Picture books for toddlers I should not miss
November 11, 2019 8:34 AM   Subscribe

My three-year-old has, overnight, lost interest in baby board books and wants real paper, and stories. Yay! Reading with him is so much more fun now that it’s not just pointing out all the fire trucks. Where do I go from here?

Background: he used to spend hours with books like Richard Scarry series, pointing out all the things. He has been in a bit of a slump lately and not reading so much—Then I read a comment in, of all places, a potty training book, about people who don’t level up their kids environment when they hit the big kids stage. So on a whim, I got a story book with real paper and a plot, and he loved it. He has been acting it out with his little people ever since!

I don’t know why didn’t think about this sooner but it’s just what he needed and now I’m looking for some more books. We have tried, and liked: Goodnight Moon, No David, Go Dog Go and Harry Mclarry. We have Dr. Seuss and Robert Munsch. What are some great no miss books for kids this age who are growing out of the board books?
posted by ficbot to Media & Arts (34 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I’m sure you will get lots of great ideas here—but don’t forget using your local children’s librarian as another resource. Librarians LOVE these types of questions!!!
posted by bookmammal at 8:41 AM on November 11 [13 favorites]

Our soon-to-be-3 year-old especially loved these books when he transitioned out of board books:

High Five by Adam Rubin;
Mother Bruce
by Ryan Higgins

He's really started to like us reading him some very simple "chapter" books recently like the Henry and Mudge Books by Cynthia Rylant
and the Frances Books by Russel Hoban
posted by dpaul at 8:46 AM on November 11 [1 favorite]

Get a load of childrens books, the more the better, put them on a bookshelf within his reach (in his bedroom or the living room) and let him choose.
You should be able to get a big box of books second hand locally for very cheap; check your local facebook market groups or charity shops or similar.

Also, get to the library.

posted by richb at 8:46 AM on November 11 [1 favorite]

My 3 y/o likes the Frog & Toad books more than I expected, given the ratio of text to pictures and their somewhat old-fashioned-ness.
posted by alleycat01 at 8:52 AM on November 11

Nthing that the library is the solution here. Get a special basket or area in your house -- maybe in his room, maybe in a more public spot -- and this is now your library basket that is going to be overflowing with great books.

Also - check with the library, because your son may be able to have his own card at this age, and that was a Very Big Deal with my son -- "Hand the librarian your card now" -- it's a very Big Boy thing!
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:52 AM on November 11 [7 favorites]

Curious George - the compilation of the originals as our favorite.

Little Blue Truck and Goodnight Construction Site are nice in-between (good until 4).

My kids got an absurd amount of mileage from Lego chapter books like Fire in the Forest (scholastic but also on Amazon) that you can buy in a set of 4 or 5.

At 4 my kid loves 5 minute Marvel stories (note: content warning, fighting etc) as he feels like he is being a big kid like his older brother.
posted by typecloud at 8:53 AM on November 11

Adam Rubin definitely - Dragons love tacos and Pizza Party have a better storyline than High Five but they are all fun

Elephant and Piggy, and the Pigeon (lookup Moe Williams).
posted by typecloud at 8:55 AM on November 11 [5 favorites]

My son is 2.5. At the moment he's really into Pig the Pug, Pete the Cat and Olivia and anything by Julia Donaldson (her books are printed as board books, too, but they're real plot/story books). He also has a bunch of favourite Robert Munsch stories (Jonathan Cleaned Up, the Paper Bag Princess, Thomas' Snowsuit*, Red Yellow and Green, Where is Gah-Ning, Millicent and the Wind). Barbara Reid is another author to watch for. Oh and the "If you give a ____ a ___" books (if you give a mouse a cookie, if you give a moose a muffin, etc. etc.) are big hits. Llama llama continues to be a favourite series.

As a younger baby he really liked "interactive" books along the lines of "Don't push the button." (+halloween version, christmas version, easter version). So I just got him some levelled up versions of that: "Press Here" and "Say Zoop" which he is loving. If your kid loved pointing things out, then go ask your friendly librarian for books where there are lots of things to point out.

