11 Best Books for 3-Year-Olds: Fire up Your Child's Imagination

Did you know that reading to your child increases their literacy level and gives them a head start at school? Yes, we’re already thinking about school. How fast time goes by!

If you’ve been reading consistently to your child from a young age, it’s likely that you’ve already established a reading routine. Your child has a ton of words up their sleeve and they can easily recognize pictures and symbols.

We’ll go over what to look for when buying books for your 3-year-old and share with you our top 11 picks of the best.

Table of Contents

    A 3-Year-Old’s Reading Level

    At age 3, children are referred to as preschoolers. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a preschooler as a child who isn’t old enough for school or one who is attending preschool (1).

    Can a 3-year-old read? It’s too early for us to expect most 3-year-olds to flip open a book and read it. It may take several more years for this to happen.

    By age 3, however, many children will (2):

    • Understand that print conveys a message.
    • Identify familiar signs.
    • Participate in rhyming games.
    • Recognize and identify letters and even make some letter-sound matches.
    • Enjoy listening to storybooks.
    • Attempt to retell their favorite stories.
    • Endeavor to read on their own, and write as well.

    At this age, children may also be able to grasp longer storylines. Keep reading to your child, it’s well worth the effort.

    What to Consider

    Here are some tips to keep in mind when shopping for books for your 3-year-old:

    • What does your child like? By now, you can make a good guess of your child’s interests. Buy books that revolve around their favorite things.
    • Picture books: These are still a hit and will help your child continually identify and relate pictures to actions or names.
    • Fantasy or fairy tale books: This helps to enhance your child’s imagination and creativity.
    • Rhymes: Silly stories or humorous poems may encourage your child to read.

    The Best Books for 3-Year-Olds of 2020

    Here’s our selection of the best books for 3-year-olds on the market.

    1. The Wonderful Things You Will Be

    Affirm Your Child

    The Wonderful Things You Will Be
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    This story starts off with an illustration of a mother and her child walking hand in hand while holding balloons. The mother wonders about all the wonderful things her daughter could be.

    The book uses simple rhymes and illustrations of animals, superheroes, and plants, among others, to explore different possibilities available to a child. It creatively allows your child to dream about who they want to be, and that they’re assured of your love, no matter what.

    2. Green Eggs and Ham

    Green Eggs, Anyone?

    Green Eggs and Ham
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    Throughout this book, Sam-I-Am repeatedly offers green eggs and ham to an unnamed and grouchy character. He offers the meal in different locations and with different partners.

    Sam persists and, in the end, the unnamed character finally gives in. He tries out the dish and loves it. Now he is willing to eat anywhere and with anyone.

    Your child will enjoy the hilariously silly locations and eating companions. This story is so relatable and tackles our refusal to try out something new. But as Mr. Grumpy found, you’ll never know until you try.

    3. Guess How Much I Love You

    Love Is in the Air

    Guess How Much I Love You
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    This is a story of a father and his son who compare their love for each other and try to outdo each other. Little Nutbrown Hare is preparing to sleep and tells his dad, Big Nutbrown Hare, that he loves him.

    Little Nutbrown Hare stretches out his arms and declares that he loves his father that much. Big Nutbrown Hare, being much bigger, stretches his arms even further out, also declaring his love.

    The free proclamation of love in this story encourages parents to express their love for their children. Your child will be happy to know that you love them more than anything else in the world.

    4. The Giving Tree

    A Story on Giving

    The Giving Tree
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    This story is not without a little nostalgia and some tears. It’s the tale of a tree that loved a boy. The boy played on the tree and ate from the tree.

    As he grew, he kept demanding from the tree and the tree kept giving. The boy, who has grown up, cuts the tree’s branches and finally comes for its trunk. As an old man, we see the man returning to the tree and resting there.

    Maybe the tree symbolizes a parent’s unconditional love for their child. Parents can use this story to explore the boy’s actions while teaching their child about caring for others.

