The 2020 holiday season is upon us, and high-quality children’s books make great additions to any shopping list. To encourage lifelong readers and make your holiday shopping quick and easy, our Growing Readers panel (composed of Bright Horizons early education experts) rounded up some of their favorite books from 2020 for every age. Many of these titles can be found in our child care centers near you!
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Tips for Reading to Babies and Toddlers
Even if your baby or toddler is only willing to sit and look at a book for a short time, those early literacy experiences can foster a lifelong love of reading. Make reading time fun and enjoyable so that your infant or toddler begins to associate good feelings with reading.
Read the stories slowly, lingering over each page. Point out and describe the photos, e.g., “Look, he’s swinging,” or “Ooh, he’s being so gentle with the puppy.” Casually point out some of the action phrases that rhyme, e.g., “walking and riding, pushing and sliding.” Encourage your child to act out some of the words. Be ready to read books more than once as young children love to hear the same story again and again!
10 Best Books for Babies and Toddlers in 2020
- This is the Construction Worker: written by Laura Goodwin; illustrated by Julian Hector. As the sun comes up, we meet a female construction worker and follow her throughout her day. Lilting rhyme, rich vocabulary, and detailed illustrations make this book a hit with any child interested in construction.
- A Little Book About Spring: written by Leo Lionni’s friends; illustrated by Leo Lionni and Julie Hamilton. A Little Book About Spring introduces a new generation to author-illustrator Leo Lionni, whose bright illustrations and gentle stories have enchanted readers for more than 60 years. Crisp, descriptive text builds language development while evoking sensory images of spring.
- So Light, So Heavy: written and illustrated by Susanne Strasser. Zoop! Zippity Zap! Whoop! Elephant wants to teeter-totter but he’s too heavy. That is, until he gets some help from his friends—penguin, monkey, ostrich, giraffe, hippo, and dino! Bright illustrations, playful vocabulary, and a repetitive text will have little ones begging for more.
- A Parade of Elephants: written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes. “Big and round and round they are. Big and round and round they go.” This charming parade of elephants introduces numbers, prepositions, and size — and ends with a sweet surprise.
- Upsy-Daisy, Baby!: written by Susan Hughes; illustrated by Ashley Barron. Baskets, slings, shawls, and more. Families around the world carry their babies differently, but they have one thing in common: love. Glorious illustrations combine with a lively text that celebrates the nurturing care of extended families everywhere
- Tummy Time Friends: written by Carol McDougall and Shanda LaRarnee-Jones. “Lift up your head and you will find some friends have come for tummy time.” Lilting rhymes and beautiful full-page photos invite babies to explore their world.
- Giggly Wiggly Playtime Rhymes: written by Michael Rosen; Illustrated by Chris Riddell. Exuberant, joyful, and silly, this book of poems for little ones should be read again and again. Rosen brilliantly plays with language, rhyme, and alliteration. Chris Riddell’s whimsical illustrations add humor and emotion.
- My Hands: written by Catherine Hnatov. A charming photo book for the youngest reader, all about hands and the wonderful things they can do.
- A Little Book About Colors: written by Leo Lionni; Illustrated by Leo Lionni and Jan Gerardi. Part of a new series based on the iconic work of author-illustrator Leo Lionni, A Little Book About Colors offers a fresh, engaging look at colors for the youngest reader.
- Peek-a-Bruce: written and Illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins. Poor Bruce! There’s no peace for this bear with four little ducks around. They follow him through the woods, behind a tree, under a rock, into the tub, and even to tea. Finally…the day’s over and he falls asleep. But—those four little ducks will be there in the morning.
Tips for Reading to Preschoolers
Preschool aged children (ages 3-5 years-old) are able to sit for longer periods and follow the plot of a story. Positive interactions with books during these years is critical for developing a lifelong love of reading!
For most adults, one reading of a story is enough, but preschool-aged children love to read good books over and over again. Repeated readings allow them to master the plot, characters, and vocabulary. This practice is also an opportunity for you to point out different aspects of the text. Each time you read the story, focus on something different. Use open-ended comments and questions to discuss the story with your child. Point out the two characters’ facial expressions and body language. Ask your child what they might be feeling. What are their personalities like? Point out alliteration—fine feathered friends, wharble, whistle, etc.
