Our 12 favourite books for babies and toddlers under 2

I bought loads of books for Jellyfish before he was born. We were living in China at the time so every time I flew to the UK or America on a business trip, I would stop into a bookshop and pick up more baby books.

I really wanted our bundle of joy to have the gift of reading. He had other ideas. He’s a wiggly, mobile, bouncy baby on the move who has turned into a toddler who prefers to play outside rather than being indoors, and doesn’t really sit still for a story very often.

He likes books that do something. They need to be more than just words and pictures, otherwise he just wants to do something else.

He listens to stories standing up and needs time to move around the room between pages. Often, he doesn’t let me read all the words on the page before he turns the page to see what’s next. We abandoned the idea of putting him to bed with a story when he started trying to climb out of his cot and play at bedtime. I honestly never expected babies to do anything other than sit and watch the pages turn when a story was read to them, it never occurred to me that there were other types of people in the world, but here we are, and I love my wiggly baby very much.

The books that have grabbed his attention:

That’s Not My Bus

We have had to buy this twice, now. The first book got played with until it fell apart, over the space of a few weeks. The second time, I bought it in French to expand our bilingual library. I don’t like the weak design of the “that’s not my…” series, and judging by Amazon reviews, I’m not the only person who thinks these books could have been made a bit more robust, but Jellyfish loves this type of book so we have to keep bending over and paying for more of them. We also have That’s Not My Tractor, Car and Giraffe. Each one has slightly different textures/explanations but the basic structure remains the same.

Amazon US (Bus isn’t available in US yet, link for That’s Not My Tractor)

Amazon UK

Rabbit’s Nap

This was a surprise winner from Grandma. When it first arrived, Jellyfish wouldn’t even let me open it, the book went straight in his mouth and he had chewed a corner out of it before I could say, “can you believe what the baby is doing?” We put it on a high shelf for a couple of months and when I brought it back out, Jellyfish was ready for the story. He likes that the lift-the-flaps coincides with onomatopoeia, such as “rat-a-tat, who’s that?” (accompanied by me knocking on the book while saying “rat-a-tat” because every good story needs sound effects), and he has learned several new animal names from this book, as well as the word “bike” and the fact bikes go “ding-ding” when you ring the bell.

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Red Car, Green Car

This was an instant hit from Grandma. You pull the flaps and the cars change colour. There’s no real story but Jellyfish doesn’t care. He just wants to watch the cars change colour. It’s quite a robust book but he’s still managed to pull one of the pages apart and remove the part that makes the car change colour.

Amazon US

Amazon UK

The Gruffalo board book

I felt a bit decadent buying this when we already had the full-sized picture book version, but it found its way into the trolley at ASDA anyway. It’s got a very shortened version of the original story, which rhymes at a shorter interval, meaning Jellyfish can focus on it easier. And he loves pulling the tabs to get the different animals to move as they flee the Gruffalo.

Amazon US

Amazon UK

What’s Up Crocodile (With Flaps)

We borrowed this from the library and then had it all over lockdown as the library was closed. It doesn’t have pull tabs or lift-the-flaps, but each double page is actually a folded down triple-page-spread so you can unfold the third page to get the next part of the story which Jellyfish really loved. This was where he first encountered skiing and cycling. We would get to the end of this book and he’d close it then turn it over so the front page was facing me, then he would push the book into my hand to ask me to read it again. I was quite sad when we finally returned it to the library 9 months after we first borrowed it, when we moved away from Belfast.

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Little Tikes Little Baby Bum Singing Storybook

This was another instant hit. This one has no stories, but each page has a push-button which sings one of the songs from the TV show. Jellyfish was so surprised the first time he heard Five Little Ducks and realized it was coming from this book, not from the TV (which was off at the time).

Amazon US

Amazon UK

1,2,3 (With Squeaker Surprise)

This is a very simple bath book about counting to five. It tells you to press the squeaker as you count the animals on each page, culminating in the dramatic climax of five quacking ducks (press the squeaker five times). The squeaker isn’t positioned for little hands so he’s never been able to squeak it by himself but he loves when I read it to him and he has pulled it out of the bathroom several times and brought it into his bedroom to ask me to read it when it’s not bathtime.

Amazon US (out of print but if you see it secondhand for about $5 it’s great)

Amazon UK

Noises

This was Jellyfish’s first book and we’ve probably read it several hundred times. It’s a cloth book and two of the pages crinkle when you scrunch them up. It was also the book that elicited his first smile, on a car ride when he was three months old.

Amazon US (out of print but should cost about $5)

Amazon UK (out of print but if you see it for about £3-4 grab it)

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

He’s only just getting into this over the past couple of months but he likes the last page with the butterfly (I wiggle the pages to make it look like it’s flying, which he really likes). I don’t think he’s old enough to care about the story at all, yet.

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Listen to the Birds

This one has a push button on each page where it plays bird sounds. The sound quality is really good and Jellyfish loves it, but he got a little too enthusiastic about pulling the pages apart so we have to keep this one on a high shelf and only let him have it under adult supervision.

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Little Green Frog on a Log

I wrote this one specifically for Jellyfish, because he went through a phase where he thought frog pictures were the funniest thing ever. He likes simple stories and as he was a late talker, I wanted something that started with a very basic sentence structure and built on it. I couldn’t find anything like this so being a professional author, I wrote it myself. The construction is standard Amazon paperback and so he pulled the pages away from the cover over the space of a few weeks, but I didn’t mind because I bought it for him specifically.

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Who’s on The Farm: What the Ladybird Heard

This was a surprise hit. He didn’t like it the first three times I tried it, but one day he found it and brought it to me to read. Now he likes me to read it over and over to him. He’s ripped a couple of the flaps off, but overall it seems to have withstood his interest.

Not available on Amazon US

Amazon UK

The books we thought would work but didn’t:

Where’s Mr. Lion

He liked this one the first time we read it to him, but the very next time, as soon as I read the title, he took the book off me, turned to the last page and pulled down the flap. Because Mr. Lion is right there. On the last page. He’s never anywhere else. And that answers the title question, so as far as Jellyfish is concerned, the case is closed. We really liked the baby-proof felt flaps though.

Little People Big Stories series

Look, it’s really cute as an idea to have stories about famous people (mostly) and I was all over these when I saw them, but toddlers just don’t get it. So the board books are a bit pointless. Tell your preschoolers about Marie Curie, by all means. There’s really not a lot of point reading about her to a seven-month-old. Or a twelve-month-old. Or a two-year-old. The pictures aren’t engaging enough for this age and the book has no flaps or textures.

The Gruffalo (the full-sized version)

My husband loves this book and really enjoyed reading it at bedtime but eventually we realized he was getting a lot more out of this than the baby was, so we left it. Little jellyfish isn’t really the right age for big picture-books yet so he prefers the board book of the Gruffalo with an abridged storyline for small attention spans and moving parts for wiggly hands to play with.

Author: Torie Adams

I am a thirtysomething travel writer, lifestyle blogger, photographer, and USA Today bestselling author in Ireland, aka Mama Adventure. As a writer, I have written articles that are published in Offbeat Bride and on Buzzfeed, and as a photographer, I have taken photographs that are published in local and national news outlets in the UK. I have a blog at www.mamaadventure.com Twitter: @mamaadventurez