I’ve had a few requests recently for recommendations for our favorite children’s books for toddlers, so I thought I’d do a blog post with our 10 favorites. I have been to a number of Orthodox bookstores recently and I’m encouraged to see more and more books being produced for young children.
For this list, I’ve only included books that we have read, own and loved. My oldest daughter is 3 years old, so I will include our favorite books for each age along with clickable links on where to purchase them. Many of them can be purchased through Amazon, but I included links to various Orthodox bookstores online as well.
Age 0-1: Board Books
1. Goodnight Jesus : by Angela Isaacs, illustrated by Nicholas Malara
Goodnight Jesus is a sweet board book that acknowledges all the people we know and love and as nighttime draws near, bedtime kisses are given to everyone from saints to siblings. It’s a neat way to introduce veneration to children through the association of kisses of those we love and see and those we love in our icons. It’s perfect for babies who love giving kisses to begin practicing too!
2. What Do You See at Liturgy? : By Kristina Kallas-Tartara
What do you see at Liturgy is a small board book with up-close pictures of things they will see while at church (i.e. candles, priest, censor, etc). This is probably my favorite book to bring to church with us - it is permanently in my church bag and my 3 year old daughter still enjoys this book! Highly recommend this book for babies and toddlers.
3. I Pray Today : by Angela Isaacs, illustrated by Amandine Wanert
Written by the same author of Goodnight Jesus, this board book has quickly become one of our favorites! This book is a great tool to introduce prayer to children by showing many scenarios throughout the day where children can pray “Lord Have Mercy.” I’m including this one in the early childhood section because there are very few words so even busy babies can sit through this book. My 3 year old also still enjoys this book and can now “read” from memory as it has “Lord have mercy” on every other page.
4. A Child’s First Bible: by Kenneth N. Taylor
When my daughter turned 2, I started reading her Bible stories. I tried a few different Bibles, including Bible for Toddlers and Paraclete Bible for Kids, but I was dissatisfied with the minimal content and very cartoonish images. Perhaps I’m more picky than most, but I appreciated the simplicity of the stories in A Child’s First Bible. Although the stories are short, it included enough details for my daughter to digest and comprehend. Each story is 1-2 pages long and has minimal words on each page. After reading the story of Adam and Eve a few times, she was able to articulate (at age 2-1/2 years old) “they no listen to God. He sad.” There are a number of stories that we would read over and over again and each time she would find familiar parts to the story and be able to re-tell it in her own words. Although we used it often around age 2, I’ve found that age 3 she had outgrown it. Even still, the Bible we are using now (see below) is a bit too wordy for a busy toddler, so I still recommend this one for 2 year olds if you’re wanting to introduce the Bible to your children.
5. My First Series: by Potamitis Publishing
Potamitis Publishing has a number of thin paperback books called “My First Series” that are budget friendly ($5 each) and they have simple and sweet illustrations that help children connect with the liturgy and prayer. My 2 favorites are : My First Church Book and My First Orthodox Prayer Book. On each page, there are only a few words which makes these books ideal for little ones with short attention spans. The only downside is they are paperback, so if your kiddos like chewing on books still, perhaps save these for a later time. They also sell a complete set of 8 books and they are definitely worth having in your collection. We throw these in our church bag and pull them out quite often during services.
6. The Life of Christ in Icons : by Marina Paliaki
I’ve includes the next two books in the 2 year old category because they are board books with a squishy hardback cover and they are durable for young toddlers. Although there are quite a few words on each page, we read and enjoyed them when my daughter was 2. The Life of Christ in Icons includes the major events in Christ’s life beginning with his birth, and ending with the Ascension and Pentecost. The illustrations are Byzantine style and consistent with Orthodox iconography so it’s been a great resource to teach the major feasts and the stories of Christ’s life. Paired with The Mother of God in Icons, I was able to teach most of the feast days to my daughter last year. I think every family with young children should have this in their book collection. There is a third book from this publisher called The Birth of Christ in Icons which I have no read yet but that’s on my list to purchase this Nativity fast.
7. The Mother of God in Icons : by Marina Paliaki
Written and published by the same people who created The Life of Christ in Icons, this board book is about the Mother of God, the Theotokos (or Mary), and her life. It begins with the story of her parents, Joachim and Anna, and their faith before she was conceived and ends with the Dormition. It also includes the major stories where the Theotokos is mentioned in the Bible. This is a great resource for teaching children about the major feasts in the church calendar of the Theotokos. One of the aspects to this book that I appreciate is they include prompts on each page to help children engage with the illustrations (icons). For example, it will say after the story in italics “What is the angel showing to the myrrh-bearers.” Highly recommend these books, as we use them for each feast!
8. The Story of You : by Presvytera Angela Alatzakis
The Story of You is perfect for the 3 year old who longs to know more about when they were little. Ever since my youngest daughter was born, my oldest daughter has been interested in what she was like when she was a baby. She asks me constantly “did I do that when I was little?” That’s one of the reasons I love this book, because I can tell her about the special events that happened when she was just a baby! The Story of You is a parent’s re-telling to their child of their first steps into the Orthodox Christian faith. It walks the reader through praying for them before they were born, the prayers on their first day, special naming prayers on their 8th day, their entrance into the church on their 40th day, choosing their godparents, the steps of their chrismation and baptism and beyond as a member of the body of Christ. It’s the perfect book for 3 year olds, and a great option for a baptism or name-day present.
9. In The Candle’s Glow : by Elizabeth Crispina Johnson, Illustrated by Amandine Wanert
If your child loves to light candles at church, then they might enjoy this book! It’s a story of a little girl who is spinning and twirling and soaking in the beauty of the church, and she lights a candle and prays for her friends and family. Here’s an excerpt from one of my favorite pages; “Felicia watched as it carried the wisp of smoke spinning and twirling, dancing and swirling. Whispering ‘Amen,’ she made the sign of the cross one last time and gave a little wave as her prayers rose heavenward.” The illustrations are vibrant and colorful and absolutely stunning (as you can likely tell from the cover). It’s a whimsical story that’s perfect for young children who are growing in their faith and learning more about prayer.
10. Children’s Bible Reader : by the Greek Bible Society
One of my priorities in educating my children is to help them love to read and to be familiar with Bible stories, so having a good kids Bible is very important to me. I have asked a number of moms which Bible they recommend and this is the #1 most recommended! At the age of 3, my daughter can listen to stories for minutes at a time, and she is able to digest in greater detail what she heard. Each major Bible story is 2-3 pages long with large font, so they take about 5 minutes to read - which is perfect for the attention span of young readers at this age. Also, I like illustrations in this version as they are more similar to Byzantine icons. The stories themselves are closer to the actual Biblical text and include many of the same verbiage. For example, in the Creation story, it says “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” which is a direct quote from Genesis. This is a great Bible to have on your shelf to help share the love of the scriptures with your children.
So those are our top 10 favorite Orthodox Children’s books. I still have a number of Orthodox books on our shelf that we love to read, and there are still plenty more that I want to buy, but these are the ones we read most often! If you have any others that I’m missing that you LOVE, would you mind sharing with me? I love hearing other recommendations! Leave a comment below and tell me which ones are your favorite!