- Leyla: written and illustrated by Galia Bernstein. Leyla has a big, loving, loud family. They like to hug her. They like to kiss her. But sometimes it’s all too much. When Leyla runs away, she meets a lizard who teaches her to “sit perfectly still, feel the sun on your skin…and think of nothing at all.”
- Baby Penguin’s First Waddles: written by Ben Richmond in partnership with the American Museum of Natural History. Simple text and full-page photos depict the lives of emperor penguins. Attentive parents feed and protect their young. As the baby penguins grow, they play, explore, and learn. Soon they’re racing down snowy hills and diving deep in the ocean for food. The book’s rich science vocabulary and focus on community make it stand out.
- Old Hat: written and illustrated by Emily Gravett. Harbet loves his old knitted hat, but he discards it to keep up with the latest trends. Poor Harbet! Every hat he tries is already out of fashion – OLD HAT! Finally, he discovers that being himself is a lot more fun. Children will giggle at Harbet’s antics, and they’ll appreciate the story’s theme of independence and self-acceptance.
- Trio: The Tale of a Three-Legged Cat: written and illustrated by Andrea Wisnewski. Trio, the three-legged cat, doesn’t know he’s different. He pounces, sneaks, and jumps with the farm cats. He digs holes, takes dust baths, and eats bugs with the chickens. But when he climbs into a nest, he discovers a special surprise in this winning tale of finding strengths and celebrating differences. Vibrant linocut and watercolor illustrations add to the fun.
- Seeds Move!: written and illustrated by Robin Page. Seeds Move tells the story of seeds and how they move from one place to another — with the help of animals, humans, gravity, wind, and water. Through bright illustrations and an engaging text, we learn that seeds are “smarter” than we ever thought possible.
- The New Neighbors: written and illustrated by Sarah McIntyre. Uh oh. Rats have moved in. They’re big, dirty, smelly, thieving, and dangerous. At least that’s what the other animals believe. But what’s really true? Find out in this hilarious, rollicking tale.
- Lottie & Walter: written and illustrated by Anna Walker. Lottie can’t go in the pool. The (imagined) shark there will surely eat her. That is, until she meets Walter the (imagined) walrus. Walter likes music, books, and fish sticks—just like Lottie. Best of all, he can vanquish sharks. With Walter at her side, Lottie finds the courage she had inside all along. Soft watercolor illustrations, thoughtful text, and charming characters make this story a favorite!
- A Piglet Named Mercy: written by Kate DiCamillo; illustrated by Chris Van Dusen. Mercy Watson the porcine wonder is back and this time we discover how she came to live on Deckawoo Drive. As usual, there are whimsical illustrations, snappy dialogue, and plenty of buttered toast.
- Daniel’s Good Day: written and illustrated by Micha Archer. As Daniel walks through the neighborhood with his grandmother, he asks everyone he meets, “What makes your day good?” The answers are lovely and varied— clear skies, a steady wind, birthdays, wagging tails, please and thank you, and much more. Charming illustrations add to the message of warmth, community, and gratitude.
- When Pencil Met Eraser: written by Karen Kilpatrick and Luis O. Ramos, Jr.; Illustrated by Germán Blanco. Pencil loves to draw—by himself. But when he meets Eraser, he slowly changes his mind. Eraser can add (or subtract) things to his drawings that he’d never considered. Fun illustrations and snappy text deliver the gentle message of friendship and collaboration.
- One Dark Bird: written by Liz Garton Scanlon; Illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon. “One dark bird perched way up high, a view of town, a taste of sky.” Poetic and whimsical, this book describes the phenomenon of murmuration, or the coordinated flight of starlings.
- Evelyn Del Rey is Moving Away: written by Meg Medina; illustrated by Sonia Sánchez. Daniela’s best friend Evelyn is moving away, but the two girls get one special last day together. The poignant text and warm illustrations add to this appealing story.
As children begin reading on their own, it is tempting to stop reading aloud to them, but this time together is as important as ever. Read at bedtime, over a meal, or listen to an audiobook in the car.
- Handimals: written by Silvia Lopez; art by Guido Daniele. Artist Guido Daniele paints intricate and lifelike replicas of animals, using hands as his canvas. Silvia Lopez adds thoughtful and informative text to create this unusual and engaging book.
- The Yin-Yang Sisters and the Dragon Frightful: written by Nancy Tupper Ling; illustrated by Andrea Offermann. Two sisters, one village, and a big problem: a dragon! But together, Mei and Wei use their individual strengths—courage, perseverance, curiosity, and intelligence—to transform the dragon from Frightful to Delightful.
