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Best Bedtime Stories and Books for Toddlers: Goodnight Moon and more!

My husband and I recently took our sixteen-month-old son, newly obsessed with fire trucks, to the Fire Museum here in New York. On the way out, as a kind of afterthought, I grabbed a $3.99 book at the gift shop called A Trip to the Firehouse. I read it to my son that night, and when it was done, he turned the book over and nodded vigorously, which is the way he says, “Again.” We have now read the book approximately five million times in the past two weeks, and phrases like “Whooosh! Down the fire pole!” have replaced Coleridge poems in my long-term memory.

But I don’t mind. I don’t hate the fire house book, the way Shalom Auslander described in an early Babble column hating Maisy. I sort of like the repetition, the returning every evening or hour to the story about the firehouse, the kids’ figuring out the Dalmation’s name (“They’re right – it’s Spot!”), the scrambling onto the trucks, the antiquated dispatch room, the eating of bagels and cream cheese in the firehouse kitchen.

Mostly, I love that my son can already love a book so passionately. Whenever I stumble across one of these beloved books, it just makes me eager to find the next one that is going to earn the enthusiastic nodding.

In our quest for great books, we have read so many bad ones. My least favorites to date are: Ten Little Ladybugs (an Amazon recommendation! I thought they knew me!), which seems morbid but on the last page reveals itself to be simply stupid; and Fuzzy Bee and Friends, which looks great, but has not an ounce of poetry or rhythm. I do object to having phrases like, “It’s not an ant, a snail or slug, it’s spotty, dotty lady bug!” stuck in my head until I die.

And all the bad poetry makes me wonder: why don’t rappers write children’s books? Julianne Moore, Madonna, Billy Crystal . . . plenty of celebrities have tried their hand at the medium, but why not those naturally suited to it? You know Jay-Z has it in him. And Eminem’s not doing much these days.

Of course, crafting children’s books is way harder than it seems, as Babble’s Gwynne discovered on her recent trip to the Eric Carle Museum. Picking just the right books for your kids is an art form too. In a New York Times article, A.O. Scott wrote about the concept of the “just-right book.”

This, my children’s teachers patiently explain, is a book that is perfectly suited to a child’s reading ability: neither too easy, in which case he or she will grow bored, nor too difficult, which risks frustration and confusion. I defer to the pedagogical expertise of the professionals, but something in me nonetheless rebels against the idea that the books children choose should always be safely within their developmental comfort zone. There is pleasure to be found in bewilderment, in the struggle to make sense of what is just above your head, and there is wisdom as well.

Absolutely. Of course, when you’re talking about a kid under two, the “just-right book” mainly means something that can’t be instantly shredded. And now a moment of silence for some nice pop-up books that met a dreary fate: Charlie and Lola, My Little Taxi, DOG, Tails, may they all R.I.P.

And who better to ask than you all? In addition to the standards like Goodnight Moon, what are the must-have books for a little kid’s library? For context, here are my son’s top ten favorite books of recent weeks (not including the firehouse book, which has eclipsed them all):

1. Peek a Boo . . . Who?

2. Hippos Go Berserk (Check out the Babble interview with Sandra Boynton!)

3. Bright Baby: Trucks, First Words, Colors

4. Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb

5. The Foot Book: Dr. Seuss’s Wacky Book of Opposites

6. ABC by Matthew Porter

7. Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs

8. Goodnight, Gorilla (Also Colin Meloy’s favorite kids’ book!)

9. Are You My Mother?

10. Anything by Richard Scarry, but especially Cars and Trucks and Things That Go

So, what’s missing from this list? What are your kids’ favorite books? What were your favorite books as a kid? Leave them in feedback!

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