The research is clear. Reading aloud to children is one of the single most important things a parent can do to encourage language development and build a solid foundation for success in school and beyond. Not only that, but regularly reading to young children literally changes their brains, causing more activity in the areas of narrative comprehension and visual imagery. Research has clearly shown a myriad of benefits of reading to your kids.
But you don’t need research to tell you that snuggling up with your kiddo and her favorite book is one of the most precious and memorable activities of her childhood. Long after she has grown and moved away, you will remember endlessly reciting those literary lines and rollicking rhymes. You will remember which books lit up his face and made him laugh, and which books he begged for over and over again. You will remember the worn pages of these childhood favorites forever. Their words and images will become a part of your shared history with your child.
If we’re going to commit to read to our kids every day for all of their childhood, let’s pick good books, shall we?
Simply reciting the words in a book out loud to your child isn’t the main goal, and isn’t terribly beneficial if done half-heartedly. Enjoying the experience of reading together is the goal. Which is why it matters that we choose books that invite both kids and adults to participate and interact.
The books in this list made it there for several reasons.
- Kids love them. These are books that children ask for over and over again, piquing their interest and capturing their attention.
- Adults love them. They are enjoyable to read: not too long, not too short, with just the perfect amount of excitement, humor, and emotion.
- They are universally appealing, not specific to one gender, personality, location, or demographic. No one would ever look at one of these books and say, “That is a boy book,” or “That’s for girls.” These are books for kids. Books you won’t mind reading over and over again.
- They all contain important lessons hidden within their story lines. Some are obvious, some are subtle, but all of them invite our kids to think deeper and escape into a world of imagination and possibility.
So if you’re looking for the perfect gift for a child in your life, or if you just love building your own home library, check out these ten classic favorites.
Top Ten Children’s Books for Preschoolers
*In no particular order*
1. Are You My Mother?
By P.D. Eastman
Your parents probably read this book to you when you were a child, and your children will probably read it to their kids when they are parents. Some books are just classics, and this is one of them. The story is simple: a little bird hatches and sets off to find his mother. It’s impossible not to make a squeaky little bird voice as you read, and your kids will be hooked. The suspense of a little one searching for Mommy gives this book the perfect amount of excitement for the littlest of kiddos, and the sound of the excavator saying, “SNORT!” is the ultimate in child humor. All ends well, and your kiddo will be wrapped in reassurance and security by the loving ending.
2. The Little Engine That Could
By Watty Piper
No childhood is complete until you’ve heard this book at least 100 times! At least, that’s what I think my kids are trying to tell me. Look, I’ll be totally honest with you, the repetition in this book can get tedious after the 17th telling. But for some reason, kids don’t agree. To them, this book is pure magic and suspense, with a heartwarming victory at the end. They’ll love the list of items on the train (toys, books, and food, galore!), and they’ll willingly participate in the mountain-climb of emotions from happiness, to frustration, to sadness, to perseverance, to pride and joy in accomplishing hard things.
I know I promised that adults would love to read every book in this list, and this one might be questionable on that front, but I’m pretty confident that a book that’s been around since 1930 is probably here to stay. Our kids will demand it.
3. All the World
By Liz Garton Scanlon Illustrated by Marla Frazee
The delicious and delightful rhyme of this book’s poetic text sets the stage for the real star of the show: the illustrations. In this Caldecott Honor book, each page is a masterpiece of beauty, taking the reader on a journey of the highs and lows of one day in our world. From the macro to the micro, we learn that details are to be cherished; the experiences we have and the people we have them with are our most precious gifts in this world. Your child won’t be able to articulate those lessons necessarily, but they will be mesmerized by the beauty, rooted in memories and hope, and warmed by their connection to you as you read.
4. The Story of Ferdinand
By Munro Leaf
First published in 1936, Ferdinand is another classic that has captured the hearts of readers for generations. A little bull who knows who he is and what he likes, Ferdinand prefers sitting under a cork tree and smelling flowers over snorting and fighting like the other bulls. When he grows up to be the biggest, strongest bull around, he gets chosen to fight in the bull fights in Madrid by mistake, despite his gentle pacifist nature. Kids will return again and again to this sweet tale of staying true to oneself. Sometimes being who you are is the definition of winning.
By Amy Krouse Rosenthal
This one is witty and clever, funny and charming. A tale of a spoon who feels jealous of his friends (Knife, Fork, and Chopsticks) for the exciting and exotic lives they lead, this book explores identity and purpose in a sweet and approachable way. With opportunities for discussing envy, perspective-taking, and self-acceptance, Spoon is a perfect lesson in appreciating all of our unique characteristics and gifts. Your kids will love the imagery (who wouldn’t love to imagine diving headfirst into a bowl of ice cream?!) and funny jokes and puns sprinkled throughout.
6. Giraffes Can’t Dance
By Giles Andreae
What’s not to love about a clumsy giraffe who is insecure about his skill in dancing? Adults will love this book for the lessons to be learned (teasing, conformity, marching to one’s own drumbeat, etc.) and the irresistible rhymes. Kids will love it for the vibrant illustrations and comical dance scenes. The best part is the moral: We all can dance when we find music that we love.
7. Press Here
By Herve Tullet
Get ready to blow your kid’s mind. On the first page, there’s just a simple dot, with instructions to “Press here.” At first your child might hesitantly push the dot, confused over whether anything is going to happen. But as each page turns, the book will take them from simple and gentle motions to loud and exciting ones. They will be delighted to see the beautiful results of their actions. This book shows that imagination is just as powerful and exciting as any interactive touch screen game, and it does so with class and simplicity.
8. Finklehopper Frog
By Irene Livingston
Finklehopper Frog just wants to jog. He sees everyone else doing it. So he gleefully sets out to get himself a jazzy jogging suit and starts bopping along. He’s happy and proud to be joining the crowd, until a snarky alley cat and bully dog point out that not only does he NOT know how to jog, but his jogging suit is goofy-looking, too. Without spoiling the ending, this story is a beautiful example of inclusion, diversity of ability and appearance, pride in one’s unique abilities, and kindness to the people (or animals) who struggle to fit in.
9. We Are in a Book
By Mo Willems
If your child hasn’t met Elephant and Piggie yet, this series will be your new favorite! All of the books in this series feature an elephant named Gerald and his best friend, Piggie. Written in a simple comic book style, this series is an excellent introduction to speech bubbles for our youngest readers, and even adults will marvel over how Willems is able to pack so much personality and humor into such simple illustrations. Its best attribute, though, is its humor, and this book will have you and your child in stitches. When Elephant and Piggie discover there is a reader who is reading their speech bubbles, they decide to “trick” the reader into saying the word banana. The fourth wall is broken, hilarity ensues, and I promise you’ll read it again as soon as you finish it.
10. (Three Tales of) My Father’s Dragon
By Ruth Stiles Gannet
This is the only chapter book I included in this list. It is the number one book I recommend for a child’s first chapter book read-aloud. It may be a little challenging for the younger twos and threes to fully grasp, but it is such a delightful book that it belongs on every child’s shelf. There are three stories in the trilogy. All three stories follow the adventures of a young boy setting off to rescue a baby dragon from captivity on a wild island full of mischievous animals. Your child will be filled with delight when they find out what the boy pulls out of his backpack next. It is funny, absurd, clever, and wholesome perfection.
There you have it: ten fabulous books that any preschooler would love. They would make perfect gift books for special occasions, or just because. And if you need more ideas, here are 7 more great books to add to your kids’ book collection. Happy reading!
What preschool-age favorites would you add to this list?