It's a tricky business, choosing appropriate read aloud chapter books for preschoolers. This is especially true for your three year old, since–as every parent all knows–there is a world of difference between "just three" and "almost four".
3- and 4-year-olds with older siblings might simply enjoy the family bonding time that comes with reading aloud chapter books. My youngest listened in to story time when I read aloud to his older brother, even though I didn't always choose chapter books that were appropriate for preschoolers.
I knew his reading comprehension was not at level of the books I was reading, but my then 3-year-old loved to chat with me about the stories we read and I listened carefully, because he gave me a clues as to which books he truly comprehended. His responses helped me fine tune this list of chapter books for preschoolers and 3-year-olds. If you count out all the series books, you'll have more than 50 books to choose from!
You should absolutely not abandon reading picture books, but if your 3 and 4 year enjoy chapter books, by all means, let them! You'll love our list of favorite picture books for 3 year olds.
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Chapter Books for Preschoolers
Also check out this advice on how to help young children love chapter books.
My Father's Dragon (series) by Ruth Stiles Gannett. This classic 1940s adventure novel about how a clever lad rescues a baby dragon is my number one recommendation for a first chapter book read aloud.
Catwings (series) by Ursula K. Le Guin. 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 very short novels suitable for even the youngest listeners.
Oh, Sal by Kevin Henkes. Sal is the 4-year-old sister of Billy Miller, the hero of his own chapter book series. The action takes place during the holiday season. Sal had a new baby sister who still needs a name, her Uncle Jake is visiting, and Sal is trying to find her missing gift. A sweet story with some gentle laughs.
Dinosaur Trouble by Dick King-Smith. I love to sing the praises of Dick King-Smith (most famous for Babe: The Gallant Pig, although I don't recommend that chapter book for preschoolers) 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!
Hickory by Palmer Brown is a very short and sweet novel and will be enjoyed by the youngest in your family as well as the oldest. Hickory, his brothers Dickory and Dock live with their parents in a grandfather clock. Hickory, however, longs to experience the outdoors. When spring comes he decides to explore the meadow and meets Hop the grasshopper. The two form a friendship and yet Hop tells Hickory that when the warm weather fades, so will the grasshopper's song. Hickory convinces Hop to set out with him so that they will always be warm, thus thwarting inevitable mortality. The ending is ambiguous but not scary, and instead provides fodder for conversation with the kids.
Lady Lollipop by Dick King-Smith. 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 by Joyce Lankester Brisley. 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. Perfect stories for 3 year olds.
Upstairs Mouse, Downstairs Mole (series) by Wong Herbert Yee. 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.
Yours Sincerely, Giraffe by Megumi Iwasa. This quirky Japanese import will charm both child and parent. One day, bored Giraffe decides to send a letter via Pelican Mail to the first animal Pelican meets beyond the horizon. He ends up with Penguin as his pen pal and the two exchange charming letters full of questions. The two become friends and decide to meet, but first Giraffe wants to make a costume so he will look just like Penguin. There is nothing remotely frighting in this charming, sweet and immensely playful short novel.
Our Friend Hedgehog: The Story of Us by Lauren Castillo. What a marvelous book! I have long admired Castillo's illustrations and this gentle chapter book is perfect for kids who like cozy and gentle reads. A storm carries away Hedgehog's stuffed toy dog, Mutty, leaving Hedgehog feeling lonely. She sets out to find Mutty, following clues that lead her to encounters with other friendly animals who help her. Eventually all the creatures meet a human, Annika May, who has lost something of her own. All the animals have charmingly distinctive personalities.
The Little Water Sprite by Otfried Preussler. The book begins with the birth of Little Water Sprite and each chapter tells of a new adventure he has while learning and exploring in his little mill pond home. At first I thought my son would find this book dull, but he actually loved it, and hearing about the Water Sprite's pranks and his friendship with Cyprian the Carp. The roles played by Mother and Father Water Sprite are quite dated but no more than in any other classic tale.
Ribsy by Beverly Cleary. I love this stand alone book about Henry Huggins' dog. Poor Ribsy gets lost, but has amusing adventures before he finally finds his way back to Henry.
Mercy Watson to the Rescue (series) by Kate DiCamillo. 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 by Johanna Hurwitz. (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).
