What Makes a Great Children’s Book?

Reading to your child has many benefits including early language and literacy development, and emotional bonding with parents and caregivers.

But with so many wonderful children’s books out there, how do you know which ones will inspire a lifetime love of reading in your child?

Great children’s books include engaging pictures and simple text with rhyme, rhythm and good pacing, according to Margaret Anastas, an editor with Harper Collins Kids.

Age and developmental level affect the types of books your child will enjoy and what he or she learns from them. Here are a few guidelines to help you select the best books for your child at different stages of development.

The Best Books for Infants (Birth to 18 Months)

First things first: It’s never too early to start reading to your child!

The sound of mom and dad reading aloud makes baby feel safe and secure, and helps build a strong relationship with you. The first few months of life are also a time of rapid brain development, so early exposure to storybooks lays the foundation for future reading success.

Birth to 6 Months

Baby’s eyesight is still a work in progress at birth, so simple, bold, colorful images with high contrast are most appealing for the first six months. As far as text goes, short phrases, words that rhyme and a gentle rhythmic quality are the most soothing for newborns to hear.

7-12 Months

By the end of the first year, baby may start participating in the reading process, which often includes chewing on the book and “babbling” along as you read aloud. Your child is learning from watching you read and this is an important aspect of language development.

  • Board books with laminated cardboard pages are appropriate at this age, as are soft books made of cloth or vinyl.
  • Babies love large, colorful photos of familiar people and things, including other babies! For example, the popular board book Global Babies features brilliant color photos of infants from around the world. Look for simple stories with about one line of text per page, and label the pictures verbally as you go through the book.
  • Infants also enjoy books that engage the sense of touch with soft, scratchy and smooth surfaces, such as the beloved classic Pat the Bunny.

12-18 Months

After the first birthday, your child may start mimicking your reading behavior even more by looking through a book independently, turning pages and pretending to read aloud by making vocal noises — some of which may be actual words mixed in with babbling sounds.

  • Continue to let your child participate. Describe the pictures and text, and pause before turning the page to see if your child wants to say anything in response.
  • Action-oriented pictures depicting familiar characters and situations work well.
  • Look for simple stories with strongly related words and pictures.
  • Include books with repetitive verses and even songs that you can sing with your child.
  • Board books and those made of thin plastic are still good choices.

The Best Books for Toddlers (Ages 18 Months-3 Years)

Toddlers love detailed, action-oriented pictures that engage their budding sense of curiosity, stimulate the imagination and invite exploration.

This is also a good age to introduce paper books with color images on every page and a small amount of relevant text. Repetitive words and phrases, rhymes and songs are excellent features.

Look for books that make learning fun with simple stories that encourage academic learning and teach social skills. Colorful books are a great way for toddlers to learn about animals, shapes, colors, kindness to others and many other important concepts.  

  • Talk to your child about how characters in the story might relate to our own real-life experiences and emotions.
  • Present stories that show cause and effect, or how a character solved a problem.
  • Picture books do an excellent job of teaching ABCs and simple words.
  • Looking for a fun way to introduce math? Read stories that encourage counting, like the Dr. Seuss favorite One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.
  • Bedtime stories help your child wind down and prepare for sleep after a busy day.

The Best Books for Preschoolers (Ages 3-5)

Your preschooler may spend more time reading books independently, in addition to storytime with mom or dad. This is an excellent opportunity for self-directed learning and discovery across a range of topics.

  • Preschoolers still love lots of eye-catching pictures, repetition and words that rhyme. Content can be a little more complex, with text ranging from 1-2 lines to 1-2 paragraphs per page.
  • Offer a variety of topics. This helps your preschooler learn about the world and explore his or her own unique passions. Fictional stories can introduce novel vocabulary words, teach important moral lessons and stimulate creative thinking. Non-fiction books can cover everything from animals to outer space to how things work.
  • Encourage hands-on learning. Stories about children their own age can help preschoolers pick up important life skills like how to brush your teeth or help with chores around the house. Look for books that build real-world knowledge, such as what people with different jobs do, or how different kinds of animals live. Avoid books depicting activiites you don’t want your child to imitate, such as fighting or stealing.
  • Let your child choose. Preschoolers need the opportunity to make some decisions for themselves. The next time you go to the library or book store, ask your child if they see something they like.
  • If your child has a favorite topic, give some age-appropriate books on that. For example, for little ones fascinated by trains, planes, automobiles and all things transportation, Little Kids First Big Book of Things That Go from National Geographic is sure to please.

If you’d like to learn more about our lesson themes and reading list at Little Sunshine’s Playhouse & Preschool®, contact a location near you today!

Check out or previous blogs for more information about reading with your child:

Simple Activities for Teaching Preschoolers to Read   

How to Make the Most of Reading to Your Child