Mother and Baby

The 16 best books for babies under 12 months

Section: Toys & Education
mum reading book baby

Even when your baby is very young, baby books are important for their development, but with lots readily available, it can be difficult to decide which books to choose. Whether you're looking to bond with your baby better or looking to create a routine to encourage reading, reading to your baby is an essential part of parenting.

According to KidsHealth, reading aloud to your baby teaches communication, introduces new concepts and information in a fun way, and builds skills. So, the more you read to your child, the more they'll be able to build up an awareness of the world around them.

From black and white baby books to the best books for first-time parents, we've found out the books you should be reading to your newborn up until their first year. We've rounded up the best stories to start reading to your child while they're under 12 months. 

Why is it important to read to my baby?

  • Creating a bedtime routine: Even though your newborn is still too little to understand what you are saying, it is a soothing ritual to start from a young age.
  • Learning to talk: Your baby will settle with the sound of your voice, and will subconsciously pick up the rhythms, tones, and inflections of your voice which can help when they learn to read later on.
  • Developing eyesight: The stories might be too complex, but from birth to around three months old, your baby is learning to focus their eyes on simple patterns. All of these books will have bright illustrations, shapes, and letters to occupy your baby.
  • Storytelling skills: Your baby will develop their own imagination in time and storytelling will be a big part of this. Reading to your baby from an early age can encourage this.
  • Developing empathy: Scientists have found that children who have stories read to them regularly show more empathy and find it easier to understand people.
  • Extending understanding: As your tot gets older, at the end of storytime stop and ask them ‘why do you think this character did that’ — this can help your child develop their understanding and vocabulary.

What are the best books for babies?

In the very early stages of childhood - up to 6 months - your child may just want to hold, look at or even chew on the books you introduce to them. As they pass this stage and work up to their first year, they may become curious about the shapes, numbers, and letters on pages.

By the end of their first year, your child should be reacting to words and listening to you, as well as looking at the images on the page. This is a very early stage of child development so baby books are important to keep your baby learning.

There’s a number of different baby books out there, but these are some of the best-selling baby books to buy for the nursery bookshelf: 

Interactive books can help extend your child’s focus and we reckon Don’t Tickle the Hippo has got enough bells and whistles to keep them entertained. The touchy-feely buttons are sensitive enough for younger babies to press or stroke easily, and when they do, they’ll be rewarded with a selection of animal sounds.

Review: "Got some new books for my daughter and this was one of them, she loves it. She loves the colours, pictures and the sounds the animals make. Would 100 per cent recommend this book to anyone - it's great."

From the bestselling author M.H Clark, this fab book teaches tots that there are lots of different ways to feel. With fun rhymes and colourful illustrations, this book will help your baby learn to understand their range of emotions.

Review: "My child loves this book as does my husband. It incorporates animals and emotions at the same time. Helps articulate feelings. The quality of the paper is also good - the cover even has a little flocking on the tiger. Highly recommend."

With lots of different textures to touch and explore, this fun sensory book will help your baby to identify different animals. Have fun making animal sounds as you feel your way through the wild, the home, the farm, and the ocean.

Review: "One of my baby’s favourite books. She loves the jellyfish at the end. Great because she can easily turn the pages and now she is getting older is noticing more things inside the books. Good amount of touch and feel too."

Hair Love

£5.94 - RRP: £6.99

A New York Times Bestseller and tie-in to Academy-Award Winning Short Film 'Hair Love', highlighting the relationship between a Black father and daughter. Hair Love presents a positive representation of black men and is dedicated to encouraging young black children to love their natural hair. Books like this are super important for your child to see from a young age and feel represented.

Review: “Amazing self-love book! The graphics are amazing! I recommend this book to everyone with a black child and all other children, so they learn to see the beauty in all people and all types of hair.”

Make baby bathtime fun with DK's Squeaky Baby Bath Book series. Safe for baby and perfect for bathtime fun or highchair play, the book is packed with bright pictures of baby animals, squashy waterproof pages, and a built-in squeaker making baby bath time fun for your little one.

Review: "My one-year-old loved playing with this in the bath - especially being able to touch and feel the pages."

Part of the Ladybird best-selling Baby Touch range, this baby book contains a range of bright, high-contrast characters and faces to help stimulate your baby’s developing eyesight from birth. There is also a cute mirror at the back for your baby to smile at.

Review: "This is my ten-month-old's favourite book without a doubt. Fast arrival time. Book is well made and feels strong and uses colours that babies will see throughout the book and finishing with a mirror on the last page! My little one loves to kiss the baby in the mirror (her) every time, this is the first book she goes for. We adore this book! We want to get some more from the range because we are that impressed!"

This sweet book explores the relationships babies have with others and with the call-and-response melodic text, they'll be drawn in to listen to your voice and even join in. We particularly love that this book illustrates different ethnicities and cultures, essential as a reflection of the world your baby will see around them.

Review: "Baby loves it, her face lights up as soon as I get it out and she giggles at each page. There’s no story, just repetition of ‘Who’s that? A BABY! That’s who!’ etc, but clearly the author knows what babies like! Diverse ethnicity babies as well which is important to us."

One for the cat lovers out there, this touchy-feely book encourages your baby to touch and feel the tactile patches. The bold illustrations are designed with little ones in mind and spotting the white mouse on every page helps develop problem-solving skills.

Review: "Our daughter of one loves these books! We have quite the collection now so have a variety of animals, transportation or object for her to read though. The wording is short enough for our bedtime routine for her not to be bored. We also ask her to point out the other things on the pages, such as flowers, bugs and of course, the mouse - always spot the mouse! Good quality, well-made books with interesting textures for them to explore and have lasted plenty of knocks and handling!"

