Books for 3 year olds

CPP asks:

Can you two suggest some good books for two-three year-olds? Want to buy some for our twin nieces. And if you have a blogge post on this topic, link would be great!

Three is a fun age– three year olds understand things and they can talk and they have great senses of humor.  That means you can break away from books that are just animal sounds and opposites etc. and into things that parents enjoy as well.

Probably our favorite author for this age is Mo Willems.  We especially like Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!, and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, and all the others in the Pigeon series!Knuffle Bunny, while not as much fun for the parents to read, is also enjoyed by the children.

Sandra Boynton is more popular at this age, and is always popular among parents.  Blue Hat, Green Hat is always good for a laugh.  And there’s cute little boxed sets you can get of her stuff.

If You Give the Mouse a Cookie— quite popular among the pre-school set, a bit less fun for the parents.  There’s a big series of these as well.

Llama Llama Mad at Mama is a fun one.  Again, there are others in the Llama Llama series.  Some of these others seemed a bit out of touch for kids with a working mom, but whatever.

As we mentioned in our email to you, 3-4 year olds tend to be dinosaur mad.  You can get any book about dinosaurs, fiction or non- and it will be devoured.  How do dinosaurs do X? is a cute series– even though it’s not really about dinosaurs (real dinosaurs presumably didn’t clean their rooms), it does have drawings and the names of real dinosaurs in it.  Some kids are really into Thomas the Train Engine or Dora the Explorer or construction trucks at this age, but that would be something to ask your relatives about as some kids never really get hooked by these.

And, of course, there is always Dr. Seuss.

If you dislike your relatives (the parents, not the children), you can go a bit more grim.  DC1 loved the Gruffalo, but it creeps me out.  Laura Vanderkam’s kid thinks that I Want My Hat Back is great, but my DC2 certainly does not need permission to use violence against people who take hir stuff (as that is already hir natural inclination).

Beginning readers may enjoy Step Into Reading Step 1 books.  Hot Dog was a favorite of DC1.    Cat Traps was another.  There are a whole bunch of these.

If the kids are wunderkinds, 3 is a good time to start The Magic Treehouse.  But this series is of chapter books, and most kids aren’t reading, much less reading third grade level.  We do have a post on what books a three year old who is reading chapter books would enjoy, but that’s probably not what you’re looking for.  The Magic School Bus is another fun series for the more advanced reader.

You may be thinking of chapter books that parents can read to their children at this age.  The Wizard of Oz is a good one.  Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle another good one.  Frog and Toad is another good one (who doesn’t love Arnold Lobel?)

What recommendations do you have for CPP?


35 Responses to “Books for 3 year olds”

  1. Bek Says:

    Oliver Jeffers’ books are lovely, especially Lost and Found (surely everyone wants a penguin for a friend?) and I second the pigeon series too.

  2. First Gen American Says:

    I’ve gotten a ton of mileage out of the sandra boynton books and most anything Dr. Seuss..we still read them even though kids are older. Gruffalo is one of my enjoy it too but I didn’t discover it til a year ago.

  3. Leah Says:

    My main recommendation is to get books that are still easily readable. While I love Magic Schoolbus, it’s a pain to read out loud because of the sheer amount of text.

    I read Gregory The Terrible Eater to my neighbor kid the other day (2.5), and she loved it. But No Elephants is also a good one from my childhood.

    NPR has a few good stories online recommending new kids books from this year:

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Magic school bus is good for 3 year olds who read at third grade level to read to themselves. Which is not most kids.

      (Also the scholastic series based on the tv show are easier reads, though we linked here to the original.)

  4. Liz Says:

    Oh man, there was this book we had that we read ALL the time… “I look out the window, and what should I see? A [fill in the blank] staring at me!” It was a series of scary things, like a cat, goblin, witch, etc. The book came with a cassette tape to read along/aloud with the physical book. I totally can’t find it now, though! Ugh!

  5. bogart Says:

    Second (third?) Boynton, we have really enjoyed those. I am a big fan of most (original illustrations) Beatrix Potters. For books to read to that age (or wunderkinds), I’d add anything Paddington. My son has also loved (funny-ish) poetry books from an early age, and both anything Shel Silverstein and _Preposterous Pets_ have caught his fancy in that regard. _Just This Once_ is also a sort of short, fun book about a girl whose parents let her pet hippopotamus do anything “just this once,” but eventually draw the line. For horse-crazy girls (there existing a preponderance of such kids, in my experience), both C.W. Anderson’s and Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series (the former being closer to a read-it-yourself possibility and the latter not) as well as Misty of Chincoteague spring to mind.

  6. plantingourpennies Says:

    I <3 if you give a mouse a cookie, which was given to me when I turned 3. Another favorite from that age was "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" followed with "Squirrel Nutkin".

  7. Cloud Says:

    My kids also love Sandra Boynton and Knuffle Bunny.

    If you want a nice sort of sciencey picture book, there is a book called What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? Both of my kids liked it at about 3 yrs old.

  8. Perpetua Says:

    My 3 y.o. loves loves loves Knuffle Bunny, and also Mo Willem’s Edwina, the Dinosaur who didn’t know she was extinct & Amanda and her alligator. He also loves Willems’s Elephant and Piggy series. When he was two he loved Bear Snores On, which was also fun to read. He also loves Frog and Toad and Dr. Seuss and Madeline and Ferdinand.

