The Ultimate List of the Best Books for Toddlers
As parents, we know we’re supposed to read aloud to our kids because it’s good for their growing little brains.
But sometimes reading aloud to a 2-year-old makes you question whether it’s actually doing any good.
They can’t seem to sit still and focus, they want to turn the pages before you’re done reading them, and they toddle off halfway through the book. Hey! Don’t you want to know what happens to the bowl full of mush?!?
And yet, it’s important to keep trying because the relationship our children have with books and reading when they’re young directly impacts how much they’ll love to read when they’re older. According to the research on raising readers:
“The more you read, the better you get at it; the better you get at it, the more you like it; and the more you like it, the more you do it.”Jim Trelease, The Read-Aloud Handbook
But it’s not just about fostering a love of reading. Looking ahead to when our kids are older, reading is essential for the learning process, and kids who struggle with reading tend to struggle in school:
“Children who aren’t reading proficiently by fourth grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school, and…only 34 percent of America’s fourth graders read at grade level.”The New York Times
The Secret to Turning Your 2-Year-Old Into a Bookworm
As a mom of four on my fourth toddler now, I’ve had lots of firsthand experience nurturing active 2-year-olds into becoming toddler-sized bookworms who will sit still and happily listen to a whole book…most of the time.
And among friends, I’ve also become known as the friendly neighborhood toddler book whisperer. Give me an upset 2-year-old and a good book (more on this below), and I’ll have that toddler tamed in no time.
Over the years, I’ve learned four guiding principles for teaching your 2-year-old to love books:
- Let them see you – Do you know how a 2-year-old will copy everything you do, from climbing on a chair so you can reach the top cupboard, to swearing like a sailor when you stub your toe? That goes for books and reading, too.
- Let your toddler see you reading something for pleasure at least once a day – magazines, comic books, the newspaper – whatever you enjoy.
- You can read to yourself or read aloud to older kids, but do read something because your toddler is watching you to learn how much fun books and reading are.
- Side note: If you tend to read e-books on a mobile device, your toddler has no idea that you’re reading and may think you’re watching funny cat videos instead. Consider getting a physical book you can read a little at a time every day while your toddler is around.
- Share power – Toddlers have a healthy need for power, but they don’t get to exert power over their situation very often. You can win them over to books and reading by sharing a little of the power you have. For example, let them pick out a book to read from your bookshelf, let them turn the pages for you as you read, and let them ask questions about the book you’re reading or stay on a page longer if they want to talk about what they see – even if that makes it take longer to finish the book. (I know. But a little power-sharing goes a long way!)
- Keep going – Even if it seems like it’s not working, it is. Every time you read aloud to your toddler, you’re strengthening their future love of reading. If your toddler can’t manage to sit still long enough to listen to a whole story, that’s okay. Keep trying because listening is an acquired skill. Plus, when you read aloud, you increase your child’s ability to pay attention and concentrate – skills that will help your child in school and in life beyond school. Try reading at bedtime when your child is calmer or when your child is held captive like when they’re eating a meal, in the bathtub, or in the toddler swing at the park. Get creative!
- Choose wisely – All books for 2-year-olds are not created equal. One of the biggest causes of a toddler not enjoying read-aloud time is when the book is the wrong fit for their age, temperament, and developmental stage. If you want your toddler to love books and reading, it’s essential to pick the right books for 2-year-olds. If you have a favorite childhood book that your child won’t sit through, that doesn’t mean they won’t ever enjoy it. It’s just that it might be the wrong fit for your child right now. Because this is so important for growing toddler bookworms, below I’ve included a list of the best books for 2-year-olds.
Related: The Most Powerful Habit for Raising Smart Kids (And Kind Kids, Too)
Look for This When Choosing Books for 2-Year-Olds
In general, you’ll want to look for the following things when picking out books for toddlers. (In the list of best books for 2-year-olds below this section, you’ll find that many of those books have at least one of these qualities in their favor.)
- Short – As much as I adore a book like Rosie Revere, Engineer, most 2-year-olds aren’t ready to sit through a story with that much text on each page. If your toddler toddles off in the middle of a story, it might be too long for where their listening skills are right now. Put that one back on the shelf and try again in a month or so.
- Rhyming or rhythmic – Rhyming books are fun for toddlers, but they’re also awesome for developing their literacy skills. Research shows that rhyming stories increase phonemic awareness, improve memory, and build vocabulary because rhymes tend to include unique words kids wouldn’t otherwise hear. In other words, good rhymers grow into good readers.
