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The 12 Best Books for 4-Year-Olds

They're probably not in school yet, but what should your budding reader be reading?

The best books for 4-year-olds provide educational fun that takes into account certain age-appropriate markers. As 4-year-old kids get into preschool, they begin to develop new and interesting emotional relationships with other kids. Those new social bonds color their experiences, meaning books about friendships really start to hit the sweet spot. Rounding out a 4-year-old library should be books that reflect their big feelings and lean into empathy. These best books for 4-year-olds are classics or soon-to-be classics, and they’ll do the trick when it comes to that empathy.

RELATED: These Are the Best Books for 2-Year-Olds

The Best Books for 4-Year-Olds

One of the best new kids' books from last year, Sydney Smith's 'Small in the City' uses gorgeously moody images to evoke all the feelings that can take hold when we find ourselves feeling lost in unfamiliar places or situations, and have to navigate our way back toward home. The young narrator wanders the towering, noisy city, and offers bits of sage advice — you can warm up by dryer vents and hide up in the branches of a mulberry tree — to a friend who's revealed in the end.

Christian Robinson's crisp, colorful illustrations lead young readers into a wordless but wild-with-possibility world in which everyone and everything has 'another' (almost) just like them. As a girl and her cat explore this parallel realm, kids can try to identify the things that match (girl for girl, cat for cat) and the things that don't — they may notice, for instance, that one cat has a red collar while another has a blue collar. Mystery!

In a cave in the woods, a brown bear’s den becomes the site of warmth and gathering for an ever-increasing cast of animals as the ursine owner snoozes away. The rhythm of the text is superbly fun to read and a new animal every page presents parents ample opportunity to try out new voices. A satisfying turn when the bear wakes up is a surprise for kids and offers a perfect bedtime denouement.

More a large format comic book than classic kids book, 'Super Happy Magic Forest' is a twisted cartoonish riff on the typical band-of-heroes adventure. There are plenty of 'Lord of the Rings' jokes for adults and plenty of weirdness for kids. It’s a visually fun book that can be poured over for hidden gags and clues meaning kids can navigate the tale themselves. For parents, the book offers options to read the narrative only, for a short read, or incorporate the text bubbles to add a bit more fun.

The bedtime classic turns kids into dinosaurs and helps the sleep-reticent preschoolers recognize their worst nightmare behaviors in the actions of pouty T. Rex's and pterodactyls. The constant questioning in the text allows for some interactive call-and-response, and the brevity and rhythm of the book make it a super breezy read to end the day.

Preschoolers dig 'Giraffe and a Half' for several reasons. First, there’s Shel Silverstein’s bizarro illustrations and the central conceit of a kid being given an assortment of wacky items, starting with the eponymous giraffe. But the book is most thrilling because it is an ever-expanding tongue twister that requires parents become breathless auctioneers by the time the climax arrives. And that’s the real thrill. It’s not an every night book, but it’s a crowd-pleaser.

Preschoolers get pretty frightened by the mysterious and the poorly defined. That’s what makes Grover’s classic so darn compelling. Kids get to act as the force majeure relentlessly propelling the lovable muppet toward a terrifying and unknown monster, which is ultimately himself. The profundity will be lost on the kid, but they’ll totally get into Grover’s epic freak-outs.

A.A. Milne’s classic is filled with nonsense, love, and chaos. But it’s also profoundly gentle and full of character that your kid will know for their entire lives. Four is a good time to start reading the classic chapter book because it’s engaging enough to hold a child’s interest but the narrative is loose enough to put the book down and pick it up as needed.

The Frog and Toad books are slowly being lost to time and that’s really unfortunate because they are beautiful, quiet, and naturalistic books with two silly characters that love each other fantastically. What’s even better is that the books have perfectly understated humor that preschoolers will totally love without having to go into lowest denominator gross-out mode.

'Tickle Monster' is a fast-paced and silly book that encourages parents to tickle their kids. It can be a bit hard to read while tickling, but the bonding and laughter the book encourages is pretty damn great. We recommend going for the boxed edition that includes the plush tickle-monster gloves for added fun.

The Scaredy Squirrel franchise offers books with very fun visuals and superb comedic timing. They do not offer a typical straight-ahead narrative because every page is ripe for exploration. That’s good, though, because it makes the book interesting every read and allows parents to choose how much time to invest per reading. Plus little kids will totally identify with Scaredy’s constant paranoia.

Of Suess’s Horton books, 'Horton Hears a Who' is a perfect match for preschoolers because of its refrain: A person’s a person no matter how small. Not only does Horton offer a strong dose of empathy for the littlest of all little creatures, but it also helps kids understand that their voice can be powerful if they choose to be brave.

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