Books will always be at the core of proper childhood development at the preschool level. It teaches young kids skills that are fundamental to success as they grow, such as cognitive thought, language improvement, and concentration enhancement. It introduces them to life lessons that they will carry well after they leave the daycare center. It also helps them develop several intangible elements that are important for a well-rounded individual, as a good book will unlock a child’s imagination so they can be taken to boundless heights of creativity and infinite depths of emotion.
No two preschoolers’ books approach the concept of childhood development, and that is a good thing. Each new book that they read represents a brand new perspective on the way this world works. This ultimately allows their brains to be exposed to a broader scope of concepts that touch on responsibility, creativity, and individuality – the kind of elements that will one day make them strong, productive, and able to experience life at its full capacity.
Here is our all-time list of the 50 preschooler books that help nurture these important developmental traits. These are listed in no particular order; the important thing that they are listed.
This multi-award winning book features intergenerational relationships, urban life, the importance of thankfulness, and a diverse cast of characters headed by an African-American boy and his grandmother. As CJ and Grandma take the bus home from church, CJ expresses his dissatisfaction with not having as much as others. His grandmother responds with love, showing him the beauty in their life. The flat, block illustrations feature people of all shapes and colors. This book is a must-have modern, diverse classic.
When Yoko brings sushi for lunch, the other kids tease her mercilessly. Thankfully, her teacher has a plan - an International Food Day where students can taste each other’s lunches. Only one boy is brave enough to try Yoko’s sushi, but that’s enough for Yoko as she and he make friends. This book is a wonderful introduction to differing cultures and the concept of respect. The ending avoids being too pat, and brings with it the added encouragement for the reader to be the brave one and reach out, even when other people seem different.
This classic book follows a mouse who is trying to keep a big hungry bear from eating his freshly picked strawberry. As he tries more and more silly methods to keep his strawberry safe, he finally realizes that the only way to save it is to share it with the reader. The silliness of the illustrations and text (at one point, the mouse disguises the strawberry with a moustache and glasses), are a sure delight for children, and the message that sharing solves problems is beautifully done.
Ed Emberly’s bright and fun story about a big green monster is a great way to help kids conquer fears. The first half of the book shows a monster appearing, starting with his big yellow eyes until he is completely visible. In the second half, the narrator tells the monster he or she is not afraid, and the monster disappears in the same way he came. The message of facing fears, combined with the die-cut illustrations make this a fun bedtime read.
A cross-culture and family-oriented read, Mango, Abuela, and Me tells the story of Mia, who must share her home and room with a grandmother who speaks only Spanish. As the story goes on, Mia finds ways to communicate with her Abuela until both of them realize that their closeness has little to do with language at all. The warmly colored illustrations strike the gentle and loving tone of the story, and the text is interspersed with Spanish words and phrases, used in a way to make them immediately accessible to the reader.
45. Bunny Cakes
Rosemary Wells is another author whose entire oeuvre could be included here. One of her best, Bunny Cakes follows little bunny Max and his sister Ruby as they each attempt to make a cake for their grandma’s birthday. The illustrations are charming - Max’s facial expressions especially. This book touches on themes of determination, being yourself, and family love. Pared with a spare text that nonetheless has time for a repeatable refrain, this book is captivating for children from beginning to end.
This book is the ultimate read aloud. The simple rhyming text is designed to bounce along like the drumming the monkeys in the illustrations are doing, and children and adults will have difficulty not beating out the rhythm themselves. A wonderful introduction to beat and playing with language, Hand Hand Fingers Thumb also boasts bright and exuberant illustrations. The feel of this book is enthusiasm and pure fun!
Another Caldecott Honor book, When Sophie Gets Angry teaches children how to deal with anger in a very real and respectful way. When Sophie’s sister insists on playing with her favorite toy, Sophie explodes, running away to a quiet, special place. As she gradually calms down, she returns to the living room to find that her sister has moved on and the toy is available again. The beginning illustrations are done in shades of red, yellow, and orange, underscoring the violence of Sophie’s anger, while the final illustrations include greens and blues, showing her calmness after taking a moment for herself. This book is a great introduction to managing feelings.
