If you've been paying attention at all, you know how valuable it is to read with your toddler. It not only promotes reading ability, but helps your child develop linguistic skills while providing a touchstone moment of connection with each session. What's harder to find out is exactly which books are best for developing those linguistic skills that will give your toddler a head start on lifelong learning. Though a "best of" list is always subjective, here are some representative titles for different linguistic skills for various ages.
For toddlers beginning to grasp the concept of reading, anything by Dr. Seuss can help them "break the code" from identifying letters to reading words. The basic structure of "Seussian" prose consists of rhyming nonsense words with only one or two letters different. This helps your child understand the pattern of how letters and sounds interact. "There's a Wocket in My Pocket" is a particularly strong example of this.
Cause-effect frames are language structures that provide a relationship between two events. They're a basic linguistic concept and vital to negotiation, asking for help and similar skills your toddler is beginning to develop. The "If you give..." series by Laura Numeroff is full of this kind of language, repeating the structure page after page with silly examples children will remember and internalize.
Developing a large working vocabulary is an important part of learning any language. Memorizing lists of words is boring, but learning new words in context is both easier and more fun. Dav Pilkey's "Captain Underpants" series is a surprisingly good tool for this. Despite the PG-rated core subject, the books stretch reader vocabulary while spinning a story that kids -- especially boys -- go back to on purpose.
Books that cover topics important to toddler development teach children vocabulary and sentence structure immediately important to their lives. This creates a "double whammy" where the book helps your child internalize ideas and behaviors while simultaneously making it easier for you to communicate about the concept. Free Spirit Publishing's "Learning to Get Along" series is an award-winning example of this kind of book.
Love of Learning
Kids who love to read love to learn, even if they don't realize they're learning as they read. Silly, fun books that make your child laugh are the best tool for the task at this age. Sandra Boynton's board books, such as "But Not the Hippopotamus" and "Barnyard Dance," include some challenging words combined with silly situations.