Everyone knows you "should" stock your preschooler's bookshelf with Goodnight Moon, Where the Wild Things Are and Brown Bear, Brown Bear. But what if you want something beyond the usual, but that your preschool aged kids will still love? Well, you've come to the right place! This is the list of the preschool books you didn't know you needed!
Hopefully I've put together a preschool picture book list filled with titles that are (mostly) new to you! You'll have to tell me if I succeeded. Whether you read these books at home or in a preschool classroom, they will be a big hit with all your favorite 3-5 year olds! (Note: book covers and titles are affiliate links.)
Books are arranged in loose categories:
- Seasonal and nature
- Friends and Family
- Emotions and Character
- Just for Fun (Miscellaneous)
Want a printable list? Look for the boxes mid-list and at the end.
Seasonal and Nature
Bear Came Along by Richard T. Morris. This book will cool you down in the heat of August! 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.
Moon: A Peek-Through Picture Book by Britta Teckentrup. This wonderful picture book uses die-cut pages to show the changing moon as it shines down on different environments around the world. The rhyming text will delight children and adults alike. Lovely!
We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell. In Cherokee, otsaliheliga expresses gratitude. Author Sorell, a member of the Cherokee nation, takes readers on a journey through the seasons, narrating experiences to be grateful for. The journey is both delightful and peaceful, and the illustrations depict contemporary Cherokee life. Accompanying the English text are occasional words written in Cherokee syllabary, along with a phonetic spelling. A glossary and complete Cherokee syllabary make up the end notes. This book is the perfect November read aloud–don't miss this special celebration of gratitude and community.
If You Find a Rock by Peggy Christian. If there is one thing preschoolers love it is collecting rocks! This is a wonderful, poetic celebration of all kinds of rocks sure to fascinate. Beautiful photographs will get your kids anxious to get out rock hunting again.
The Whole Wide World and Me by Toni Yuly 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 you can focus on the shifting perspectives in the illustrations. You might see a close up of the girl's feet, or 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!
Now by Antoinette Portis. I loved this book, both its simplicity and its exuberance. A young girl experiences the joys of the world, enjoying all the things around her and declaring her favorites, whether they be a puddle of mud or a moment with a loved one. A great reminder about finding joy in the immediate experience.
Wild Berries by Julie Flett. A boy and his grandmother collect blueberries in the wood. Along the way, they observe wildlife from the ants to the elk to the birds. The overall feeling is one of calm mindfulness and the illustrations' deceptive simplicity adds to that feeling. The spare text is in English, but some of the words are accompanied by their Cree equivalent. A glossary and pronunciation guide is included.
Snow Sounds: An Onomatopoeic Story by David A. Johnson. This onomatopoeic snow poem is a joy to read. Snow falls at night, covering everything with its lush white blankets. In the morning, machines and people begin to dig out: a father with a snow blower, different sized snow plows and a boy with his shovel. I loved this book and its ability to convey both the quiet and the excitement of a thick snowfall.
Community, Friends and Family
Why Am I Me? by Paige Britt, illustrated by Selina Alko and Sean Qualls. I love this brand new book in which children ponder their sense of self. It was a question I vividly remember asking myself during my childhood, and I think most adults will recognize themselves in it. But ultimately this is a book for children and reflect how they see themselves and the people around them. The text is spare and the illustrations are dynamic in this mindful book that teaches about empathy, self-reflection and community. Highly recommended.
Pie is for Sharing by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard. I'm not super into books that uncritically fawn over any particular nation and most patriotic books aren't really my style. But I love this charming picture book. With its diverse cast and theme of the joys of sharing it is the perfect read aloud for Independence Day. Welcoming and sharing with others no matter where they are from is an American tradition and can't be emphasized enough. You could say it's as American as apple pie.
Hector and Hummingbird by Nicholas John Frith is a sweet book about friendship. Hector and Hummingbird are friends but lately Hector has been annoyed with how much noise Hummingbird makes! But when he finally gets what he wants, he misses his friend and learns that being left alone isn't exactly what he wanted.
Mr Gumpy's Outing by John Burningham. Mr Gumpy goes out for a relaxing afternoon in his wooden boat. Soon a few children ask to join him. He welcomes them aboard with calmness. Next a succession of animals one by one join the group, and even though the boat is getting quite full, no one is refused. A joyful book about sharing a boat come what may, and sharing a pot of tea.
A Family is a Family is a Family by Sara O'Leary. In a classroom full of diverse students, a teacher asks the children to describe their families. They are all different. Some have a mom and dad, another lives with their grandparent, another has divorced parents, another step-siblings. There are LGBTQ families, disabled parents, foster families and more. The narrator is a child listening to all of the descriptions and realizes that all families are special because they are made up of people who love each other.
