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I’ve written a post about the importance of reading aloud, and I’ve written a post about how to read to preschoolers, so I decided it was time to publish a post recommending my choices for the best books for preschoolers.
Remember, when choosing books for preschoolers, look for
- Books that highlight basic concepts, such as colors, shapes, letters and numbers.
- Rhyme, rhythm and repetition.
- Photographs and illustrations that are clear, colorful and engaging.
- Simple, fun plots with action that moves quickly.
- Stories about everyday life and familiar events in a child’s day-to-day life.
- Main characters (human or animal) who are your child’s age or just a little bit older.
Here is a list of my ten favorite classic books for preschoolers. These are books that have been around for a generation or more, and are tried and true. They are books I’ve read over and over again in my classroom over the years, and books I read so often to my own kids that the whole family had them practically memorized. When I need a baby shower gift or a gift for a new baby, I nearly always choose a few of these titles and wrap them in a sturdy, attractive basket.
In almost all cases, the authors of these books have also written other, equally wonderful books. If you find that your child falls in love with a particular book on the list, explore other titles by that author and see what other favorites you discover.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Bill Martin, Jr.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear takes a simple two-sentence rhyme and repeats it throughout the story, creating a lilting rhythm that I love to read out loud. It’s a question and answer format, which is a natural language pattern that preschoolers are drawn to.
Because it’s a short rhyme and the clear, simple pictures support the words so directly, kids memorize this book quickly and are able to join in as you read. It effortlessly provides exposure to the basic preschool concepts of colors and animals.
If I had to pick the single most absolutely perfect book for toddlers and preschoolers, this would be it.This book has something of value to offer every preschooler and their family. In Kindergarten and first grade, it’s a book that early readers love to revisit, delighted that they can truly read it themselves. Include this one in baby shower gifts for sure. Click here to browse other books by Bill Martin, Jr.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
The Very Hungry Caterpillar is another book that is just about perfect. It’s a simple story plot that manages to incorporate days of the week, colors, and numbers without feeling contrived at all. Carle is describing an event in nature that is simple to understand, yet universal in concept – growth and change over time.
There’s no rhyme, but the repetition is tons of fun, and invites enthusiastic participation – “But he was still hungry!” The die cut holes left in the fruit by the caterpillar are perfectly sized for little fingers to poke through – again, an irresistible invitation to participate. Click here to check out other stories by Eric Carle. He is amazingly prolific.
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault
Remember in this post, when I suggested reading through a book to find the rhyming parts ahead of time? It’s a good idea to do that with this Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. Although I love it dearly and it does have great rhymes, the rhythm and cadence is unusual and it takes a little bit of practice to read this book out loud smoothly. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is an alphabet book with lots of action and a fast, exciting pace.
The letters themselves are the characters, and the phrase “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” repeats often enough that kids can jump right in and read it with you. Click here for more “Chicka Chicka” books.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
We all relate to Where the Wild Things Are because Max represents the naughty child in all of us, who sits in time out and thinks resentful thoughts about the parent who busted them, fantasizing about letting loose and creating a wild rumpus with a bunch of wild things. Or am I the only one who thinks that?
Really though, this book takes us on a boundary-stretching imaginary journey with Max. He bosses the wild things around and goes a little crazy before waking up in a more relaxed mood, happy to see that his mother has relented and placed his supper on the table.
Where the Wild Things Are has a clear plot about a familiar situation (getting in trouble), simple illustrations, and a relatable main character of preschool age. Other books by Maurice Sendak are here.
Is Your Mama a Llama? by Deborah Guarino
Is Your Mama A Llama? manages to be poignant while lighthearted. The theme of being separated from a parent is one that kids relate to, even if it hasn’t happened to them. I’ve seen my students really empathize with Lloyd the baby llama, seeming to really feel his mounting concern as he asks each young animal, “Is your Mama a llama?”
The rhyme is more complex in this book, creating a smooth rhythm that makes it easy to read aloud. Children quickly begin to chime in with the last word of each rhyming interaction between Lloyd and his friends. Although this is a well-written story, I think that the illustrations by the more prolific and better known Steven Kellogg make this book really stand out.
The Mitten by Jan Brett
The illustrations in The Mitten make it age-appropriately suspenseful, much more so than the words on the page. When my daughter was a preschooler, she would become giddy with anticipation as each animal crowded into the mitten, and we got closer and closer to the end of the story. When the satisfying end of the story arrived, she would be so relieved that it was over.
Jan Brett’s artwork is clear and directly supports the story, but it is definitely not simple. As the years go on and your child matures, together you will notice more and more subtle detail in the illustrations of this book. Don’t miss Jan Brett’s other gorgeously illustrated books.
If You Give A Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff
If You Give A Mouse A Cookie by Felicia Bond. After a young boy gives a mouse a cookie, the mouse places more and more demands on the boy, who complies willingly enough. Each of the requests the mouse makes are activities that are common in a preschooler’s life, such as coloring a picture to tape up on the refrigerator.
Together the mouse and the boy work their way through these demands/activities, working their way back around to giving the mouse a cookie. I especially love the illustrations, which are relatable and subtly humorous in the facial expressions and body language of the boy and the mouse. This book lends itself well to casually talking about sequence. Check out the whole series here.
The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood
The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear is fun because the point of view is new and different. The main character carries on a conversation with the reader, which children seem to just love. This book is suspenseful, as the mouse tries to convince us that his red ripe strawberry is in terrible danger of being eaten by the big hungry bear. Kids get a kick out of the solution to this problem, too! Don and Audrey Wood have written and illustrated other classic books, which you can find here.
Love You Forever by Robert Munsch
You’ve really got to include Love You Forever in baby shower gifts, too. Years ago whenever I read this book to my first graders, they would say, “Oh no, she’s going to cry!” and I always did.
Throughout their lives, a mother sings to her son, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living, My baby you’ll be.” At first she is holding him and rocking him, and eventually she is gray-haired and sneaking into her son’s house to sing to him. Right after this is the part where the story flips and I cry, so I’ll just stop here.
Trust me, don’t miss this one. It’s a book for you as much as it is a book for your child. Robert Munsch has written lots of other great books, but they are not all such tearjerkers.
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
Theodore Geisel is the king of silly rhyme, making Dr. Seuss books must-have classics in a preschooler’s book collection. Green Eggs and Ham is my favorite, because in addition to the rhyme, it has repetition. Some of the Seuss books do not, although they are full of rollicking rhyme and have fantastic rhythm. This repetition makes it easy for children to start to memorize this book and join in with gusto – “I do not like them, Sam I am!” Plus, the story line and concept of refusing to eat something one has not even tried, is so familiar to preschoolers. Explore all the other fabulous Dr. Seuss titles here.
Let me know in the comments which books you would put on your family’s top ten list!