Reading with your child can truly be a bonding experience. But the best books for 4-year-olds can do more than that; they can help your preschooler become more confident as they begin to explore the wide world around them.
At this age, your young reader will still adore picture books but you'll want to update their library with some age-appropriate picks that align to a few key developmental milestones. For one, they now have a much greater attention span, which means books can follow more elaborate storylines and imagery. They are also starting to play make-believe and want to tell you about all the fun ideas floating around in their head, so tales that challenge their imagination will keep them engrossed.
You can also broaden their horizons by tapping into their budding social and emotional skills. Four-year-olds have big feelings about themselves but they are also starting to have empathy for others. Use books as a tool to open up discussions about all of the diverse people and things around the planet they may encounter.
Finally, some kids at this age will start to recognize letters and numbers, and you can make it even more fun for them to practice these skills with educational (but silly) books.
With so many great stories out there for the preschool set, it can be hard to know where to start book shopping. To help you choose the right reads, I've made a list of the best books for 4-year-olds below. You'll find a mix of beautiful picture books, ones that will make them giggle, and ones that will set them on new adventures.
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1. The Best Classic Picture Book
A majority of the more than 500 Amazon reviewers who gave this book a five-star rating all have a similar sentiment about it: it's an all-time classic. "A very favorite book that has been a part of my childhood as well as those of my children and grandchildren," writes one fan.
Though it was published in 1941, the vintage, monochrome illustrations are still as timeless as is the plot, which centers around safety and family togetherness. In the Caldecott Medal-winning book, a mama duck is trying to lead her baby ducklings safely across streets to their new home. The baby ducklings have rhyming names like Jack, Mac, Pack, and Quack, which your child will love to memorize and shout out, and of course, when the policeman stops traffic for the little ducklings to cross, your 4-year-old will be delighted.
Positive Amazon review: "This was my all-time favorite book as a child. When I saw it on Amazon, I bought it for my 4-year-old nephew. We had seen a little family of ducks when I took him out on the golf course, so he was particularly interested in this book. He liked it so much he brought it for reading time at his school!"
2. Another Great Classic That Encourages The Imagination
Like the pick above, Where The Wild Things Are is another Caldecott Medal-winning picture book, only this one tip toes away from reality and into a land of fantasy featuring whimsical creatures and illustrations.
By the age of 4, most kids will start to enjoy making up stories, so it's easy to see why so many them fall in love with this book and its lead character, Max. After he's sent to his room for misbehaving, he ends up escaping to an imaginary jungle where the "wild things" make him king. Your child will be entertained by the fun phrases and gestures that flow with the text, and you'll like the subtle lesson that they will always be loved.
Positive Amazon review: "I remember this book from my childhood, and when my daughter became old enough, I bought a hard cover edition for her. It's her favorite bedtime story. She is 4 years old and can recite almost the entire book from memory.It's the simplest of stories, but the thing that always strikes me is the faith that home is the place where you are loved most of all, and supper will always be waiting for you."
3. The Best Book For Sparking Creativity
Books with fun pictures and drawings like in Harold and the Purple Crayon are a great way to keep your 4-year-old engaged and smiling throughout storytime. Plus, this pick has a highly imaginative element to it beyond just the artwork. The story follows the moonlit adventure of Harold as he uses his favorite purple crayon to draw himself into whatever scene he wants to creates next.
The underlying message — the power to bring your dreams to life is in literally in your hands— is fantastic. As is the the way the book culminates. "It takes about 10 minutes to read aloud and ends with Harold heading off to sleep," notes one Amazon fan. "In short, it's a perfect bedtime story."
Positive Amazon Review: "This classic story grabbed the attention of our 4 year old son from the first read. Now, hundreds of readings later, he still loves Harold. The simplicity of the story and the illustrations are soothing to both my son and me. I love reading this uncomplicated and yet symbolic story over and over again as much as my son loves hearing it over and over again."
4. The Best Book For Building Letter Skills
By age 4, your child is likely starting to recognize letters and objects more and more. This colorful book will help them continue to hone those skills in a repetitive but adorably playful way. In the story, the lowercase letters go in alphabetical order up a coconut tree, only to weigh it down so much that it goes "Chicka chicka. . . BOOM! BOOM!" (See, it's funny just to see those words, imagine how much your little one will giggle when you say them aloud!) Then, the more adult capital letter friends have to come help them. As an added bonus, the colors and scenery are also as lively as the story itself.
Positive Amazon review: "My 3 & 4 year old love this book, and I have so much fun reading it to them. They love the funny words and how it is written with a nice rhythm. I have tried many alphabet books with my kids, and this is the only one we have found that keeps their attention from end to end. My 4year walks around chanting the verses from the book because it is so naturally easy to memorize. It not only teaches the letters but that there are both upper-case (adults in this story) and lower-case (the kids) letters.."
5. The Best For Teaching Little Explorers About The Planet
With so many accolades from some of the most esteemed of literary outlets (TIME Magazine, NPR, and The Boston Globe, to name a few), Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth has proven it deserves a place on every child's bookshelf. The author and illustrator Oliver Jeffers actually wrote it for his preschool-aged son as a way to help explain the most fundamental parts of our planet, from the solar system to the ocean, and the sky. Beyond the educational subject matter, the moral message about treating the Earth — and each other – with kindness is an important one for 4-year-olds as they start to navigate their own sense of empathy.
This pick has an average 4.8-star rating from more than 680 Amazon fans who also applaud it for the "breathtaking" and "dreamy" illustrations drawn by Jeffers.
Positive Amazon review: "A really thought-provoking and beautiful book that my 4-year-old enjoyed. She keeps talking about how everyone she will know lives on planet earth and asking a lot of questions about the universe so it's definitely got her thinking! Very sweet and even kind of choked up reading it to her. We own a few of his books so far and as usual, Oliver Jeffers never disappoints."
6. The Best Book For Keeping Them Engaged And Entertained
Your little one won't know where to look first when they get their hands on this classic Richard Scarry book, and that's a good thing! As they follow the diverse set of community members doing their jobs around "Busytown," you'll be able to ask them to tell you what they think is going on as they point from one intricate drawing (or storyline) to the next. This makes it's even more fun for them because you're involving them in the process. There's so much to see, in fact, that some reviewers report their kids wanting to spend hours with it. And every time they come back, they're likely to find something new.
Positive Amazon review: "Got this for my 4 year old daughter for Christmas. She loves it. She really likes learning about all the different people and what they do. I don't think we've made it through all the people yet which is great. It's a big book that holds her attention for a long time. It does seem to be outdated a bit on some of the explanations of things, but it's easy enough to explain the new way of doing things."