This heartwarming story took the Caldecott Medal in 2015 for its illustrations. Detailed, and featuring different textures and patterns on each page, these bright and wildly imaginative pictures will hold children’s interest, while the simple words keep the story moving forward. The storyline follows an imaginary friend who finds himself passed over time and again. He decides to take matters into his own hands and find a child who will imagine him and give him a name. After a journey through the cities and countries of the world, he finally finds a home in the imagination of a small girl.
Any of Sandra Boynton's energetic and silly stories could have made this list, but A is for Angry stands out for not only teaching the alphabet, but also for teaching a wide variety of adjectives to expand preschoolers' vocabulary. Her funny illustrations make the connection between unfamiliar words and their meanings, all while maintaining a sense of excitement and humor that sets this book apart from the other alphabet books on the market.
This incredibly simple story follows a young bear as he crawls into a box and goes to town on a truck. The appeal comes from the building repetition as each action is added to the refrain. This is the perfect book for teaching prepositions such as “in,” “out,” and “on.” Stan and JanBerenstain Bears's illustrations will be familiar to any who love the Berenstain Bears, and the simple storyline, repetitive phrasing, and tons of white space make this book a good choice for children just starting to recognize words and ideas.
39. Duck and Goose
When a duck and a goose mistake a beach ball for an egg, they first fight about who gets to keep it. As the story progresses, they discover that the only way to take care of their new responsibility is through cooperation. The illustrations really make this book, with gorgeous watercolor backgrounds that push the adorable Duck and Goose to the front. Our heroes are expressive and funny - their simple lines make their expressions stand out. With easy words and exciting pictures, this book's theme of friendship will resonant with preschoolers.
Jane Yolen and Mark Teague’s unique series feature dinosaurs going through the ups and downs of childhood, such as taking care of pets, playing with friends, being sick, and going to school. Typically the first half of the book has the dinosaurs modelling inappropriate behavior, which they then correct in the second half. The rhyming couplets on each page are offset by colorful and silly images of scientifically correct dinosaurs performing day to day tasks, often alongside human children and parents. The juxtaposition is both entertaining and educational, as the names for each dinosaur are provided just below the picture.
Anna Dewdney’s sweet story is the perfect book to share with a child who struggles with separation anxiety or a bedtime routine. Llama Llama’s mother kisses him, tucks him in, and then leaves, but Llama Llama becomes distressed when she doesn’t come back at his first call. When his mother does return, she reassures him that she will always be near, and he is able to fall asleep. With a simple rhyme scheme and colorful, expressive illustrations, this book hits the right notes on an all-too-familiar problem for this age group.
This hilarious story follows a little mouse who loves school and her teacher, but when she can’t wait until sharing time to show off her purple plastic purse, she gets herself into trouble. This book provides a positive introduction to school, while also addressing preschool-friendly themes like the waiting, revenge, and forgiveness. Kevin Henkes’ expressive and silly illustrations only add to the fun as Lily learns her lesson.
A fun, bouncy story, The Little Blue Truck reminds readers to be nice. The first half of the book has Blue, the truck, greeting his animal friends and invites preschoolers to make the noises of the creatures he meets on the way. In the second half, a mean dump truck gets stuck in the mud, but no one will help him. When Blue gets stuck too, all his animal friends jump in to save the day. This book encourages participation through repetitious animal sounds and predictable text. With simple rhymes, fun noises, and engaging illustrations, this story is a great addition to anyone’s bookshelf.
34. I Like Myself!
Featuring a sassy African-American girl as the main character,I Live Myself! has an easy rhyme scheme and energetic illustrations create a sense of joy. Hands, ears, hair, and toes, the little girl is happy in her own body, regardless of what anyone else thinks. Even when others try to get her down, she’s too busy doing things she enjoys to notice. There is a sense of silliness in the pictures and the things the girl likes about herself that will appeal to preschoolers. This is the perfect introduction to self-confidence and self-esteem.
