I don’t know any two or three year old that doesn’t love books. Sure, I can name loads of grown ups I know who don’t read much, or who’d rather watch a movie over reading a novel, but kids? They just get so excited about books. My three year old is so happy and grateful if we buy her a new book (Although rather helpfully, when I asked her what her favourite books are, for the purpose of this post, she pouted and said “NONE!”… You’ve gotta love three year olds!) But in reality, she has lots of favourites – those books she wants to read again and again. And because she gets excited, I get excited too and I love discovering new books for kids her age.
So I asked loads of parents I know to recommend the book that their kids were a bit obsessed with at age two or three and I’ve compiled a list of 40 books to read before you’re 4. I’m going to try to work my way through this list before my daughter turns four in September. Our local library card is going to take a right bashing…
1. 13 Words by Lemony Snicket – recommended by Kelly, who says, “It is brilliant, hilarious and beautifully illustrated.”
2. Green Eggs And Ham by Dr Seuss – recommended by Leeanne, saying, “My eldest is called Sam – and that’s the name in the book, so it was a particular favourite of the Dr Seuss books. I find all his books great, as the books are so mad, and the kids just find them great fun. The illustrations are excellent in all the books.”
4. Owl Babies by Martin Waddell – recommended by Gemma. “This was bought for my son when I went away to Spain with friends for three nights without him. It is beautifully illustrated, has haunting words and mother owl came back!”
5. The Baby Who Wouldn’t Go To Bed by Helen Cooper – recommended by Kelly. “Bought at a car boot sale, this book became our bed time adventure every night, with my daughter memorising every word each night. Now my son is turning two and the same floppy, ripped book appears every night.”
6. Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson - recommended by Sarah. “My eldest daughter likes joining in with the bear in this book… especially the big sneeze!”
7. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle – recommended by Nic, saying, “My daughter loves The Very Hungry Caterpillar because she can put her fingers through the holes, she loves that he gets really really fat and then turns into a beautiful butterfly! We love that it is secretly teaching her days of the week, counting, and the idea of the life cycle.”
8. Spider Sandwiches by Claire Freedman – recommended by Debbi. “It’s about a monster called Max who eats things like crunchy cockroach curry and smelly fish eye cheese, eliciting delighted cries of ‘yuck’ and ‘disgusting’!
10. Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell – recommended by Emma. “Dear Zoo is a classic from the early 80s and I remember this one from my own childhood. It explores different animals – all hidden underneath flaps and both my children love to make the animal sounds when they reveal the animal – they roar so loud when we open the lion’s crate that I’m sure the neighbours can hear!”
11 What Colour Are Your Knickers by Sam Lloyd – recommended by Kelly. “It’s a hilarious rhyming lift-the-flap book. The pictures are vibrant and the language simple so it’s a really good book for young children. Added to which, my girls think that knickers is a rude word so they get a real thrill from reading a ‘rude’ book.”
12. Hairy MacLary From Donaldson’s Dairy by Lynley Dodd – recommended by Vanessa. “I loved that after reading a couple of times, the boys remembered the funny rhymes and we all recited them together.”
13. How To Catch A Star by Oliver Jeffers – recommended by Katy. “My three year old son adores How To Catch A Star. Like most pre-schoolers, his favourites change on an almost daily basis but this is one book he will always come back to. He just loves the idea of catching a star and having it as a friend.”
15. Monkey Puzzle by Julia Donaldson – recommended by Lauren who says, “We like Monkey Puzzle because not only is it a lovely story but it’s easy for children to join in too. Our children always have to say the ‘no, no, no’ lines. We also like how it teaches difference between animals in how they look and how they move around.”
16. Peace At Last by Jill Murphy – recommended by Tas. “I bought it because I remembered I loved it as a child too. It’s become our favourite read, especially the line ‘Oh no, I can’t stand this’. Great classic that I think is going to stay a favourite for now.”
18. Mog The Forgetful Cat by Judith Kerr – recommended by @mrskwazii. “We love the pictures – Judith Kerr’s style is lovely, especially the picture of Mog thinking dark thoughts in the dark. I suppose it’s because it’s a simple story, but you’re rooting for the cat who’s a bit of a pain – but who comes up trumps. We like the other Mog stories too. Mog and the Granny is brilliantly bonkers.”
19. Goldilocks And The Three Bears - recommended by Kate, who says, “My daughter had a book of traditional fairytales for Christmas, and Goldilocks is the favourite. Hadn’t realised how scary a few are though!”
22. Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae – recommended by Sarah. “Firstly, any book staring a giraffe called Gerald and featuring chimps doing the cha-cha is a winner for me. Through the book, Gerald learns that ‘we all can dance when we find the music that we love’. It’s a really heart-warming little tale about being being a bit different and finding your own talents.”
25. Big Sarah’s Little Boots by Paulette Bourgeois and Brenda Clark – recommended by Sally, saying, “Big Sarah’s Little Boots helped my daughter come to the terms with the terrible trauma of growing out of your favourite shoes and having to buy new ones.”
27. Lost And Found (pop up) by Oliver Jeffers – recommended by Emma. “It is the most magical pop up book we’ve ever seen, it really brings to life the wonderful artwork and the pop ups are all interactive in some way to help imagine the story actually coming to life. My little boy loves the page with a rowing boat the most, there is a sliding tab to make the little boat move across the page. Every page has something – pop ups, lift up flaps and tabs to pull, there are even pop ups hiding behind flaps!”
29. Barry The Fish With Fingers by Sue Hendra – recommended by Aimee. “We sometimes have to hide this book because otherwise we have to read it every night! The story makes us laugh, and the bright, bold (and sparkly!) illustrations make it easy for the boys to find something new to talk about every time. (Plus, we love that his fingers really do look like glittery fish fingers).”
30. Meg And Mog by Helen Nicoll – recommended by Marianne, saying, “Meg and Mog were the first books my girls fell in love with. They adored the brightly coloured but simple illustrations and the story is told in small phrases but with wit and intelligence. We read them so many times, the girls knew them by heart and refuse to let them go now even if we’ve moved on to ‘Big Girls Books’.”
31. The Highway Rat by Julia Donaldson – recommended by Margaret, who says, “We like The Highway Rat because at three, my son is at that age where sharing and taking turns is increasingly important and I like the way the book shows those lessons of socialisation in a cheerful, colourful way. It also has plenty to talk about on each page so we are building up his vocabulary and understanding.”
32. Topsy And Tim series by Jean Adamson – recommended by Sarah. “Both of my daughters have loved Topsy and Tim because the books are all about situations they can relate to. I have used it for this too – dentist, aeroplane, school etc..to prepare them for things. They also like the puzzle at the end and the map of the village.”
33. Practice Your Phonics With Julia Donaldson’s Song Birds by Julia Donaldson - recommended by Katie. “Her phonics collection is painfully dull to adults, but apparently music to toddler ears! My eldest loves anything that rhymes – so Julia Donaldson pretty much rules in our house.”
34. The Big Snuggle Up by Brian Patten – recommended by Gemma, who says, “My daughters like to guess which animal will come out of the snow next and they love the ending when all the animals are snuggled up inside the house. Also the illustrations and adorable. It’s such a cute book.”
And six books MY daughter loves (even if she does say “NONE” when I ask her which her favourites are!)
35. The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson - This was the first ever Julia Donaldson we read and it’s our firm favourite. I love how it appeals to young kids, but it also has a clever storyline for the grown-ups reading it. That clever mouse!
36. Peppa Pig Fun At The Fair – We have a huge bumper pack of Peppa Pig books but if you only buy one, it should be this one. Why? Because Mummy Pig gets all kick-ass and annoyed when Mr Labrador is sexist. GO Mummy Pig!
37. Miffy by Dick Bruna – My daughter loves this book (even if I don’t think it’s that great – it’s a bit old fashioned with its gender stereotypes and some of the rhyming isn’t spot on.) It’s a calm book, great for a bedtime reading session after a hectic, high energy day.
38. Good Little Wolf by Nadia Shireen – I used to work in teen mags with Nadia, but I’m confident that hasn’t influenced me when I say that this is one of our favourite books. The illustrations are amazing and it’s genuinely funny (especially the end).
39. We’re All Going On A Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen - now this is another book that I kind of don’t really understand the appeal of… but my daughter LOVES it. She has it memorised and can ‘read’ me the story, and gets so excited when the bear appears and the family have to rush back home.
40. Guess How Much I Love You (Pop-Up) by Sam McBratney – this pop up version is just beautiful. We hadn’t read the story before we were given this book but now we love it. It’s sweet, calming and the interactive elements with the pop up pages and flaps make it fun. (Just make sure your child doesn’t rip it… er, like mine did…)
What do you think? Are there any books your child loved at that age, that you’d like to add?