Jenny and the Cat Club (series) by Esther Averill. 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 by Daniel Pinkwater. 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 ½ year old, loves this one and asks for it all the time. He can listen to it in one sitting.
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald. 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 a 3 year old and a 7 year old 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 by A. A. Milne. Children of all ages love the wit and wisdom of Winnie the Pooh, plus it is wonderful for parents to reread classics they remember hearing when they were little. A wonderful gentle choice and great for bedtime! Don't be surprised if you hear your children chanting "Tiddely Pom," during the day.
The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz. A fairy must get used to living in the sunlight and along the way exhibits bravery and ingenuity while befriending other garden creature. Best for four and five year olds.
Boo's Dinosaur by Betsy Byars. 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.
The Anna Hibiscus (series) by Atinuke 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.
The Children of Noisy Village by Astrid Lindgren. These gentle chapter books preschoolers will enjoy 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 by Astrid Lindgren. (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! What I love about Emil is that even though he gets into mischievous scrapes on and around the family farm, his heart is always in the right place. Plus, the old-fashioned charm of Lindgren's storytelling is appropriate for all ages.
Mr. Popper's Penguins by Florence and Richard Atwater. I first read this 1939 Newbery Honor Book to my older son when he was four, but we have also listened to the audio book many times and my 3-year-old spent a lot of the story giggling. It's hard not to laugh at a house full of silly penguins.
Two Times the Fun by Beverly Cleary. 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 (series) by Emily Jenkins. 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. 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.
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.
Pee-Wee's Tale (series) by Johanna Hurwitz. A guinea pig escapes to Central Park and learns some life skills from his new squirrel friend. Animal stories are always a winner in our house and I think kids can really relate to the feeling of being small in a big, big world.
Tumtum & Nutmeg (series) by Emily Bearn. Here's another book for those of you with children who love stories about animals. Two mice get caught up in adventures while trying to improve the lives of the children living in Rose Cottage. It is the perfect blend of daring rescues and charming sweetness. It will remind you of classic books like The Borrowers.
Gooseberry Park by Cynthia Rylant. 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.
Gooseberry Park and the Master Plan by Cynthia Rylant. This is a companion book to the wonderful Gooseberry Park novel, but written for younger reader and as such makes a great chapter book for 3-year-olds. We adored both books. In this title, the colorful cast of characters band together during a drought and come up with a plan that involves a cat, a possum, a raccoon, 200 owls, and 20 packs of chewing gum.
Dory Fantasmagory (series) by Abby Hanlon 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.
The Princess in Black (series) by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale. When monsters start harassing the sheep, Princess Magnolia dons her secret identity and swoops in to save the day. Tongue in cheek humor, color illustrations, and action make this a great read aloud. In case you are thinking this is a "girl book", my son LOVED these books and had me read them over and over.
The Story of Diva and Flea by Mo Willems is a delightfully charming chapter book 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. 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 (series) by Cynthia Rylant. Three cousins live with their aunt while their professional dancer-parents 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 by Elise Broach. 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. 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.
Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel is an easy reader, but it also makes a wonderfully quirky and funny read aloud for 3-year-olds. Read a story a night and then turn to our list of books like Frog and Toad for more great selections like this.
The Little Bear series by Else Holmelund Minarik is a sweet classic! It will be easy to read all the stories of a sweet little bear learning life's lessons in one sitting, but you can also stretch them out over several nights at bedtime. What I love about using easy readers as a first chapter book read aloud is that kids, when they are ready to read independently, will more readily pick up old favorites.
Socks by Beverly Cleary. Socks narrates his own tale of life after a new baby enters his previously quiet home. It's hard to go wrong with Beverly Cleary. Dog fans can pick up a copy of Ribsy. Many parents start with Ramona but even little kids will love listening to Sock's adventures if they aren't ready for something longer.
The Lighthouse Family (series) by Cynthia Rylant. 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.
The Adventures of Sophie the Mouse (series) by Poppy Green, illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell. A very sweet and wholesome early chapter book series about a friendly mouse who lives and goes to school in Silverlake Forest.
A Bear Called Paddington (series) by Michael Bond. For experienced preschool read aloud listeners reach for the Paddington books. Oh the scrapes Paddington gets into! For weeks my child could not take a bath without referencing the way Paddington flooded the Browns' house. During the final chapter, he was literally jumping on the bed with laughter as Paddington bumbled through his magic show