Most parents know that regular reading is important for raising a bilingual baby. However, they aren’t sure how to choose the best books for babies and toddlers.
The question we should ask is “What do babies want to see?”
In this media-dominated world, Disney, Marvel, Pinkfong, and other cartoons have made this confusing for parents. However, no matter what language your family speaks, books that show reality are most useful.
First, I’ll explain why, and then I’ll give specific examples. Most of my recommendations are Montessori-friendly Chinese books for babies, but I have included links to English versions when available.
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What are babies trying to learn?
When babies are born, they are trying to learn about the real world! They are wondering:
- “Are my parents happy or sad?”
- “Who is that stranger?”
- “What is making that barking sound?”
Extensive research has shown that babies have an innate preference for visualizing humans and animals as they learn to discriminate facial expressions and body language. They are also listening intently to our voices and learning the pattern of our inflections. In other words, children learn how to read situations (eg, faces, emotions) well before they read letters and words.
The ideal Chinese books for babies and young toddlers
When you’re shopping for your child’s first books, look for:
- Thick pages (easy to turn)
- Hardcover/board books (can withstand drool and normal mouthing behavior!)
- Real photos or realistic illustrations
- Simple text
- No clutter
- No flashing lights or animation
Why children need books with realistic images
Long before modern research, Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and educator, observed that children need a solid foundation of concrete experiences before they are able to think abstractly. Therefore, until your child understands make-believe from reality, it’s best to limit books about fantasy.
You’ll notice that our home library has a large variety of fiction and non-fiction books, and my kids have seen it all. However, the books with real or realistic images, do the best job at capturing attention and satisfying curiosity from infancy to toddlerhood and beyond.
Real/realistic images have wonderful details to see and discuss. Regardless of the complexity of the storyline, babies and young toddlers usually don’t have the patience to listen to complete stories yet. They are mainly observing and learning how to describe people, animals, objects, and other things they see in this world!
My 19-month-old son loves all of the books in this post, and even my 4-year-old daughter, who reads Chinese at a 1st-grade level, still enjoy looking at the pictures in board books!
Realistic, Montessori-friendly Chinese Books for Babies and Toddlers
Without further ado, here are our favorite Montessori-friendly Chinese books for babies and toddlers!
Please note that you don’t need to get every book on this list. Choose a few that you think your child will like. Keep in mind that some children will enjoy these books through toddlerhood while others may outgrow them by age 2.
And don’t worry if you are not able to find these exact books. This should give you a sense of what to look for in your local library or favorite bookstore!
1. Chinese Books for Babies and Toddlers: Roger Priddy Happy Baby Books (Words, Animals, Colors, etc)
These books are excellent first books for young children to hold. The photographs are clear and stand out against the white background. Kids love looking at photos, especially images of babies! The text is simple and easy to read. In addition, the kids in the book have different ethnicities!
Where to buy:
2. Chinese books for babies and toddlers: Roger Priddy First 100 Words Books
This set is similar to the Happy Baby series. The pages are a little busier than the Happy Baby books, but the images are generally straightforward and easy for a young child to recognize.
My only problem with this book is that they use candy as an example for counting to number eight. Before my daughter could read, she insisted that these were balls (see image below).
Where to Buy:
- Simplified Chinese and English
- Traditional Chinese and English
- English only
3. Does Kangaroo Have a Mother, Too? 袋鼠是也有妈妈吗？
Although Eric Carle books have mostly artistic illustrations, some of the books have illustrations that represent real animals. I think “Does Kangaroo Have a Mother, Too?” is a great book for babies, because the animals are proportional and the colors are generally true to life.
Other classic Eric Carle books are still wonderful to have at home! For example, the kids love “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” and “Hungry Caterpillar“. However, my advice is for young kids to learn information about real animals first.
Where to buy:
- Amazon (Simplified Chinese)
- China Sprout (Simplified or Traditional Chinese)
- Book.com.tw (Traditional Chinese)
4. Chinese books for babies and toddlers: A Nest in Springtime (春天的鸟巢)
This is a short and sweet story about little goslings hatching in Spring. Children learn new words about spring and how to count to eight in Chinese!
Where to buy:
- Amazon (Traditional Chinese with pinyin and English)
5. Chinese books for babies and toddlers: 宝宝的传统儿歌 (Book + CD)
These nursery rhymes and CDs are very cute and fun for babies and toddlers! In the CD, the rhymes are spoken with catchy music in the background. Highly recommend!
6. Chinese books for babies and toddlers: Dear Zoo (亲爱的动物园)
This classic book has been translated in many languages, and little hands love to open the peek-a-boo flaps!
I think “Dear Zoo” is a great example of realistic illustrations mixed with fantasy (eg, we cannot have animals delivered to our home). Since the story ends with the child happily receiving a dog, the overall message is realistic. The repetitive language is also helpful for kids to learn new words.
To extend the learning with this book, below is an example of how I set up an animal matching basket for my son.
Where to buy:
7. Chinese books for babies and toddlers: My First Bilingual Books (Millet Publishing)
This series of books has been published in many languages, and the Chinese vocab books have been generally accurate. We have many of these books and like the realistic illustrations. However, I don’t recommend getting all of the books though and would just pick a few topics that your child is interested in (eg, animals, vehicles, etc). Also, their books with longer phrases and sentences have some translation errors.
Where to buy:
- Amazon (Simplfiied Chinese)
8. Chinese books for babies and toddlers: Who Am I Book Series
This adorable set has simple yet interactive dialogue paired with adorable photographs.
Where to buy:
What are your favorite Chinese books for babies and toddlers?
I hope this list has been a helpful guide on what to look for as you build your child’s home library!
If you end up reading this book, let me know what you think in the comments below!
We’d love to hear about your learning experience and if you agree or disagree with our review! What other books do you recommend?
More Chinese book recommendations
General reading tips for children
- 15 Ways To Get Your Child To Read Throughout the Day (CHALK Academy)
- The Developmental Milestones of Early Literacy (Healthy Children)
- Help Your Child Enjoy Reading Aloud: Tips for Parents (Healthy Children)
- Reading Tips from Reach Out and Read (Read Out and Read)
Research-based articles about infant development
If you’re interested in learning more about the science between early infant attentional bias and visual development, here are some helpful articles:
- The Development of Attentional Biases for Faces in Infancy: A Developmental Systems Perspective (Developmental Science)
- Stimulating Newborn Face Perception (Journal of Vision)
- Facing threat: Infants’ and adults’ visual scanning of faces with neutral, happy, sad, angry, and fearful emotional expressions (Cognition and Emotion)
- The development of visual search in infancy: Attention to faces versus salience (Developmental Psychology)