Daniel's Good Day by Micha Archer. Oh, how I adore this optimistic, feel good picture book! Daniel gets outside and asks his diverse 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!
Mommy's Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow. I believe this is the author's debut picture book and I look forward to what is yet to come! A young girl admires the scarves her mother wears. She takes joy in looking through the closet, dancing with them, trying them on and imagining the possibilities of when she will wear her own. No matter what the reader's background, every child will see themselves in the young narrator as she celebrates the khimar and the loving relationship she has with her mother.
Say Hello! by Rachel Isadora. Carmelita walks her dog in the neighborhood, greeting all her neighbors. Each neighbor in turn answers "Hello!" in his or her own language. My kids probably hear 4 or 5 different languages every day just by being outside so it's nice to have a book that recognizes that reality. Isadora's collage illustrations are wonderful (as usual).
Sumo Joe by Mia Wenjen. A fun, positive story about a boy who must learn how to balance his love of sumo wrestling with being a good big brother. I love how Japanese terms are seamlessly woven into the story. A great way to introduce kids to the sport, but still a lovely story about a sibling relationship.
Benji, the Bad Day, and Me by Sally J. Pla. Every kid (and grown-up) has to deal with a bad day, or lots of bad days, really. Sammy has a really, really bad day. It seems like everything is going wrong and not only that, but his autistic brother, Benji is also experiencing a rough day. Sammy notices that Benji has a special place just for him when he starts feeling overwhelmed but Sammy doesn't have a spot like that. Benji notices Sammy's sadness and helps his brother out with the aid of a blue blanket. This heartwarming book teaches kids how having a go-to spot can help them self-regulate and the positive power of connection with others (especially family).
Baabwaa and Wooliam: A Tale of Literacy, Dental Hygiene, and Friendship by David Elliot. Oh, how I love this book. Wooliam reads and Baabwaa knits and while they are enjoying the day a filthy sheep with terrible teeth (who is actually a wolf) appears. But sadly, he can can not read. So Wooliam sets out to teach him to read, and Baabwaa will knit him a nice fresh sweater. Absolutely hilarious!
Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora. I adore the wonderful cut-paper collage illustrations in this timeless tale about the community value of sharing and showing gratitude. Omu is making stew and its delicious smell enchants the neighborhood. One by one, a diverse group of visitors, drawn in by the scent of Omu's stew, knock on her door and ask for a bowl. Omu generously hands out portions but eventually realizes that she no longer has any left for herself. Not to worry! Her neighbors don't forget her kindness and they all join together to return the favor.
Feast for 10 by Cathryn Falwell. A family shops for, prepares and sits down together for a meal. I particularly love books that show math in everyday situations such as shopping and cooking. It might even get your little one interested in counting next time you put her in the shopping cart at the grocery store! Plus, I'm all for books that show families having fun together.
Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal. This is a sweet book about a girl who discovers a special family history when she asks her father how she got her name. I love the intergenerational aspect of the story.
Anna Hibiscus' Song by Atinuke is a wonderful picture book featuring one of my favorite protagonists. Anna Hibiscus also stars in her own chapter book series, which we have read and loved. Anna Hibiscus lives in modern Africa and she is feeling so much happiness she doesn't know what to do with it all! She turns to her family members for advice, and in the end Anna discovers her own personal way to express her joy -- through song.
Max by Rachel Isadora is not only a great book to read if your child thinks ballet is only for girls, but also because it shows kids the benefits of thinking outside the box. Every weekend Max and his sister go to baseball and ballet, respectively. One Saturday, when Max arrives to his sister's class a bit early he finds himself accepting the teacher's invitation to join in. Max loves it and from then on, he attends class with his sister as a way to warm up for his baseball games, where, thanks to a few barre stretches, he hits home runs!
Phoebe and Digger by Tricia Springstubb. It's pretty clear to anyone whose ever visited a sandbox that boys and girls love diggers equally. Nevertheless, I'm guessing (I've never done an official poll) that most depictions of kids playing with diggers are of boys, and not girls. That makes Phoebe a refreshing change. At its center, this is a story about learning to live with a new sibling. Phoebe has a new digger, and her mom has a new baby. Phoebe must learn to share her mom, just as she need to navigate the sandbox with other kids who may want to share (or take) her new digger.
