Building a picture book library

By Frieda Wishinsky on January 29, 2013
There’s nothing like cuddling up with your child and a book. Children love the sound of your voice. They’re intrigued by the rhythm and pacing of the words. They’re fascinated by the colours, images and characters in a story.

By the time children are two, many are eager to turn the pages of a book by themselves. They can’t wait to see the next picture or find out what happens next. And if they love a book, you can be sure they’ll beg you to read it again!

But reading to a child is more than a cozy, comforting shared activity. Studies show that children who are read to early and often learn about the world, expand their language skills, and take giant steps toward literacy.

Luckily there’s a wealth of wonderful picture books available in stores and libraries. They range from concept books to alphabet books to ones with stories that have characters and a plot that’s simple, clear, relevant and engaging for a child under three.

So how do you build a picture book library for your infant or toddler that will sustain repeated readings and that both you and your child will enjoy?


Browse the shelves and see what cover catches your eye or what title makes you smile. Read the first few pages. Do you like the language and art? Do you want to keep reading? Will your child relate to the theme and understand the humour and twist at the end?


Ask a children’s librarian or knowledgeable bookstore clerk for suggestions. Check out what books your family and friends enjoy reading with their children and which books they fondly recall from their childhood.


Remember the books you loved as a child. Some may be the classics of children’s literature or little known titles that appealed just to you. When you share them with your child, your enthusiasm and memories will make them stand out for your child, too.


Consider the reactions of your child — the best reviewer of all. The sparkle in a child’s eyes, a laugh or a smile and the eagerness to hear more speaks volumes about a book. And if the book isn’t right, try another one. Each child will have favourites and those favourites will change as a child grows and matures.

Generations of children and adults have cherished these books because of their universal theme, humour, lilting language and memorable characters.

Old Classics (pre 1980):
  1. Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman 
  2. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle 
  3. Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion 
  4. The Nutshell Library by Maurice Sendak 
  5. Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey 

Newer Classics (post 1980):
  1. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin 
  2. Something from Nothing by Phoebe Gilman. 
  3. Red is Best by Kathy Stinson illustrations by Robin Baird 
  4. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by John Burningham 
  5. Black and White by Tana Hoban

Frieda Wishinsky is the international award-winning author of over 50 picture books, chapter books, novels and non-fiction.

Originally published in ParentsCanada: Me & Mom, October 2012.

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