Finding the best books for 3-year-olds is an exciting adventure, but also difficult. Your kiddos are finally old enough to stop eating their books and start devouring them. Parents of 3-year-olds may be relieved to move away from chew-proof concept books and drool-covered board books to snap up early picture books with narrative, heart, and humor.
By 3-years-old, toddlers can follow a story and sit still for longer books than you might buy for a 2-year-old – 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.)
To help with the hunt, we’ve rounded up 20 of our favorite books, which we think are the best book 3-year-olds that parents and toddlers will appreciate for years to come. Bonus points: None of these books suck.
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.
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 people crowd pleasers.
A beautiful story of a rock that's also meaningful to different creatures.
This follow-up to Brendan Wenzel’s Caldecott Honor-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 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.”
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 and 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.
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?
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 loveable 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 good night 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.
Kids will love telling the pigeon that of course, he can't drive the bus.
Willems is expert at tapping into the preschool psyche. Three-year-olds will love telling the pigeon he can’t drive the bus, no matter how much he begs. (And if they truly love it, there are a number of sequels where 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 three 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.
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.
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 bevvy of animals.
When she’s threatened by a dragon, they find a way to return the favor.
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