Now that you’re a new parent, the question isn't whether to read to your new slobbering bundle of untamable curiosity (let’s be real, that was never a debate in your book-loving mind) — it’s what to read to your kid. You might think the obvious go-tos are all you need — you know, the Dr. Seuss books, Goodnight Moon, Pippi Longstalking — but before you hustle over to the bestsellers section and take the first offerings off the shelf, there are a few things you might want to consider.
Here’s the thing: When you’re a new parent, that means you’re going to be reading to a wee babe that barely has a grasp on this whole existing thing, much less on the finer points of children’s literature and the morals therein. Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t matter what you read to your wide-eyed kid, but it doesn’t have mean you’re stuck reading books in which the hardest word is “mommy,” either.
Now’s your chance to dig into all those children’s books that you didn’t get to read, and maybe even some YA or full-on grown up books. As long as you don’t read it in monotone, you’ll captivate your new baby, and you don’t have to bore yourself to tears with books that no one likes. There are some amazing kid-friendly books out there that will captivate and teach you and baby at the same time. So, try reading some of these gems to your new bundle of wonder.
The Tales of the People Series
This one is a series of insanely interesting stories put together by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. You get stories new and old, old stories about how Raven came to be black instead of white, and new stories like the one about Coyote who moves from Kansas to New York to become a Rodent Control Officer at the World Trade Center.
Ash by Melinda Lo
A YA retelling of Cinderella, except the heroine Ash falls in love with the king’s huntress Kaisa, and the fairy godmother is actually fairy elf who has a vindictive plan to steal Ash away. And there are so many other cool twists and turns. Lo’s lyrical prose will be a soothing sound to baby and the story will carry you away.
King & King by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland
This isn’t your average prince and princess fairytale; in fact, it’s a love story of two princes. There just weren’t many fairytales like this one when you were coming up, so now's the perfect opportunity to read it.
Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine and Kadir Nelson
Based on the true story of a slave who mailed himself to freedom in a box after his family is sold away, Henry’s Freedom Box will introduce you both to an important story in the real history of the U.S. And who knows, you might just end up inspiring a future historian-activist.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
This one is just a necessity. It’s possible that more adults have read this one than children, which only makes it more important for your newborn. Go ahead and indoctrinate her early into the Wild Things fan club. It’s real.
José! Born to Dance by Susanna Reich
Noticing a little grace in the fidgety movements of you new baby? Plant the seeds of dance in her little baby brain with the real life story of the famous dancer and choreography José Limon.
Pancho Rabbit & the Coyote by Duncan Tonatiuh
You get to read an interesting allegory of the experience of so many Latin American immigrants and their families. Your baby gets to hear an exciting story about a rabbit and a coyote on a perilous journey.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
What better entertainment for anyone, even a baby, than elves and hobbits and wizards? The Hobbit is full of songs too, and what better excuse than to finally get to experiment with singing them than reading the book to your newborn? Come on, admit it, you’ve always wanted to try.
Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold
A surprisingly deep look at the importance of imagination and escapism in the black American experience and also a beautiful (and beautifully illustrated) story of a girl who imagines she can fly and change the world. It’s the kind of story that makes you want to hold your new baby close and preserve her ability to dream.
The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm by Noel Daniel
If you’re going to read the classic fairytales, at least read them in their original (non-Disney-fied) form, and then do one better and read them with the insanely beautiful illustrations in the Noel Daniel edtion. You’ll be gaping and wide-eye right along with your baby.
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
Or you could take a twist on the traditional fairytales, and see what happens to the tale of Snow White when you set it in 1953 in Massachusetts and throw in the complications of racial passing, racial identity, and family. You’ll be riveted, and the kids get a much better retelling than a story of a girl who spends her whole story in a coma.
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer
OK, this is one of the most famous children’s books out there, and with good reason. The kids might not get all the cool philosophy and metaphors and the like, but you’ll have a such a blast reading it and expanding your mind that it’ll probably become one of your child’s favorites just because she gets to hear the excitement in your voice.
The Thousand and One Nights
If you haven’t read One Thousand and One Nights, you’ve got a great chance now to immerse both you and baby in the wondrous world of magic lamps, flying carpets, pirates, and adventures. And if you want some beautiful art to look at while you do it, there are several different illustrated editions of the tales.