Reading to my little one before bed continues to be one of my favorite things about being a parent. If you’re looking to beef up your own collection, or need to find a great gift for a lucky kiddo, this list will give you somewhere to start. Some of the books that I recommend for the littlest kids are also great for older kids once they start reading (especially the Mo Willems books).
One final note: I didn’t include any Dr. Seuss books, because those are just a given! Especially Yertle the Turtle, The Sleep Book, and The Sneeches. (Don’t look now, but I just snuck three more books in!).
10 Favorite Picture Books // Ages 1-3
- BabyLit books // Wonderful primers on numbers, colors, weather, opposites, and other basic concepts, all based on literary classics and adorably illustrated.
- Elephant & Piggie books, Pigeon books, Knuffle Bunny books // Lovable characters (like a grumpy pigeon), funny situations (like playing catch with a snake), and important lessons (like outgrowing old toys) make these totally addictive and fun for both kids and parents.
- Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site // For any kiddo going through the inevitable truck phase, this will surely please.
- No, David! // A silly book about unconditional love that will have everyone giggling.
- Edgar Gets Ready for Bed // Sweet bedtime book based on Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven.”
- I Want My Hat Back & This is Not My Hat // Hilarious (though slightly morbid) stories of lost hats, and the animals who get them back.
- Sam and Dave Dig a Hole // Exasperating and adorable, this one will have you craving chocolate milk and animal cookies.
- Press Here // An interactive book that lets kids move dots around the pages in fun ways.
- Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? // The classic never disappoints, and is great to revisit with a beginning reader.
- Mouse Mess // One of our family favorites about a mouse who ransacks the kitchen in the middle of the night and then bails. The beautiful illustrations really make this one.
10 Favorite Picture Books // Ages 3-5
- While You Were Napping // Hilarious book by the author of Department of Speculation, where a big sister narrator tells a fanciful tale of everything her little brother missed while he was asleep.
- Tango Makes Three // A sweet story about a penguin with two daddies.
- One by Kathryn Otoshi // One of the best anti-bullying books we’ve come across—pro compassion, pro friendship, and pro inclusion. For other books with great lessons (like the importance of perseverance in the face of initial failure), check out the awesome, wonderfully illustrated series of books by Andrea Beaty: Rosie Revere, Engineer, Ada Twist, Scientist, and Iggy Peck, Architect.
- President Taft is Stuck in the Bath // A hilarious description of President Taft’s legendary battle with his bathtub.
- The Book With No Pictures // Even with no pictures, this book is fun for parents to read and will have kids rolling on the floor in hysterics. (For a book with no words, check out the beautiful Sidewalk Flowers.)
- All of the Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri books (Dragons Love Tacos, Dragons Love Tacos 2: The Sequel, Those Darn Squirrels, Secret Pizza Party, Robo-Sauce) // These books are solid gold.
- Last Stop on Market Street // Lovely story about a boy and his grandma, the things we take for granted, and why we do good deeds.
- Stuck // Fun and hilariously illustrated book about a boy who keeps throwing things into a tree, and, well, you guessed it—they all get stuck.
- The Day the Crayons Quit & The Day the Crayons Came Home // Funny tales about disgruntled crayons, and their gripes, demands, and adventures.
- The Curious Garden // Beautiful book about a boy who sees a couple of flowers in an old railway and helps bring a city to life.
5 Favorite Chapter Books for Reading Aloud to Pre-Readers
- The Phantom Tollbooth // One of my favorite books from childhood, and it really stands up today. My son loved all of the characters, even though when we read it he was too young to understand everything. Can’t wait to revisit it again with him!
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe // A classic for a reason, this one had my son rapt until the end.
- Charlotte’s Web // Sad but sweet story that continues to help kids learn about death and moving on.
- Matilda // Hands down, probably the most fun I’ve had reading to my son. A perfect, silly, hilarious, mischievous book.
- The Boxcar Children // I admit, I found this a little bit bland, but my son absolutely loved it and begged me to read it. Something about kids on their own, finding spoons in junk yards and making their own swimming pool really hits the spot.
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Bekah is a lawyer who develops Michigan legal practice resources. She lives in Lafayette Park, Detroit, with her husband, Jason, and son, Isaac, and enjoys taking advantage of all of the activities right next door, from Tigers games to the Riverfront attractions. Bekah and her family especially love hosting visitors and talking about Detroit and its virtues with anyone who will listen.