That being said — remember that any book you read aloud to your kids builds literacy skills. In other words, any book you read with a child can be rewarding and become their next favorite book. As far as development at this age, you are teaching children about story structure and characters, to make the connection that those black squiggly lines are words that mean something, as well as holding a book correctly, among other things.
Kids at age 3 can read to themselves by looking at pictures and narrating what they think is happening in the story — to themselves or to you.
I hope this list of ideas gives you a good start.
DON’T MISS: Recommendations for the best learning GAMES for preschoolers.
22 Must-Read Books for 3-Year-Olds
I Am NOT a Chair by Ross Burach
Poor giraffe! All the other animals think he’s a chair — no matter what he does. He even tries to tells the hungry lion sitting on him (because he has to pee!) but the lion is so scared to hear a talking chair that he runs away. Will giraffe ever get the others to see him as an animal? The light-hearted and silly humor will keep your preschool age kids giggling.
Ten Apples Up On Top! by Dr. Seuss, illustrated by Roy McKie
Three friends try to do amazing things to impress each other . . . all while balancing apples on their heads. It’s very silly and playful.
One Big Pair of Underwear by Laura Gehl & Tom Lichtenheld
You’ll laugh your way through this is the silly “counting” picture book which also includes subtracting and patterns. So much silliness and a great reinforcement for big kid underwear.
Dream Big, Little Scientists by Michelle Schaub, illustrated by Alice Potter
This celebration of the natural world is a lullaby for young scientists as they get ready to slumber. “While mossy carpets stretch out wide, tree limbs yawn up high.” Illustrations show kids preparing for bed with science posters on the walls and hands-on science materials in their bedrooms.
Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, illustrated by Vashti Harrison
Zuri’s daddy helps her see how her hair lets her be her unique self. Like when she wears her hair in braids with beads, she is a princess, or when she wears it in two puffs, she’s a superhero. One day, Zuri decides to do her hair herself. Daddy helps her learn. But it’s pretty tricky at first but then Daddy gives Zuri the perfect supergirl style. I LOVE so much about this book — the celebration of culture, the dad with long hair and a tattoo, and that a dad that does his daughter’s hair.
The Bear Who Wasn’t There by LeUyen Pham
Up, Up, Up, Down! by Kimberly Gee
Lyrical and repetitive, this relatable storyline captures a day in the life of a talkative toddler and a stay-at-home dad with evocative, diverse illustrations. Sure to bring a chuckle to both you and your growing reader when you read it aloud.
How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mark Teague
Gentle rhymes and captivating illustrations ask if dinosaurs misbehave when going to bed contrasted with well-behaving dinosaurs. Sweet, wonderful, hilarious, and perfect.
Big Dog Little Dog by P.D. Eastman
Meet best friends Fred (Big Dog) and Ted (Little Dog). Though one is big and one is little, and one loves green and one loves red, these pup pals prove that opposites can be the very best of friends. My children LOVED this book! (I can still recite a lot of it and they’re teenagers.)
Red House, Tree House, Little Bitty Brown Mouse by Jane Goodwin, illustrated by Blanca Gomez
Fall in love with the simple, lyrical story showing the colors of a little girl’s world around her illustrated with bold graphic-style pictures
See the trains sparkle in the sun and in the rain.”
The Bear’s Song by Benjamin Chaud
We adore this oversized picture book for the fun follow-the-baby bear story and for the gorgeous and detailed illustrations. Little Bear wanders off and it’s up to Papa Bear to find him. Can you find Little Bear on every page?
Grumpy Monkey by Suzanne Lang, illustrated by Max Lang
Jim Panzee wakes up and nothing seems right. His jungle friends suggest that he might be grumpy. Yet Jim insists he’s NOT grumpy. Do you know any kids like this? As Jim stomps around, bunching his eyebrows, not swinging, he yells at the other animals that he is NOT grumpy. Later that day, Jim sits with Norman. “For now I need to be grumpy,” he explains finally. To which Norman responds, “It’s a wonderful day to be grumpy.”
It’s Okay to Make Mistakes by Todd Parr
I love the message of this picture book — that it’s okay to make mistakes. In fact, not only will this book remind 3-year-old kids that making mistakes is totally normal and okay, maybe it will help remind us as parents, too.
I Am Invited to a Party (Elephant and Piggie) by Mo Willems
We think all the Elephant and Piggie books are hilarious but this one is our favorite. Piggie has never been to a party before so she relies on Elephant’s help. Which is the silliest help you can imagine.
