Preschool is a crucial time in a child’s development, and one of the best ways to encourage them is through reading. Even one book a day helps to build a child’s literacy, language skills, cognition, and connection. Classic preschool books are an ideal way to introduce these young children to the joy of reading and spark their imagination and creativity.
From timeless favorites to lesser-known gems, there are plenty of preschool books that have stood the test of time and captured the hearts and minds of children everywhere. If you’re seeking the best classic preschool books, start here for 20 books every child should read.
The Best Classic Preschool Books
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
One of the best-selling preschool books of all time, this story is made even better by its unmistakable illustrations. The Very Hungry Caterpillar follows a caterpillar as he eats his way through an assortment of foods, from leaves to ice cream to burgers, until he is so stuffed that he needs a rest. The rest turns into a cocooning period, and the caterpillar emerges as a butterfly. Children love the laundry list of food items and get to learn about the metamorphosis process along the way.
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
The ultimate bedtime story, Goodnight Moon keeps children’s interest through a calming rhyme schema and simple illustrations. A single room is shown, with each individual item called out and subsequently bid a goodnight. It would be safe to guess that most adults know at least part of this book by heart because of its popularity through the years.
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
While the book Madeline is a great place to start, this lovable heroine is the star of a series of many books. The series follows Madeline, the smallest girl in her orphanage and the only redhead. She is the group’s troublemaker, constantly running off in the city and giving Miss Clavel a headache. In the first book, Madeline is rushed to the hospital with a ruptured appendix. The rhyming scheme and unique illustrations make Madeline a great choice for any child.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
Though Silverstein is known for his poetry, The Giving Tree is one of his most enduring works. The book follows a young boy and a tree, who grow up together. The tree is personified and loves the boy, giving him everything he needs to grow and learn throughout his life, from shade to apples. But as the boy grows, he becomes distant from the tree, taking enough from it that it is reduced to a stump. In his old age, he returns to the stump to rest. A parable about love, sacrifice, and appreciation, The Giving Tree is a well-loved tale.
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
The rhyming pattern of any Dr. Seuss book is lyrical in a way that keeps the attention of children of all ages, and Green Eggs and Ham is no exception. Throughout the book, the main character insists he does not like the odd food, engaging in an escalating back and forth with Sam I Am about all the ways he will not eat them. In the end, he tries the green eggs and ham and loves them. Not only will children love the silly images and musical story, but they may be willing to try a new food after reading this book!
The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
One of Dr. Seuss’ most beloved books, The Cat in the Hat retains the author’s skill for rhyming in a more traditional standard format. When Sally and her brother are stuck at home on a rainy day, a cat in a hat mysteriously appears to liven up their day. The cat causes chaos in the house, which is entertaining at first, but soon leads to worry about the children’s mother returning to the mess. But the cat’s antics continue as he cleans the home, leaving the children wondering if they dreamed up the encounter.
Corduroy by Don Freeman
The titular character Corduroy in this book is a teddy bear, who lives in a department store. When a young girl named Lisa wants to buy Corduroy, her mother refuses because he is missing a button. But Corduroy is determined to have a home, and goes on a nighttime adventure through the store to repair his overalls, encountering many obstacles along the way. Ultimately, Lisa returns to find his button fixed, and Corduroy finds a home with her. This is a heartwarming tale of friendship, perseverance, and embracing imperfections.
Are You My Mother? By P.D. Eastman
When a mother bird leaves her nest, she expects her egg to stay where it is – but the baby bird hatches instead. Not understanding where his mother has gone, the bird begins an adventure to find her. Along the way, he encounters a series of animals, all of whom say they are not the bird’s mother. The bird nearly gives up on his search but finds himself back in his nest, where his mother returns and he shares his tale with her. Are You My Mother? Has a dynamic plot and a variety of animals that will draw children in.
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
One of the most beloved stories there is, The Velveteen Rabbit is the story of a stuffed rabbit who longs to become real. The book follows the journey of the rabbit, who is owned by a young boy. While he is the favorite toy, the others mock him for not being real, which he comes to associate with being loved. Eventually, the rabbit becomes sick and the boy’s nanny must get rid of the germs when a magical fairy appears to transform the rabbit into a real, live rabbit as he has always wished. A classic tale about the power of love and being our true selves, this book is loved by children of all ages.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
When Max is sent to bed without supper, he imagines a wild adventure in a far-off land, full of fierce monsters. Max imagines himself becoming king of the wild things, who he leads on a wild rumpus. He eventually grows tired and returns home to find his dinner waiting. Where the Wild Things Are is a celebration of the power of a child’s imagination and ability to transform reality, the comfort of home, and self-expression.