He's also really enjoyed from the library "Giant Pants"and "Mother Bruce"

Note that almost all little-kid books seem to be about boys. If this is something you care about, you're going to have to be pro-active about correcting this. If you basically make decisions by series/author then it will be easy to remember. For example, what I do: llama llama stays male because he seems to be in a choice mom family so their family structure mirrors ours and that's nice for my son to have. Pete stays male because he has a very gendered name. Pig the Pug is female (because that name isn't gendered, so I just have to switch the pronouns in the book). I don't re-gender Robert Munsch books because he actually has a good mix. I regender all the if you give a ____ a ____ books because they don't have names so it's easy to just switch pronouns and I find that the genders/activities are a little stereotype-y and I want to shake those up. For "ensemble cast" type books I alternate genders in the ensemble portion beginning with female (e.g. in the Gruffalo and the Gruffalo's child the snake is female, owl is male, fox is female). It sounds complicated, but trying to actually buy/borrow stories that are gender-balanced is essentially impossible. Publishers think boys won't read about girls and so they create that world.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:59 AM on November 11 [3 favorites]

My 3yo is enjoying the following:

We're Going on a Bear Hunt
Little Critter set of stories
Various Daniel Tiger books like this one
posted by crunchy potato at 9:11 AM on November 11

My 3.5 year old loves the Jon Klassen books, and I love his illustrations. Others we've gotten off Amazon that he asks us to read over and over, and are fun for us to read to him: Giraffes Can't Dance, Grumpy Monkey, The Day the Crayons Quit, Seeds and Trees, Rosie Revere, The Snowy Day, Scribble Stones, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Day; and then, of course, like so many others have said, the library has been a great resource.

If you're focusing on inclusivity and safety in children's literature, there are problematic elements in many classics, including the Curious George series, The Giving Tree, and Are You My Mother, among others.
posted by Everydayville at 9:21 AM on November 11 [1 favorite]

There are so many. It was really helpful for us to develop a library habit. This will also help your reading habits to naturally grow with him. (My 3.5 year old is wandering into the juvenile nonfiction picture books section.)

But, stories! I second the Henry and Mudge books, if he's ready for them. This Tiger, Tiger book is one we got from the library and finally found second hand because it was such a favorite. Right now he's really into Bad Pirate. Honestly, it's hard for me to predict which books will be the ones he will want to hear a hundred times, which is why I love going to the library and checking out 15 books at a time.
posted by slidell at 9:27 AM on November 11

Along with "Henry and Mudge", you also have the delightful "Mr. Putter and Tabby" books, featuring Mr. Putter (old and creaky); his good cat, Tabby (also kind of old and creaky); Mrs. Teaberry (old, but not at all creaky); and her not-exactly-good-but-he-tries dog, Zeke.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 9:34 AM on November 11 [2 favorites]

llama Llama's friend Nelly gnu has her own book in which she helps her father build a playhouse
posted by brujita at 9:54 AM on November 11 [1 favorite]

nthing your local library -- not just for recommendations but for story time and other get-out-of-the-house-and-do-something-book-related activities.

Some specific recommendations:

If you live in the US, you may not be familiar with Judith Kerr, who is justifiably beloved in the UK. Mog the Forgetful Cat and The Tiger Who Came To Tea are my two favorites of hers.

Harry The Dirty Dog, Are You My Mother?, and Caps for Sale are all books I loved as a kid, and then had the pleasure of watching my kids love, too.

Where Is The Cake? and its sequel Where Is The Cake Now? are wonderful wordless books. They have that enchanting Richard Scarry packed-with-details feeling, but with more of a story. Inexplicably, they are no longer in print, but you can buy them used from various online sites.

PS I wrote a picture book that has absolutely fantastic illustrations by Caldecott honoree Vera Brosgol. It feels inappropriately self-promotional to link to it here but you can find it in my profile.
posted by yankeefog at 10:08 AM on November 11 [1 favorite]

Mo Willems, Pigeon & Elephant series
Maurice Sendak
posted by TravellingCari at 10:32 AM on November 11 [3 favorites]

Sandra Boynton has books available in both board and regular form.

Agree with both Mo Willems and Anna Dewdney (Llama Llama et al). Also Eric Carle (Very Hungry Caterpillar)!
posted by Huffy Puffy at 10:46 AM on November 11

I loved the Sesame Street Dictionary when I was a kid, and now my 3yo loves it too.

Seconding Mo Willems!

Richard Scarry has some bigger paper books like Going Places that she also loves.
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 10:46 AM on November 11

I second everyone's suggestion here, and would like to add a few that I haven't seen mentioned yet:

Anything illustrated by Dan Yaccarino. My favorites: Trashy Town, Doug Unplugged, and Morris Mole.

7 ATE 9 by Tara Lazar (don't forget the sequel, THE UPPER CASE)

Anything illustrated by Jules Feiffer, especially, Bark, George. (Ok, maybe not the more adult books.)

