Books will always be at the core of proper childhood development at the preschool level. It teaches young kids skills that are fundamental to success as they grow, such as cognitive thought, language improvement, and concentration enhancement. It introduces them to life lessons that they will carry well after they leave the daycare center. It also helps them develop several intangible elements that are important for a well-rounded individual, as a good book will unlock a child’s imagination so they can be taken to boundless heights of creativity and infinite depths of emotion.
No two preschoolers’ books approach the concept of childhood development, and that is a good thing. Each new book that they read represents a brand new perspective on the way this world works. This ultimately allows their brains to be exposed to a broader scope of concepts that touch on responsibility, creativity, and individuality – the kind of elements that will one day make them strong, productive, and able to experience life at its full capacity.
Here is our all-time list of the 20 preschooler books that help nurture these important developmental traits. These are listed in no particular order; the important thing that they are listed.
Green Eggs and Ham
You have to have a Dr. Seuss book somewhere in this list, don’t you? (Spoiler alert: The good doctor shows up later on this list, too). This classic tale of Sam-I-Am trying to convince his stubborn friend to try an unusually colored breakfast combo only contains fifty words, and the iconic illustrations provide excellent visual clues that make the book easy for beginners to read. The story itself tells the child more than just the age-old adage of “try it, you might like it.” The simple tale also inspires kids to not be afraid of experiencing something outside of their comfort zone, which is a crucial life lesson that will have an abundance of applications as they get older.
Beatrix Potter the Complete Tales (Peter Rabbit)
Even people who never read Beatrix Potter as a child know of Peter Rabbit, her most famous creation. Those that did, and those that are eager to share her stories with their own children, know how remarkably charming her tales of clothes-wearing animals can be. The treasure that lay at the heart of tales such as The Tale of Peter Rabbit, the Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, and The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck is that they are deliberately plotted along, which makes them a welcome respite in an era where things aimed at preschoolers are geared toward speed and flash. When this pace is coupled with the book’s beautiful artwork and unmistakably proper British sensibilities, the book becomes something almost otherworldly sweet. It is a sweetness that a child will recognize with a great measure of happiness.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
This Eric Carle tale of a caterpillar with a ravenous appetite is a popular choice for parents that are looking for the all-important first book to share with their wee ones. There are several great reasons for this. The story itself, about a caterpillar that “eats” his way through the book en route to becoming a beautiful butterfly, is loads of fun. The visual aspect effortlessly captivates a child’s attention, as the tiny insect gets larger and plumper with every page. Plus, it’s educational; lest we forget that the book may represent a child’s introduction to the wonders of science.
As any parent will tell you, having a quality bedtime reading book is an essential tool for any preschooler’s nightly routine. And few books are better equipped to drift a child into slumber than this Margaret Wise Brown classic. The story is about as bare-bones as it gets, as it features a little bunny saying goodnight to every object that he can see in his great green room, including the moon that hangs just outside his window. The power of the book comes from the cheery illustrations as well as the rhythm of the text itself, which work to sooth the child so that a comfortable night’s sleep can occur.
Cars and Trucks and Things that Go
The stories of Richard Scarry have captivated multiple generations, and with good reason. His detail-rich illustrations have the power to effortlessly captivate a youngster’s eye, and his storylines are tightly packed with slapstick whimsy and easy to understand vocabulary. This iconic book beautifully captures both elements. Kids will be rewarded by poring over the visuals – there is a hidden “Goldbug” on every scene. They will also have the opportunity to learn the names of everyday things that go as they are entertained by silly scenarios and wild “vehicles” that serve no other purpose apart from capturing their imagination.
Just Me and My Dad
Mercer Mayer’s “Little Critter” picture books have grown into modern classics. You can make a case for this being the best of the bunch. The Richard Scarry-esque characters are visually appealing and the background environment that they are in complements them very well. The story revolves around a father and son camping adventure and the bonding that takes place despite Little Critter’s innocent mistakes. It is an endearing tale that puts a focus on the importance of spending quality one-on-one time without the interferences of modern distractions.
Harold and the Purple Crayon
The title of this Crockett Johnson tale sums things up rather nicely: It’s all about a boy named Harold using a purple crayon to create a landscape of adventure and imagination. What makes this book a classic is that his flights of fancy are not necessarily flighty; Harold makes great effort in making sure his magical adventure is grounded in practicality, such as drawing landmarks to make sure he does not get lost along the way. It’s a story that subtly teaches youngsters about the importance of responsibility, no matter what adventurous shenanigans they may get into.
The Giving Tree
Few children’s books have caused divisiveness quite like this intriguing Shel Silverstein classic. It certainly has some of the heaviest subject matter in children’s literature, as the books story chronicling the relationship between an apple tree and a boy throughout the various stages of his life has been open to discussions on symbolism and deep meaning since it first hit the shelves in 1964. Yet if you push all of the attached philosophies aside, you are left with a lovely little book filled with simple illustrations and a basic story that touches on the joys of selflessness.
This classic book created by Tomie da Paola could represent a child’s first foray into the magical, mystical world of folktales and folklore. Strega Nona (which translates into “Grandma Witch”) uses her power to cure the townspeople of Calabria, Italy of various ailments. She also can conjure up some mean pasta from her magic pasta pot. One day, her assistant Big Anthony tries to re-create Strega Nona’s pasta goodness without permission when she is away, and hijinks ensue. It is a charmingly illustrated little story in the same vein as “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” and it teaches important lesson about the consequences of not following directions.
Where the Wild Things Are
Maurice Sendak’s iconic book involving the wolf suit-clad Max and the weirdly adorable monsters that populate his magic bedroom forest features some of the most recognizable illustrations ever committed to the pages of a children’s book. As cool as the visuals are, the thing that makes this picture book such a crucial part of a child’s library is the sense of imaginative adventure that it conveys. It also reinforces how important the love and comfort that comes from family is at the end of the day.