As a new parent you'll have to get a copy of this legendary baby book. This enchanting classic will keep your baby fascinated with the colourful artwork, the caterpillar-munched holes and will help teach them counting, days of the week, names of fruits and even the life cycle of a butterfly. A great book which'll be a favourite for newborns, 12-month-olds and beyond!

Review: "What is it with this book? This is the all-time, number one, greatest book my daughter has ever got. It's something about the artwork and the holes (from the caterpillar munching) that fascinates her. I have to read the same page to her hundreds of times.... hundreds I tell you!"

Share the loving bond between same-sex parents and their children in this heart-warming story of family. A great purchase for new parents and new babies alike, with rhythmic text and illustrations with universal appeal, this book show’s there’s no limit to what a loving family can do together. A Daddy, Papa and ME version is also available!

Review: “Being a two mum family, we wanted to get this book for our daughter and she absolutely loves it. She wants us to read it to her every night, it’s very simple but colourful and sweet. “

Hello You

£5.94 - RRP: £6.99

Designed for babies from birth to six months, this book is perfect for tummy time. Say hello to familiar faces and play peekaboo with the peepholes. The contrasting colours, bold patterns, and mirror are designed to focus developing eyes.

Review: "I was looking for a black, white & red contrast book for newborns. Baby is just four weeks and it really grabs his attention and focus - just stares at it with that newborn wide-eye look. It's a simple book with the basic stick-faces but it's done the trick."

Stroke, tickle and touch the different animals and let little hands feel how soft the kitten feels compared to the scaley lizard. They’ll be learning as they play, and the tactile book aids development.

Review: "Great book for a little baby - the animals are cute, the touch and feel features are smart and very appealing - our son loved to “read” them when he was little and even now he likes to grab then every now and then."

Introduce them to Peter Rabbit early with this cute finger puppet book! Bring Peter to life and teach your little one how to count, before moving on to the classic books as they get older.

Review: "I love Beatrix Potter and this is a very cute little book for babies and toddlers. My girl loves the wiggly rabbit and tries to grab him all the time. She's not too interested in the drawings yet but she will be as she gets older. It's a good sturdy board book and it's fun having a little interaction with a finger puppet at bed story time!"

Dear Zoo

£4.00 - RRP: £6.99

First published in 1982, Rod Campbell's classic has been a favourite for babies and parents alike with the bright pictures, catchy refrain and a whole host of animals. To keep your baby engaged there are lift-the-flaps to discover the zoo animals beneath which is sure to make them smile.

Review: "My granddaughter is now almost nine months old, and loves this book. All the flaps are still firmly in place, despite her little fingers pulling at them, so it is a really sturdy, well-made little book. For very young children like this, the story is easy to read. In most of her other books, I've found the stories need to be severely cropped to leave just enough words to keep the baby's attention, or to give you time to say anything at all before eager little hands are turning the pages. Highly recommended."

This board book is here to give a valuable and enjoyable learning time for your baby, with a simple narrative and textured pages serving the fun and interactive reasons as to why they haven't encountered the right character yet! You can find many other books from this collection such as 'That's not my 'Puppy', 'Sloth', and 'Tractor' but this one comes with a plush dinosaur too!

Review: "This whole series is really adorable. We have been collecting them for our son since he was born a year ago. The stories are super short which is a great way to build stories and reading into your bedtime routine. Now that he is approaching a year old he is very interested in try to touch the spots on the dinosaur or rub the teeth. I think it is actually a good thing that the "touchy-feel" areas are not so big as it gives him a change to practice his aim and see the difference to the rest of the page. Highly recommend these books!"

Where's Spot?

£4.00 - RRP: £6.99

This best-selling board book is a must-have for the nursery shelf. Your baby will enjoy the playful text and hide-and-seek flaps with all sorts of funny animal surprises hidden beneath. Designed to spur their curiosity, your little one will be excited to join in and luckily this book has sturdy, toddler-tough flaps so it will stand the test of time, even when they get a little older!

Review: "This was a book I read in my childhood. A basic storyline and quick read, which is good for little ones who can't sit still for too long. The book has interactive flaps and my son likes to lift as we are reading. The book is a good size and lovely that it is hardback as it means it is harder wearing for my son who likes to throw things around a lot."

What makes a good baby book?

When creating our list of the best baby books for those under 12 months, we took into consideration these features which we think make for the best book for your baby:

  • Strong characters: Fun, strong characters will keep your little one mesmerised and engaged following them through the book. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Spot and Peter Rabbit are some classic characters loved by babies, young children and parents too!
  • Brilliant illustrations and vocabulary: Books with bright and colourful pictures and beautiful illustrations will help keep your baby captivated along with repetition and rhyme.
  • Sensory interaction: Encouraging your baby to touch, feel and play with tactile materials and lift-the-flaps will not only make them smile but provide them with sensory stimulation, great for early development.
  • Board books: Not all the books on this list are board books but the majority are. Board books are great for babies as they're more durable, robust and remove the risk of papercuts from your child eagerly wanting to turn the page.
  • Opportunities to learn: As well as helping your baby to develop their vocabulary, understanding and imagination, some of these books provide your little one with the chance to learn more about the world around them; from feelings to animals and cultures to counting.

More best book buys from Mother&Baby

  • Author: Emily Thorpe Emily Thorpe
  • Job Title: Digital Writer

Having written for Mother&Baby magazine for four years where she wrote news, product pages, features and interviewed celebrities such as Paloma Faith and Fearne Cotton, Emily now works as Digital Writer for Mother&Baby online where she specialises in travel and product reviews. 


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