iPad Best of the Best – 50 Essential Children’s Book Apps (Part 1: Toddlers)

| July 16, 2012 | 9 Comments

Children’s book apps have been around now for over two years and we have seen a lot of wonderful titles at Digital-Storytime.com over this time. What follows is the first of a four-part series, listing the best 50 iPad books for kids, broken down by age.

This first list is of apps that are appropriate for kids under the age of three, although many are also quite enjoyable for preschoolers and even early elementary school aged children. We’ve selected the very best titles we’ve found for the very young in 2012. We have not included any of the titles that made our list in 2011, so please also check out: iPad Best of the Best – 25 Essential Children’s Book Apps. At the end of this ‘top 10 for toddlers’ list, we have a special Top 5 for the best FREE apps for this age group. ♥

1. Go Away Big Green Monster

Screen Shot of Go Away Big Green Monster

An Ed Emberley Classic transitions to digital beautifully!

Ed Emberley’s classic print title from 1992 is spelendidly represented in app form, making the original ‘die-cut’ pop-up style title as relevant for today’s children as those who preferred the old school version. Each page, just like the original, takes the potentially scary ‘monster’ and deconstructs each element, giving children the delightful experience of conquering their night-time fears.

First appear the eyes, then nose and teeth, breaking down the elements of children’s fears about monsters in a fun and colorful way. A whole new digital generation can now confidently say, “Go Away, Big Green Monster!” Read more …

2. Wheels on the Bus HD

Screen Shot of Wheels on the Bus App

A musical storyapp perfect for toddlers

From Duck Duck Moose, comes the quintessential app for toddlers. This app is well made and easy enough for a small child to use themselves. The interactivity is just right for young hands to master, while the animation & sound effects are both amusing and tied into the lyrics nicely. The child can spin the wheels of the bus to make it move, slide the doors ‘open and shut’ or move the wipers to ‘swish, swish, swish’. Overall this is an exceptional children’s app. It’s fun, has features that fit the musical story and is full of fresh, vivid graphics that will appeal to young children the world over. Read more …

3. Byron Barton – Boats

Screen Shot of Boats - Byron Barton

An exceptional toddler series about transportation!

Published in print in the late 1980’s, the delightful simplicity of Byron Barton’s illustrations have now arrived in digital. This app covers all the important aspects of water-bound vessels, from the types of boats to the steps it takes to bring a cruise ship into a harbor. Presented in bold colors with simple lines, these charming illustrations will win over any toddler, especially those fond of transportation books. Read more …

Byron Barton – Planes

Screen Shot for Byron Barton - Planes

Bright, colorful illustrations children will love!

This app covers all the important aspects of flying, from the types of planes to the steps it takes to take off, land and disembark a jet’s passengers. Presented in bold colors with simple lines, these charming illustrations will win over any toddler, especially those fond of transportation books. These two titles are lightly animated and interactive, allowing the curious child to drag items around, tap to hear words or tap to name objects. Akin to the toddler ‘board book’ in print, the Byron Barton series is must for the nursery school set. Read more …

4. Bizzy Bear Builds a House

Screen Shot of Bizzy Bear Builds a House

Can you help Bizzy on the building site?

This original book series is from Nosy Crow, and  based on a series of print ‘toddler’ board books, first published in 2011 and featuring adorable illustrations by Benji Davies. In this title, children get to assist Bizzy as he helps out on a building site. Readers can help the cub by moving building supplies, digging, hammering, and much more. Bizzy Bear is a charming and beautifully made series, but most of all, it is a lot of fun. Read more …

Bizzy Bear on the Farm

Screen Shot of Bizzy Bear on the Farm

Can you help Bizzy with his farm chores?

In this title, Bizzy needs help from the reader to complete his chores. Children assist Bizzy by moving building supplies, digging, hammering, and much more. Interactivity and character dialogue is driven by the reader, including lots of variety and room for open-ended exploration. Anyone familiar with Nosy Crow’s other apps will also notice a similar style of interactivity with hints, plus lots of great dialogue in the form of speech bubbles that vary with successive taps. Read more …

5. Moo, Baa, La La La

Screen Shot of Moo, Baa, La La La! - Sandra Boynton

What can you do when pigs sing instead of oink?

