It’s a tricky business, choosing appropriate read aloud chapter books for preschoolers. This is especially true for your three year old, since — as we all know — there is a world of difference between “just three” and “almost four”.
My youngest, who is now 3 1/2, has been listening in when I read to Kiddo but he does not always comprehend the more advanced chapter books which are suitable for his 7 year old brother. My 3 year old likes to chat with me about stories we have read and I listen carefully because he gives me a clues as to which books he truly comprehends. Also check out this advice on how to help young children love chapter books.
I’m by no means advocating that parents abandon picture books in favor of longer chapter books. Both have a place in your read aloud arsenal. (For picture book recommendations take a look at our INDEX of BOOK LISTS.)
If you are looking for early read aloud chapter books, the following list should be helpful. Based on my observations of both boys, I’ve noted which books are particularly suitable the younger three year olds. And, of course, all of these books are appropriate for older kids to read alone (or to listen in on while you read aloud to younger siblings). (Note: Book lists contain affiliate links.)
Chapter Books for Preschoolers:
Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon. I mentioned this classic boy-on-a-quest trilogy in my post about dragon books, and on many other lists! It is my number one recommendation for a first chapter book read aloud.
Catwings (series). Cats with wings? You know there are a lot of adventures to be had! Four flying cats leave the city for the country, where they must overcome danger. Not to worry, all ends happily. This is another set of books suitable for even the youngest listeners. It’s also a great one to put high on the list of first chapter books to read aloud.
Dinosaur Trouble. I love to sing the praises of Dick King-Smith (most famous for Babe: The Gallant Pig) as an essential go-to author for early chapter books. In this one young dinosaurs make friends and take on the scary T-Rex. Lately, my son has been asking for this one over and over and over!
Lady Lollipop. A spoiled princess chooses a pig for her eighth birthday present. During the pig’s training the princess, herself gets a bit of a makeover. Also try the sequel, Clever Lollipop. These may be good for your young 3 year old.
Milly Molly Mandy. This is a cheerful, wholesome and charming collection of timeless stories about a young girl and how she goes through her first experiences like spending her pennies, sleeping away from home and looking after a hedgehog. Darling and a terrific choice for parents who want a classic book for kids with short attention spans.
Upstairs Mouse, Downstairs Mole (series). There are a few Mouse and Mole books (Yee is one of our favorite authors) and they are in the easy reader section of the library. However, they also make good read alouds for young 3s. Also available on Kindle.
Mercy Watson to the Rescue. (series) Mercy is a toast-loving pig who happens to get into all sorts of crazy scrapes. Excellent for young 3s and accompanied by delicious, colorful pictures.
SuperDuper Teddy. (series) This was one of Kiddo’s first read alouds. Teddy is a four year old who gets his first job feeding the neighbor’s cats. All of the kids live in the same apartment building in NYC. There is an entire series of Riverside Kids books and although you may be able to find them at your library, most are out of print (sad face). UPDATE!!! I’m so excited that this series is now available in digital format. Check out all The Riverside Kids on Kindle!!
Jenny and the Cat Club (series). Averill started writing about Jenny and her gang of feline friends in the 1940s and they still hold up today. These are short chapter books and go quickly for kids with less than stellar attention spans.
Mrs. Noodlekugel. A babysitter who brings gingerbread mice to life? That’s got to be fun. In fact, these books are quite silly and imaginative.My 3 1/2 year old, loves this one and asks for it all the time. He can listen to it in one sitting. Also available for the Kindle.
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Speaking of old ladies with funny names… you’ve no doubt heard of this one. It’s generally recommended for slightly older children, but I read it to New Kid and Kiddo at the same time and found it to entertain both boys equally. The chapters can be long, so make sure you have a few other chapter books under your belt before you start this one.
Winnie the Pooh. A classic which needs no introduction. Great for bedtime!Also available for the Kindle.
The Night Fairy. A fairy must get used to living in the sunlight and along the way exhibits bravery and ingenuity while befriending other garden creature. Also available for the Kindle.
Boo’s Dinosaur. Boo has an imaginary dinosaur friend, but her brother Sammy needs some convincing. This is a great choice if you are looking for a book about good sibling relationships. Also try the sequel, Boo’s Surprise, which is equally imaginative. Your three year old should be able to appreciate this one. Only Boo’s Surprise is available on Kindle.
The Anna Hibiscus (series) books were written with early readers in mind, but the stories about Anna and her extended family in Africa make excellent read alouds for even the younger three year olds. Anna Hibiscus is also on my list of multicultural early chapter books and early chapter book series with strong girl protagonists.
The Children of Noisy Village. These books are often overlooked for the more well known Pippi Longstocking by the same author. The chapters can also function as stand alone stories about a charming group a children and neighbors in Sweden’s farmland. You might like it as an alternative to the Little House books.
