in ways that help them develop language and create the underpinnings of literacy. 

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You Are My Sunshine By Dare Coulter

You and your baby will both love this beautifully illustrated book by artist Dare Coulter, which features images of people of color along with the lyrics to the classic song You Are My Sunshine. You can sing or read the words while looking through the book. Unfortunately, it has not (yet) been published as a board book, but the lovely paintings will make it a hit with you and your little one even so.

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Character Names

While many baby books don’t name characters, reading a few that do can heighten your baby’s reading experience and attention. Even very little ones can begin to make the connection between stories on pages and real-world experiences.

Sweet Dreams, Zaza By Mylo Freeman

This cute storybook follows toddler Zaza as she says goodnight to all her stuffed animals by name. She is loving and kind to each animal as she puts them to sleep one by one. Finally, it is Zaza’s turn to go to sleep with the “sweetest kiss of all” from Mommy. This gentle bedtime story is a lovely introduction to storybooks about characters, and will help even the most overtired

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Leo Can Swim By Anna McQuinn

In Leo Can Swim, we follow Leo and his dad as they get ready for and attend a parent-baby swim class. The story ends with a tired out Leo having fallen asleep in his stroller. Your little one will enjoy getting to know Leo and following along with his swim-class routine, as well as the silly

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Photography Books

Books that feature real photography are especially good for young infants who are just learning to connect pictures of objects and people with real objects and people.

Hey Baby! A Baby’s Day in Doodles By Andrea Pippins

Hey Baby! A Baby’s Day in Doodles features minimal text and adorable photographs of a baby as she goes through her day. The simple photos of an infant engaging in the familiar activities of babyhood will draw your little one’s attention and help them relate what they see in books with the world around them.

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My Hands By Catherine Hnatov

This book showcases photos of diverse toddlers engaging in various activities, like drawing with chalk, climbing, and blowing kisses. Babies love watching older children in real life, and the photos of toddlers in this book will tap into that same fascination. The written descriptions on each page will build the connection between words and what they describe.

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Bold & High Contrast

While we now know that babies are able to see a whole range of colors from birth, high-contrast books are nevertheless visually stimulating and engaging, particularly for very young infants.

Hello, Bugs! By Smriti Prasadam

This board book features black-and-white illustrations with a bit of colorful foil on each page, making it visually interesting to the very youngest of babies. Each page shows a different little critter, from ladybugs to snails.

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Baby Sees Colors By Akio Kashiwara

Baby Sees Colors is full of high contrast patterns and shapes featuring bold colors. There are swirling snakes and black cats that pitter patter across colorful stripes. The bright pages will be highly engaging for tiny babies.

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Face (and Mirror) Books

Babies are naturally drawn to faces and even face-like shapes, so books that feature faces are a must for any baby book collection.

Baby Young, Gifted, and Black: With a Mirror! By Jamia Wilson

This board book is a great one for introducing even our littlest children to black historical figures. The illustrations feature drawings of changemakers, musicians, and athletes from around the world. The simple words accompanying pictures of these individuals’ faces will draw your baby’s attention. On the final page, a mirror embedded in the page will encourage your child to identify with these impressive role models.

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Baby Says By John Steptoe

Baby Says is one of those very simple books with only a few words that conveys a compelling story nevertheless. A baby watches his older brother from inside his crib and continually tries to get his brother’s attention. Both children are drawn in a realistic manner and their facial expressions communicate so much, which makes it a great book for even very young audiences. After some silly moments and a bit of frustration, the baby succeeds in getting his older brother to let him come play. The illustrations are engaging and the sibling interaction adorable.

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Reading a variety of books to babies even before they turn one is a great way to set them on their way to becoming readers. 

What are your favorite baby books? Tell us below!