[Image: R2’s old crib mobile featuring Julian-Opie-inspired high-contrast black and white illustrations of our family members.]
Best Books For Ages Newborn through 6 months
That newborn stage was kind of nightmarish for us. We only had one tiny human! (And later, two) And yet figuring out how to juggle it was a major challenge that kind of blindsided me. So here is the guide I wish someone had sent me back then.
What I wanted from books at this age was to give my littles every opportunity for awesome brain development. I wish I had known that just having the basics covered all that and more. A well-fed and well-slept mom would have been better for brain-building than the perfect book at the perfect time.
What I want now is to show my kiddos a kinder and more accepting world than the one we grew up in.
So the following books are kind of a mix of those two things. Boosting brilliance and kindness.
- Our goal at this age is just to normalize diversity. Expose babies to real photographs of a wide range of ages, faces, gender presentation, and races.
- Gifts: If you’re getting a baby shower gift, keep this in mind:
Newborns and infants from 0-4 can’t really use their hands. They just jerk their arms about and whack themselves in the face a lot, so unless you want your gift to collect dust until next year, get something parents can actually use within the immediate future and won’t have to store for months as clutter that just stresses them out.
Because babies punch themselves in the face with whatever they’re holding – don’t get anything heavy or sharp. Because they can’t focus well, avoid busy, garish primary colors. Focus on hands-free visuals that are easy for newborns to focus on.
- Cognitive Development: Forget literacy – master motor control first. Don’t rush to the next stage of development. Meet kids where they are now.
- From 0-4 months: Use books that can be propped open out-of-reach during tummy time. Simple clean lines and high black/white contrast is easiest for newborn brains to process. Periphery vision is better than center vision (which is still blurry), so set books just off-center during tummy time, instead of directly in front of them.
- 0-6 weeks (neonatal) – Stick with stark black and white, it’s soothing and calming for them, since everything else is a big messy jumble. Very basic geometric shapes and very basic faces work well for this age (think smiley faces, not Man Ray portraits)
- 6-8 weeks – You can start to add bold, contrasting colors in big geometric shapes.
- 4-6 months: Hello, wacky-inflatable-car-dealership-mascot arms. Find soft books babies can manage to hold, but won’t hurt when they smash themselves in the face with it.
- 6 months: Babies won’t be able to move hands smoothly until around 6 months. Even then, turning pages in a board book or lifting books up will be challenging for babies under 9 months.
- Look for rounded corners, and thick, staggered pages, that babies can grab, but won’t give them paper cuts. Dishwasher-friendly books (Indestructables, cloth books) are your friend, because these are going to get NASTY when babies start teething and drooling everywhere. Paper ones will warp and disintegrate.
- Non-linear reading: Don’t expect a kid under 3 to sit still and read a book cover-to-cover. Around 18 months and again at 2.5 years and 3.5 years, your kid will have a big cognitive leap and will be more ready for storybooks with increasingly linear story lines.
- Quality over quantity: Literally everything is new to them, and babies at this age find comfort in familiarity. Have baskets on the floor filled with 3-5 high-quality books in strategic places (in your tummy time, bedtime routine, diaper changing, potty, and play areas). You don’t need to get a ton of new books, just rotate which books show up in which basket every couple weeks.
- Reading 1 book together for weeks develops comfort, familiarity, and mastery. Those ‘1,000 books before kindergarten‘ programs are designed to shame exhausted and poor parents and are backed by lazy research and folks who need you to buy books to keep their jobs. Owning books is correlated with children’s success (which correlate with having a place to live and money to buy books), not reading them. Don’t fall for it.
- It’s not about you: Choose books for babies, not for parents. They will fall in love with books they can hold, and don’t care about the sappy/creepy Nancy Tillman book you got as a gift. Boring books breed resentment and make kids feel overwhelmed. It makes you look cool to have A is for Activist on your bookshelf, but your baby needs a book they can chew on.
- Get some sleep. Babies need well-rested caretakers more than they need story time. Treat story time as a fun and optional way to break up the day, not a lesson. If your child never sees a book until they are well past 6 months, it’s fine. They will be fine. I actually think it’s not just irresponsible to push early reading on new parents, it’s cruel. They’re functioning on zero sleep and juggling a newborn and a book is so unnecessary when they could be sleeping or just relaxing.
