Baby's First Bookshelf: Essential Reads for Infants



· 5 min read
Essential Early Literacy for Infants

Photo by Andy Kuzma


Reading to babies from an early age provides many benefits for their development. Studies show that reading aloud helps build key language, literacy and cognitive skills. According to research from the Cleveland Clinic, reading to infants exposes them to a rich world of words, which aids their language development. The sounds and visuals of books engage babies' brains and stimulate learning. When parents make reading an interactive experience by pointing to pictures and asking questions, it builds babies' understanding of how communication works. Reading together also promotes bonding between parent and child through this special shared activity.

Experts recommend reading daily to infants starting at birth to promote early literacy. Simple board books allow babies to explore shapes, colors, patterns and textures. As their language skills grow, picture books tell stories and expand vocabularies. Rhyming books help babies identify word patterns and develop phonological awareness. Books with diverse characters introduce babies to people and perspectives beyond their immediate world. Ultimately, establishing a habit of reading sets infants up for a lifetime of learning and literacy.

Board Books

Board books are a great place to start when building a baby's bookshelf. They have thick, sturdy cardboard pages that are easy for little hands to grasp and turn. The pages are also resistant to tearing or damage from chewing or throwing. Board books feature bright colors and bold illustrations that capture a baby's attention (1). Classic board book favorites includeby Margaret Wise Brown,by Dorothy Kunhardt, andby Eric Carle. These books have simple stories and engaging sensory elements. For example,has different textures for babies to explore (2). As babies get older, around 1 year old, they will enjoy more detailed board books with more complex storylines. Some good options areby Sandra Boynton,by Rod Campbell, and theseries by Fiona Watt. These books have rhyming text, animal sounds, and flaps or textures to keep toddlers engaged (3). Overall, board books allow babies to discover the joy of books early on through exploration and shared reading time.

Cloth and Soft Books

Cloth and soft books are a great choice for babies because they have soft fabric pages that are safe for chewing. These books often incorporate tactile elements like crinkly paper, textured fabrics, and silicone teether features that provide sensory stimulation. According to Amazon, popular cloth books include titles like Let's Count Soft Book from Eric Carle and Dr. Seuss's My Many Colored Days cloth book.

The soft fabric pages of cloth books are ideal for little hands to grasp and turn. Babies can safely chew on these books, supporting their oral development. The textured elements also promote sensory exploration and fine motor skills. As noted by Kaplan, cloth books often have crinkly paper, soft animal heads, and textured fabrics. Silicone teether features let babies soothe their gums while looking at pictures.

According to Amazon, cloth books support early development across multiple domains. The sensory stimulation promotes cognitive growth, while the graspable format builds fine motor control. As babies explore these safe, soft books, they build visual tracking and language skills.

Picture Books

Picture books are an excellent choice for babies as they combine simple stories and rhyming text with engaging illustrations that capture little ones' attention. The large, colorful pictures allow babies to follow along even before they can understand the words. Some great picture books to try are:

Goodnight Moonby Margaret Wise Brown - This classic bedtime story features soothing rhymes and familiar scenes.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boomby Bill Martin Jr - A fun alphabet rhyme that introduces letters in an interactive way.

The Very Hungry Caterpillarby Eric Carle - Vibrant collage illustrations and a simple story follow the metamorphosis of a caterpillar.

Picture books allow babies to focus on the visuals while listening to the cadence of the language. The combination of engaging images, rhyming text, and short stories make picture books an ideal choice during infancy.

Black and White Books

Black and white books are an excellent addition to a baby's first bookshelf. The high contrast images in these books help stimulate infants' developing visual systems.

Newborns see the world in black, white, and shades of gray. Black and white images stand out clearly against an otherwise blurry world. These high contrast books give babies a chance to focus on images and see details, encouraging the development of their optic nerves and visual processing skills.

In addition to visual development, black and white books can also aid cognitive development by helping infants distinguish between contrasts and patterns. The simple images encourage focus without overstimulation. Babies gradually learn to differentiate between abstract shapes and associate them with real-world objects.