- Repetitive – Toddlers love books with a refrain that gets repeated throughout the book. A toddler’s memory skills aren’t as developed as an adult’s, and it’s easier for them to learn and understand when you repeat something over and over. And some research indicates that repetition is what toddlers need in order to learn new words.
- Funny – Your goal in this stage of reading aloud is to show your toddler how much fun reading and books can be, and a book that will make them giggle does exactly that. Plus, humor makes it easier for kids to understand what’s happening in the book.
Also, this may go without saying, but print books are better than digital ones because print books do much more to develop your child’s literacy skills.
Related: The Ultimate List of the Best Picture Books, Endorsed by Kids And Parents
65 Best Books for 2-Year Olds – Most Loved by Toddlers And Parents
A while ago, my kids and I spent months and months putting together a list of the best picture books, and parents message me every week to say thank you for that list. But some parents also have another request: What are the best books for 2-year-olds?
And so my family set out on another months-long research project to find awesome books for 2-year-olds that both toddlers and parents will enjoy. (If toddlers are going to ask us to read it again and again, it may as well be something we’ll get a kick out of, too!)
Over the years, we’d already read tons of toddler-friendly children’s books, but we wanted to do a thorough review of all the best books for toddlers age 2. So every week, I put 30+ books on hold at the library, plus at every visit I browsed the shelves for even more books for 2-year-olds. All told, my kids and I read hundreds of picture books and board books to prepare this list.
In fact, we’ve been working on this list so long that my child who was a toddler at the start of our research project has since aged out of that phase into the preschooler stage, and my youngest has joined the ranks of toddlerhood.
The list below is the cream of the crop from those hundreds of books: the books I loved reading, and the books my toddlers couldn’t get enough of. When you read the best books for 2-year-olds, you’ll be growing your own toddler-sized bookworm!
Note: indicates my family’s absolute top favorites on the list. These are the books my kids absolutely can’t get enough of!
The Best Books to Make Your Toddler Feel Known + Heard + Understood
These books are perfectly attuned to what’s going on inside a toddler’s brain developmentally. When you read these books aloud to your 2-year-old, she’ll think, “YES! YOU TOTALLY GET ME.”
1. Little Excavator
Toddlers especially love this picture book because of the fun sound effects – but also because they can 100 percent relate to being told you’re not big enough to do something.
Tip: Haven’t heard of Bookshop yet? It’s an online bookstore with a mission to support local, independent bookstores. As of March 2023, they’ve raised more than 25 million dollars for local bookstores! If you want to order books online while also supporting local bookstores, feel free to use the Bookshop buttons under each book recommendation in this post.
2. Knuffle Bunny
Toddlers relate to this book on two powerful levels: first, how losing your lovey feels like the end of the world. And second, how incredibly frustrating it is when you’re still learning to talk and you’re trying to say something that’s important, but your parents can’t understand you.
3. Red Is Best
You know how giving your 2-year-old the “wrong” color cup can make them flip out? This book helps your toddler feel understood, and it gives them the language to communicate why the color of something is important to them. Anytime you can give a toddler the language to describe the emotions she’s feeling, that can help decrease the freak-out factor. And as a side benefit, this book gave me more compassion for my toddler in those moments too!
4. Not a Box
This book features two things 2-year-olds love: pretend play and cardboard boxes. Inside, you get a sneak peek into what’s really happening inside the imagination of your toddler. With simple illustrations, this is a great little book about the power of your imagination.
5. Yes Day!
Toddlers love the idea of having a day where they get to do anything they want. Also, because of this book, we now have a tradition in our family that on your birthday, you get a “yes day”!
- A Big Mooncake for Little Star – Because 2-year-olds struggle with impulse control, they immediately relate to the main character in this book. And here’s the important part: Even though she struggles to control her impulses, her mom still loves and accepts her.
- Wait – Toddlers know what it feels like to be told to hurry up when they want to just be in the moment. The end of this story is so satisfying for toddlers!
- Little Pea – This book has a little more text on each page than most other books for 2-year-olds in this list, so you may need to try a few times before your toddler can make it all the way through. However, this book perfectly turns a typical toddler power struggle on its head, so it’s worth it – Little Pea doesn’t like candy but has to eat it for dinner. If your toddler loves this one, also try Little Oink and Little Hoot. Or you can get the whole set of three books for cheaper here.
- Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus – Toddlers relate to the pigeon being told “no” over and over again, and it’s fun for them to reverse roles and be the one who’s dishing out the “no”s for once.
- The Story of Ferdinand – In this story, Ferdinand is forced to do something he doesn’t want to do, and 2-year-olds can very much understand what that feels like.
- Where the Wild Things Are – At this age, kids are starting to feel shame for disappointing their parents. So every toddler I’ve ever known can totally relate to Max’s situation.
