[Image: R2’s old crib mobile featuring Julian-Opie-inspired high-contrast black and white illustrations of our family members.]
Best Books For Newborn Through 6 months
Quick Things You Need To Know:
- Smash the kyriarchy: 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.
- Basic Safety & Meet babies where they are: 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 Aunt Debbie gave them. 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, aka ‘Fartr Baby’ – Templar Publishing – If you get only one book for tummy time, make it this one.
- 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: 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
4+ 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.
- Tiny Board Books – MANDATORY – 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:
- Neither of the Earthquakes were into the soft fabric plush book we had, but these ones with taggies look appealing.
- See the 6-12 month booklist