At age three, our children are exploring the world in new ways. Their imaginations are active like never before and the landscape of their rooms can transform into an island like that of Max in “Where the Wild Things Are” in the blink of an eye. Their capacity for sharing and kindness is massive, as is their boundless energy (are they asleep yet?) and, let’s face it, they show their threenager side too with erratic behavior we can’t explain. 

That’s why if you can get your three-year-old to actually sit and look at a book, you’re already winning! Cultivating a love for reading and an appreciation for books is something we can foster at an early age—as long as we put exciting, fun, age-appropriate literature in their little hands.

Related: 30+ awesome holiday gifts for the 3-year-old in your life

How to choose the best books for three-year-olds

There’s no magic formula of what makes a “good” book for a toddler, but you might notice that little kids do have preferences when it comes to reading. Some kids like texture and prefer books that are soft, like the Montessori busy book style. Others do better with the sturdy pages of board books. Also, think about what your child gets excited about. If your three-year-old is an animal-lover or is obsessed with tractors, a book where all the characters live on a farm might be the perfect fit.

Also, look for books that not only peak their interest, but also spark their creativity and imagination while helping them learn. The more fun they have, the more they giggle at silly things characters do, and the more they are inspired when someone does something brave or shows true kindness to someone else, the more invested your three-year-old will be in the magic of reading.

This list of books for toddlers has a number of classic board books, several tried-and-true bedtime tales, and some stories that three-year-olds, in particular, will delight in. We’ve got books full of stories within stories and books you’ll love reading again and again with them (because we promise you, reading the same book with a three-year-old is never exactly the same). 

Related: 10 best Montessori busy books to keep your little one entertained while learning

The best books for 3 year olds

you are not small book

You Are Not Small by Anna Kang, illustrated by Christopher Weyant

Three-year-olds are just at that age when they feel much bigger than they physically are. They aren’t babies, but they still get called babies from time to time. Anna Kang captures this sentiment perfectly in the simple text of this Theodor Seuss Geisel Award-winning book, and your little-big-ones will completely relate to this one.

we are grateful book

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell, illustrated by Frane Lessac

Three-year-olds have an amazing capacity for kindness and sharing. In the Cherokee community, the word otsaliheliga (oh-jah-LEE-hay-lee-gah) is used to express gratitude. Written by Traci Sorell, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, beginning in the fall with the Cherokee New Year, little readers follow a year of celebrations and experiences, with the expression of otsaliheliga, gratitude, throughout the year, accompanied by gorgeous illustrations. 

Dragons Love Tacos book

Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri

Everyone loves dragons. And everyone loves tacos. So a book about dragons loving tacos sounds like a good one, doesn’t it? This New York Times best-seller is about the power of luring dragons to your party by serving a mouth-watering variety of chicken tacos, beef tacos, big tacos and small tacos! But… what happens when you accidentally serve fire-breathing dragons spicy salsa?! Read this laugh-out-loud tale to find out!

And, if your little one loves Dragons Love Tacos as much as we think they will, don’t forget to check out the sequel Dragons Love Tacos 2.

last stop on market st book

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson

A Caldecott Honor award winner and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book, this beautiful book takes kids on a trip across town with C.J. and his Nana on a trip they take every Sunday, until one day when C.J. wonders why they don’t have a car like his friend, and why they always get off in the “dirty part of town.” The book is both a celebration of the bond between a grandparent and grandchild, an exploration of life in a city and a reminder about perspective and the joy in the unexpected. 

stop bot book

Stop, Bot! by James Yang

Once you crack open this book from author-illustrator James Yang, you won’t be surprised that it was the winner of the 2020 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for most distinguished American book for beginning readers. The “bot” in the book escapes from a little boy’s hands and as it floats away like a balloon it passes pages and pages of rich city and building details your children will absolutely love pointing out. It’s one of those books that have stories within the story and they will delight in telling you new stories each time you open it.

thank you omu book

Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora

In the Igbo language, Omu (Ah-Moo) means queen, but growing up, author-illustrator Oge Mora always used it to mean Grandma. As a tribute to one of the strong female role models in her life, Oge Mora wrote this book about a woman who makes a big pot of delicious stew, so delicious everyone wants to try it…until the pot is empty. What happens when Omu has been so generous there is nothing left for herself? A lesson in kindness and generosity that your little ones will not soon forget.

