"So here's something: many have said, as a piece of advice to people having their first child, that they should buy just one parenting book, and stick with it.
My question is, if you could buy only one book (general, specific, esoteric, etc.) about raising toddlers, what book would that be?"
I actually think that that first piece of advice, to stick with one
book, is well-intentioned but crummy. Because what if the one book you
pick doesn't work with your kid? For instance, if you pick Dr. Sears
but your kid needs to cry to create enough white noise to get to sleep,
you're going to feel like both you and your child are failures because
all the sling-carrying in the world won't change the fact that your
baby falls asleep better by crying for 5 minutes.
And what if you use Hogg, but your baby likes to be carried around, and gets anxious when left alone during the "play" part of the regimen?
There are just too many different ways for babies (who are just little people) to be to think that the likelihood of lucking onto the exact book that fits your kid's temperament is going to happen.
I like to repeat what I've heard a ton of times (many of them here from commenters): Read either all the books or none of them.
But we're talking about toddler/preschooler books here. And the nice thing about those is that while certain authors are still on the "should" train of telling you if you don't do things a certain way your child will turn out All Wrong, a much higher proportion of authors writing about that age are just trying to give you tools, based on observations they've made about how to make things go more smoothly for everyone involved.
Having said that, the toddler book I recommend is "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu.
Ha. No. Of course not. But it sometimes really does feel like a battle, doesn't it? The book that honestly helped me the most during this stage wasn't even a toddler book, and most of its strategies are for older kids, but it flipped my thinking around from looking at it as an adversarial situation to seeing it as my task to help my child grow up. I push this book constantly: "Between Parent and Child" by Haim Ginott. (Two other stellar books that come directly from Ginott's work are "Playful Parenting" by Lawrence Cohen and "How To Talk So Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk" by Faber and Mazlish.)
Reading that book made me feel just a little calmer, more assured that we could do this together, less convinced that I was failing somehow. That the toddler years were a few pages, not the book.
Once you've read that book and need some help for the minute-by-minute stuff, go see Sharon Silver at proactiveparenting.net. Read her site, and subscribe to her Twitterfeed, which is full of tips for dealing with small moments in a way that helps you *and* your child. She really does seem to see the entire relationship between parent and child in our interactions in a way that most authors and experts don't. I think my entire parenting experience would have been easier if I'd known about her work when my older one was a toddler.
What would you recommend, and why?