THE BEST CHILDREN'S BOOKS BY AGE
December 08, 2021
We live in an age that is dominated by screens. As parents, many of us spend long days in virtual meetings or parked at a desk with multiple monitors. With hybrid schooling setups and the rise of e-learning, many kids are now also spending increasing amounts of time online and in front of screens. While many of us definitely want our children to spend more time reading, I fully empathize with the desire to turn on the Saturday morning cartoons while you take a few much needed minutes of rest.
Aside from battling the growing habits of spending time online, on phones, or watching TV, it can also feel difficult to find books that your kids will actually enjoy. Wouldn’t it be nice for them to get as excited about reading as they did about that special snack or their favorite toy?
Maybe it’s time to take another look at the bookshelves that have slowly been collecting overdue library books and birthday presents for the past few years.
To offer a little help in your search for the best children’s books by age, we’ve put together a huge list of recommendations that will make great holiday gifts and get your kids more interested in reading with you or discovering new stories in their room during the cold winter months.
Top 3 Benefits of Reading for Children
As a parent, it’s a proud moment when you peek in the living room and see your kid (or kids) quietly enjoying a book. Aside from that well-deserved feeling of pride in watching your child develop their own habits, there are tons of real psychological, physical, and emotional benefits to reading. The benefits differ depending on whether you are reading out loud to your child or they are reading independently, but there are many positive effects from both scenarios.
Emotional bonding and language skills
Research shows that reading aloud to your child bolsters your interpersonal relationship and also supports literacy and language skills. Depending on the types of books that you’re reading, this healthy pastime can also increase your child’s exposure to other cultures and overall social awareness. Conversely, having your child read aloud to you is hugely beneficial for their vocabulary development and general confidence in public speaking.
Improved focus and attention span
Reading (or being read to) often has a calming effect on children and helps them get comfortable sitting and focusing on one task or idea for prolonged periods of time. This can reap huge benefits as they advance in school and need to spend more time on homework or in class.
Creativity and imagination
Children take many of their creative cues from stories that they read or watch. Broadening their exposure to some of the best classic children’s books will help them develop more advanced imaginative capabilities for playtime and their own individual artistic expression.
Children’s Reading Development Stages
If your kids are anything like mine then they’ve been bold con artists from the youngest age. Both of my kids put on a scholarly facade well before they could read, eagerly grabbing books from our shelves and turning pages at every pause despite being totally unable to comprehend the story.
While this is fun and cute, I often wondered about how much my kids could and should be getting from these reading sessions. This prompted me to research more about the stages of literacy development in an effort to better understand which types of books are best by age. As badly as I want my 2-year-old to be reading Treasure Island, they’re just more interested in the best classic children’s picture books during their young years.
Experts generally classify reading development in 5 stages, which are listed below. Credit for the helpful summary of this information goes to The Literacy Bug, where parents and educators can learn more about literacy development and milestones with helpful resources.
- Stage 1 - The emerging pre-reader (ages 6 months to 6 years old). At this stage, most kids are simply absorbing the sounds, pictures, and basic story elements while developing language skills.
- Stage 2 - The novice reader (6 to 7 years old). While children have been learning to repeat words and sounds for years, the novice reader is starting to understand the relationship between written letters, full words, and even sentences.
- Stage 3 - The decoding reader (7-9 years old).As their vocabulary and comprehension grows, kids are able to read in longer sentences and simultaneously grasp the meaning of a story. This more complex synthesis of skills takes time to hone.
- Stage 4 - The fluent, comprehending reader (ages 9-15 years old). Limited less by their newly developed skills, the comprehending readers are increasingly interested in narratives and learning new information while reading.
- Stage 5 - The expert reader (16+ years old). The expert reader (particularly if they continue reading their entire life) are wholly concerned with the stories or information in the text and are continuously processing information and multiple narratives or arguments at once.
The Best Children’s Books by Age
Alright, now that we’ve set the stage for what types of books are most interesting and appropriate for kids, let’s review some of the best children’s books by age and help you cross a few more items off those endless gift lists.
Newborn - 1 Year Old
The Garden Tails book from Jellycat is equal parts book and toy, making it ideal for even the youngest children. The range of soft, squishy, and cuddly pieces will entertain newborns that love various textures and colorful pictures. If your little one is more of a seafarer, Jellycat also makes a Sea Tails book and many other similar versions in the same style.
Edushape makes a great double sided Look and Feel book that features classic black and white shapes on one half and silly, animal faces on the other. Because newborns have very limited perception of color, these black and white designs are often fascinating for children under 6 months of age. The crinkly shapes and smooth pieces will delight little fingers that love exploring.