llama llama red pajama

Llama, Llama, Red Pajama! by Anna Dewdney

This one might already be in rotation for bedtime stories, but if it’s not, your three-year-old will love the repetitive, rhyming enough to start repeating it themselves, a first step to learning to read independently. The late Anna Dewdney’s classic holds a place in every parent’s heart, and when you read this together, you’ll know why: it perfectly captures “I don’t want to go to bed” syndrome in the most adorable way.

the pigeon needs a bath book

The Pigeon Needs a Bath by Mo Willems

It’s hard to pick just one Mo Willems book for any list. From the Elephant and Piggie series showcasing undying, hilarious friendship to the pigeon and his antics, Mo Willems is one of our all-time favorite kid authors. For any parent whose willful three-year-old just won’t take a bath (or just won’t do anything for seemingly senseless reasons), this book is utterly hysterical. Read it together and you’ll see exactly what we mean. 

my first book of planets book

My First Book of Planets: All About the Solar System for Kids by Bruce Betts, PhD

Finding nonfiction for kids under five can actually be a challenge, but this big book of planets is one of the best. This book is packed with beautiful images of our solar system and planets and tons of fun age-appropriate space facts for young kids ready to explore the solar system.

the snowy day book

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

Another classic book that every three-year-old should have access to, this beautiful book taps into the joy of a child experiencing new things with pure joy, something a toddler can show such gusto for. Join Peter as he explores his snowy day, just as he did back in 1962 when this book was first published.

Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site Excavator's 123

Excavator's 123: Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site! by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Ethan Long

A new twist on a classic favorite, Excavator’s 123: Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site takes a story that little vehicle lovers already know and adds in a number sequence! With this adorable board book, your little reader can retell a familiar tale while practicing their numbers 1-10.

rainbow first book of pride

Rainbow: A First Book of Pride by Michael Genhart Ph.D., illustrated by Anne Passchier

Although this book could be introduced at a younger age, there’s something about three-year-olds and their love of rainbows that will make this book resonate with this crowd in particular! Taking the colors of pride and breaking it down by what each color represents (red means life, orange is for healing) young children are given the deeper meaning behind the pride rainbow and invited to celebrate the beauty and strength of the LGBTQIA+ community. 

where the wild things are book

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Let’s face it: kids of this age are a little untamed so there’s no doubt they’ll relate to the wild things in this book. But even more so, their unhinged imaginations and incredible capacity for curiosity and exploration, even from the comfort of their bed, are themes that match the book perfectly. They probably won’t get all that top-level stuff: they’re more likely to cheer with delight as Max escapes the boring walls of his room.

the monster at the end of this book

The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone, illustrated by Michael Smollin

Oh, Grover. He never gets old, and neither does this classic book that we’re betting you might have read when you were a kid. Although it’s a silly, sweet little golden book, it’s also incredibly smart—the book takes kids through a series of pages where Grover is terribly afraid of a monster at the end of the book, only to reveal it is cute, loveable, furry Grover himself (and nothing to be afraid of), helping kids understand that everyone has fears but sometimes they are bigger in our heads than they are in reality. 

goodnight already book

Goodnight, Already! by Jory John, illustrated by Benji Davies

Okay, so there might be a theme on this list when it comes to goodnight books…maybe that’s because this is the age when kids start really resisting the idea of bedtime with a vengeance? This one is a silly back and forth between a duck and a bear: parents will relate to the exhausted, fairly patient bear and the exuberant, child-like duck dynamic. 

i dream of popo book

I Dream of Popo by Livia Blackburne, illustrated by Julia Kuo

When a young girl immigrates from Taiwan with her family, she leaves behind her beloved grandmother, her Popo. This sweet, rhyming story tells of her visits and her missing her grandmother and invites readers into the heart of what it is like to be so far from loved ones. Not only does this book invoke empathy for the immigrant experience, but all pandemic children kept far from their grandparents will relate to the heartsick feelings of being so far from the special people they love. 

A version of this article was published May 6, 2022. It has been updated.