- Oh No, George! – Toddlers can’t help but giggle at the main character’s struggle to control his impulses because they know exactly what that feels like.
- Today – This book puts 2-year-olds in the driver’s seat for once and lets them pick what they want to wear, what they want to eat, where they want to go, and more.
- Make a Wish, Midas! – Toddlers love how Midas wants to wear different clothes, and they can relate to how he has a favorite color he prefers everything to be. But then the idea of “too much of a good thing” surprises them and makes them think!
- Don’t Blink – This book gives 2-year-olds a safe and healthy situation where they can exercise their independence, plus have fun doing it!
Related: The Toddler Brain: 7 Things Your Toddler Wishes You Knew
Alphabet + Counting + Colors + Shapes Books for 2-Year-Olds
When you’re looking for learning books for 2-year-olds, look for books that will make the learning process fun. All these books fit that bill!
- Eating the Alphabet: Fruits & Vegetables from A to Z – This book is a fun way to expose toddlers to different fruits and vegetables and practice the alphabet. A couple fun ideas for this book: on each page ask your child to pick out one thing they want to eat (and then pretend to pick it off the page and eat it!), or bring the book along to the grocery store and see if your child can find the fruits and veggies from the book. Bonus points if you let them pick out one thing to take home and try!
- 123 Dream and ABC Dream– These are gorgeous books. The 123 version is great for getting 2-year-olds to practice counting, and kids love picking out the hidden objects in the ABC version.
- Creature ABC – In this alphabet book, toddlers love to guess the animal before you get to the next page.
- Technicolor Treasure Hunt – This book is great for learning colors, counting, and new words. Plus, it’s a book your child can continue to grow with. When my 2-year-old turned three, she would sit and count everything in this book on her own.
- Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? – This is one of the most quintessential books for 2-year-olds because it has a little of everything: colors, repetition, rhyming, an opportunity to make animal sounds, and a great rhythm to the words as you read. Over time, your toddler will memorize the order of the animals, and you can build their memory skills by asking them to say the animal before you turn the page.
- Mouse Paint – Learning books for 2-year-olds don’t have to be boring. This book teaches your child about primary and secondary colors but with a cute storyline.
- Hippopposites – Such a fun way to teach opposites! Plus, nothing could be cuter than hearing your toddler say “opaque” and “transparent.” If you like this one, also check out Llamaphones and Rhymoceros.
Emotions Books for Toddlers Age 2
At two years old, kids are starting to learn how to cope with big emotions in a healthy way. Read these books for toddlers to help them through this challenging stage.
- The Rabbit Listened – I never get tired of reading this one. It’s a simple but perfect story about how it feels when something goes wrong – and how to overcome those challenging emotions and move forward. My kids ask for this one at least once a day. A must have!
- No Matter What – Because of this book, “no matter what” has become a common refrain in our house. It’s the perfect phrase to remind my kids of my unconditional love for them, even when they’re in the middle of feeling tough feelings.
- Calm-Down Time – This book teaches kids what to do step-by-step when you’re feeling upset so that you can feel calm again.
- Mad, Mad Bear – In this simple story, toddlers see helpful examples of what to do when they feel angry, such as take a breath, get some rest, and so on.
- The Color Monster – This book steps through several different emotions and how they feel, plus it reinforces color learning.
- Owl Babies – Toddlers love the repetition in this book. If your child experiences separation anxiety such as when being dropped off at daycare, this book will especially resonate with them.
- Mrs. Biddlebox – This is possibly my favorite picture book of all time, and I don’t say that lightly. Unfortunately, it’s out of print. The good news is you can get a used copy in good condition on Amazon. Mrs. Biddlebox wakes up in a bad mood, but instead of sitting around like a grouch, she tackles that bad mood and turns it around in time for sleep. We reach for this book anytime my toddler and I have butted heads during the day, and it’s the perfect tool to help us process the bad mojo and end the day feeling connected. The rhythm of this story is perfect for toddlers!
Funny + Silly Books for Toddlers
These funny books for 2-year-olds will make them collapse into a fit of giggles!
- Good Night, Gorilla – This book makes my kids giggle every time, even though we’ve read it a gabazillion times. The youngest ones love doing different silly voices for the animals saying good night.
- Bark, George – On the surface, toddlers enjoy making the animal sounds in this story, but when they figure out the joke, they’ll be tickled. And then every time after that, they’ll love being “in” on the joke.
- Cat the Cat, Who Is That? – What I love about this series is that they’re written simply with few words, but they still make kids laugh. Side note: This is a great one to hang onto for when your child starts reading on her own! If your toddler digs this book, also check out Time to Sleep, Sheep the Sheep!, What’s Your Sound, Hound the Hound?, and Let’s Say Hi to Friends Who Fly!. They’re all so good!
