Finding the best books for 3-year-olds is an adventure worthy of its own book. By the age of 3, toddlers can handle increasingly sophisticated books. They can follow more complex narratives and sit still for longer stories than they might have as 2-year-olds. In general, toddlers are ready to dive into stories that are more interactive and layered.
And most 3-year-olds will have stopped eating their books and started devouring stories instead, meaning parents of 3-year-olds can move away from board books and toward early picture books with narrative, heart, and humor. Though they’ll still love a simple book about concepts like colors, numbers, or farm animals. (And parents will appreciate a shorter book come bedtime.)
These 21 books for 3-year-olds contain silly, moving, and interactive stories that parents and toddlers will appreciate for years to come. Just be prepared to read them a thousand times.
The Best Books for 3-Year-Olds
Oliver Jeffers' beautifully illustrated ode to our home planet unfolds as a humorous and moving introduction to everything about Planet Earth, from our place in space to the amazingly varied composition of air, land and sea — as well as humanity. From wild animals to bustling ports, this book offers tons to explore for 3-year-olds and beyond.
A mouse finds a new home inside the belly of a wolf. Barnett and Klassen have collaborated on a number of books, including the Caldecott Honor–winning ‘Sam and Dave Dig a Hole’ and the shape trilogy, ‘Triangle,’ ‘Square’ and ‘Circle.’ ‘The Wolf, the Duck & the Mouse’ is a modern fable that features a party in a wolf’s belly with candlesticks and top hats. What’s not to love?
What happens when Mama owl up and disappears? The three baby owls huddle together and worry. If you have a little one starting preschool or daycare, this is a spot-on take on separation anxiety that is also fun and soothing to read.
If you haven’t started on the Llama Llama oeuvre, now is a great time. These rhyming stories about bedtime worries, going to school alone and more help cover a gamut of Little Llama worries.
If your 2-year-old loved ‘The Gruffalo,’ try this fun rhymer from the same team about a kindly witch who makes room on her broom for a bevy of animals. When she’s threatened by a dragon, they find a way to return the favor.
Listen: This stuff is dark (as in, your-friendly-protagonists-may-get-eaten dark). But it’s also hilarious. If you have an off-kilter sense of humor and want your child to share it, say hello to Jon Klassen’s hat series: ‘I Want My Hat Back,’ ‘This Is Not My Hat’ and ‘We Found a Hat.’
When someone tells you no, you just keep forging ahead. In this follow-up to favorites ‘Rosie Revere, Engineer’ and ‘Iggy Peck, Architect,’ Mexican-American Sofia Valdez is ready to take on a dangerous landfill. With Beaty’s spot-on rhymes, Roberts’ mod-cool art and empowering messages, the books in this series are little kid crowdpleasers.
A beautiful story about a rock that's meaningful to different creatures. This follow-up to Brendan Wenzel’s Caldecott-winning ‘They All Saw a Cat’ tells the story of an ordinary rock that is seen and used differently by different animals. It’s an exercise in perspective and awe.
This adorable snail hates carrots, until it tries one. This charming French snail just wants to get to a nice salad at the end of the book, and maybe persuade you that snails are lovable. This snail definitely is, and there’s nothing like hearing your 3-year-old say ‘Oooh La La.’
Speaking of wolves (and who isn’t?), this book by Ame Dyckman is a hilarious take on the new sibling story. A bunny family adopts a wolf, and little Dot is the only one who notices that he could eat them all up. Fortunately, he doesn’t. (We’ll leave that to Klassen.)
You'll love this book where a boy throws an escalating pile of mayhem into a tree to get his lost kite. If you don’t know Oliver Jeffers from his art exhibits and coffee table book, you’re probably familiar with ‘The Day the Crayons Quit.’ Jeffers has oodles of lovable books for kids, but for sheer hilarity you can’t beat ‘Stuck.’
This lovely book teaches kids about cause-and-effect in a simple and fun way. Three-year-olds love pushing, shaking and turning this innovative, interactive book by Herve Tullet. Press one dot and you never know what a page turn will show.
If your kid loves vehicles, he or she will love this book. Truck-obsessed toddlers will appreciate this rhyming, punny goodnight story about all their favorite trucks saying goodnight.
Even trucks need a little help when they're in a tight spot. Another one for the truck fans — though we think it will appeal to all kids. In this rhyming story, the kind little blue truck gets help from a few good friends to save the day.
Three-year-olds will love telling the pigeon he can’t drive the bus, no matter how much he begs. Willems is expert at tapping into the preschool psyche. (And if they truly love it, there are a number of sequels in which they can deny him a hot dog, make him go to school and more.)
Sometimes, you need to just listen, and this book makes the concept accessible to 3-year-olds. When something bad happens, a series of animals have not-so-helpful solutions, until the rabbit gets it just right and listens. This sweet, simple story shows the power of emotional intelligence and empathy.
It's all about perspective, and this book teaches that mistakes can be beautiful. A parent hoping to instill a growth mindset into little ones would do well to add this charming book by Corinna Luyken to the library. It shows how imperfections can add up to something perfect.
Every journey starts with one small step, or in this case, a mark. Three-year-olds can feel frustrated when their motor skills don’t quite connect to their vision yet. This story of an aspiring artist frustrated with their skills encourages persistence and experimentation.
It's a beautiful tale of generosity as one character shares her delicious stew. Oge Mora’s debut is a touching story about the beauty of sharing, with art that was given a Caldecott Honor.
This ebullient book is all about confidence and self-love. Julián sees some women dressed up for the Coney Island mermaid parade and dreams of becoming a mythical creature. When he makes himself a mermaid costume, his abuela handles it beautifully.
This is a sweet story of a young unicorn born to a family of narwhals who thinks he's one of them. Kelp is born deep in the ocean and feels at home with his fellow narwhals, until a current sweeps him away and he discovers he’s actually a unicorn. Will he stay with the creatures like him, or return to his friends? He finds a beautiful way to be a little of this and a little of that.
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