  9. Historiann Says:

    Forget the age-appropriate approach. I find most books written for 2 to 3-year olds unbelieveably stupid (aka the Pigeon and Llama books. Children love reading those over and over, but will you and their parents love them? Their only virtue is their brevity.)

    Instead, get them something **you’d** enjoy reading with them, and. Buy vintage Golden Books that you remember fondly & enjoy reading. The illustrations (esp. those by Garth Wililams and Eloise Wilkins) are incredible. Or get them another book you love, and read it to them. It’s all about you! They’re only 2 or 3, so what the hell do they know?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      You are wrong– the pigeon books are fing HILARIOUS. You may be getting them mixed up with elephant and pig, which don’t have grown up jokes, which is why we didn’t suggest them. That page with the pigeon’s last ditch tantrum gets me each time in every book. Soo funny.

      Llama llama mad at mama also has some sly adult humor in it. Or maybe your kids were always angels so you don’t get the jokes.

      • Tinkering Theorist Says:

        Agreed. They are funny, for real, to adults, especially in the context of reading it to a 3 year old and to some extent thinking about it from their perspective. My mother thinks the “but not the armadillo” page of But Not the Hippopotamus is hilarious, she mentions this each time she reads that book to my kids. But I imagine if she were reading it to herself it wouldn’t seem funny (I suppose; I don’t really get how funny it is to her anyway).

      • Historiann Says:

        To each her own! I think too much children’s lit is LCD fare. The classics are classics because they don’t patronize anyone–children or adults.

        The children in my family aren’t always angels, but they have excellent taste in literature.;)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        The Pigeon books do not patronize, and they will be classics.

  10. Laura Vanderkam (@lvanderkam) Says:

    Apparently there is a new book out by the I Want My Hat Back guy. My daughter will be getting it for Christmas — hopefully that will introduce some variety into our rotation. My husband thinks that she thinks the bear sits on the rabbit, instead of eating him. I’m not so sure. We’re still working through the biting thing (though no one has been bitten in about 2 weeks — fingers crossed!)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Us paying for a third teacher at school seems to be having all sorts of spillover benefits to the kids, but we will be happy when ze starts the new higher quality daycare. Btw, the Karan Katz no biting book is as mediocre as advertised. Teeth are not for biting is pretty good though. Amazon reviews must be pretty reliable.

  11. Random passerby Says:

    I agree with just about everything listed to this point! I still know most of the Boynton books by heart about 5 years out, now.

    How about Blueberries for Sal, Make Way for Ducklings, The Little Engine that Could (Watty Piper edition), Frog & Toad (any), plus any of the original Richard Scarry books? (Glad someone already mentioned Ferdinand).

  12. ianqui Says:

    For a number of books not mentioned here: “LMNO Peas” is great. I LOVE “Two Little Trains” (except it’s very old, so you might not feel 100% comfortable with the line about “the black man singing in the west”). “Caps for Sale” is a classic that is still very amusing. “The Police Cloud” by Christoph Niemann (well, really “Subway” is Niemann’s very best, but it may be too NYC-specific.) And of course Leo Lionni books, esp the simpler ones like “Little Blue and Little Yellow” and “A Color of His Own”. Finally, the Little Hoot/Little Pea/Little Oink series. You can get them in a box set. My 5.5 year old still loves all of these books, but we’ve had them since at least when he was 3.

    FWIW, I strongly dislike the “If you give a mouse a cookie” series.

  13. Ana Says:

    Love most anything Mo Williams (Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed) is also pretty funny and a good message about non-conformity, but that epilogue of Knuffle Bunny Free makes me BAWL and I refuse to read it. Ours grew out of sandra boyton, but still loves Little Hoot/Pea/Oink, Llama Llama (mad at mama is my favorite, but the original is good too). We get Charlie and Lola books from the library frequently, and Lyle the Crocodile. Madeline books are good. I kind of hate Olivia, she’s a brat, so I discourage those.
    Curious George is a HUGE hit, though he’s starting to catch on re: negligence by the Man with the Yellow Hat.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I don’t think we’ve read Knuffle Bunny Free… just the first two. Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed is pretty funny.

      I loved Lyle the Crocodile (who lived on east 28th st), but DC1 never got into him. Not sure why not.

      • sarah Says:

        I was going to suggest the Lyle Crocodile ouevre. I loved them as a preschooler and my 3 year old does too!

  14. amelie Says:

    Some non-series books that my children loved at age 3 and are still in print: Poonam’s Pets – multicultural with a surprise pet, One Snowy night (Percy the Park ranger) by Nick Butterworth – English and awesome, and This the Bear and the Scary night – rhyming – my 20 year old can still recite it! We bought second copies of each and put them in their baby book boxes. My girls are animal lovers and these are animal heavy. They didn’t love the Boynton books but loved Shel SIlverstein (Where the Side Walk Ends. I find Giving Tree a Little creepy). The Cat in the Beginner Book Dictionary by PD Eastman slept in my younger daughter’s bed until she was reading chapter books independently. Look for interesting pictures and vocabulary and a interesting surprise in the story.

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