What are the best books for young children? Which English and Chinese books should you get if you’re raising bilingual babies or toddlers? As a pediatrician and mom, I’ve enjoyed reading with so many children including my own son and daughter. No matter what language your family speaks, books that show real photos and realistic pictures are always the winner.
In a cartoon-dominated world, you might be surprised to hear that I’m not jumping to Disney princesses and superheroes. But it’s true! The best English and Chinese books for babies and toddlers have pictures of regular people and animals. (Fun cartoons can come later!)
Whether you’re shopping for a baby shower gift or building your toddler’s bookshelf, you’ll love these adorable English and Chinese board books!
This post was originally published in May 2018 and has since been updated with new information.
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Why do babies and toddlers need real photos in books?
The question we should ask is, “What do babies want to see?” When babies are born, they are trying to figure out the world around them. They are wondering:
- “Are my parents happy or sad?”
- “Who is that stranger?”
- “What is making that barking sound?”
What research shows
Extensive research has shown that babies have an innate preference for visualizing human faces. They are learning to discriminate facial expressions and body language while listening intently to our voices and learning the pattern of our inflections. In addition, they are also curious about their pets and other animals around them.
Long before modern research, Dr. Maria Montessori, a physician and educator, observed that children need concrete experiences before they are can think abstractly. Therefore, until your child understands make-believe from reality, it’s best to delay books about fantasy.
What experience shows
Books with real photos and realistic illustrations have the power to captivate everyone from infants, toddlers, kids, teens, and parents! A detailed image can be a conversation starter and offer so much information, even if the text is simple.
Although my children are now 6 and 9 years old, these books have stood the test of time. I’ve given several of these books to friends. And my children want to keep some these baby books because they are just too adorable.
Qualities of a good English or Chinese book for babies and toddlers
These are features I look for as a pediatrician mom:
- Thick pages that are easy for little hands to turn
- Board books that can hold up to drool and normal mouthing behavior
- Real photos or realistic illustrations
- Simple, everyday language
Best bilingual English and Chinese books for babies and toddlers
Here are our favorite bilingual books for babies and toddlers! The books in this section have both English and Chinese translations.
Bilingual Happy Baby Books
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 and animals! I really appreciate the diversity of people featured plus the common functional words and phrases.
Where to buy:
A Nest in Springtime / 春天的鳥巢
This short and sweet story is about little goslings hatching in the Spring. Babies and toddlers can learn how to say Happy Birthday and count to 8 in Chinese! Bonus: if you’re learning Chinese with your children like me, you’ll be happy to know that the back of the book has translations in Pinyin and English!
Where to buy: Amazon
Curious Little Bao Likes to Help / 好奇的小宝爱帮忙 / 好奇的小寶愛幫忙
This sweet board book has realistic illustrations of a young child learning how to be helpful! Repetitive sentences help children learn common phrases. The book is available in simplified OR traditional Chinese, and all books have Pinyin and English translations to support non-fluent families.
Where to buy: Curious Little Bao
Best English or Translated Chinese books for babies and toddlers
Many popular board books in English have been translated to Chinese! Here are some of our favorite Chinese books for little ones.
Does Kangaroo Have A Mother? 袋鼠也有妈妈吗？袋鼠也有媽媽嗎?
This Eric Carle book has wonderful illustrations of real animals. With repetitive questions, “Does Kangaroo Have a Mother, Too?” is an excellent book that encourages conversation between the caregiver and child.
Other Eric Carle books are also wonderful to have at home! My kids love “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” and “Hungry Caterpillar“. While these books would be great for older toddlers, they could be a bit abstract for babies.
Where to buy:
Dear Zoo / 亲爱的动物园 / 親愛的動物園
I loved this book when I was a kid, and now it’s my children’s turn to enjoy it! This classic book has been translated in many languages, and the peek-a-boo flaps are irresistible! The realistic illustrations are fun for toddlers to match with animal toys. Plus, the repetitive language can help children learn how to talk in Chinese or English.
Dear Zoo was also one of the first books I learned to read in Chinese. I used Post-It notes to jot down translations in English and Pinyin.
Where to buy:
Who Am I? Guess and Seek baby book series
These books are super duper cute! They have simple but interactive dialogue and adorable photos of real animals. Although they were originally published in English, the English versions are no longer in print.
Where to buy:
Best board books for babies and toddlers in Chinese only
The following book sets are available in Chinese but not English.
小鸡球球 / 小雞球球 touch-and-feel baby books
Get ready for the cutest baby chicks!!! These durable books are wonderfully inviting and interactive! Babies and toddlers will love all of the holes and textures to touch and push. Each page has only 1-2 sentences in simplified Chinese, which is perfect for little ones. I highly recommend this set of children’s books for fun sensory exploration.
Where to buy:
宝宝的传统儿歌 Chinese music books with CDs
These set of 3 Chinese musical nursery rhyme books are incredibly sweet for babies and toddlers! In the accompanying CDs, the rhymes are spoken with soft yet catchy background music. Both of my children love these playful music board books.
Best board books for babies and toddlers in English only
What if these Chinese books break the budget for your family? Since English books are usually more affordable for Americans, you can translate books during story time with your baby or toddler. These baby books are filled with great pictures and engaging language:
More Chinese books for toddlers
- Chinese Nursery Rhymes Sound Books (VIDEO)
- Best Potty Training Books, Potty Seats, And Tips For Toddlers
- Mina Learns Chinese Books For Children With Pinyin And English
What are your favorite English and Chinese books for babies and toddlers?
I hope this guide is helpful as you build your child’s bilingual home library! Please share your thoughts in the comments. I’d love to know which English and Chinese books were favorites for your babies and toddlers!