- The Monster at the End of This Book – I was skeptical about this book because my kids don’t watch much TV so haven’t even seen Sesame Street. But my toddlers fell under this book’s spell too. Young kids can barely contain themselves when you keep doing exactly what the book is telling you not to do. For maximum fun, read this one in your best Grover voice!
- A Monkey Among Us – This is out of print, but it’s worth getting a gently used copy on Amazon. It’s deliciously silly and surprising, and it plays with rhyme and rhythm, which 2-year-olds love.
- Mr. Tiger Goes Wild – Toddlers relate to this story because it shows we all have a “wild” side, and it can be hard to contain that and fit into the world around us. But this book is more than just silly. It also gives kids a subtle but poignant take-away about the importance of being true to yourself.
- Orange Pear Apple Bear – This silly story is just the same four words over and over again. Perfect for the short attention span of a 2-year-old!
Interactive Books for 2-Year-Olds
Because listening is an acquired skill, toddlers can have a hard time sitting still while you read aloud. Read these interactive books for 2-year-olds to keep your wiggly toddler engaged in the story. For more great books like this, check out 12 Best Interactive Books for Kids That Will Burn Energy…Quickly.
- From Head to Toe – Toddlers get into this book quickly because the text point-blank invites them to act out the animal movements.
- Peek-a-Who – This is a simple story with 10 words total. Toddlers love this one because they can get an easy handle on the pages to reveal the next surprise, make the sounds with you, and check out their reflection in the mirror at the end.
- Dear Zoo – Your 2-year-old will enjoy the repetition in this story, plus they’ll be able to flip the pieces to see what animal is underneath. For super wiggly toddlers, challenge them to walk like each animal and make the sounds!
- Press Here – My toddlers get so into the instructions to press and shake and tilt this book that we’ve outlawed it from the pool of bedtime stories in our house. They can’t get enough of this one!
Related: 12 Best Interactive Books for Kids That Will Burn Energy…Quickly
Bedtime Books for 2-Year-Olds
When you’re looking for the best bedtime books for 2-year-olds, that’s pretty much the opposite of interactive books for toddlers. To calm toddlers down for bed, books with repetition make for an excellent choice. For more bedtime books for kids, check out 10 Calming Bedtime Story Books for Kids Who Fight Sleep.
- I Just Want to Say Good Night – If you have a child who stalls at bedtime, this is a must read. Toddlers especially love how the main character Lala exerts some small amount of power over her own bedtime, plus they’ll feel “in” on the joke when they get the meta reference to Goodnight Moon at the end.
- Ten, Nine, Eight – I prefer this simple, quiet bedtime book over Goodnight Moon because of the sweet, loving relationship between the girl and her father. No matter how wiggly my toddlers are, this counting book calms them right down.
- Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes – Young kids love this book for the diverse pictures of babies and toddlers from all over the world. Don’t forget to count or tickle your toddler’s toes for the “ten little fingers and ten little toes” refrain!
- That’s Me Loving You – This book is especially perfect for bedtime because it reassures toddlers who are nervous about being away from you at night.
- I Am a Bunny – This simple, soothing book moves through each of the seasons until the end, where the bunny cuddles up for a long winter sleep, looking forward to spring. Excellent for calming toddlers down before sleep!
- All the World – This one has more text than the other bedtime books for 2-year-olds on this list, but it’s worth it to keep trying. Not only is the rhythm calming for little ones, but the illustrations are gorgeous and peaceful.
Related: 10 Calming Bedtime Story Books for Kids Who Fight Sleep
Potty Training Books for Toddlers
Potty training is a huge milestone for toddlers, and these books for 2-year-olds will help get them ready. (By the way, if you need a book to help you make it to the other side of potty training without losing your mind, check out Oh Crap! Potty Training. That book helped me with my reluctant potty trainer when nothing else did!)
- Everyone Poops – This book helps remove the shame your toddler may feel about using the potty by showing how normal it is. This has helped lots of potty-training-resistant toddlers I know get over the mental hurdle of going poop in the potty!
- You Poop Here – This book steps through different animals and where they poop, then ends with a spread showing where kids go. My kids all loved the animal trivia in this book and couldn’t help giggling throughout!
- Toot or Potty – This series of books by Leslie Patricelli is perfect for toddlers! We like to start with Toot because it normalizes an everyday bodily function, then as our toddlers get older we add in Potty to normalize all things potty-related.
