The very best books to read and gift to 1-year-olds
I’m often asked to recommend books for 1-year-olds. I’m also asked, from time to time, whether it’s really “worth” reading to a 1-year-old. After all, so the conversation goes, they don’t really understand the story so shouldn’t I wait until they’re older?
So does reading to one-year-old humans matter? Should we bother doing it? If so, which kind of books should we be reading and why?
The short answer is, yes: reading aloud to small humans – even 1-year-olds – matters and there are some things you can look for to help you choose books that your one-year-old is likely to enjoy.
On this page I’ll also share my list of the 10 best books to buy for 1-year-olds. These are the tried-and-tested, absolute favourite books of 1-2-year-olds around the world. Many have been translated into a long list of languages other than English and hold fond memories for millions of adults who grew up with them and who read them to their children.
Why reading aloud to your 1-year-old matters
Let’s look at the important stuff first. Why should we read to one-year-olds?
To begin with, I think it’s really easy to underestimate how much our one-year-olds understand. One-year-olds may not be able to say many words but they understand almost everything we say and you may be surprised at how your little one engages with the story.
But the good stuff that comes from reading aloud at this age is the stuff that may not be obvious. Even though you probably won’t see it at this age, reading aloud to one-year-olds is helping to build important early literacy skills.
Specifically, reading aloud to one-year-olds:
- shows them that books are important and a source of pleasure;
- helps them begin to understand that those squiggly black marks on the page mean something and that they’re connected to the words you say;
- helps to build a rich vocabulary;
- exposes them to things and experiences outside their own daily lives;
But the most important benefit is that their phonological awareness – which started developing at birth – is being stimulated every time you speak to them or read them a story.
What is phonological awareness?
Phonological awareness is a listening skill and one of the most important building blocks of early literacy. In fact, a child’s phonological awareness in the pre-school years is the best predictor we have of children’s later reading and spelling success.
So phonological awareness matters a lot and the months between a child’s first and second birthdays are a crucial period for its development.
But how does reading aloud stimulate the development of phonological awareness?
Phonological awareness is about our ability to focus on three things:
- the sounds of speech, as distinct from the meaning of the words – on the intonation or rhythm of the speech;
- the fact that certain words rhyme;
- the separate sounds we hear;
Books of all kinds are great stimulators of phonological awareness. This is because they generally contain vocabulary and speech patterns that are quite different to the ones children hear in their day-to-day interactions with us.
But some books are better than others. Sadly, there are many books marketed for 1-year-olds that, frankly, are not worth the paper they’re printed on. These are the books that are quickly churned out to meet a market, rather than books carefully and painstakingly written by specialist children’s authors such as Mem Fox.
So which books are the best books for 1-year-olds?
You’ve probably noticed that many books for young children incorporate rhyme, repetition and often words and language patterns which have a lovely rhythm to them when read aloud. This is no accident. Young children’s brains seem to be innately programmed to respond to rhyme and rhythm and books which incorporate a pleasing rhythm are especially good stimulators of phonological awareness. So look for books that incorporate repetition, a pleasing rhythm and rhyme, just like the ones on this page.
The illustrations are probably not such a big deal in books for 1-year-olds. I’m not a huge fan of the Disney-type illustrations or of cartoon-style illustrations but little ones often enjoy them. That said, I always look for appealing illustrations that I enjoy looking at, such as those created by Judy Horacek and Eric Carle. One-year-olds like bright, simple illustrations so look for those.
Children at this age will ask to have a favourite book read over and over again and this is an important part of their early-literacy development. I remember my twin sons climbing into my lap, each with a favourite book in hand which they would thrust into my face with the command “Mummy read”, both at the same time! So if you’re going to read a book over and over again, try to choose one that you’ll enjoy reading.
My favourite book to read aloud when my children were one-year-olds was Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy and the other books in the series. The illustrations, stories, rhythm and rhyme were so beautifully done that they truly were a delight to read aloud. There are a number of books in the Hairy Maclary series. I’ve included my favourites in our Hairy Maclary Gift Basket.