Quick & Messy Book List:
0-3 Months: Mobiles
Mobiles are better than books at this age Unlike books, mobiles don’t require you sit there, exhausted, flipping pages.
- High-contrast gray-scale portraits of faces, clipped to face downward (so the baby can see them, NOT adults) in a photo clip mobile work well. If you can’t make your own high-contrast images, you could use:
- Montessori mobiles made it possible for me to entertain Q when R2 was a newborn, brush my teeth, and shower. I wish so hard that I had known about them when Q was a baby. They’re staged week-by-week for eye development. Google it – they are awesome!
Books you can prop up for tummy-time
- Art For Baby, or if you read it like we do, ‘Farter Baby’ (check out the cover – it’s really hard to un-see) was R2’s favorite book from 0-6 months. It’s big enough to prop up on its own, had perfect stark graphics that gave his eyes a chance to rest. I like to think it made us look so sophisticated with our fine-art book, propped alongside a stack of filthy burp cloths and piles of pump wires. He’s loves faces (probably an allistic thing), so his absolute favorite page was a frenzily-happy daisy by Takashi Murakami.
- I thought since he liked that so much, he’d enjoy the sequel, ‘Faces For Baby,‘ but he preferred the trippy flower in Fartr Baby.
- Look At The Animals – Peter Linenthal
- What Do You See? – Martine Perrin
Books for normalizing racial diversity
At this age, neurotypical babies just can’t get enough of looking at other babies. Start normalizing racial diversity now. In our experience, autistic babies are happier with the geometric books. Stick with what they prefer, you’re not going to turn a cube-loving baby into a face-loving baby and everyone will be happier if you just pick the book they want.
- Baby Faces – DK Publishing
- Global Babies series– The Global Fund For Children
- Welcome Song For Baby – Van Camp
3+ Months: Board Books for Social & Bonding Story time
- Kiss, Tickle, Cuddle, Hug – Susan Musgrave. Awesome for practicing consensual touching, and also explaining facial expressive emotions with autistic babies.
- “Gabriel makes a sad face, Gabriel needs a hug.“
- Hey R2 – do you want a hug?
- Gabriel is sad. Look how Gabriel’s eyebrows are pointing up. Gabriel has sad eyebrows.
- My Face Book – Star Bright Books.
- Baby Faces – Orli Zuravicky. So boring, but R2’s favorite from 4-6 months.
- Cock-A-Doodle Who?, Martine Perrin
- Share This Book – Board book, so lovely! Wonderfully small, easy to handle book for little hands, black and white with muted colors so it’s easy to focus on for newborns, just large enough to prop open for tummy time but small enough that a 9mo will be able to comfortably hold it. Reassuring for parents who are too tired and just want a 1-2-3 instruction on what to do. The book basically reinforces that ‘you got this.’ And one page in particular is sweetly validating, where a baby wrestles with a dad and he’s having a really hard time getting the baby to sit still for storytime – we see that eventually, they will get there. Transparency: I recommended this for LFBC (afflink) and they sent me a free copy.
4-6 Months: Fine-Motor Development
- Indestructables various – SO AMAZING. GET ONE. There are a ton, so choose any. They don’t have words, but they are bath-proof, rip-proof, chew-proof, mangle-proof and can be washed in the laundry. They soften and wrinkle over time – made from the same stuff as a mattress tag.
- 3″ Chunky Board Books – MANDATORY – It doesn’t matter much what’s on the pages so much as the format of the book.These were beloved and less frustrating than regular small board books. They could hold and flip through pages while developing fine-motor control. Don’t get them from the library. They will be destroyed by your kid’s first birthday, but it’s worth it. Here are some new ones that came out, since our favorite series is out of print:
- Softbooks –Neither of the Earthquakes were into the soft fabric plush book we had. These are the ones I’ve found since the kids got too old for them. They look great but I couldn’t test them in person since the Earthquakes are too old.
Books that are fine but I wouldn’t go out of my way to get. I’m just putting them here to get them out of my way while sorting the rest of my notes.
- Apple – 0+ good images for newborns, nice simple story, Q enjoyed at 2y.