All-Around Awesome Books for 2-Year-Olds
These books for 2-year-olds don’t necessarily fall under any of the previous categories, but they’re all excellent and perfect for toddlers!
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Not only is the repetition in this story exactly what a toddler’s brain loves, but the holes in the pages and the different sizes of pages are super engaging for them, too.
- First 100 Words – This book and others by author Roger Priddy are awesome for building your toddler’s vocabulary. And the best part is you don’t have to read anything! Just have your toddler point at a picture, you say the word, and repeat until your toddler is done with that page and flip it. Another favorite for toddlers similar to this book is My Big Animal Book.
- Plant a Kiss – My whole family has this book memorized (even the toddler’s got most of it down). This is a powerful message of putting out kindness into the world and expecting nothing in return, and toddlers especially love to feel the glittery pages.
- Yummy Yucky – This is another book by Leslie Patricelli that’s perfect for toddlers because it’s hilarious and actually kind of useful for showing your toddler what she should and should not put in her mouth.
- Egg – This is such a simple little story but so clever! Plus, it’s great for your toddler’s cognitive development because on the last page, you can ask them to guess what will happen next.
- Hello Hello – This book mesmerized my toddlers. They loved learning about all the different animals, and it’s a fun challenge for them to pick out the animal that’s repeated from the previous pages.
- A Sick Day for Amos McGee – Such a lovely story of what friendship really means. Toddlers especially love the idea of zoo animals hopping on a city bus!
- Click, Clack, Moo – This is a fun, silly story with a refrain of animal sounds that toddlers enjoy saying along with you as you read.
- Bear Snores On – The rhythm of this book is perfect for toddlers. My kids all loved this one so much that I have the whole book memorized!
- The Wonderful Things You Will Be – Such a sweet but important message for 2-year-olds to hear: that as their parents, we’re excited to see who they become and that we love and support them as they are.
- The Family Book – This is a great book to show your toddler that families come in all varieties, and all families love each other.
- This Is My Rock – In this quirky little book, toddlers see how keeping things all to yourself actually isn’t as much fun as sharing.
- The Circus Ship – This story hooks young kids with the rhyming text, and then it keeps them even more engaged with the hidden animals on each spread. Almost like a game of “I Spy” embedded in the story!
- Thank You, Earth – Toddlers love real-life photos, and this book is full of gorgeous shots to build their understanding and appreciation for the world around them.
- The Airport Book – What I love about this book is all the detail on each page. Toddlers just stare and point and soak it all in. This is an especially perfect fit if your child has never flown before (or if they have flown and had a hard time with it) because this book steps you through the whole process and helps calm any nervousness they may be feeling.
- Ivy Loves to Give – Toddlers can relate to this story because sometimes when they try to do what’s “right,” it still ends up being “wrong.” But kindness prevails!
- Mr. Gumpy’s Outing – This is a silly story about what happens when you don’t listen. And a reminder that even when you make a mistake, your parents still love you.
Before you go, get my FREE cheat sheet: 75 Positive Phrases Every Child Needs to Hear
What are your family’s favorite books for 2-year-olds? Share in a comment below!
Note: All information on this site is for educational purposes only. Happy You, Happy Family does not provide medical advice. If you suspect medical problems or need professional advice, please consult a physician.
One of our favorites has been Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton. Repetitive, a great way to learn colors, and funny! My kids giggle and giggle after every “Oops!”. We also love the Usborne That’s Not My series.
Hey is there this same list for 4 and 5 year olds? Thank you! Great article
The wild bunch is awesome and both my kids have loved it since 3 years old. Son still enjoys it at 5.
We love all the Jon Klassen books, but especially what we’ve dubbed The Hat Trilogy (This is Not My Hat, I Want My Hat Back, and We Found a Hat).
I would also include books that are also songs. They are easy to ready or sing for adults and the familiar song helps little ones connect to the book. Songs support language development as they naturally slow down language and allow children to hear all the parts of the speech. That along with the repetition make them favorite books for toddlers. There are so many books of songs out there so just look for a favorite song like Wheels on the Bus, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Baby Beluga, Itsy Bitsy Spider etc…
I am a mother of two and a grandma of four. My youngest grand is now 8 yrs old. All of them are avid readers. One of my favorites from your list is “I am a Bunny.” We received it as a baby shower gift and read to my oldest when she was a month old. I have given copies as a baby gift many times over the years. Another favorite is “Goodnight Gorilla.” It has so many levels of learning! The color matching keys and locks, the balloon as it floats further away. I think there is a little mouse to look for on each page – it has been a few years now since we read it, but it can grow with them past the toddler stage.
We have that book and I never noticed the keys or balloon haha! Excellent.