If you've grown tired of book lists for 3-year-olds that only include books you've already read: Goodnight Moon, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and a zillion Dr. Seuss books, this list of 10 must-have books for 3-year-olds is just what you need.
You and your 3-year-old will meet new characters, laugh at new jokes, learn new life lessons while still enjoying the same wonderful snuggles.
Print out the book list (find the form to get the pdf at the bottom of the post), take it to the library and you are on your way to freedom from the same old-same old picture books.
And once you've finished reading, you can head over to our big list of 64 books for preschoolers for more inspiration.
Note: this list contains Amazon and Bookshop affiliate links. Purchases made through these links may earn a commission for this blog. Bookshop also supports independent bookstores.
Bear Came Along
by Richard T. Morris
After emerging from his cave, Bear falls into the river and begins a journey downstream. Along the way he picks up various animal companions, including a frog and a turtle, a raccoon and more. During their watery ride, the animals discover they need each other and then–here comes the waterfall! Utterly joyous.
The Rabbit Listened
by Cori Doerrfeld
Taylor (depicted as gender neutral so any child can identify with Taylor) is building a block tower when a bird comes and knocks it over. Taylor is very upset and several animals come over to try and fix the situation. They go about it all wrong, however. They shout, vow revenge or try to dismiss Taylor's grief. The rabbit, however, listens and allows Taylor to experience an entire range of emotions over the loss of his tower. I absolutely adored this book and parents will learn a good lesson for themselves when reading it, too!
by Barbara McClintock
This is a wonderfully joyous read aloud for preschoolers. It is the story of a girl going on a journey in a race car while celebrating the pleasures of speed! One night Annie puts on her helmet (safety first!), hops into her car and zooms out the window of her bedroom, headed on an adventure limited only by her imagination. The text is simple and to the point, allowing the reader to travel vicariously with the racer across the landscape. The illustrations are clever and engaging. A gem.
I Really Want to See You Grandma
by Taro Gomi
I love this joyous book about the thrill of going to visit grandma. Yumi and her grandma are so excited about seeing each other that they race to the other's house–at the same time! They may cross en route, but they eventually reunite. So fun!
Looking for Bongo
by Eric Velasquez
This book, featuring an Afro-Latino family, is absolutely delightful. A boy is looking for his missing stuffed toy and he asks everyone around him for help. His family's answers are sprinkled with Spanish words and the decor of the house reflects the cultural background of the family. Preschoolers will love spotting clues to find the real culprit of Bongo's disappearance.
Daniel's Good Day
by Micha Archer
Oh, how I adore this optimistic, feel good picture book! Daniel gets outside and asks his friends and neighbors what it means for them to have a good day. A gardener tells him it's a good day when the bees visit. His friend Emma has a good day when the wind is sufficient for kite flying. The book has such a positive message and after reading, your kids will love discussing what it means for them to have a good day. Maybe they will even start to poll their friends, too!
Here's A Little Poem: A Very First Book of Poetry
ed., by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters
I bet you never expected to be reading a verse by Gertrude Stein to your wee one! I adore this collection of unexpected poems for kids ages 0-3, and they will be enjoyed by preschool-aged children, too! Yolen and Peters have filled this compilation with poems by stellar poets like A.A. Milne, Langston Hughes and Robert Louis Stevenson. The poems are impressively well-chosen and delightful to read aloud. You won't find another collection like this and Polly Dunbar's whimsical illustrations increase the magic!
The Whole Wide World and Me
by Toni Yuly
This is a charming story of a girl enjoying the natural world. Cut paper illustrations are simple and colorful, the text is spare but poetic. What I really love about this book as a read aloud is that little 3-year-old listeners can focus on the shifting perspectives in the illustrations. They will see a close up of the girl's feet, then a wide-angle view of the landscape. The narration is in the first person, the girl stating how she sees herself as part of the world, "I am a cloud in the sky," "I am a pebble..." Gets kids thinking metaphorically!
Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp!: A Sonic Adventure
by Wynton Marsalis
An exuberant celebration of how everyday objects make super jazzy sounds. Wonderful and great for reading aloud to your 3-year-old, as well as your youngest lap sitters!
Thanks to the Animals
by Allen Sockabasin
During his Passamaquoddy family's move to their winter home in what is now rural Maine, Little Zoo Sap falls off the sled. The local animals care for the frightened boy and keep him warm. When his father, Joo Tum, notices his son is missing, he determinedly searches for the boy. When he finds Little Zoo Sap he takes the time to thank each animal for their protection. That was perhaps my favorite part—that the father didn't just pick up his kid and go—he was mindful and grateful to the animals!