Based on Anne Herbert’s concept of practicing “random kindness and senseless acts of beauty,” the poetic text of this gorgeous book exposes preschoolers to the idea that kindness and goodness can change the world in tangible ways. Mayumi Oda’s spare illustrations underscore the simplicity of the text in a way that belies the depth of the message here. Random Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty is a wonderful way to teach children that their actions matter.
This is the perfect book to share with a child who is afraid of the dark. When a young boy faces the nightmare in his closet, he discovers that it just wants comfort and a warm bed. Mercer Mayer’s illustrations are both humorous and engaging, while the storyline takes on one of childhood’s most common fears. The writing makes for an easy and funny read-aloud, especially as a soothing way to end the day.
31. Mouse Paint
A simple story designed to introduce children to the concept of art and color, this is the tale of three white mice who begin mixing primary colored paint to create the colors of the rainbow. As they discover the magic of creating color, the mice begin to dance and play, making gorgeous works of art on the white paper they used to blend in with. Mouse Paint is a favorite of art teachers for the clear way in which it teaches color blending and basic art theory. Cut-paper collage illustrations capture the theme of joy in creativity that makes this book a stand-out classic.
This story of a lost baby bird looking for his mother will resonate with preschoolers. The central conflict - losing your mother - is very relatable, and the humor is geared perfectly for this age group. As the little bird asks cats, dogs, and even giant excavators if they are his mother, children will be drawn in by the simple illustrations and the silliness of the baby bird. This book is also designed as a beginning reader: the easy vocabulary and matching illustrations help children begin to recognize words and their meanings.
29. Mama, Do You Love Me?
This book is perfect for those interested in dipping into another culture. Mama, Do You Love Me? takes readers up north to Alaska, where a daughter learns that no matter what, her mother will always love her. Themes of unconditional love in spite of limit testing and boundary pushing are perfect for preschoolers. The timeless message is enriched by the gorgeous cultural illustrations, which make the sometimes unfamiliar vocabulary easy to understand. This book is an excellent read for broadening horizons and reinforcing the concept of a parent’s love.
Simple watercolor illustrations give this old rhyme new life in Helen Oxenbury and Michael Rosen’s take on We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. This story features a father-led family going on an adventure and invites the reader to come along as they trek through swamps, grassy fields, and streams. When the family finally finds the bear, they’re chased back to their home to hide in an ending that is both silly and exciting. With a varied landscape and plenty of adjectives, this book is a vocabulary builder par excellence. Children are also invited to participate by mimicking the noises of the terrain the family passes through, making this an enjoyable read-aloud choice.
27. The Rainbow Fish
This classic tale of a fish who gives away his rainbow scales to make others happy teaches the concept of sharing. When Rainbow Fish realizes that he has no friends, he goes to the wise old octopus who tells him to give away his most prized possessions. As he gives away his scales, Rainbow Fish not only gains friends, but learns about the joy that comes from making others happy. With gorgeous pictures accented with the shiny, foil-printed rainbow scales themselves, the book’s visual appeal matches the timelessness of its storyline.
This engaging, bright book is a perfect way to teach children to look on the sunny side of things. As Pete goes for a walk in his new white shoes, he steps in all sorts of messes, turning his shoes from red, to blue, to brown. But none of this keeps Pete from “movin’ and groovin’ and singing his song.” As a bonus, the audiobook actually has a song that children can join in with, along with fun background music. The jazzy feel of the storyline and song are mirrored by James Dean’s bold pictures to make Pete a character that jumps off the page - a good thing, because this is only the first of Pete’s many adventures.
Mo Willem’s minimalist illustrations won a Caldecott Honor, and for good reason - they are the perfect compliment to the tale of a determined pigeon who just wants to drive the bus. As the pigeon tries to convince the reader that he should be allowed to follow his dream, children are encouraged to answer back and reason with the silly bird. Eventually, the pigeon completely loses it, throwing a tantrum and shouting - right up until he notices another vehicle he’d like to drive. This book asks for participation while teaching about following instructions, arguing, and throwing temper tantrums.