- Superpower Dogs: written by Taran, George, Daniel, and Dominic; photographs by Danny Wilcox Frazier. A fascinating look at working dogs and their human trainers. From rescuing people trapped by earthquakes and avalanches to protecting endangered animals from poachers, these dogs are sure to inspire. Vivid full-page photos.
- Make a Wish Henry Bear: written and illustrated by Liam Francis Walsh. On Henry’s birthday, he wishes that his parents were more fun. Be careful what you wish for, Henry! Now his parents feed him nothing but chocolate cake, keep him up all night, and get him into trouble with his teacher!
- The Roots of Rap: written by Carole Boston Weatherford; illustrated by Frank Morrison. “From Atlanta to Zanzibar, youth spit freestyle freedom sounds. Hip-hop is a language that’s spoken the whole world ‘round.” Author and English professor Carole Boston Weatherford writes that rap and hip-hop are rooted in folktales, jump rope and hand-clap rhymes, and even the poetry of Langston Hughes.
- Just Ask!: written by Sonia Sotomayor; illustrated by Rafael López. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s lovely book depicts her planting a garden with friends. Just as the many different flowers add beauty and variety to her garden, her friends are all different too. Rafael has asthma. Sometimes he needs quiet time to catch his breath. Madison and Arturo are blind, which means their other senses are very acute. Sotomayor urges readers to celebrate differences and says, “If you’re curious about other kids, just ask.”
- Pass Go and Collect $200: The Real Story of How Monopoly Was Invented: written by Tanya Lee Stone; Illustrated by Steven Salerno. Tanya Lee Stone passes Go in this engaging story about the history of the board game “Monopoly.” Meet Elizabeth Magie, a writer, poet, and activist who invented the game after watching the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
- Beware of the Crocodile: written by Martin Jenkins; illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura. Crocodiles are really scary and have lots of teeth, but that’s not all. Author and conservation biologist Martin Jenkins offers an engaging and well-balanced look at crocodile behaviors.
- The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise: written by Dan Gemeinhart. Twelve-year-old Coyote Sunrise has been traveling across the country in an old school bus with her father for five long years—ever since her mom and two sisters were killed in a car crash. Now it’s time to go home; along the way, Coyote meets some unlikely friends.
- New Kid: written and Illustrated by Jerry Craft. Jordan wants to go to art school, but his parents send him to an upscale private school instead. He tries to fit in, but middle school is rough. Kids will relate to the story’s message and enjoy this graphic novel’s illustrations.
- Pay Attention, Carter Jones: written by Gary D. Schmidt. “Make good decisions and remember who you are,” says the Butler, a modern day Mary Poppins intent on teaching Carter Jones about life, cricket, and pizza. This coming of age story deftly explores a young boy’s loss with humor and wisdom.
- The Line Tender: written by Kate Allen. Lucy Everhart has inherited her late marine biologist mother’s fascination for sharks and insists on completing her mother’s research, with the help of her father, a fisherman, and an elderly neighbor. Poignant, funny, and filled with hope.
- Pluto Gets the Call: written by Adam Rex; illustrated by Laurie Keller. Pluto’s been downgraded from a planet to an ice dwarf. Now what? In this hilarious romp through the solar system, we learn about planets, asteroids, black holes, and more as Pluto finds a solution for his intergalactic woes.
- When You Grow Up to Vote: How Our Government Works for YOU: written by Eleanor Roosevelt with Michelle Markel; illustrated by Grace Lin. In 1932, Eleanor Roosevelt penned a short book, When You Grow Up to Vote, because she wanted children to understand how government functions and their role in it. This updated version will inspire children to participate in the democratic process.
Whether you’re shopping online, supporting local bookstores near you, or in need of a gift-giving resource to send to relatives and friends, our 2020 holiday book gift guide has something for every age and interest.
Additional Reading Resources
- Bookmark our Growing Readers site for new, top-notch book recommendations for every age all year long.
- Reading with kids is one of the pleasures of parenting – and it can help boost executive function. Discover the benefits of reading at home and in the classroom.
- Learn why reading to babies is so important and how to choose the best books for your infant.
- Let us help you choose the next book for story time with your child. Listen to our podcast Ready, Set Read.