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

One parenting staple any family home cannot be without: A collection of books that introduces a love for the written word and makes learning fun — even if kids don’t realize it.

We’ll never grow tired of classic children’s 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: riveting stories, wonderful illustrations, and opportunities to provide valuable lessons that help kids develop self-confidence and (gently) learn life lessons, along with useful skills like counting.

There are so many benefits to reading: The activity exposes kids to language, expands their vocabulary and listening skills, and enhances their creativity. Plus, studies show that infants who are exposed to reading are likely to be ahead of their peers when it comes to elementary-school vocabulary and reading. The act of reading also boosts the parent-child bond, especially when adults pause to discuss the illustrations or storylines, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Our curated list includes something for everyone —a throwback book you might have enjoyed as a child, a spooky read that encourages children to count, and an interactive story that depends on tactile participation and an understanding of the five senses.

So, scroll, shop, and stock up for your kids’ holiday list. It’s never too early!

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.

Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins

Mother Bruce/Disney

Bruce is a bear who loves his solitude. So when the four eggs he bought for breakfast suddenly hatch, he becomes a parent to four goslings — who insist that Bruce is their mother. The book, published in 2015, is the first in a hilarious seven-part series that depicts the (reluctant) love between a makeshift family.

Mother Bruce $11 on

Ten Timid Ghosts by Jennifer O’Connell

Ten Timid Ghosts/Scholastic

If you have a numbers-loving kid or one who is just learning to count, Ten Timid Ghosts is a fun and spooky way to do that. The plot follows ten ghosts minding their own business in an abandoned home — until a witch moves in and drives them out one by one. The text is simple and rhythmic and a fun lead-up to Halloween.

Ten Timid Ghosts $3.77 on

Rocket Writes a Story by Tad Hills

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Rocket Writes a Story/Random House Rocket Writes a Story/Random House

Rocket the dog loves to read — but writing his own story? That’s way out of his league. But when Rocket meets a little yellow bird who agrees to give him writing lessons, Rocket not only learns how to write, he gets a big confidence boost.

Rocket Writes a Story $10.62 on

Elmer the Elephant by David Mckee 

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Elmer the Elephant/HarperCollins HarperCollins

With colorful patchwork skin, Elmer looks different from the rest of the elephants and that makes him feel sad, especially when the rest of the herd makes fun of him, so he decides to run away. But when he rolls around in a patch of berries, Elmer’s bright skin fades into a shade of gray and he becomes unrecognizable, so he returns to the village and learns a powerful lesson about celebrating his differences.

Elmer by David McKee $14.99 on

Press Here by Herve Tullet

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Press Here/Chronicle Books Press Here/Chronicle Books

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.

'Press Here' $7.99 on

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

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There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe/Holiday House There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe/Holiday House

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.

'There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe' $13.79 on

The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

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The Rainbow Fish/North-South The Rainbow Fish/North-South

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.

'The Rainbow Fish' $14.01 on

Can I Eat That? by Joshua David Stein



Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney

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Llama Llama Red Pajama/Viking Llama Llama Red Pajama/Viking

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.

'Llama Llama Red Pajama' $8.99 on

Dream Big, Little One by Vashti Harrison

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Dream Big, Little One/LB Kids Dream Big, Little One/LB Kids

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' $4.79 on

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

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The Giving Tree/Harper & Row The Giving Tree/Harper & Row

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.

'The Giving Tree' $9.09 on

Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae

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Giraffes Can’t Dance/Orchard Books Giraffes Can't Dance/Orchard Books

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.

'Giraffes Can't Dance' $15.29 on

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen

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We’re Going on a Bear Hunt/Margaret K. McElderry Books We're Going on a Bear Hunt/Margaret K. McElderry Books

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.

'We're Going on a Bear Hunt' $14.99 on

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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