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Home libraries boost child cognition. These are the best books for every age.

Early reading experiences play an important role in brain development.

Photo by Brina Blum on Unsplash

Key Takeaways
  • Recent studies have shown that children who grow up with books at home have increased literacy, numeracy, and information communication technology skills in adulthood.
  • Bookstores and libraries are great, but according to researchers, early exposure at the parental home matters because “books are an integral part of routines and practices that enhance lifelong cognitive competencies.”
  • While age doesn’t necessarily dictate reading level, here are titles suitable for children from a few months old up to 17 years.

When you’re making small talk with friends old and new, they typically ask questions that involve your reading habits. People are often curious about the last book you read, what you’re currently reading, and what titles are waiting in a neat little stack in your living room. Rarely does anyone ask what the first book you remember loving was, or what books from your childhood had the biggest impact on you, but it turns out that those early reading experiences are just as (if not more) important when it comes to your brain’s development.

According to a 2018 study that involved 160,000 people, growing up with a home library of 80-350 books (the average in the U.S. is 114) results in adults with significantly higher levels of literacy, numeracy, and information communication technology (ICT) skills. Studies have also shown that reading increases white matter in the brain (boosting system-wide communication), and children who are read to regularly are less likely to be hyperactive and disruptive.

Libraries and publishers often give the option to sort books by age range, but not everyone progresses at the same pace. Those guidelines, and the distinctions made in this article, are generalizations and are meant to be flexible. That being said, here are some popular, best-selling, and well-reviewed books for the young reader on your shopping list.

Written and illustrated by John Stepsoe, this board book tells the story of a baby who wants nothing more than to play with his big brother.

“This is Baby” is Jimmy Fallon’s third children’s book. With illustrations of diverse babies by Miguel Ordóñez, it helps teach your little one how to find various body parts from their head to their toes.

The earlier children are exposed to a new language, the better. This bilingual board book, written by Karen Beaumont and illustrated by David Catrow, is a story of positive self-esteem that the Amazon synopsis says is “high on energy and imagination.” recently listed it among their top 16 books for two-year-olds.

A timeless classic by Maurice Sendak that most of us read growing up. If you don’t own this one, now may be the time to add it to the collection.

The book that inspired an Oscar-winning animated short, “Hair Love” is written by Matthew Cherry and illustrated by Vashti Harrison. It tells the story of a father who has to learn a difficult new skill: how to style his young daughter’s long and curly hair.

Dr. Seuss books are great for their re-readability, rhyme schemes, and unique art style. Children are looking for books that they can grab and read alone or with a parent at this age, so having this collection of five will give them some variety.

We would absolutely recommend the cartoon if we could, but “The Magic School Bus” as a book series is also really fun for children. This particular book touches on a subject that we especially love: space exploration.

The number one best seller in Amazon’s “Children’s Action & Adventure Comics & Graphic Novels” section, this Dan Pilkey book is the fourth in the series, which you should consider collecting so that your 3rd grader can experience it all.

Another classic novel that most readers are probably familiar with (and one that comes with various adaptations), “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” was written by Roald Dahl and first published in 1964. A cool bonus exercise could be reading the book then watching the 1971 film starring Gene Wilder to see how they compare and contrast.

The beauty of buying the full Harry Potter set is that your child can grow along with the characters. The books get progressively longer and there are some pretty mature themes in the later installments, but your pre-teen will have time to build up to those.

Learning about history and politics is a lot more fun and engaging for children when it’s in the form of graphic nonfiction. This biography of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is written by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Whitney Gardner.

Written by Kelly Barnhill, this fantasy story focuses on a girl named Luna who is raised by a witch and accidentally given magic powers, which she must learn to control. In a review for The New York Times, Diana Wagman wrote that the book “educates about oppression, blind allegiance and challenging the status quo while immersing the reader in an exhilarating story full of magical creatures and derring-do.”

The subject matter in Mildred D. Taylor’s “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” is by no means light and whimsical, so you’ll want to consider whether or not your 7th grader is ready for it. Set in Mississippi in the 1930s, the book deals with racism, social injustice, and violence, but also family, love, and perseverance.

Katharine McGee’s novel tells the story of an alternate America where there is a wealthy, drama-filled royal family. If your teenager is into celebrity culture and all that comes with it, then they should give this a read.

This YA fantasy novel is the first in a trilogy written by Shelby Mahurin. There are witches, witch hunters, forbidden love, and humor to be had in the 528 pages of the book, which debuted at number two on the NY Times bestseller list and was chosen as Barnes and Noble’s YA Book Club selection in 2019.

Described as a disturbing tale of a dystopian world where men rule and women have no civil rights, this 1985 book has gained popularity in recent years thanks to the hit television show of the same name. Author Margaret Atwood served as a consulting producer on the show, which means a lot of this multiple award-winning book’s power has been translated onto the screen.

Emily M. Danforth’s coming-of-age novel from 2012 is about a young girl in Montana who, upon discovering her homosexuality, is sent to a conversion camp by her conservative guardians. While the character in the book is younger (12 years old), parents and kids seem to agree that the mature themes are best appreciated by slightly older readers.


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