Tiger and Badger by Emily Jenkins. Tiger and Badger are best friends but that doesn't stop them from getting into arguments, even over seemingly trivial things. (But remember, nothing is trivial to a child!) After every tiff, however, they are able to put things right, whether it be with working together to solve a problem, or with a silly face. This is one of the best books about friendship I have read and I urge you to pick up a copy!
How Far Do You Love Me? by Lulu Delacre. A lovely book that will take you and your child on a trip around the world, rooted in love for each other.
Thanks to the Animals by Allen Sockabasin. During his Passamaquoddy family's move to their winter home in what is 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!
Looking for Bongo by Eric Velasquez. I read this book when it first came out and I've been itching to put it on a list ever since. There are few children's books with Afro-Latino families and this one is absolutely delightful. A boy is looking for his missing stuffed toy and he asks everyone around him for help. The answers are sprinkled with Spanish words and the decor of the house reflects the cultural background of the family. Preschoolers will love spotting the clues as to whom the real culprit of Bongo's disappearance is.
Happy in Our Skin by Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Lauren Tobia. A charming, rhyming depiction of a diverse community taking care of each other forms the basis of this appealing story book. A vibrant city is host to children and parents of all colors, religions, abilities and ethnicities. There is an emphasis on the sense of touch—tickles, skinned knees, and hugs, just to name a few—and a celebration, as the title would suggest, of the skin we are in.
Emotions and Character
The Elephant Who Liked to Smash Small Cars by Jean Merrill. As the title suggests, a young elephant loves to smash small cars as they pass by. He loves to smash red, yellow, blue cars! But what happens when a car salesman won't put up with the elephant's penchant for destruction? He will need to find a way to temper his smashing enthusiasm. An unusual but whimsical preschool book that will especially be enjoyed by kids know the pleasure of knocking down block towers and the like!
The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee. Are walls really all they are cracked up to be? You might think one side is safer than the other, but is it really? A small knight is convinced that danger lurks on the other side of a large wall. Even as the knight is increasingly imperiled by rising threats on his side of the wall from which his armor won't protect him, he refuses to see the truth. Fortunately for him, the inhabitants on the other side of the wall are not so blind This timely picture book speaks volumes about our perceptions about safety, isolation and trusting others.
How to Be a Lion by Ed Vere. This is such a wonderful book about how there are many ways to be an individual. Leonard knows that lions are expected to be fierce but he is not going to go down that route. Instead, he is going to be himself, write poetry and play with his friend Marianne, the duck. Together they write a poem to tell the other lions that Leonard does not have to live up to the stereotype. The story holds an important message about being yourself, especially for boys who are under pressure to be "tough."
The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld is a wonderful reminder to listen to the needs of those around you. 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!
Amandina. Of all the books on this list, Amandina is my favorite. Amandina is very talented, but very shy. She decides to put on a show. She cleans up an old theater, constructs the sets, sews the costumes, rehearses the acrobatics and puts up the posters. When she opens the curtains, however, the house (aka the audience) is empty. Disheartened, but determined, she puts on the performance of a lifetime, not knowing that while she sings and dances the audience is growing... Ruzzier's illustrations evoke the commedia dell'arte of his native Italy and his text perfectly captures the true spirit and heart of what it means to be a performer.
The Giant of Jum by Elli Woollard. This is a joyous rhyming story, and a fun twist on Jack and the Beanstalk that preschoolers will love to hear as they join in the refrain of "Fee!" he says, and "Fi!" he says, and "Fo!" he says and "Fum!" A hungry giant is in search of a tasty child named Jack to snack on. During his search, he meets several children who ask for his help—rescuing cats in trees, etc. that sort of thing that giants are especially good at—so that by the time he finds Jack, the children reward his kindness with a cake and the giant realizes that chocolate is tastier than children anyway.
The Subway Sparrow by Leyla Torres. When a sparrow is trapped on a subway train, a group of diverse individuals work together to capture and release the frightened bird. Even though the subway riders don't all speak the same language, their desire to cooperate for the greater good overcomes their differences.
Hank's Big Day: The Story of a Bug by Evan Kuhlman. This story may be about a bug but every preschooler will relate to the way the bug goes about his day. First starting out with little tasks like waking, eating and going out for a walk, then exploring, observing and then engaging in imaginative play with his best friend who loves to pretend she is Amelia Earhart. After his exciting day, he returns to his cozy and welcoming home under a rock. So charming!
Do You Believe in Unicorns? by Bethanie Deeney Murguia. This book is so much fun! A white horse wearing a hat prances around. But is it actually a horse? Perhaps it is a unicorn in disguise? Even when the hat comes off, clever illustrations make you wonder if that horse isn't actually a unicorn. Or is just your imagination? Children will love the humor and the way the story poses questions about the reality of what they see.
Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise by Sean Taylor. A melodramatic owl is on the prowl. He is hungry, but being a wise owl he is a master of disguise and knows just how to catch his prey. To catch a bunny, he disguises himself as a carrot. For a pigeon, he becomes an ornamental bird bath. He doesn't seem to have much luck, but no matter! He is undeterred and when he finally gets his dinner (I won't give it away!) the world can sleep again. I absolutely adore the wry, ridiculous humor of this book. I could hardly contain my laughter, which of course made my sons love it even more because apparently when mama laughs, life is hilarious.
Vroom! by Barbara McClintock is a wonderfully joyous read aloud for toddlers and preschoolers. This story of a girl going on an journey in a race car celebrates 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.
Wonder Bear by Tao Nyeu. An oversized book that was a winner with both my 4 and 8 year old who started narrating the story to each other, I barely had to get involved! One day a girl and boy start a garden. The packet of seeds grows steadily into watermelons, but the hat they planted quickly grows into a magical vine that signals the beginning of a whimsical adventure. This was a winner in our home.
The Carpenter by Bruna Barros. A wordless book that you can use to inspire kids to explore the possibilities of ordinary objects. A boy becomes enraptured with the possibilities of a measuring tape and he abandons electronic screens in order to create and construct. Marvelous.
Just for Fun
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 preschooler as well as your youngest lap sitters!
A Hungry Lion, or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins is for those of us who love a good dose of subversive humor. I don't want to spoil the book because everyone needs a good, healthy gasp of surprise so instead I will set the stage for you. The lion is looking forward to a fun day with his adorable fuzzy friends. But they keep disappearing.... why? Will they return?
The Mixed-Up Truck by Stephen Savage. Wonderful hijinks ensue when a cement truck heads out for his first day on the job. But stops at the wrong sites lead to mixing up a cake, frosting and lots of bubbles. This book is a nice way to inject some humor into all the construction-themed reading you'll be doing during your child's preschool years!
Chickens to the Rescue by John Himmelman. Things keep going wrong at the Greenstalk Farm. The farmer drops his watch in the well, the sheep get lost, the cow gets stuck in the tree... and more! Why will fix everything? The chickens, that's who! Funny preschool books are essential and this one is a winner. Preschoolers will love the repetitive yet hilarious nature of this story, as well as discovering all kinds of details in the illustrations. Further laughs can be had with the Cows, Pigs and Ducks to the Rescue books!
Naked! For a while my son was OBSESSED with this book. I am not exaggerating. We read it every night before bed for weeks. He also re-enacted the book several times a day -- whenever he found himself without any clothes on, actually. I must say, I loved seeing him get so involved with transferring his love of a story to "real" life! I can't imagine a child not liking this book. Is there any child who doesn't love running around in his birthday suit? I think not. Both the author and illustrated have perfectly captured the joy that comes with a cool breeze on one's bare backside.
Underwear! by Jenn Harney. Honestly, what kid doesn't like a hilarious, rhyming book about underwear? Even though this read aloud is aimed at preschoolers to 6 year olds, my 10 year old could not resist. When I said, "Come over here I want to read this book," he answered, "No! I'm not listening to a book about underwear!" I responded that I was going to read it aloud "to my mom" instead, who happened to be the room. Of course I put my all into it and he was over quick as a flash and had to examine all the pictures! Read this one aloud, you won't be sorry!
Oh, No! by Candace Fleming makes a great read aloud for a group. Tiger waits stealthily by a hole in the ground. Frog is the first one to fall in. "Oh no!" Next come mouse, then a loris, and a succession of animals who attempt without success to rescue those that came before them. Jolly, bouncy rhymes and onomatopoeic text encourage kids to join in the "oh, no!" refrain as animals slip down into the deep hole. But will the tiger really be able to capture them? Or will he also fall into the hole?
Angus and the Ducks by Marjorie Flack. Modern preschoolers still love this book from the 1930s. Angus is a very curious Scottie dog and one day he escapes the yard by crawling under the hedge. On the other side he discovers all some very interesting ducks!
Petunia by Roger Duvoisin. Petunia is a delightful, quirky, none-too-bright goose who is under the impression that being in possession of a book makes her the smartest creature in the farmyard. She puts on airs and dispenses highly questionable advice but is quickly and humorously brought to task by the other farm animals and a run in with a box of fireworks.