Finally, one-year-olds also tend to love animals and photos of other babies so books that feature these are usually a hit with them. You’ll find a selection of cute and clever animal books for children in our Animal Friends Gift Basket.
So here is my list of the very best books to gift and read to one-year-olds. If you’re looking for a gift for a one-year-old or perhaps looking to build your own child’s library, you can’t go wrong with one of these books.
My Top 10 Books for 1-year-olds
1. Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes is a gorgeous rhyming poem about babies, with lots of divine illustrations of babies from around the world by Helen Oxenbury.
One-year-olds love this book because of the rhyme and repetition and because the pictures of babies and their families are easy for them to relate to. And, of course, they love being able to relate the exploration of fingers and toes in the book to their own fingers and toes.
When you’re sharing this book with a small human, it seems natural to play games with the baby’s own fingers and toes and this is a game they love!
A board book edition of Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes is one of the very special books we include in our Baby’s First Library Gift Basket.
2. Goodnight Moon
I was a bit dubious about Goodnight Moon when I first encountered it. It seemed like a bit of a silly book to me – simple and with odd illustrations. But you know what? One-year-olds absolutely adore this book. They love the repetition and, of course, the experience of saying goodnight is one that toddlers of this age completely understand and relate to. As they get closer to their second birthday, one-year-olds will often start to notice and talk about new elements in the book – like the moon appearing higher and higher in the sky in each illustration.
3. Where is the Green Sheep?
I honestly think every child should own a copy of Where is the Green Sheep? I’ve given it as a gift to more babies and 1-year-olds than I can remember and every single one of them has not just liked it – they’ve adored it. That’s why it’s one of the books I chose to include in the Baby’s First Library Gift Basket.
In many ways I think Where is the Green Sheep? is actually the perfect book for one-year-olds. I’ve written about this before. The text incorporates repetition, rhyme and a pleasing rhythm but there’s a lot more too. The illustrations are gorgeous and the story – the perplexing mystery of the missing green sheep and the search for said sheep – is just perfect for 1-year-olds to engage with.
4. Where’s Spot?
Where’s Spot? is one of the first lift-the-flap books and it’s now a classic.
Eric Hill was inspired to write Where’s Spot? while he was working in creative marketing. Noticing that his three-year-old son was fascinated by the process of lifting up a piece of paper that was part of a design he was working on, Hill created a story about a puppy which incorporated paper flaps designed to be lifted by a child. During the late 1970s, this was a new idea and it took a while to convince publishers that they should take a chance on the book. Within weeks of the first book being released by Puffin in 1980, the book topped the Bestseller list and it’s been a huge favourite with children ever since.
The 2022 version of Where’s Spot? incorporates sturdy pages and flaps made of card which are easier for little fingers to manipulate. The book is a great introduction to lift-the-flap books for one-year-olds.
5. Dear Zoo
Rod Campbell’s classic lift-the-flap book Dear Zoo has been a firm favourite with toddlers and parents ever since it was first published in 1982. It’s such a great book that it’s one of the very special books included in two of our gift baskets: our Animal Friends Gift Basket and our Lift-the-Flap Books Gift Basket.
One-year-olds love this book and the board book version is perfect for them. Let them learn to lift the flaps themselves as they discover the animals the zoo has sent – a monkey, a lion and even an elephant! But will the zoo ever manage to send the perfect pet?
With bright, bold artwork, a catchy refrain and a host of favourite animals, this book is a must-have for every 1-year-old.
6. The Very Hungry Caterpillar
This is a book that really doesn’t need an introduction.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar was first published in 1969 and has been described as one of the greatest childhood classics of all time. Designed, illustrated and written by Eric Carle, the book is about a very hungry caterpillar who eats a variety of different foods before pupating and emerging as a butterfly.