The Family Book by Todd Parr
A modern classic, The Family Book is a colorful and silly book that celebrates every kind of family. The book focuses on the many different ways families can look, with different backgrounds, races, religions, and configurations. The book emphasizes that every family is special and unique, with its own ways of expressing love, all in a way that is designed for young children to understand.
Dragon Loves Tacos by Adam Rubin
Children often love the absurd, and Dragon Loves Tacos uses a silly premise perfectly to teach a lesson in kindness. In the book, a young boy throws a party for dragons, who are known to love tacos but hate spicy salsa. While the boy tries to accommodate this, he uses the wrong salsa, and the dragons accidentally breathe fire that burns down his house. However, they quickly come together to rebuild, in a story about awareness and repairing mistakes as a community.
The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
Full of holographic images, The Rainbow Fish is a classic book that follows a beautiful fish with shimmering scales. While all the other fish are jealous, the rainbow fish refuses to share his scales, wanting to keep the beauty to himself. But after consulting with a wise octopus, he decides to share his scales with other fish, who each receive one rainbow scale. In the end, the fish feels accepted by its peers and learns a valuable lesson about sharing and giving.
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr.
A perfect introduction to the alphabet, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is a story about the letters of the alphabet racing each other up a coconut tree. But the tree can’t handle the weight, and the letters all fall out, then try to climb up again with each other’s help. Often recited as a song, the book teaches children about letters through repetition and rhyming.
Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey
In this beloved book with simple illustrations, Sal and her mother head to Blueberry Hill to pick blueberries for the winter. As her mother picks berries, Sal eats them and wanders off into the woods, where she finds a mother bear and her cub also looking for blueberries. Sal follows the mother bear, while the cub finds her mother, and the pairs eventually reunite, each with plenty of blueberries. Blueberries for Sal is a gentle and charming story that celebrates nature and the joys of community.
The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowrey
One of the first Little Golden Books, The Poky Little Puppy follows a curious little puppy, who is always lagging just behind his brothers and sisters to explore his surroundings. On one adventure, he is left behind and misses out on dessert – which prompts him to hurry up in the future and make it home for dinner. The timeless tale about patience and learning from your own mistakes remains a favorite across households to this day.
Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae
This story follows a giraffe named Gerald, who is mocked by all the other animals in the jungle because of his awkward dancing. No matter how hard he tries, he can’t keep up with the other animals and becomes discouraged until a wise cricket tells him to find his own style. With newfound confidence, Gerald dances in his own way and becomes a star of the dance party. Giraffes Can’t Dance encourages individuality and confidence in children of all ages.
The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton
The perfect book for a bedtime story, The Going to Bed Book follows a series of animals who live on a boat as they prepare for bed. While they go through the typical bedtime routine, like brushing their teeth and bathing, the show also has fun twists like an exercise break. The book is told in playful rhymes that make it engaging for young children.
The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt
When Duncan opens his box of crayons, he is surprised to find they all have quit. Each crayon has written a letter to explain their grievances, from the overuse of certain colors to the negligence of others. The Day the Crayons Quit is a heartwarming story, as Duncan takes each letter seriously and tries to make each crayon happy, ultimately creating a beautiful drawing that uses them equally.
The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson
A modern take on fairy tales and folklore, The Gruffalo is a rhyming story about a mouse who strolls through the woods and fends off predators. After telling the other animals he is meeting a beast called a Gruffalo, the mouse does encounter him – and convinces him that the other animals are scared of the mouse. The story is whimsical and clever, delighting children and parents alike.
What types of books should preschoolers read?
Preschoolers typically enjoy picture books, though they do not need to be board books made for younger children. The images paired with the story engage their imagination. Rhyming schemes can also be helpful for learning a language.
Can preschoolers read?
The majority of children cannot read until they have reached kindergarten or above. Reading books to a preschooler is the best way for them to learn, and they may even point out words or pictures.
What is the best-selling preschool book ever?
Some of the preschool books that have sold the most over time include The Poky Little Puppy and Green Eggs and Ham.