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie is only one of the many zany adventures by Laura Numeroff. When a child gives a mouse a cookie, he finds that the mouse needs more and more, like a glass of milk or a crayon to draw a picture with. Filled with gorgeous visual humor and following a classic “slippery slope” plotline, this is a feast for the eyes and mind. And if you liked If you Give a Mouse a Cookie, then you might like If you Give a Moose a Muffin, or If You Give a Pig a Pancake too.
When Grover discovers that there’s a monster at the end of his book, he pleads with the reader not to turn the pages. With each successive page turn, he gets more and more desperate until realizing that he is, in fact, the monster at the end of this book. The silly, suspenseful storyline, along with Grover’s unique way of addressing the reader holds children’s attention right up until the last page. The bright, bold visuals don’t hurt either, and the theme of fears not being quite as scary as you might think holds true both for young and old.
With a repetitive, catchy refrain and bright, bold illustrations, this story of the alphabet’s race up the coconut tree has been delighting children for ages. When the entire lowercase alphabet falls from the tree, their uppercase family members must rush to the rescue, patching them up and reminding them that family is always there. Neon colors jump from the page, and the overall feel of this book is energetic, exciting, and fun. The rhythmic, chanting style of the writing keeps children’s attention while teaching letter recognition in a completely painless and enjoyable way.
Before there was a movie, there was an iconic children’s book. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs tells the story of the town of Chewandswallow, where food rains from the sky three times a day. When the food weather gets out of control, the town must decide what to do about it. The line drawings are full of fun details which will capture children’s interest, while the imaginative and unique storyline is enjoyable for both adults and children alike. This book also teaches both weather and food vocabulary.
You have to have a Dr. Seuss book somewhere in this list, don’t you? (Spoiler alert: The good doctor shows up later on this list, too). This classic tale of Sam-I-Am trying to convince his stubborn friend to try an unusually colored breakfast combo only contains fifty words, and the iconic illustrations provide excellent visual clues that make the book easy for beginners to read. The story itself tells the child more than just the age-old adage of “try it, you might like it.” The simple tale also inspires kids to not be afraid of experiencing something outside of their comfort zone, which is a crucial life lesson that will have an abundance of applications as they get older.
Even people who never read Beatrix Potter as a child know of Peter Rabbit, her most famous creation. Those that did, and those that are eager to share her stories with their own children, know how remarkably charming her tales of clothes-wearing animals can be. The treasure that lay at the heart of tales such as The Tale of Peter Rabbit, the Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, and The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck is that they are deliberately plotted along, which makes them a welcome respite in an era where things aimed at preschoolers are geared toward speed and flash. When this pace is coupled with the book’s beautiful artwork and unmistakably proper British sensibilities, the book becomes something almost otherworldly sweet. It is a sweetness that a child will recognize with a great measure of happiness.
18. The Very Hungry Caterpillar
This Eric Carle tale of a caterpillar with a ravenous appetite is a popular choice for parents that are looking for the all-important first book to share with their wee ones. There are several great reasons for this. The story itself, about a caterpillar that “eats” his way through the book en route to becoming a beautiful butterfly, is loads of fun. The visual aspect effortlessly captivates a child’s attention, as the tiny insect gets larger and plumper with every page. Plus, it’s educational; lest we forget that the book may represent a child’s introduction to the wonders of science.
17. Goodnight Moon
As any parent will tell you, having a quality bedtime book is an essential tool for any preschooler’s nightly routine. And few books are better equipped to drift a child into slumber than this Margaret Wise Brown classic. The story is about as bare-bones as it gets, as it features a little bunny saying goodnight to every object that he can see in his great green room, including the moon that hangs just outside his window. The power of the book comes from the cheery illustrations as well as the rhythm of the text itself, which work to sooth the child so that a comfortable night’s sleep can occur.