I Dare You Not to Yawn by Helene Boudreau. Everyone knows the infectious power of a yawn. Just try not to yawn when someone mentions it! (I bet you are yawning right now!) Fortunately, the narrator has all sorts of tricks to keep from yawning, thus avoiding bedtime. This is a fun bedtime book and my 4 year old and I like to see who can hold out from yawning the longest before the book is done. So far he has won every time.
Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales is great fun! My youngest son is really into all things "fighting" right now and this Pura Belpré Award winner was a huge hit with him. Using his vivid imagination, Niño wrestles uses his stellar moves, like the "tickle tackle" and the "puzzle muzzle" to best alarming intergalactic opponents, but when it comes to his biggest challenge, "Las Hermanitas", Niño pulls out his very special moves. Niño is imagining himself as a "Lucha Libre" wrestler. An endnote describes this type of theatrical wrestling popular in Spanish-speaking countries.
Sergio Makes a Splash by Edel Rodriguez . Both my sons giggled at the idea that a penguin could love water but still be afraid of swimming. His swim teacher, Mrs. Waddle gives him some gentle encouragement and Sergio finally takes the plunge (so to speak). Even though my almost 5 and almost 9 year olds (never too old for picture books!) enjoyed this I think the straightforward plot and gentle humor make it a great choice for preschoolers.
The Line Up Book by Marisabina Russo. Do you kids love to line things up? My boys were forever creating criss-crossing lines of cars and trucks. Next time you step over one of their long, winding lines of toys pat yourself on the back, because your child is learning all about patterning and spatial relationships, important skills for math learning.
The Happy Owls by Celestino Piatti. This might be my favorite book on the list, and when you read it you will get a clear sense of the types of books that make me laugh out loud. Because laugh out loud at the ending is what I did. The book was first published in 1964 but I read it for the first time only recently.The story begins with a gaggle of unhappy barnyard animals who don't know what to do with themselves except bicker with each other. The owls, however, lead a happy and content existence. When the others ask the owls to reveal their secret, they are astounded! But that's all I can say without giving it away. Sorry. Piatti's illustrations are absolutely marvelous. The owls' red eyes convey a wonderful humor and truth!
More Bears by Kenn Kesbitt. In this very funny picture book an author is writing a book with no bears in it. None. No bears. But someone wants bears. MORE bears. How many bears can fit in the book, anyway? Kids will be laughing and shouting, "more bears!!" until they start shouting "more chickens"? (Sorry, you'll have to read the book to know what I mean.)
Rabbit’s Gift by George Shannon is a gentle Chinese folktale about giving to others. Rabbit finds a turnip in the snow, but as he is eating it, he thinks of his friend, Donkey, and wonders if she has any food. Rabbit leaves her extra turnip at Donkey’s door and when Donkey finds it, she leaves it for her neighbor, Goat. On and on it goes, with each friend, in turn, considering the well being of another. Eventually, they all come together for a meal in friendship. A wonderful story.
Rabbit's Snow Dance by Joseph and James Bruchac. In this retelling of an Iroquois pourquoi story the snow-loving Rabbit performs his snow-dance so many times that the snow falls till it covers the trees. Unfortunately for Rabbit, this leads to a slight mishap which now explains why his tail is no longer lusciously long.
Grandma and the Great Gourd: A Bengali Folktale by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. When Grandma sets out to visit her daughter she must travel through the jungle. On the way, many wild animals threaten to eat her, but she puts them off by explaining she will be plumper on the journey home (after she has feasted at her daughter's table). Her hide-in-a-gourd strategy on the way home fools everyone but the fox, but her faithful dogs save the day (and her).
Tops & Bottoms by Janet Stevens is a trickster tale with roots in the American South, as well as in Europe. American folktales in the post-colonial age often draw from the tellers European ancestry. The lazy bear owns a farm but since he doesn't want to do the work he makes a bargain with the poor rabbit family. The deal is that the rabbits will work the land and split the harvest in half with the bear. Rabbit only wants to know, does Bear want the tops, or the bottoms? When Bear chooses tops, Rabbit plants root crops. When Bear chooses bottoms, Rabbit plants corn. This is a clever, funny tale, and great for story time.
Head, Body, Legs: A Story from Liberia by Won-Ldy Paye and Margaret H. Lippert . For quite some time, my younger son was absolutely obsessed with this book. This tale of how the human body came to be in its form today is also a story of the importance of cooperation and determination.
Maria Had a Little Llama by Angela Dominguez. Preschoolers love to hear new takes on familiar stories and rhymes. This classic nursery rhyme has a Peruvian twist. The illustrations are delightful. Bilingual.
Need more preschool books?
Mia Wenjen says
Thank you so much for including Sumo Joe!