Ask Reading Kingdom: What are some good books to read to a 3-year-old?

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Dr. Marion Blank (Founder of ReadingKingdom.com) answers:

Books appear in two major forms: those that provide narrative texts (i.e., they tell a story) and those that provide expository texts (i.e., they offer information). Expository texts are critical to success in subjects such as science and social studies, but it generally takes many years before children are able to comprehend that form of text.

By contrast, children as young as two years of age grasp the messages of narrative texts. There is something about those texts that capture essential components of the human experience such as love, anger, fear, excitement and so on. It is amazing to see their skill in this realm and the involvement they display when offered good narratives.

Fortunately, the resources available to parents in this area are vast. There are almost no limits on the number of potentially good books that will appeal to three year olds. The keys to successful books include a) the presence of characters that the child can relate to b) attractive illustrations that bring the characters and events to life c) a limited number of pages so that a story can be completed in one session of about 10 minutes. d) clear, simple language so that the child is not overwhelmed by verbiage that he or she cannot comprehend. (Note: there are some books—termed wordless books—that offer no language at all. The pictures are beautifully designed and as the adult and child view them, the adult offers comments that enhance the meaning of the graphics. Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie dePaola is an excellent example of this genre.)

All the above means that any list of books is invariably going to be insufficient because it will omit so many wonderful tales. So with that caution, let me offer some of my favorites:

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Are You My Mother by P.D. Eastman

Corduroy by Don Freeman

Richard Scarry’s Best Storybook Ever by Richard Scarry

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper

How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night by Jane Yolen

The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr

Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt

Remember—feel free to go beyond this list. The world of books for young children is one of the treasures of our world.