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Choosing good books for children of all ages

Tuesday, December 19, 2017
By Elizabeth Strachan Erickson, MD, for KidsFirst

The holiday season is in full swing and everyone is talking about the newest, hottest toys--I’m looking at you, Fingerlings. While on the hunt for the so-called “toy of the year,” it’s important to remember a tried and true classic: a good book. Pediatricians know that young children who are read to regularly have improved vocabularies and are better prepared to enter kindergarten. Reading also can help to create structured routines around bedtime that can help your little one drift off to sleep more easily--even during the excitement of the holidays.

It can be hard to know which books to select for your child or to give as a gift to another family--especially for young children. Reach Out and Read, a national early literacy promotion program, has collected some favorites along with tips for reading that can help you choose books and then enjoy them with young children of all ages.

Here are some of my own personal favorites:

6 to 12 months

Board books are perfect for babies to explore. They can begin to move the pages, chew on the edges, and pass the book from hand to hand. Faces will fascinate little ones at this age, and you can take the time to begin teaching them about their body parts. Do you see the baby’s nose? YOU have a nose!

Title: Baby Faces
Author: DK Publishing

Title: Global Babies
Author: The Global Fund for Children

12 to 18 months

Introducing animal sounds and names of familiar objects can be a lot of fun! Help your child to find and name things around them using the book as a guide to reinforce language development.

Title: Dear Zoo: A Lift-the-Flap Book
Author: Rod Campbell

Title: Where’s Spot?
Author: Eric Hill

18 to 24 months

Books with rhymes and word patterns help your baby learn how language works and how words and sounds fit together. It’s a bonus if they have songs to go with them that you and your family sing together.

Title: Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star
Author: Caroline Jayne Church

Title: If You’re Happy and You Know It
Author: Annie Kubler

​24 to 36 months

Books that continue to include rhymes and basic counting skills are perfect to introduce at this age. Also, books can be a great way to establish bedtime routines so it’s great to find some stories that talk about bedtime. Children are learning two to three new words per day at this stage and reading together helps this development.

Title: Goodnight Moon
Author: Margaret Brown

Title: Corduroy
Author: Don Freeman

3 years

Preschoolers are learning basic concepts like opposites and healthy habits at this age. Many children can also recite entire phrases from their favorite book and may notice when you miss a page. Use books to reinforce knowledge of colors or talk about things you do together during the day.

Title: Llama Llama Red Pajama
Author: Anna Dewdney

Title: One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish
Author: Dr. Seuss

4 years

By this age, children can follow books with stories and will often want to hear the same ones over and over again. Children can listen and pay attention for longer periods of time and can be expected to finish a whole book . . .or more than one! Engage your child by asking questions about the story like, “What do you think will happen next?” Or, you can begin to make up your own story with the pictures that you see.

Title: The Snowy Day
Author: Ezra Jack Keats

Title: The Story of Ferdinand
Author: Munro Leaf

5 years

Fairy tales, legends, and stories with twists and turns are fun for five year olds. Help your child point out specific letters and sound out some words together.

Title: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
Author: Judi Barrett

Title: Adelita
Author: Tomie dePaola


Elizabeth Strachan Erickson, M.D. is a medical instructor in the Duke Department of Pediatrics in Durham, NC.



“KidsFirst” is a blog, hosted by the Duke Department of Pediatrics, that provides high quality information to families on a wide range of important child health topics.