One of the things that makes this book so lovely and so popular is that it has so much going on for children and adults to enjoy at different ages. In addition to the simple, engaging story and gorgeous collage illustrations, the book includes counting, days of the week, food and the butterfly’s life cycle, as well as ‘eaten’ holes which were a new idea in the 1970s when the book first became popular.
Not surprisingly, The Very Hungry Caterpillar has won numerous awards and has been translated into more than 60 languages, including Arabic, Dutch, French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Italian, Portuguese, Swedish, Russian and Hebrew.
7. Lucy Cousins Nursery Rhymes
You can start reading nursery rhymes to your baby from birth and this little book is the perfect book of nursery rhymes to give to a one-year-old. There are lots of great books of nursery rhymes for kids but I recommend this one for one-year-olds for three reasons:
- it’s a sturdy board book so will stand up to a lot of rough treatment and makes it easy for little fingers to turn the pages (I love board books);
- the illustrations are simple, bright and colourful which appeal to smaller humans;
- it’s a smaller format (15cm x 18cm) which is a good size for one-year-old hands to hold, turn the pages and carry around (my daughter used to carry books around when she was small);
8. Hello Baby!
Hello Baby! is another lovely book by Australian picture book author, Mem Fox. One-year-olds are often fascinated by animals and this is a great book for helping children learn the names of animals and to recognise them. The illustrations by Steve Jenkins are realistic and just beautiful and the text rhymes, which is always a winner with little ones (remember my earlier mention of phonological awareness?) The book begins with the words:
Hello, baby! Who are you?
Are you a monkey with clever toes?
The gentle text then goes on to ask whether perhaps the baby is a variety of different animals, describing a feature for each one before concluding:
Then who are you, baby? Wait, let me guess –
Are you my treasure?
The answer is …
9. Hop on Pop
Hop on Pop was a huge favourite in our household when my twin sons were one and it’s a great first Dr Seuss book for one-year-olds. My boys loved the book and I remember so well the worried look on the face of my son, Oliver, and his insistent “No, no!” when I read “No Pat, no – don’t sit on that!” as Pat positioned his bottom to sit on a cactus.
Hop on Pop was first published in 1963 and is really a series of short, rhyming poems about a variety of different characters. The illustrations are pure, typical Dr Seuss and the rhymes are very funny. One of the great things about this book – as with many Dr Seuss books – is that your one-year-old will love having it read aloud and will come back to it as a 4-year-old or 5-year-old to practise her decoding skills when she’s learning to read.
I honestly consider this book to be a must-have for every child’s personal library. Happily it’s widely available in libraries and in book shops as an inexpensive paperback book. If you’re buying for a one-year-old, get the board book version if you can.
10. Global Babies
When my own children were one-year-olds, their favourite book was a board book which featured photos of babies. The one they loved is out of print now but this is a really lovely alternative. Global Babies is a joyful celebration of our global heritage and features images of babies from around the world in a variety of settings. The text itself is simple:
Wherever they live, wherever they go, whatever they wear, whatever they feel, babies everywhere are beautiful, special and loved.
But it’s the illustrations which are the real attraction in this book. Babies love other babies and are naturally drawn to human faces – in real life and in photos – so this book is just perfect. One-year-olds love turning the pages and looking into the eyes of the babies they see and, of course, this book is also a wonderful introduction to diversity for our littlest humans.
* This blog post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you). All the books I link to are quality texts I've read and enjoyed. In most cases I also use them in the classroom.
Over to you
Do you read aloud to your one-year-old?
What are your favourite books for one-year-olds?
I’d love to hear what you think so drop me a line in the comments.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Felicity is a mum of three young adults and a primary school teacher in Sydney, Australia. Passionate about children's literacy and about the potential of books and reading for enriching young lives, she also creates and sells cute, clever book-ish gifts and gift baskets for little ones. Check out her Book Gift Baskets and Little Book Gifts.
I’m Felicity - a parent to three young humans and a primary school teacher who loves books.
I’m passionate about helping parents discover the joy of reading to their little ones and I love helping you discover quality picture books to share with the babies and small humans in your lives.