The stories of Richard Scarry have captivated multiple generations, and with good reason. His detail-rich illustrations have the power to effortlessly captivate a youngster’s eye, and his storylines are tightly packed with slapstick whimsy and easy to understand vocabulary. This iconic book beautifully captures both elements. Kids will be rewarded by poring over the visuals – there is a hidden “Goldbug” on every scene. They will also have the opportunity to learn the names of everyday things that go as they are entertained by silly scenarios and wild “vehicles” that serve no other purpose apart from capturing their imagination.
Mercer Mayer’s “Little Critter” picture books have grown into modern classics. You can make a case for this being the best of the bunch. The Richard Scarry-esque characters are visually appealing and the background environment that they are in complements them very well. The story revolves around a father and son camping adventure and the bonding that takes place despite Little Critter’s innocent mistakes. It is an endearing tale that puts a focus on the importance of spending quality one-on-one time without the interferences of modern distractions.
The title of this Crockett Johnson tale sums things up rather nicely: It’s all about a boy named Harold using a purple crayon to create a landscape of adventure and imagination. What makes this book a classic is that his flights of fancy are not necessarily flighty; Harold makes great effort in making sure his magical adventure is grounded in practicality, such as drawing landmarks to make sure he does not get lost along the way. It’s a story that subtly teaches youngsters about the importance of responsibility, no matter what adventurous shenanigans they may get into.
13. The Giving Tree
Few children’s books have caused divisiveness quite like this intriguing Shel Silverstein classic. It certainly has some of the heaviest subject matter in children’s literature, as the books story chronicling the relationship between an apple tree and a boy throughout the various stages of his life has been open to discussions on symbolism and deep meaning since it first hit the shelves in 1964. Yet if you push all of the attached philosophies aside, you are left with a lovely little book filled with simple illustrations and a basic story that touches on the joys of selflessness.
12. Strega Nona
This classic book created by Tomie da Paola could represent a child’s first foray into the magical, mystical world of folktales and folklore. Strega Nona (which translates into “Grandma Witch”) uses her power to cure the townspeople of Calabria, Italy of various ailments. She also can conjure up some mean pasta from her magic pasta pot. One day, her assistant Big Anthony tries to re-create Strega Nona’s pasta goodness without permission when she is away, and hijinks ensue. It is a charmingly illustrated little story in the same vein as “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” and it teaches an important lesson about the consequences of not following directions.
11. Where the Wild Things Are
Maurice Sendak’s iconic book involving the wolf suit-clad Max and the weirdly adorable monsters that populate his magic bedroom forest features some of the most recognizable illustrations ever committed to the pages of a children’s book. As cool as the visuals are, the thing that makes this picture book such a crucial part of a child’s library is the sense of imaginative adventure that it conveys. It also reinforces how important the love and comfort that comes from family is at the end of the day.
10. Knuffle Bunny
On the surface, this Mo Willems book looks like a classic tale of lost and found. The plot essentially revolves around toddler Trixie leaving the titular stuffed animal behind at the Laundromat, the efforts to communicate this with Dad, and the subsequent search, which is met with ultimately positive results. However, the story does a tremendous job of capturing the dynamic that so often exists between parent and child at the stage where the latter has not learned to speak, from the frustration that occurs on both ends to the joys of discovery. It is a dynamic that is easily identifiable from both sides of the equation, and the emotions that are culled from such interaction are further heightened by the beautifully muted artwork.
In a way, Ludwig Bemelmans first entry into what would become his Madeline series of books feels important to share with a child. Perhaps it is this way because of its Parisian setting. Maybe it is due to the artwork, which occasionally seems to subtly call back to some of the masters that were around when the City of Lights was the cultural epicenter of the world. It could be due to its enduring, humorous tale of the title character’s bravery when facing the removal of her appendix. Whatever the reason, the book has earned the right to be considered a classic worthy of your children’s library, regardless of whether you have a daughter or a son.
