15 Vocabulary-Building Board Books

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When my daughter was a baby, I’d watch her gnaw on books while we read them and wondered if she was getting anything out of our story time. But then she became a toddler, and it all clicked.

She started bringing me books to read. She’d make connections (“A as in alligator!”), talk about the characters like they were her friends and bust out words I was shocked she knew. And she’d say the word that brings both joy and terror to a parent during reading time: “Again!”

It’s never too late to make reading to your child part of your daily routine, and it’s always worth your time. Kids love quiet time cuddled up with you, and books introduce them to new words and worlds they might not be exposed to otherwise.

If your toddler doesn’t want to sit still, read as part of the bedtime routine. Let them turn the pages to keep them engaged in the story. Or read aloud as your child plays or runs around near you. They’re listening, and you may find them walking over to check out the action as you read. Ask questions: “What do you see? What do you think he does next?” That’s all it takes to make the magic happen.

These are my favorite board books for building a child’s imagination, language skills and listening ability.

Alphablock by Christopher Franceschelli


This book teaches the alphabet in a fun way, with thick-cut pages of each letter followed by a drawing of something that starts with that letter. When your child looks at each letter, like K, they'll see a hint of the picture on the next page (in this case, a kite's tail) to help them guess the letter and the picture.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr.


The letters of the alphabet go on quite the adventure in this book that brings the ABCs to life. Rhyming text and a steady rhythm keep kids engaged with the story and help them remember the letters.

Alphabet Street by Jonathan Emmett


Explore the alphabet with rhyming text, sweet illustrations of animals and flaps to lift. Then fold out the book to reveal a street with lots of shops to explore for imaginative play. This book will keep your child occupied for hours.

A to Z by Sandra Boynton


Cute animal illustrations, alliterative text and silly situations ("Dinosaur dancing," "gophers grinning") help your child learn their letters (and lots of verbs!) in this board book. The simple text and illustrations make the alphabet memorable.

F Is for Fairytale by Greg Paprocki (Artist)


You can't go wrong with any of the Babylit alphabet primers, but we especially love this one, which references familiar fairy tales that older kids will love to guess. Greg Paprocki's retro drawings are a hit with adults and kids alike, and the books come in various themes, from favorite activities (Z Is for Zoo, C Is for Camping) to holidays (E Is for Easter, D Is for Dreidel, R Is for Ramadan).

How Are You Feeling? by Mudpuppy


Build emotional literacy with this lift-the-flap board book and turn a screeching threenager into one who can clearly explain why they're upset. It also builds empathy and understanding with open-ended questions like, "How can you help someone who feels worried?"

The Happy Little Yellow Box: A Pop-Up Book of Opposites by David A. Carter


A little yellow box with a big smile shows the difference between open and closed, near and far and other opposites in this pop-up book. A helicopter jumps off the page to convey high and low, and there are tabs to pull and surprises hidden inside the box.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. & Eric Carle


Repetitive text and simple illustrations teach colors and animal names in this classic story. Once your child is familiar with it, ask them to identify what they see on each page before you read it out loud.

That's Not My Monster by Fiona Watt


The series of "That's Not My" books uses touch-and-feel textures and colorful drawings to teach language awareness, particularly of adjectives. "That's not my monster. Its horns are too rough." Bonus: There's a mouse on each page for your child to find, keeping them engaged with the action.

Where Is Baby's Belly Button? by Karen Katz


Kids identify body parts and common household objects with this lift-the-flap book illustrated with children of various races. It's an interactive game of peekaboo as your child lifts flaps to find baby's mouth, eyes and hands.

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems


Put your child in the driver's seat in this tale of a persistent pigeon begging to drive a bus. Your child will love telling Pigeon "No!" while learning lots of words in the process. This one is funny enough you won't mind being asked to read it again and again.

Heads by Matthew Van Fleet


This one is for the animal lovers (that's basically all toddlers, right?). In this interactive tale, kids learn about animals' traits as they pull tabs to wiggle an elephant's ears and see inside a platypus egg. There are textures to feel and funny rhyming text to help your child identify beaks, bills and pointy horns.

Press Here by Herve Tullet


Kids learn best when they're engaged. In this book, they become part of the story. Your child is asked to touch and shake the book, making amazing things happen: The dots on the page multiply, grow bigger and change colors.

Best bedtime books goodnight moon

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown


There's some kind of magic in the simple scenes and descriptive, repetitive text of Goodnight Moon. It not only lulls kids to sleep, it teaches them common words, colors and animal names. Bonus activity: At bedtime, ask your child to say goodnight to items in the nursery, teaching them familiar words in their world.

toddler books the pout pout fish

The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen


If your child is ready for more sophisticated words, it's time to meet the Pout-Pout Fish. In this funny story, a sad little fish gets a lesson on perspective and learns to turn his frown upside-down thanks to some smart friends.


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