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Toddler Books That Are So Fun, They Won’t Know They’re Learning

If you’re parenting a toddler in quarantine, first things first: You are a hero and a saint. While there are plenty of ABC coloring pages and kid-friendly yoga poses to explore alongside your cooped-up tot, books are one indoor-parenting staple you don’t want to be without. But if you’re just about ready to leave those baby board books behind and begin to instill a real love of reading in your child, where do you start?

We’ll never grow tired of classic children’s-lit favorites like The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Mog the Forgetful Cat and The Tiger Who Came To Tea, but there are plenty more you can add to your collection. These toddler books have it all: great stories, wonderful illustrations and the opportunity for valuable teaching moments. Plus, reading together is also one of the best ways to expose kids to language, and studies show that infants who are actively exposed to words are likely to be ahead of their peers when it comes to elementary-school vocabulary and reading skills. So scroll, shop, and read on.

Press Here by Herve Tullet

Press Here book

This book is a modern classic, with bright abstract illustrations in primary colors that will make kids want to go paint their own — after they finish clapping, poking, shaking the book, and more, that is. Plus, this instructional adventure teaches kids about how to follow directions. And that’s something every stuck-at-home parent needs right now.

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There Was An Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe by Jane Cabrera

Cabrera knows exactly how to make popular children’s songs and rhymes modern and relevant. Her version of There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe has her trademark sweet illustrations, and it’s a fun way to introduce little ones to the concepts of reusing and recycling; the old woman’s children repair their broken furniture, add brightly colored patches to their old clothes, and find alternative ways to travel when their car breaks down.

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The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

Part of being a kid is learning how to share. The beautiful (but selfish) Rainbow Fish can help with that, as he discovers that sharing can lead to some pretty awesome rewards: friendship and happiness. There’s a whole series of colorful Rainbow Fish books by Marcus Pfister to keep your tot entertained.

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Can I Eat That? by Joshua David Stein

Getting young kids to eat stuff that’s actually good for them is a trial for many parents. But every food is worth a try, and reading Can I Eat That? by Joshua David Stein to your child might just be a turning point. Made up of a series of fun questions and answers, it appeals to all kids — not just picky eaters (and hey, it might just answer one of those burning questions you’ve always wondered about, like Can you eat a sea urchin?). Julia Rothman’s lovely illustrations help to engage kids and teach them the value of trying new foods.

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Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney

Rhyming classic Llama Llama Red Pajama is perfect for any tots struggling with separation anxiety. It’s the perfect before-bed story to reassure them that they’re not the only one to feel this way — and that Mama will always come back. Key worry words, such as “fret,” are highlighted, but this book is also full of fun; kids enjoy seeing Baby Llama’s toy llama mimicking his every expression.

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Dream Big, Little One by Vashti Harrison

It’s never too early to teach little girls and boys about inspirational women with books like Dream Big, Little One, the beautifully illustrated board book version of the bestselling Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History. Getting to know the names and faces of 18 Black women who changed the world will help curious toddlers grow into damn good adults.

'Dream Big, Little One' $7.19 on Buy now Sign Up

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Looking at illustrations in books can engage kids just as much as hearing the words does, and Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree has been enchanting kids for decades. The sweet but sad story about a young boy and the unconditional love he gets from his beloved tree teaches kids about the power of love, generosity and acceptance and is a book that grows with a child; its underlying metaphor can be used to encourage critical thinking in older kids.

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Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae

The fun rhymes and colorful illustrations make Giraffes Can’t Dance a favorite with little ones — plus it has lines that will stick in your mind forever (in a good way.) Kids learn along with Gerald the giraffe (who is desperate to dance but can’t quite get his body to cooperate) that a little encouragement goes a long way — and that there’s a lot to be said for dancing to your own tune.

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We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, with its poetic, sing-song language, takes readers on an adventure from the very first page. It’s a book you won’t mind reading again and again, night after night, because it’s packed with wordplay, humor and stunning Helen Oxenbury illustrations. And it’s just as well, because you’ll probably be reading this classic to your grandkids one day.

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Our mission at SheKnows is to empower and inspire women, and we only feature products we think you’ll love as much as we do. Please note that if you purchase something by clicking on a link within this story, we may receive a small commission of the sale and the retailer may receive certain auditable data for accounting purposes.

A version of this story was originally published in April 2019.

Want more children’s book recs? Check out what our favorite celebrity moms are reading their kids right now.

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