If you’re looking for an easy way to get hours of giggles try the Little Giraffe Finger Puppet book from Chronicle Books. Simply push your finger into the back of the giraffe puppet and get started creating silly stories. The fun illustrations and soft giraffe character will provide endless entertainment.
No list of the best children’s books by age would be complete without a sliding board book from TouchThinkLearn that let’s kids pull at tabs to discover new characters, twists, and turns in the story. While this book does require some motor skills to fully use, even newborns will love a game of peekaboo with the elements of this book.
You can peruse a wide range of baby books offered by Nini and Loli directly on the website.
1-2 Years Old
Did you know that there is a Sophie La Girafe bath book? This soft book features pages filled with colorful illustrations and characters. Get some extra reading time even while your little one is in the tub.
Simple, colorful pictures and raised die cutouts make this TouchThinkLearn book especially engaging for young ones. They’ll love the multi-sensory exploration on each page of this book, which is perfect for kids that are wanting to continually try new foods and move their bodies in new ways.
Parents decide to start potty training at all different ages. But, if you’re looking to familiarize your son or daughter with the potty and all of it’s mystery, let the Super Pooper and Whizz Kid book help guide your child with fun, lovable characters and simple, effective messaging that gets straight to the point.
Kids are often interested in things that us parents don’t even notice. Basic questions about where trash goes, how plants are grown, and what types of machines we use to do everyday tasks are fascinating to young kids. This simple Boats are Busy board book introduces little readers to all different types of boats. Children will love the pictures and colorful nautical flags on every page.
2-4 Years Old
Many children are raised bilingual, and it can be challenging to find books that support reading in both languages. The Black and White book from Gibbs Smith lets kids read in both English and Spanish while associating the words with familiar black and white pictures. Your kids will love revisiting this book time and time again to look at the pictures while sounding out new words.
Aside from the fun and interesting textures on each page, the Big Touch and Feel book helps kids connect words to the pictures and elements that they’re seeing in the book. This helpful and challenging association is an excellent way to boost their development to the next stage of literacy. This book is truly engaging on all levels.
Learning the ABCs is critical for children to understand how to identify distinct letters and their unique sounds. Get your child interested in the alphabet with B is for Babr, published by Abrams Appleseed. Each letter of the alphabet is paired with a fun new family member or activity that makes it easier to remember the order of letters with clever mnemonic tools.
Captivating designs and new dinosaurs on every page are just part of what makes the Dino Block book so interesting to children. While the outline of a dinosaur is shown on every page, the name is hidden underneath a flap giving kids a chance to guess before it’s revealed.
4-6 Years Old
The Little Artists series of board books from MudPuppy is a fantastic way to introduce young children to impactful artists that have influenced the world of art throughout history. Colorful illustrations and interesting, real historical figures are featured in 4 different books that are included in this complete set. How else will your kids learn about the influence of artists like Frida Kahlo and Charlie Chaplin? The books are cleverly divided by artistic categories, including musicians, sculptors, painters, and performers.
Little readers will be captivated by the wonderful illustrations and unique sea animals in the Creature Features: Ocean Book. Sharks, narwhals, sting rays, jellyfish, and many other creatures abound throughout the entire book.
Whether or not you’ve been able to travel, Penguin makes books specifically designed to introduce children to some of the most interesting and essential facts about each state. For example, the Welcome to Florida book highlights the cities, people, animals, and cultural aspects that make Florida such a colorful place to visit.
All things creepy and crawly abound in this interactive Big Sticker Book of Bugs from Thames and Hudson. Easy instructions are provided on each page, and kids will love discovering new insects while playing at the same time.
Best Classic Children’s Books
While the books mentioned above will educate and entertain, many parents also want their kids to know classic stories that have endured the test of time for their characters and moral lessons.
The Jungle Book
Let your child follow Mowgli, Baloo and Bagheera through page after page of adventures in this beautifully illustrated and leatherbound copy of The Jungle Book. You’ll be proud to display this attractive book on your mantle or side table.
Will poor Mr. McGregor ever be able to protect his previous vegetables and capture the pesky Peter Rabbit? This beloved Beatrix Potter tale has delighted readers for generations. Classic illustrations and a stately tan cover make this book something to cherish for years to come.
Alice in Wonderland
Aside from being one of the best classic children’s books, eye-catching pop outs and a whimsical story make this version of Alice in Wonderland perfect for younger readers. Lewis Carroll’s tale will never seem more real to young readers who might end up falling through the rabbit hole themselves.
Puss in Boots
The enduring story of Puss in Boots can now be enjoyed in both English and Spanish thanks for this special version from Chronicle Books.