Some great black and white board books to try are Hello, World! Black and White by Jill McDonald and Black & White by Tana Hoban. The bold shapes and patterns will capture baby's attention and give their eyes a workout!

Lift the Flap Books

Lift the flap books are a great interactive choice for babies. These books contain flaps that lift up to reveal surprises like hidden pictures, textures, and peek-a-boo cutouts. Lifting the flaps helps promote curiosity, discovery, and fine motor skills in infants. According to How To Read Lift-the-Flap Books with Babies and Toddlers, lift-the-flap books provide an opportunity to spend more time on each page as babies explore what's under the flaps.

The element of surprise and cause-and-effect of lifting a flap to reveal something new helps babies understand sequencing and builds their sense of object permanence. Lift-the-flap books also aid language development as parents name objects and describe what's under each flap. Books with different textures for babies to touch and feel add sensory stimulation and encourage hand-eye coordination. Some good lift-the-flap board book options are,, and.

Books with Mirrors

Books with mirrors allow babies to see themselves reflected in the pages. This helps them recognize their own image and develop self-awareness. According to developmental experts, mirror books can support cognitive, emotional, and social growthin infants.

Some great mirror book options includeand. These books have high contrast images and sturdy pages perfect for little hands to turn and touch. As babies see their reflection, they start understanding their sense of self. Pointing to the mirror and interacting with their image also builds fine motor skills.

Books with mirrors allow parents to engage in back-and-forth vocal play as they name body parts and facial features together. Babies love seeing themselves smile, open their mouth, and stick out their tongue as they explore the mirrored pages. This interactive experience strengthens the parent-child bond while supporting baby's early cognitive and social development.

Simple Concept Books

Simple concept books are a great way to introduce infants to basic concepts like numbers, letters, shapes, and colors. These books use bright colors, bold shapes, and repetitive words to convey simple ideas. Some popular concept books include:

Goodnight Moonby Margaret Wise Brown - This classic book says goodnight to various objects, familiarizing babies with common vocabulary.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?by Bill Martin Jr - Uses colorful animals and repetition to teach colors and animal names.

Dear Zooby Rod Campbell - Lifts flaps to reveal animals of different shapes and sizes.

Research shows that reading simple concept books to babies helps their brains make connections between words and objects. The repetitive language also aids language development. Simple books allow infants to begin recognizing patterns and developing early literacy skills.

Books in Other Languages

Exposing babies to other languages at an early age has many benefits. Studies show that bilingual children have cognitive advantages when it comes to learning to read, as they are able to pick up on word structure more easily. Reading aloud to bilingual children in both languages helps promote multilingualism and supports their language development across languages.

Even for monolingual families, reading books in other languages can introduce infants to different sounds and broaden their perception of language. Choose board books or picture books in languages spoken in your community or languages of your family heritage. The rhythm and melody of a new language sparks infants' curiosity and lays a foundation for later language learning.


To summarize, reading aloud is one of the most beneficial activities parents can do with their infants. By exposing babies to books from the earliest months, parents help develop language skills, strengthen family bonds, and instill a lifelong love of reading. Board books, cloth books, black and white books, and lift-the-flap books are all perfect for little hands to explore. Simple concept books introduce numbers, letters, colors, and objects. Books with diverse characters teach empathy and representation. Reading aloud in multiple languages exposes infants to the sounds and cadences of different cultures. Most importantly, cuddling up with a good book provides security, routine, and an invaluable opportunity for connection.

The essential books included on a baby's first bookshelf encourage sensory exploration, cognitive development, and a joy for stories. Reading together, even before a baby can understand the words on the page, builds crucial pre-literacy skills. Routinely sharing books helps infants associate reading time with comfort and closeness. With the right books within reach, parents can nurture a lifelong reader starting from the very beginning.


About Davide

Davide is not just a co-founder of ProKids; he's also a dedicated father who understands the joys and challenges of parenting firsthand. Passionate about games and child development, his mission is to make parenting a more enriching and ...

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