Reading with and to your child can not only be treasured bonding time, it's also proven to help lay the groundwork for reading and learning success throughout their school years. The age of 3, in particular, is when the critical time for reading growth begins— they can listen longer and they are starting to remember and retell stories. Choosing one of the best books for 3-year-olds will help them spark their imagination and ignite creativity as they start to discover (and understand) more about the world around them.
By now you've probably already established a nighttime or nap time routine that involves storytime, but you may be noticing you're being interrupted a lot by your 3-year-old. They're beginning to be able to have conversations using two to three sentences at a time and use other question words— you'll be hearing "why?" quite a lot! — because they are genuinely curious about nearly, well, anything. So books that tap into that curiosity with a mix of whimsical but still easy-to-follow storylines with inviting pictures is ideal.
Toddlers at this age are also now able to follow simple directions, so look for books that ask them to interact (with flaps or prompts) because they are great for developing both cognitive and motor skills. Finally, this is a time where 3-year-olds will start to flex their independence and show their feelings, and that sometimes coincides with big changes in your household like transitioning out of the crib. Books that help ease those emotions are always helpful to have on hand.
Among some of the best books for 3-year-olds below are classics you may recognize from your own childhood, award-winning recipients, and ones that welcome fun, playful participation.
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1. The Best Classic Book
The Story of Ferdinand is a classic tale first published in 1936. It's the story of a sensitive and calm bull who, rather than fight ferociously in Madrid's bullfights like the rest of his friends, would prefer to literally stop and smell the flowers. Besides bits of humor, the best part of this book is that it presents a challenge nearly all children (and their parents) will face one day: conform to others just to be accepted or choose to be "different" and march confidentially to the beat of your own drum.
Besides the simple-but-poignant storyline, the black and white illustrations will also captivate your 3-year-old. Among the more than 1,472 glowing five-star Amazon reviews for this book are several parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and more who mention the fond memories they have of reading Ferdinand from their own childhood. Tip: There's also a companion animated film that you and your toddler can enjoy after you've read the book.
Positive Amazon review: "The gorgeous illustrations and simple, powerful story of the biggest bull on the farm who would rather 'sit just quietly and smell the flowers' is as moving today as it was when it was written more than 50 years ago. And I cannot think of a more important lesson to teach our children today: that it is o.k. to be yourself, even when everyone else thinks you should be something else. This is a sweet, lovely story for children and adults alike, and is one of the few books I look forward to reading over and over again."
2. The Best Interactive Book
As a Caldecott Honor Book, this wordless picture book is a bit of an unexpected "read," but this pick lets your little one flex their motor skills and curiosity by interacting with the book more physically. As they open and close the flaps and turn the pages, a visual story about a little girl named Flora and a flamingo who are trying to dance in sync with one another unfolds. If your child falls in love with this story, there's a whole series of wordless books like Flora and the Penguin and Flora and the Ostrich.
Positive Amazon review: "The book encourages imagination. And with a three-year-old, the imagination and storytelling can be quite hysterical. It certainly brought LOUD giggles to her goodnight book! I will continue to track this author and her books. I was given this book in exchange for an honest review. It is certainly an entertaining book and TRULY encourages imagination! She LOVED it!"
3. The Best For Encouraging Your Child's Imagination
Through simple rhymes and whimsical illustrations (of plants, animals, superheroes, and more) this inspirational story is told from the perspective of a parent who is exploring who their child will grow up to be, and the possibilities extend beyond professions and careers (be bold, clever, or brave are some of the suggestions). The diverse set of children are pictured as everything from a bear to a robot — proving that their imagination can take them far in life. Your 3-year-old will also be reminded of your unconditional love for them no matter who they become, which is a message that will resonate well beyond the preschool years.
Positive Amazon review: "Such a beautiful book. I often read it to my 3 year old before bed. She loves looking at the pictures, asking what some of the animals are on the pages that fold out. I loved it so much I bought another as a gift for my friends daughter who was celebrating her first birthday."
4. A Fun Book That Invites Your Child To Participate & Follow Directions
Similar to pick 2 above, Press Here is another interactive book, but this time it requires more than just opening flaps. The story starts with a yellow dot, which grows, multiplies, and changes colors. Through a set of guided instructions, your little reader is invited to push, shake, rub, and tap the book, keeping them engaged in the story and giving them the magical feeling that their actions are controlling the outcome. Though the book originally debuted in a hardcover format, this version is a board book, which many reviewers note is preferable because it's more durable and allows for much more rough handling.
Positive Amazon review:: "I love this book so much that I bought another one to gift to my nephew! It's very interactive without the need for screens. I read it to my 3 year old toddler and he loves doing all the 'blow' bits where he has to blow the spots and it goes away. He really thinks he blew them away. He also loves shaking the book to 'move' the balls around. Can't say enough nice things about this book."
5. The Best For Fostering Independence At Night
While the timing is different for every child, the age 3 is often when parents decide to make the transition from cribs to toddler beds. This is a big change for your little one, so Llama Llama Red Pajama is an excellent tool to hand to read with them because it can help soothe some of their strong emotions.
In the rhyming tale, Llama Llama works himself into a tizzy at bedtime when he's worried he's alone and can't get his mama's attention (she's downstairs trying to get stuff done and keeps getting interrupted by his screams). When Mama Llama comes back, she's stern but loving as she reassures him she will always be there.
Tip: There are many other excellent books in this series that also teach important lessons, like Llama Llama Time To Share and Llama Llama Mad At Mama. Plus, your little one may also enjoy the Netflix series.
Positive Amazon review: "For the rest of us, who occasionally have a little trouble getting a toddler to go to bed, it's a great little book with a charming rhyme that little ones can relate to. The book clearly demonstrates the way a child can work themselves up into a needless tizzy in a way that my 3 year old could relate to. To my son and me, the main point is the end where Mama Llama reminds Llama Llama that she loves him and is always there even when she can't be seen."