On the surface, this Mo Willems book looks like a classic tale of lost and found. The plot essentially revolves around toddler Trixie leaving the titular stuffed animal behind at the Laundromat, the efforts to communicate this with Dad, and the subsequent search, which is met with ultimately positive results. However, the story does a tremendous job of capturing the dynamic that so often exists between parent and child at the stage where the latter has not learned to speak, from the frustration that occurs on both ends to the joys of discovery. It is a dynamic that is easily identifiable from both sides of the equation, and the emotions that are culled from such interaction are further heightened by the beautifully muted artwork.
In a way, Ludwig Bemelmans first entry into what would become his Madeline series of books feels important to share with a child. Perhaps it is this way because of its Parisian setting. Maybe it is due to the artwork, which occasionally seem to subtly call back to some of the masters that were around when the City of Lights was the cultural epicenter of the world. It could be due to its enduring, humorous tale of the title character’s bravery when facing the removal of her appendix. Whatever the reason, the book has earned the right to be considered a classic worthy of your children’s library, regardless of whether you have a daughter or a son.
The Little Engine that Could
“I think I can! I think I can!” When you think about it, there’s a decent chance that the simple little phrase may be the first quote that your child utters. Such is the power of Watty Piper’s brilliant tale of the little blue engine that comes equipped with enough moxie to take on a giant obstacle and succeed in its quest. The artwork of the book is unapologetically vintage; however, that is part of its charm – it is hard to imagine this story retrofitted to match a modern look. Yet as sweet as the illustrations are, the main reason that this book continues to charm is due to its timeless life lesson of building confidence and self-esteem.
The House at Pooh Corner
The Walt Disney version of Winnie the Pooh and his gang are some of the most cherished critters in a child’s life, and rightly so. However, a parent would be remised in not introducing their children to the original version created by A.A. Milne. This collection of tales from Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, and the rest of the gang is the second volume of stories, and is notable for two things. Firstly, it introduces Tigger. Secondly, it teaches an important lesson of change, as the book concludes with the group bidding farewell to Christopher Robin as he leaves Hundred Acre Wood to go to school.
Self-doubt can be crippling even at an early age. This Peter H. Reynolds book does a marvelous job of teaching children the lesson of turning “I can’t” into “I can” in a way that helps stimulate the creative side of their brain. The story follows Vashti, a young grade school artist that is convinced that she cannot draw. Her teacher responds by encouraging her to simply make a dot and go from there. What follows is a tale filled with beautiful illustrations and self-discovery about what may be possible if child simply tries.
65 Years of Little Golden Books
The best possible way to describe Little Golden Books is that they are sweet. They’ve been that way since they were first published in 1942, and they were still that way when this collection was created in 2007 (hence the 65 years). There are six books that are found in this anthology, including The Saggy Baggy Elephant and Tawny Scrawny Lion. The illustrations in the books are full of charming detail that have the ability to absorb a child’s attention. The stories are also easy to read and are simply paced, which further add to their charm.
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
This Judith Viorst book is unique in the sense that it doesn’t resolve with a nice little gift-wrapped ending on the last page. It merely accounts the end of a pretty lousy day that Alexander had; one that involves getting gum in his hair, not having dessert in his lunch sack, a cavity at the dentist, and kissing on television. The cynical amongst us can point to this book and say that it is a perfect lesson that shows kids that not every day is going to be filled with rainbows, lollipops, and sunshine. The rest can just sit back and enjoy how it perfectly captures the spirit of a little boy that just wants to put a crummy day behind him, one rambling run-on sentence at a time. Be forewarned: The book may make you want to plan a trip to Australia.
The Snowy Day
You don’t have to live in an area that sees wintry snowfall to appreciate this classic by Ezra Jack Keats, and neither do your children. The story itself is simple, as it involves a little boy waking up to the sight of an overnight snowfall, leading to a day filled with snow-angels, footprints, and a quest to save a snowball for future use. The thing that makes this picture book so essential is its beautiful, painting-like illustrations. Keats’s use of watercolors, collage, and cut-outs find different ways to stimulate the eye, allowing it to keep a child’s excitement fresh with the turn of every page.
Sylvia Long’s Mother Goose
The rhymes of Mother Goose are practically ingrained in a child’s mind from the moment they begin walking and talking. This essential anthology created by the award-winning artist Sylvia Long uses animals to frame these tales in a manner that bridges traditional sentiment with modern sensibilities, thus creating a visual element that is bright and comforting. All of the classics are represented here, from Old Mother Hubbard to Jack and Jill.
The Cat in the Hat
Quite simply, this Dr. Seuss masterwork is the most revolutionary children’s book to come out in the past one hundred years. It’s a bold statement at first, but you need to take a look at the back story to fully appreciate the sentiment. Theodore Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) created this story in 1957 as a reaction to early childhood literacy in the United States – specifically, books that were geared to be primers for kids to learn how to read. Essentially, Geisel was challenged to write a book that was far more entertaining and effective in its endgame than traditional primers like the “Dick and Jane” series were. The result was a book that featured wildly inventive illustrations and simple story, both of which effortlessly evoked a sense of adventure. The tale – which only uses 225 different words – features a magical, hat-wearing feline that shows up at the house of little Sally and her brother. The cat, along with his associates Thing 1 and Thing 2, end up making a giant mess in Sally’s house, which is cleaned up through the help of the Cat’s magic machine before he mysteriously disappears. The story is as timeless today as it was forward-thinking as it was when it was first published, and it is poised to be a staple of many a household for generations to come.