The 5 Best Parenting Books

As a clueless first-time parent, I inhaled parenting books from the moment I found out I was pregnant. I went down the list of popular and highly rated books on Amazon, dutifully borrowed them from the library, and read each word. For the most part, they're a blur of contradictory tips and alarming scenarios. However, there are a few of them that stand out with advice I am grateful to have come across and highly recommend to other parents.

Of course, we live in a country where judging parents and their kids is a national pastime. There are inconsistent studies and advice coming from the same doctors. There is no perfect way to raise a child. Every child is different. No one knows your own family. Yada yada.

These are books that I recommend not because I think they are the bibles to parenting, nor do I wholeheartedly agree with and endorse every single piece of advice in them. I recommend these books because I found them to be insightful and helpful in giving me a different perspective or strategy, one that I wouldn't have intuitively known. (See also: What a New Baby Really Needs)

Bringing Up Bebe

I just finished "Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting," and boy do I wish I had read this before my little boy came along. French kids are well-behaved and healthy, and they sleep through the night at two months. My 17 month old sleeps through the night occasionally, and by that I mean he wakes up once. I don't know if the French method would have worked on him, but I sure wish I had known to have tried. Now, the entire French parenting philosophy might seem a bit extreme, maybe cold and harsh, and there is a lot of criticism of American parents. If you find that hard to swallow and are completely in the Dr. Sears camp, this book is not for you. But I found this to be an eye opening example of how to be a firm but loving parent in order to have well-mannered kids and still enjoy life outside of being a mom. I heart this book! 

If you want to read more about the French parenting method, or how to not have a picky eater, check out "French Kids Eat Everything."

The Happiest Toddler on the Block

I read his "The Happiest Baby on the Block," and I thought it was just okay. The five Ss strategy didn't really work for my baby (although the SHHHH did...sorta). My sister-in-law swears by it though, and it's very popular, so I think it's a safe one to pick up for a gift or yourself. They also have a DVD.

However, I really, really liked "The Happiest Toddler on the Block: How to Eliminate Tantrums and Raise a Patient, Respectful, and Cooperative One- to Four-Year Old" (also available on DVD). It gave a very anti-intuitive way to deal with toddlers and their ever increasing frustrations. I see that it works very well with my niece, and I'm using it a lot on my 17 month old. It really seems to do the trick (most of the time) in calming him down when he's erupting.


I'll use a word from one of the reviews on "NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children" — revelatory. There are a lot of "conventional wisdom" myths that are dispelled with hard research. It talks about why praise is damaging, the cause behind the moody, sulky, angry teenager (it's not hormones, but something completely avoidable), and the profound reason why kids lie (we tell them to). It'll blow your mind.

Brain Rules for Babies

"Brain Rules for Babies: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child From Zero to Five" is the book that my husband will recommend to every new parent (especially dads!). He's an engineer, and he likes facts, please. This book is for all the parents who want to know how do I get my kid into Harvard? He answers this question, I promise.

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk

My son isn't quite at the age yet where these tips can be used on him, but I'm hoping that they will work and faciliate a more communicative relationship. It's like Happiest Toddler but for older kids. So much of parent-child communication is tangled by a lack of empathy on the parents' part. They think because they know better, their kids should automatically listen and believe them. Obviously those parents don't remember what's it like to be a kid — the one who also thinks she knows better. "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk" gives very clear instructions on how to break through those biases and actually hear each other.

That's it?? What about all those sleep books? Guides to pregnancy? Childbirth? Breast feeding? 

I read those, too. All of them, it feels like. I read the entire 2.5 pounder, "The Baby Book" by Dr. Sears. I read a ton of books on breast feeding, watched documentaries on childbirth. I read Ferber, the "cry it out" guy. Then I read "The No-Cry Sleep Solution." I wanted to know everything that was going to happen, anything that might go wrong and how to deal with it. I wanted to know every single sound or movement my baby might make during his first few weeks. And of course I wanted to know how to raise a confident, smart superhero.

In the end, none of those books were ever helpful. Reading them made me feel prepared, but what actually happened wasn't the way it was described in the books. Birth, breast feeding, the first few weeks...we had problems that were never mentioned in the books, and if they were mentioned, the solutions listed didn't work. Whatever popped up, like the hundred things that went wrong while breastfeeding, we had to Google or, more helpfully, hash out with a lactation consultant.

These five books I felt were actually worth the time it took away from whatever else I could have been doing (resting, napping, relaxing).

Disclaimer: I did not receive any of these books free to review. I borrowed or bought these books on my own and have selected them without any outside influence.

No votes yet
Your rating: None

Disclaimer: The links and mentions on this site may be affiliate links. But they do not affect the actual opinions and recommendations of the authors.

Wise Bread is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

Guest's picture

I agree with your assessment on parenting books in general - I was surprised that I found the pregnancy books to be very helpful, but once my kiddo arrived, the parenting books were much less so. It really is about what feels right to you and what makes sense for your situation. I was definitely in the Dr. Sears camp and LOVED Happiest Baby on the Block, although I needed some help in learning how to properly swaddle. That's where the pediatrician and nurses help out a BUNCH! Lots of people are available and even eager to give advice - the trick is learning what kind of parent you are and what rings true to YOU! :)

Guest's picture

I'd recommend "Unconditional Parenting" by Alfie Kohn & "Raising Your Spirited Child" by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. These are what my wife and I found to be the best books for our two kids.