Don’t Push the Button by Bill Cotter
There’s only one rule in this book — DON’T PUSH THE BUTTON. But that button does look enticing, right? Kids will crack up through this silly, interactive picture book. In fact, you may even wear out your pages when you do push the button!
Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas
Bob just doesn’t fit in with the other rhyming dust bunnies which makes this book a total crack-up! Because he’s trying to warn them that there is a vacuum coming. Too bad his fellow Dust Bunnies ignoring his warning. Will they get all vacuumed up?!
Tree: A Peek Through Book by Britta Teckentrup
The tree stands tall throughout the seasons. Each of the tree’s changes bring new peek through illustrations of animals and bugs in it’s foliage until it snows. Bright illustrations and peek-throughs entice young readers as they read this beginining nature book.
One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree by Daniel Bernstrom, illustrated by Brendan Wenzel
When a snake eats him, the boy makes a plan from inside the snake’s tummy and encourages the snake to eat more. From grapes to a beehive, . . . the snake keeps eating until a small fly makes the snake burp everything all out. Phew.
Who Done It? by Oliver Tallec
This is a fun book choice for 3-year-old children to observe. Each page asks a question that requires a close study of the illustration. For example on the page “Who the all the jam?” you must find one character with jam on his face and body. Or on the “Who is in love?” page, look for the character smiling happily with a flushed face.
Underwear! by Jenn Harney
Little Bear is having a hysterical adventure with his underwear much to his parents’ exasperation. Rhyming, giggle-inducing text pairs perfectly with comedic, expressive illustrations. “Under where? / Underwear. / Under there? UnderWEAR, over THERE. / Over where? / On the Chair.” Potty training kids will be able to relate to this story about a little bear who has a lot of *fun* with his underwear.
Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson
What 3-year-old doesn’t love an interactive picture book? The tree is bare, tap it four times and turn the page. Leaves! Tap it again, more leaves. Rub, jiggle, shake, knock, clap, and pat your way through the four seasons of an apple tree’s growth cycle. Impossible to resist!
Luna Loves Library Day by Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Fiona Lumbers
Luna’s parents live apart. On library day, her mom drops her off to meet her dad. She and her dad look at books and read books and play. Luna loves library day. There’s a sweetness in Luna’s family situation as well as a playfulness around books that makes this a jewel of a book that shows a mixed-race family. Love, love, love everything about this preschool book.
Too Many Carrots by Katy Hudson
Rabbit has a problem — his carrot collection is overflowing his burrow and he can’t fit there anymore. His animal friends offer their homes but he and his carrots destroy everyone’s houses. What can Rabbit do? Share his carrots with friends. A meaningful lesson for 3-year-olds.
The Pickwicks’ Picnic A Counting Adventure by Carol Brendler, illustrated by Renee Kurilla
B is for Baby by Atinuke, illustrated by Angela Brooksbank
You’ll love this story about a mischievous baby, West Africa, and words that begin with the letter B. Baby stows away in the banana basket on Brother’s bike. As Brother rides, he passes a baobab, baboon, bus, and other words that start with the letter B before arriving at Baba’s. When Baba looks in the basket, out pops Baby! Gorgeous illustrations.
The Color Monster a Pop-Up Book of Feelings by Anna Llenas
Monster’s colors are all scribbly and mixed-up which means his emotions are, too. The little girl helps Monster separate his feelings on each page with brightly colored pop-ups. I love the green calm page showing Monster in a hammock. The next-to-last page has pull-up tabs to peek inside each of the feelings jars. Feelings are an important subject for 3-year-olds.
After the Rain by Rebecca Koehn, illustrated by Simone Kruger
What can you do after the rain? Levi plays boats and splashes in puddles until he meets Polly who doesn’t want to share her river. A battle begins. But the water starts to leave so the two declare a truce and cooperate to build a dam and a lake to play in together. A delightful picture book with simple, playful text, perfect for the preschool set to learn about friendship.
Bear Is a Bear (except when he’s not) by Karl Newson, illustrated by Anuska Allepuz
This book has the most perfect cadence for reading aloud! This sleepy bear wakes up and is confused about who he is– is he a bird or a fox or a squirrel? Not only is this a fun introduction to the creatures of the woods, but it’s a sweet story culminating with the bear returning to his cave and going back to sleep.