How do I choose the books on the list?
I write my “best books” lists based on the books that appeal to all children, both boys and girls and regardless of their specific interest du jour. My four children run the complete gamut of personality types, and these are books they have all loved.
What’s NOT on the list
Let me just say it again: these books were chosen based on how much children enjoy reading them. I have gone out and bought books based on “best children’s literature” lists and it was clear that they were chosen by adult rating scales. My preschool-age children are much more active and have shorter attention spans than adults, and they thought some of those books were a total snooze-fest (I’m looking at you, Make Way for Ducklings!)
I also do not include books that 3-4 year olds may find scary (sorry, I know Where the Wild Things Are is an amazing book, but my kids are wussies), or sad (why, The Giving Tree, WHY?????)
Some may be new and others pre-date my own childhood, but these are they books my kids beg me to read again and again and again…
An irresistible book that will appeal to your child’s silly side. Of course when the monster tells kids not to push the big red button, that’s exactly what they’ll want to do. Then hilarity ensues and the kids need to interact with the book to get things back to normal.
This counting book is also a joyful portrayal of a family going grocery shopping, preparing a meal together, and sitting down to eat as a family. It follows a simple rhyme scheme and is enjoyable to listen to. I love how my children see people who look like them in this book but that isn’t at all what the book is about. The family is so wholesome and sweet it makes you want to sit down and eat with them.
Farmer Brown’s cows find an old typewriter and take the opportunity to make some demands from their keeper. A silly tale of give and take follows. The kids will appreciate the hilarity of seeing farm animals do “people things” without realizing they are learning the basics of collective bargaining!
I think it’s one of those things every kid fantasizes about to have their Dad get them a humongous ladder to climb up and grab the moon. Children are delighted when the pages fold out to show just how huge the ladder is. NOTE: Choose the paperback version if you’re buying on Amazon as reviews indicate the board book version frustrates toddlers with the folding pages.
My kids absolutely love this highly-interactive book that teaches them about mixing colors. The pictures are so realistic, it actually feels more like finger painting than reading. The first few times I read this book to my kids they actually thought it was “magic”! If you love this one, don’t miss Herve Tullet’s other playful hit Press Here.
My kids are super into all the Little Critter books, but this is one of their favorites. Little Critter tries all the tricks to avoid having to go to bed. Why is it so fun for kids to watch other kids being naughty?
Wonderful illustrations and a captivating pig protagonist make this book a favorite of 2-6 year olds. Sassy, spunky Olivia appeals to children and adults alike with her creative and precocious ideas. The original is the best but my kids love the other Olivia books too, especially Olivia Forms a Band.
This is a cute story about a king who refuses to get out of the bath. Every time a member of his court tries to entice him to come out, he instead invites them to do the activity in the tub. While the story is fun, it’s the illustrations that make this book a top pick. Amazingly detailed, kids will spot something new each time you read it to them.
My go-to gift for preschoolers, especially those who live in areas that are not racially diverse. Describes the many different shades that people come in (almond, copper, tan, etc) and how even in the same family there can be many shades. Features beautiful photographs of kids and families with all skin tones. My kids love looking through the pages on their own and pointing out people that look like them and people they know.
Mo Willems is pretty much an A-list celebrity in this house. My kids can’t make it through any of his Pigeon books without erupting into fits of laughter. In this book, the bus driver steps away from his bus and leaves the reader (your child) in charge of making sure the pigeon doesn’t drive the bus. As soon as he leaves, the pigeon starts asking, bargaining, and pleading for permission to drive the bus. See how your child reacts to his own persuasive techniques when he is the one in charge!
PJ Funnybunny decides he doesn’t like being a bunny. He is tired of eating carrots, his ears are too big, and he has way too many brothers and sisters. After trying to go live with various other types of animals, PJ decides being a bunny isn’t so bad afterall. An entertaining story that teaches kid to appreciate what they have.
A classic and timeless book that my children love just as much as I did as a kid. Adorable and relatable, stuffed teddy bear Corduroy is ignored by the kids coming into the department store until one special girl looks past his flaws and gives him a home. (Also answers the question “what would it be like to wander in a department store at night?”)
If you think this book is only for girls, I dare you to show me a preschool boy who doesn’t love it after reading it! After eating too many pink cupcakes, Pinkalicious starts turning pink and is diagnosed with Pinkatitis. At first the fun, relatable protagonist is delighted, but then she discovers it’s better to just be herself. The magical antidote? Eating lots of healthy green vegetables!
This book about a boy’s day exploring and playing in the snow is written so simply but so vividly, your child will feel like he’s out there playing with him.
Another classic that I remember loving as a child, and now my kids love it just as much. Harry hates baths so he hides his scrub brush and runs away. On his adventures, he gets so dirty he changes from a white dog with black spots to a black dog with white spots (that line always makes Elle giggle!) and his family no longer recognizes him.
When I first encountered Pete the Cat, I’ll be honest, I thought he was a little creepy looking. Since then, we’ve become very familiar and I now see why my kids love him. The Pete the Cat books are written to be like songs (in fact some even come with a recording of the song) or you can read it more like a poem or rap. In this one, Pete is out walking in his white shoes and keeps stepping in messes that turn them different colors. But Pete doesn’t get upset, because “it’s all good”.
Unlock your child’s imagination as you follow Harold through a world of wonder made all with his own purple crayon. An unforgettable classic.
Zari (age 7) is taking over the blog to summarize this book for you. He says, “Duck decides he wants to ride a bike. All the other farm animals have lots of opinions. It is funny to hear what they’re thinking! At the end there’s a big surprise too!” Thanks buddy.
Crocodile loves watermelon and eats it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. One day he swallows a seed and begins to panic in the funniest way as he is sure a watermelon is growing inside him. My kids never get sick of this sweet story.
Circular logic reigns in this silly story. Kids learn cause and effect as one thing leads to another with this demanding mouse. At the end, it comes full circle with the mouse asking for a cookie again. At this point my children groan in unison: “here we go again!”