Best books for the nursery that baby AND mom will love

Written by Michelle Watson

June 2, 2022

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Filling your baby’s nursery with books is such a glorious gift! 

But, books can be pricey, and you can’t spend a fortune when you’re already feeling the pinch of diapers and wipes and a thousand other infant doo-dads.

Or maybe the mom-to-be is asking her guests to bring a book to her baby shower, and you don’t want to get the same ol’ books that everyone else is gonna bring. You want your book to stand out and get an oooooh! 

You don’t want just any children’s books. You want GREAT books that’ll be cherished for years to come. Annnnnnd, you’d prefer NOT to spend hours figuring out which kids’ books are the great ones.

Don’t worry. I’ve got you covered. 

What are the best books for the nursery?

Here’s a list of my all-time favorite nursery books. I’ve handpicked the most read, most requested, and most love-tattered books in our home.

I’m including books that:

  • Are delightful to read aloud—even after 32985743958 rereads.
  • Will withstand the test of time. My boys loved these books well into their school years.
  • Veer off the beaten path. Hidden gems? Yep!

So, spoiler alert, you won’t find Goodnight Moon or Go, Dog, Go on this list, even though they’re wonderful. My goal is to point you toward books you haven’t heard of (or forgot existed) but will absolutely adore.

Whether you’re buying for a baby shower gift or to stock your own child’s library, these are the best books for your nursery.

Lesser-Known Classics for the Nursery

These books may have been written a while ago, but kids still love them to this day. They hearken back to simpler times, and the beautiful illustrations predate computer graphics.

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

If you mess with the bull, you get the…uh…flowers?

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton

Will Mike Mulligan and Mary Ann finish in time? ! We also love The Little House by this same author.

Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

Meet the most famous family of ducks in history. An absolute MUST if you live in Boston.

Strega Nona by Tomie DePaola

Never underestimate the power of an Italian grandma. EVER.

The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge by Hildegarde Swift

We all have an important role to play, no matter how small we are.

Hidden Gems by Popular Authors

Some children’s book authors are household names. Here are some of their BEST backlist titles.

Pancakes, Pancakes by Eric Carle

You know The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Brown Bear, Brown Bear. Here’s a lesser known book by Eric Carl that has a superfun ending.

The Bears’ Picnic by Stan and Jan Berenstain

The Berenstain Bears are going on a picnic. If only they could find just the right spot.

The First Dog by Jan Brett

You can spot Jan Brett’s lush illustrations a mile away. Can you imagine my surprise when I looked inside the cover of my used copy and saw that it was signed by the author?!

The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman

Hoberman is a renowned poet, but you’re probably more likely to recognize the illustrator, Marla Frazee, who also wrote and illustrated The Boss Baby. The poetry and pictures in this are spot on! (And this is a huge laugh-fest for any mom who is at her wits’ end.)

Rhyming Books That Nail It

Tons of kids’ books are written in verse, but these books truly stand out for poetry that’s pitch-perfect down to the last syllable.

The Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen

Not only is this book fun to read, but it’s also got a special “hidden animal” page that’ll have your kids nose-to-the-page till they spot every one of those 15 circus animals.

Mighty, Mighty Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker

Okay, this IS. a super-popular book series, but you just can’t beat it for uncanny rhymes. This is our fave spinoff from the original book, Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site. (P.S. My husband works in construction, so this book holds a special place on our shelf.)

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

This is my all-time favorite Dr. Seuss book to read aloud—for nothing but the sheer experience of the rhyme and rhythm. I do a special “Lorax” voice. Yep.

Kermit the Hermit by Bill Peet

Peet was a Disney animator as well as an author and illustrator of a huge library of children’s books. Can you see the resemblance between his artistic style and the classic Disney films? His long-line poetry is loads of fun to read, and we love the curmudgeonly Kermit.

Awesome Animal Books for the Nursery

These animal books go way beyond “the cow says moo” and “how many dinos can you count?”

Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens

This book has a special orientation. When you open it, you hold the spine parallel to the ground (opposite of normal). This gives you a great view of Stevens’ excellent illustrations!

Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel

This is my favorite of ALL the classic Frog and Toad books. All of the stories in this collection are just delightful, and they bring a ton of irony to the table. My kids laugh without really understanding why it’s funny. (And we love when Toad says, “Blah!”)

Bunny Cakes by Rosemary Wells

Two bunnies are baking cakes. What could go wrong? (Teaches the importance of good handwriting—score!)

Muncha, Muncha, Muncha by Candace Fleming

Mr. McGreely is M-A-D because three mischievous bunnies keep sneaking into his garden to nibble his vegetables. How far will he go to stop them? (Hint: way too far.)

Some Bugs by Angela DiTerlizzi

This cute (and short) rhyming book opens kids’ eyes to the amazing buggishness happening right in their own backyard.