From Loud Crow, the same developer that made The Going to Bed Book and the PopOut series, comes another Boynton hit for the toddler set. In this cute title, you can tap the characters to hear authentic animal noises. That is, except for the three pigs on the second page, who sing, “La La La”. This app has a similar style to the other Boynton book apps, with lots of touchable elements that bounce slightly like a true pop-up book (and come alive with the addition of snorts, quacks and oinks). There are also surprising touches with little hints along the way. Read more …

6. I’m An Astronaut

Screen Shot of I Am An Astronaut

3, 2, 1 lift-off!

From Tizio Publishing, this personalizable title allows you to take a picture of your child (or use a photo) to show them as an astronaut inside the book’s pages. It is short but sweet, featuring light interactivity and animation. Among the fun things to tap on this title’s eleven pages is a cool ‘control panel’ for a rocket ship. It could even be the digital replacement for that old-school toy, the toddler ‘busy box’ (a toy with lots of buttons & levers). Seeing your child’s picture in several scenes (or their name, which appears on a flag), is really fun; kids reading or listening will be especially engaged as they anticipate seeing themselves in each scene. Read more …

7. Little Critter Collection #1

Screen Shot of Little Critter Collection #1

A BIG collection of Little Critter!

From Oceanhouse Media, this digital collection includes 10 books, released from 1975 through 1992, by Mercer Mayer. These stories are ideal for very young children, focusing on topics perfect for toddlers & preschoolers. The collection includes: The New BabyJust Me and My MomJust Grandma and MeI Was So MadAll By MyselfI Just ForgotMe Too!When I Get BiggerThe New PottyJust For You These books have been beloved for years in print and get a new life in digital, including educational enhancements. Read more … 

8. Miko Series by Auryn Apps

Screen Shot of Miko Goes on Vacation

Miko, Mimiki & mom go to the beach … and make a new friend.

The Miko books, by talented author Brigitte Weninger, have been among my child’s favorites in print for many years, all published in the past decade. I especially love the beautiful illustrations of Stephanie Roehe that pair so nicely with the sweet stories in this series.

Interactivity in these Auracle books is limited to the name of items being spoken when tapped (along with the word appearing briefly). While this light enhancement may not ‘wow’ young readers, it does help with reinforcing the visual connections between words and images for pre-readers and learner readers in particular. Read more …

9. Elmo’s Big Birthday Bash! – A Sesame Street Step Into Reading App

Screen Shot of Elmo's Big Birthday Bash!

An early reader full of games & digital enhancements!

This is a fun app with a few areas for improvement to live up to expectations of educational enhancement worthy of the Sesame Street label. It has a story that isn’t riveting but does provide for an “early reader” quite well with simple text that highlights as narrated by Bob McGrath, an original cast member in his 43rd season on the show. Fun games are also included that let kids match beginning letter sounds and rhyming words. These games can be included in the story or excluded in the apps ample settings. Read more …

10. Spot the Dot

Screen Shot of Spot the Dot by David A. Carter

A game based on a popular print series …

From Ruckus Media, this app is actually more of a game, but based on the popular print pop-up activity books by David A. Carter. As an app it is a lot of fun and preserves much of the charm of the print titles. Each page asks the reader to ‘spot the dot’ hidden under boxes, on screens covered with geometric shapes and on ‘hidden object’ style pages, including ones with movement. This app teaches colors and attention to detail, as well as having several simple sentences that appear as they are read aloud. Read more …

Extra Special Mention:

Our Top Recommendations for FREE* Apps for Kids Under 3:

1. Land of Me: Story Time

Screen Shot of The Land of Me: Story Time

Granny Olive weaves quite a tale!

This book app is one of the finest examples of digital storytelling to come across my tablet in a long time. It is beautifully made, created by The Land of Me. Upon opening the app, readers are greeted by a scene with a serious, but loving storyteller in the form of Granny Olive and three juveniles: a bear named Buddy Boo, a raccoon named Eric and a bird named Willow. This wise old tortoise will have your child as enthralled as her three charges, the minute you open this app. It is lovingly detailed, solidly built and thoughtfully tailored to its target audience of ages 2-6+. Read more …

2. Lazoo – Squiggles!

Screen Shot of Squiggles!