    5. Where Do Diggers Sleep

    A Bedtime Story

    Where Do Diggers Sleep at Night?
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    With colorful full-page illustrations, this book explores the bedtime routines of young diggers, fire engines, and other trucks. Some ask for hugs, others put away their toys, take a bath, brush their teeth, and so much more.

    The repetitive questions will have your child think about their own bedtime rituals and help reinforce them. Plus you get to snuggle for a bedtime story!

    6. Jamberry

    Pick Me a Berry

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    This is the story of a little boy and a lovable bear who happily romp through the magical world of berries, looking for blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries.

    What fun they have, going under the bridge, over the waterfalls, riding strawberry ponies, and jamming with the berryband.

    This book has vivid colors, beautiful illustrations and the silliest of rhymes. Your child will be happy to join in as you read them aloud.

    7. Adventures with Barefoot Critters

    How About an Adventure?

    Adventures with Barefoot Critters
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    This delightful book takes you on an alphabetical journey through the adventures of cute woodland critters. Every page follows the alphabet and covers the entire year, starting with cleaning the attic in January.

    The adorable illustrations and rhymes will take your child to a magical world while reinforcing their knowledge of the alphabet.

    8. Corduroy

    A Timeless Story

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    This is a heartwarming story of Corduroy, a little bear in a store who wants someone to take him home. One day, a little girl named Lisa comes along and wants to buy him. Her mom says “no,” as the bear is missing a button.

    That night, Corduroy decides to go around the store to find himself a button. He finds a mattress full of buttons and tries to get one. Luckily for him, Lisa comes back for him the very next day and takes him home.

    The book will help teach your child that we all have flaws and that love is not about perfection.

    9. The Cat in the Hat

    Mayhem to Brighten up the Day

    The Cat in the Hat
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    Dick and Sally are home on a rainy day, feeling bored. Suddenly, something goes “bump!” and it’s a cat in a hat.

    The next thing you know, the cat is talking and the fish is talking. The cat has a ton of tricks in his bag, which the fish disapproves of while the children look on helplessly. The house is soon trashed and the children worry about the mess.

    Fortunately, the cat cleans up after himself and leaves before mom comes home. This story combines nonsensical rhymes, funny facial expressions, and delightful naughtiness, to bring lots of laughter.

    10. Lost and Found

    The Lonely Penguin

    Lost and Found
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    A little boy finds a penguin at his door one morning. Presuming he is lost, the boy embarks on a quest to bring him home, which includes traveling to the South Pole.

    The penguin, who hasn’t said anything all this time, looks sad as the boy leaves him behind. The little boy goes back for him but the penguin is no longer there. He’s at sea looking for the little boy.

    The two are reunited and become good friends. This book teaches the value of friendship and caring for others, particularly our animal friends.

    11. The Very Hungry Caterpillar

    Only Healthy Meals Over Here

    The Very Hungry Caterpillar
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    It’s never too early to teach your kids the importance of healthy eating. In this book, we meet the caterpillar while he’s still in an egg. He hatches from the egg feeling very hungry and looks for something to eat.

    All week he eats fruits but on Saturday, he eats unhealthy foods and gets a stomach ache. On Sunday, the caterpillar eats some leaves, feels better and is now set to become a cocoon. The story ends as the caterpillar emerges as a beautiful butterfly.

    The ending in this book serves as a beautiful way for you to start encouraging your child to nurture their dreams.

    Summing It Up

    The best books for 3-year olds are hilarious, informative, and educational, so it’s hard to pick a favorite. If I had to choose one though, I would go for The Wonderful Things You Will Be.

    Its positivity lets your child know that they can be whatever they want to be. You’ll find older children coming back to it, because its message is timeless.

    Books open the door to a world full of fun, imagination, creativity, and learning. It’s just what the doctor ordered for your preschooler.

    Did you enjoy our review of the best books for 3-year-olds? Let us know in the comments — and remember to share.

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