Andrea Beatty, besides being known for the Rosie Revere, Engineer books, she also has the hilarious Ted series.
posted by toastyk at 11:18 AM on November 11

I love reading Room on the Broom (by Julia Donaldson, also mentioned above) with my almost 3 year old nephew. The story and art are really sweet, it's fun to read (good for voices), and there's actually a short video of it on Netflix if that increases interest.
posted by kochenta at 11:29 AM on November 11 [1 favorite]

One more: Stephen Savage, illustrator - Where's Walrus, which is a wordless book.
posted by toastyk at 11:31 AM on November 11

My son (who is now 13 years old) and I still talk about our two favorite books from when he was a toddler: Truck Stuck by Sallie Wolf (read it slowly and look carefully at all of the illustrations. There are lots of little stories within the story) and Night Shift by Jessie Hartland.
posted by mezzanayne at 12:04 PM on November 11 [1 favorite]

The Giant Jam Sandwich was always a hit with my daughter.

But what she really loved was comic books--if you have any leanings at all that way, I heartily recommend the Tiny Titans series by Art Baltazar and Franco.
posted by Kafkaesque at 3:37 PM on November 11 [1 favorite]

A Number of Animals is a new classic
posted by misterbrandt at 5:05 PM on November 11

Somebody mentioned Robert Munsch earlier and I will endorse that wholeheartedly. Get the "Munschworks" collection. We must have read each story hundreds of times between the ages of 2 and 4.
posted by ethorson at 5:05 PM on November 11

Voyage To the Bunny Planet by Rosemary Wells (actually a set of 3 books).
posted by gudrun at 5:43 PM on November 11

Somebody mentioned Robert Munsch earlier and I will endorse that wholeheartedly. Get the "Munschworks" collection. We must have read each story hundreds of times between the ages of 2 and 4.

I have some Munschworks, both bought by myself before I was even thinking of having a kid, and gifted at my shower. But I read somewhere -- maybe here -- that the collection books (not just Munsch but in general) aren't great, because they just get read less frequently than standalone books. They're too big and unwieldy and usually you're just going to grab a book of the shelf, not a volume. This, it turns out, rings true in my experience. So if (OP) you think you might have this same book-over-volume inclination, just get standalone paperbacks. They're available through scholastic reading club super cheap (like think $3-5 per book).

(Btw, obviously a 3yo is not in school yet, but it turns out daycares can do scholastic too...I suggested to my son's daycare that they start doing it and it turned out they already do and just don't publicize. You can order online and the stuff will be in your kids cubby a week later).
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:02 PM on November 11

Seconding Julián is a Mermaid.

I love Windows by Julia Denos
posted by azalea_chant at 9:04 PM on November 11

Stellaluna, about a baby bat who temporarily gets separated from her mother. Content notes: Scary owl; baby falling from height.

Tuesday, or any other book by David Wiesner.
posted by Weftage at 7:37 AM on November 12

Nthing, forever, all the Frances and Frog & Toad books. Along these lines, three more by Lobel that I don’t see listed yet: Owl at Home, Mouse Tales, and Mouse Soup. All beautiful, simple, and a little weird.

Also, the George and Martha books (by James Marshall) are sweet and simple and still have an offbeat sense of humor.
posted by miles per flower at 10:39 AM on November 12

Little Critter series

Berenstain Bears series

The Little Critter books are more basic than the Berenstain Bears books.

Arthur series (careful not to buy the chapter books unless for older children)

Blue’s Clues series

Curious George series

Franklin series

Froggy series

Little Miss series

Mr. Men series

Elephant and Piggie series

Mr. Putter & Tabby series

Richard Scarry books (Scarry, not scary!)

Madeline series

Typically more girl-oriented:

Eloise series

Angelina Ballerina series

Ella Bella, Ballerina series

Fancy Nancy series

Ladybug Girl series

Pinkalicious series

If you need more suggestions, for now or later, feel free to message me. When he gets a little older, I think the Bill Peet books are a lot of fun.
posted by Dansaman at 11:09 PM on November 12

Just FYI in case it matters to you, there are some Berenstain Bears books that are overtly religious. As far as I know, most of those probably have a clue in the title, with words such as God, prayer, etc.
posted by Dansaman at 11:45 PM on November 12

The kids should see this gift guide: books category is full of excellent books with reviews of why they're excellent attached. Of twelve books Ive bought off that list only one was, imo, a dud. (The book of mistakes)

I find that making a conscious choice to almost exclusively buy books about girls leads to around 50/50 gender representation because the default is heavily skewed so basically every book we get second-hand/as a gift/hand me down/whatever is about a boy.
posted by Cozybee at 3:23 AM on November 13

Still Stuck has been a big hit with my classes of 2-4 year olds.
posted by emmling at 7:00 AM on November 13

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