A fun story with endless creative possibilities …

This is an exceptional app, including a short but sweet storybook & endless options for creative play. Two characters are featured in the story, a cute monkey named Bobu and rabbit named Miku. The pair are going to have a snack of ‘jumping beans’ but first have to catch the bouncy legumes by chasing them. After the story, though, the main feature of this app is the creativity game included. Children can draw squiggles or doodles of things like a car’s exhaust, sheep’s wool, cotton candy, birds’ nests, a rocket launching, and waves among a school of fish. Creative embellishments are almost endless, including stickers that animate slightly. Read more …

3. Hannah Habeebee

Screen Shot for Hannah Habeebee McHats

A fabulous little story book – about a fashion-obsessed girl!

Hannah Habeebee McHats is ‘crazy about hats!’ … and not just your typical hats. She loves both large and small, but also more exotic hats, like those that glow, make noise, and even taste “oh, so sweet” (think cupcake)! Filled with lightly animated elements that are triggered with a simple tap, this book app is sure to please young children and their parents. It isn’t the most highly produced app, nor one with a ton of extras to keep a child busy for hours, but for the sheer enjoyment of a good book, this is one of my top recommendations. Read more …

and Treetop Ted

Screen Shot for Treetop Top

Quirky rhymes & colorful graphics appeal to young readers!

Featuring light animation and interactivity, Treetop Ted will enchant young readers and listeners with its lovely pacing and fun rhymes. The bright, colorful illustrations are simple but engaging in a way that makes this book perfect for the under six set. Ted is a green stick figure with a branched “tree-top” head … but he can get no peace, not even a minute to enjoy his tea. Bugs in all shapes, sizes and noises make a home on his head, annoying poor Ted and making him feel “itchy, twitchy, scritchy, scratchy.” These fun words are great for teaching about onomatopoeia, or words that mimic real sounds. Read more …

4. Open Wide Snap

Screen Shot of Open Wide Snap

A crocodile needs his teeth cleaned …

This cute, series features two short titles … the first one has a crocodile who tries to convince several animals in the jungle that he will not eat them if they will only help him clean his dirty back teeth. He gets no help from several creatures who don’t trust him, but then he meets a fluffy rabbit who is willing to help. The two become friends. Open, Wide, Snap is told in simple, repetitive sentences perfect for young listeners & readers. Read more …

and Hide Run Growl

Screen Shot for Hide Run Growl

A simple but engaging tale for young children …

This cute, short title features a tiger cub that is trying to hunt while his mother is injured. His mantra is “Hide, Run, Growl” (and swipe) as he explores his possible prey. Many creatures are just too big for him to consider pouncing on though. After passing by a crocodile, snake, giraffe and elephant, the cub finds an animal just the right size to try out his skill. Read more …

5. Chipper’s Rainy Day

Screen Shot of Chipper's Rainy Day Adventure

Chipper makes lots of fun choices for his rainy day!

With polished animation, delightful interactivity and a short but sweet adventure story, Chipper’s Rainy Day,has everything a young reader could wish for in a storybook app. Every one of the pages has animated and interactive elements featuring an adorable mouse-character named Chipper. It is a rainy day and Chipper is excited … but readers need to help him decide what to do next. As the story progresses, four opportunities are presented that let the reader ‘choose their own adventure’ by picking one of three options. Read more …

*All of these apps were free when this post was published and had a history of being free for many months, however, only the developer of an app can control pricing – please check iTunes prior to downloading for the most recent price information.

Of course, we recommend that screen time for young children be limited and ideally, a shared experience with an adult caregiver … what are your favorite apps to explore with children under age three?

Category: All About Apps, Top 10 Lists

About the Author ()

Carisa Kluver is the the editor of Digital-Storytime.com, an iPad children's book review site. She has a BA in Anthropology from UC Berkeley and an MSW from the University of Washington. Before starting this project, she was a school counselor, health educator and researcher in child & maternal health.