“I think I can! I think I can!” When you think about it, there’s a decent chance that the simple little phrase may be the first quote that your child utters. Such is the power of Watty Piper’s brilliant tale of the little blue engine that comes equipped with enough moxie to take on a giant obstacle and succeed in its quest. The artwork of the book is unapologetically vintage; however, that is part of its charm – it is hard to imagine this story retrofitted to match a modern look. Yet as sweet as the illustrations are, the main reason that this book continues to charm is due to its timeless life lesson of building confidence and self-esteem.
The Walt Disney version of Winnie the Pooh and his gang are some of the most cherished critters in a child’s life, and rightly so. However, a parent would be remised in not introducing their children to the original version created by A.A. Milne. This collection of tales from Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, and the rest of the gang is the second volume of stories and is notable for two things. Firstly, it introduces Tigger. Secondly, it teaches an important lesson of change, as the book concludes with the group bidding farewell to Christopher Robin as he leaves Hundred Acre Wood to go to school.
6. The Dot
Self-doubt can be crippling even at an early age. This Peter H. Reynolds book does a marvelous job of teaching children the lesson of turning “I can’t” into “I can” in a way that helps stimulate the creative side of their brain. The story follows Vashti, a young grade school artist that is convinced that she cannot draw. Her teacher responds by encouraging her to simply make a dot and go from there. What follows is a tale filled with beautiful illustrations and self-discovery about what may be possible if a child simply tries.
The best possible way to describe Little Golden Books is that they are sweet. They’ve been that way since they were first published in 1942, and they were still that way when this collection was created in 2007 (hence the 65 years). There are six books that are found in this anthology, including The Saggy Baggy Elephant and Tawny Scrawny Lion. The illustrations in the books are full of charming detail that have the ability to absorb a child’s attention. The stories are also easy to read and are simply paced, which further add to their charm.
This Judith Viorst book is unique in the sense that it doesn’t resolve with a nice little gift-wrapped ending on the last page. It merely accounts the end of a pretty lousy day that Alexander had; one that involves getting gum in his hair, not having dessert in his lunch sack, a cavity at the dentist, and kissing on television. The cynical amongst us can point to this book and say that it is a perfect lesson that shows kids that not every day is going to be filled with rainbows, lollipops, and the sunshine. The rest can just sit back and enjoy how it perfectly captures the spirit of a little boy that just wants to put a crummy day behind him, one rambling run-on sentence at a time. Be forewarned: The book may make you want to plan a trip to Australia.
You don’t have to live in an area that sees wintry snowfall to appreciate this classic by Ezra Jack Keats, and neither do your children. The story itself is simple, as it involves a little boy waking up to the sight of an overnight snowfall, leading to a day filled with snow-angels, footprints, and a quest to save a snowball for future use. The thing that makes this picture book so essential is its beautiful, painting-like illustrations. Keats’s use of watercolors, collage, and cut-outs find different ways to stimulate the eye, allowing it to keep a child’s excitement fresh with the turn of every page.
The rhymes of Mother Goose are practically ingrained in a child’s mind from the moment they begin walking and talking. This essential anthology created by the award-winning artist Sylvia Long uses animals to frame these tales in a manner that bridges traditional sentiment with modern sensibilities, thus creating a visual element that is bright and comforting. All of the classics are represented here, from Old Mother Hubbard to Jack and Jill.
Quite simply, this Dr. Seuss masterwork is the most revolutionary children’s book to come out in the past one hundred years. It’s a bold statement at first, but you need to take a look at the back story to fully appreciate the sentiment. Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) created this story in 1957 as a reaction to early childhood literacy in the United States – specifically, books that were geared to be primers for kids to learn how to read. Essentially, Geisel was challenged to write a book that was far more entertaining and effective in its endgame than traditional primers like the “Dick and Jane” series were. The result was a book that featured wildly inventive illustrations and simple story, both of which effortlessly evoked a sense of adventure.