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Baby & Toddler

8 Books That Will Spark Imagination
in Babies and Toddlers

by Lindsay Barrett

Image credit: Peter Cade/Getty Images

Supporting a child’s growing imagination and the brain-boosting play and conversation that comes along with it is an important task for parents and caregivers. While babies and young toddlers aren’t yet developmentally able to dive deeply into imaginary worlds themselves, books are the perfect gateway to begin exposing them to imaginative ideas.

Plus, sharing imaginative books with little ones of this age is a prime way for adults to wake up and shake up the creative muscles of their brains, especially if they haven’t been flexed in a while. You’ll need it to join pretend play scenarios as those little ones grow!

Here are eight beautiful board books to introduce the wondrous magic of imagination to the youngest of readers.

  • Little Cloud

    by Eric Carle

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    This soothing classic is perfect for reading on a park blanket while looking up at the — you guessed it — clouds in the sky. Playful and unhurried, Little Cloud changes shape to look like a sheep, airplane, shark, hat for a clown, and more before finally morphing into a rain cloud to deliver a refreshing storm. You’ll happily read this sweet little introduction to the imaginative possibilities of nature again and again.

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  • An ABC of Flowers

    by Jutta Hilpuesch

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    There’s so much to love about this understated gem. In addition to its ever-appealing alphabet book format, it is a solid primer on flower identification and includes a visually-appealing combination of text art, photographs, and line drawings. Each page features a small character who imaginatively uses the flower to do things like parachute from an orchid or dance along a tulip stem. It’s never too early to introduce children to the never-ending possibilities of the mind’s eye.

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  • Penguin on a Scooter

    by Caspar Babypants, illustrated by Kate Engle

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    Each page of this book offers a whimsical and cute animal rhyme with adorable collage illustrations to match. Invite rumination about roller-skating bunnies, smiling alligators, bathtub-soaking pigs, road-tripping pigeons, and plenty of other pleasing anthropomorphic scenarios. Awakening one’s imagination requires a willingness to be playful, and Penguin on a Scooter is just that.

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  • Day Dreamers: A Journey of Imagination

    by Emily Winfield Martin

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    This trip to “the land of waking dreams” encourages readers to believe that magical creatures — and the imaginative delight they bring — can be found anywhere. Rosy-cheeked children discover beasts like dragons, sea serpents, jackalopes, griffins, and unicorns in the clouds and at the beach, park, museum, and, of course, library. This celebration of daydreaming proves that possibilities are endless when one has a ready imagination.

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  • Fairies are Real!

    by Holly Hatam

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    Holly Hatam’s primers on mythical creatures are lovely for cultivating imagination and wonder. This title lays out fairy “facts” in a delightfully straightforward way: They are made of items like honey, pixie dust, and rose petals; they are born every time a seed is planted; they dress in flowers and spider silk; and they love to ride hummingbirds. Toddlers who enjoy this book will be well-prepared for many enjoyable hours spent building fairy houses outdoors.

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  • Uni the Unicorn and the Dream Come True

    by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Brigette Barrager

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    Children’s imaginary worlds are not just built on unicorns and rainbows, but on the power of believing. When the Land of Unicorns is in trouble, it’s the unwavering belief of both Uni and a faithful little girl that successfully brings back its sparkle. This title’s bold colors and images catch the eyes of young book lovers, and the sweet messages about friendship have a long-lasting staying power as they grow.

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  • This is Sadie

    by Sara O’Leary, illustrated by Julie Marstad

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    Sadie is one of those characters destined to become a household favorite. She may be little, but she has big adventures. Each day while the big people in her life sleep in — “Old people need a lot of sleep” — Sadie reads, plays with cardboard boxes, and builds blanket forts... and she doesn’t stop playing until the sun sets. This is an ode to the simple magic that happens when children have the time and freedom to explore their imaginations, and it belongs on every family’s shelf.

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  • The Wizard of Oz

    by L. Frank Baum, illustrated by Carly Gledhill

    Iconic authors are imagination role models for all of us. This version of the famous tale may be scaled down to a board book size, but it hits all the key moments in Dorothy’s fantastical experience — from being swept into the cyclone, to meeting the Good Witch, to traveling the Yellow Brick Road to Emerald City. The fresh and movement-filled artwork is a visual treat and the perfectly-paced, energetic text will keep toddlers listening.