Now Behave! Kids Books About Doing the Right Thing

Sometimes “behavior training” books can be boring or downright obnoxious. These aren’t like that. They overtly focus on good behavior and making good choices but manage to still feel fun.

The Please and Thank You Book by Richard Scarry

We are huge Richard Scarry fans! This book shows different animals “being good” and other animals “being naughty.” Good is rewarded and bad is punished. Ah, the world as it should be…

Big Thoughts for Little People by Kenneth N. Taylor

This book walks kids through the ABCs and connects each letter to a Christian value. On every page, there are a few questions for parents to ask kids about what they see happening in the picture (for example, “Can you spot someone who is sharing? Who is being selfish?”) as well as a memory verse.

What Should Danny Do? by Adir and Ganit Levy

This is a choose-your-own-adventure book where kids get to decide what Danny should do in everyday situations. There are nine possible storylines, and they are all decently realistic and relatable (as in, these things could plausibly happen in real life). The entire Power to Choose series is empowering for kids (in a good way), with different books written specifically for boys, girls, and older kids.

Quiet Books About Seeing Everyday Things in a New Way

Sometimes the best baby books are like Seinfeld episodes—they aren’t about anything in particular. But we love them anyway!

Corduroy by Don Freeman

This might be THE most-read book ever in our house. Challenge for mom: Can you spot the parallel plot structure in this short board book?

Blue on Blue by Dianne White

Honestly, my boys don’t love this book as much as I do. But seriously. The illustrations!!!!!!!!

A New Coat for Anna by Harriet Ziefert

Winter is coming and Anna needs a new coat. But her mom doesn’t have the money to buy a new one. Hmm, what could they trade in exchange for sheep’s wool, berries for dye, and a professional weaver and seamstress to make the coat from scratch? This unassuming little story has a LOT of layers.

The Raft by Jim LaMarche

What fun can Nicky possibly have at grandma’s house in the country with no TV all summer?! A raft and a lake is all you need for summer fun.

Must-Have Bedtime Books for the Nursery

Bedtime books are a dime a dozen. How in the world to choose??? Here are three can’t-miss books to read before bed.

Time for Bed by Mem Fox

Mem Fox is a master of sound. When you read her bedtime books, your voice will automatically take on a soft, rhythmic cadence that lulls your little one off to dreamland.

Go to Sleep, Little Farm by Mary Lyn Ray

This precious little book (with peaceful illustrations) describes a little girl getting ready for bed, just as the many farm and woodland animals around her are also preparing for slumber.

The Goodnight Train by June Sobel

Okay, this book is funny and silly, but it won’t rile your kids into a frenzy right before they’re supposed to sleep. It’s loaded with S and Z words that’ll settle them down.

Interactive Books for Fun Play

Flaps, fuzz, squeaks, oh my! Babies (and kids of all ages, really) love a book that they can interact with, especially in a tactile way.

The Jolly Postman by Allan Ahlberg

The Jolly Postman rides his bicycle through Fairy Tale Land delivering letters to Goldilocks, the Big Bad Wolf, and Cinderella. The fun part? Your kids get to open the letters and read what’s inside! There are little envelopes where kids can actually pull out the letter, unfold it, and enjoy it.

The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams

We love reading this in the autumn! My boys enjoy clapping, stomping, and swishing along with the words. Gets their bodies moving (with lots of laughing).

Where Is Curious George? Around the Town A Look-and-Find Book based on the work of H. A. Rey

This is a super-simple hidden picture book that has sweet, gentle illustrations and rhymes to go along with each page. Perfect for kids who aren’t ready for I Spy books yet.

Bear Sees Colors by Karma Wilson

This isn’t technically an interactive book, but we love looking at the beautiful illustrations and finding all the things of a certain color. Karma Wilson and Jane Champan are the dynamic author-illustrator duo behind the famous Bear Books series. Also, check out Mortimer’s Christmas Manger for the holidays!

Fairy Tales and Folk Tales

Here are a few of our most beloved fairy tale picture books. The illustrations bring these timeless tales to life.

The Gingerbread Man retold by Jim Aylesworth

Barbara McClintock’s illustrations are out of this world! And the rhythm always tempts me to “rap” the rhymes, even though I look terribly foolish.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Jan Brett

This version is taken almost word for word from Grimm. It has a few tongue-twisters, but after you read it 20 or 30 times, you’ll get it. Haha. The illustrations will keep your eyes busy for hours, though.

One Grain of Rice by Demi

If you’ve got numbers-oriented kids, then they’ll love this mathematical Indian folktale. If you double one grain of rice for 30 days in a row, how many will you have? Over a hundred? A thousand? (Hint: You’ll have a LOT more than that!)

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best books for baby's nursery

What about books for mom?

Finding the time to read books while caring for a new baby can be—er—challenging. But here’s my list of unputdownable books to get you out of a reading slump. These recos are quick, easy, and entertaining.

More along these lines…

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