Lotta on Troublemaker Street. (series) Since we are talking Astrid Lindgren books, here’s another overlooked series by her, also appropriate for young listeners, and a good one to start your chapter book journey. Lotta is five years old and has a bit of trouble keeping out of scrapes. If you like the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary, here is her Swedish counterpart.
Emil and the Great Escape. (series) Okay, okay, I can’t resist! Here’s another Astrid Lindgren series. Emil is good natured and well-meaning, but that doesn’t keep him out of trouble!
Mr. Popper’s Penguins. I first read this 1939 Newbery Honor Book to Kiddo when he was four, but we recently listened to the audio book on a road trip and 3 year old New Kid found it to be hilarious. It’s hard not to laugh at a house full of penguins. You can also try the audiobook version.
Two Times the Fun. Four stories about 4 year old twins by dependable author Beverly Cleary. The Ramona series can be hard as a first chapter book read aloud because the chapters are so loooong. Start here instead.
Toys Go Out (trilogy). I realize I’ve told you about this series a million times, but that’s because you need to read them! Jenkins’ droll storytelling style is perfect for communicating the adventures of toys when their owner is away. The featured characters learn all about life in a perfect, child-like way. If you need further convincing then just take a look at all the starred reviews. One caveat: the final book, Toys Come Home may have a few things that could be deemed scary, but you could just skip that chapter because the barf scene (that’s right!) is not to be missed.
Thornton Burgess Animal Stories. If your children like old-fashioned animal stories, these classics might be just right. Burgess started writing these stories in 1910 and there are more than 20 of them to keep you busy.
James Herriot’s Treasury for Children. This is a collection of longer stories rather than a true chapter book, but lovely, comforting tales and beautiful illustrations will charm your young animal lover.
PeeWee’s Tale (series). A guinea pig escapes to Central Park and learns some life skills from his new squirrel friend.
Tumtum & Nutmeg. Here’s another one for those of you with children who love stories about animals. It was published in 2009, but will remind you of classic books like The Borrowers.
Gooseberry Park. This charming story follows the adventures of a bat with a taste for junk food, a kind dog and a wise hermit crab as they try to save their friend Stumpy the Squirrel and her new babies. Recently we also read the sequel, Gooseberry Park and the Master Plan, and enjoyed it just as much.
Dory Fantasmagory had my son in stitches as we were reading it. Dory is a highly imaginative 6 year old. Her older brother and sister invent a “Mrs. Gobble Gracker” in order to scare Dory into “not behaving like a baby,” but Dory grabs onto the idea and her imagination runs away. It’s hard to describe the whole intricate plot here, but the way Dory’s imaginary world and real world overlap is hilarious. It’s a real winner, as is the follow up, Dory and the Real True Friend!
The Princess in Black is the much anticipated early chapter book series by the author of Princess Academy. Princess Magnolia’s secret identity has her fighting the local monsters when they harass the shepherd’s charges. Tongue in cheek humor, color illustrations, spare text and a bit of action make this a great book for early readers. In case you are thinking this is a “girl book”, my 6 year old son LOVED these books and had me read them over and over.
The Story of Diva and Flea is a delightfully charming new early chapter book by Mo Willems and illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi. In Paris, the adventurous Flea convinces the intimidated Diva to take a trip around the city to explore the wonder of life outside on the streets. Then Diva assures Flea that inside an apartment isn’t so scary and the two friends embrace how much greater their world is now, for knowing each other.
Cobble Street Cousins. Three cousins live with their aunt while their professional dancer-parents (all 6 of them!) are touring the world. Lily, Tess and Rosie have lots of wholesome neighborhood adventures like baking and selling cookies and putting on theatricals. For parents who want to avoid sassy characters, this is a good series; lauded author Cynthia Rylant has a talent for writing stories which are simultaneously modern and old-fashioned.
The Miniature World of Marvin and James. If I were to recommend a book about two beetles jumping into a pile of pencil shavings inside an electric pencil sharpener, you might look at me a little askew. Actually the book is about how the beetle, Marvin, spends his time while his best friend (and human), James, is at the beach. Elise Broach’s middle grade book Masterpiece, introduced the duo to the world, and this new early chapter book is a charmer. I also found the text extremely appropriate for early readers. There is a lot of good repetition of vocabulary without being annoying, an interesting and funny story to carry the reader along, as well as good emotional content to help kids connect the story to their own experience. The pencil sharpener incident is simply the most memorable part of the story and the one that my son wanted me to read to him again and again.
The Little Bear series is a classic and so sweet!
The Lighthouse Family (series). Rylant’s use of language in this charming series harkens back to back to classic children’s literature (think: Beatrix Potter and Kenneth Grahame) and when the stories end you are sure to feel all cozy and secure.
At what age did you start reading chapter books to your child? What was the book? How did it go?
If you’ve had success with reading chapter books to your three year old, leave a comment and let others know what books work for you.
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