Required Reading for a 3-Year-Old

I need some new books for Alden.

He’s never been a big fan of reading, much preferring his cars, swords, and “punch whacking” to anything stationary. Before I had him I’d have told you that would break my heart. Now, though, I enjoy his go-go energy and I get a lot of joy from whatever it is that pleases him. Although I really could do with less punch whacking.

I now know I can enjoy my little ruffian with no sense of loss for the nerdy reader. So maybe we’re demonstrating that if you “just relax” you’ll get what you want (Holla fellow infertiles!). Whatever it is, things have shifted lately. In addition to our nightly bedtime-stalling books Alden has started, occasionally, pulling out his little library at other times. You better believe I’ll let that spaghetti overcook if he wants another round of Goodnight Gorilla. So maybe I still care a little bit.

Since this is new to us I don’t have a great sense of what kid lit gems are out there.

His favorites right now are the aforementioned Goodnight Gorilla, When a Monster Is Born, Courderoy, Thomas and the Something Something Mine, Monster Night at Grandma’s House, and 101 Dalmations. For the Thomas book I skip as much as he’ll let me get away with, because it is B-O-R-I-N-G. For the last two I make up the story and we just look at the pictures.

Which leads me to an important point: Nothing scary. Alden got the real 101 Dalmations once and was HORRIFIED at Cruella’s puppy coat scheme. He does not like anything that threatens or even implies real harm. Not even to bad guys. I am happy to protect his tender version of reality for as long as he prefers it that way. Heck, I prefer it that way.

Fake harm, though, is our sweet spot. Slapstick. Characters falling into swimming pools, bushes, mud puddles or any other mischief are fantastic. Clifford broke the barn? Awesome! In general, animals (and monsters) are more interesting than people. Isn’t that the truth?

Winnie the Pooh is a no-brainer, and he’s already in my Amazon cart. So is Where the Wild Things Are. The Disney oeuvre in general is too scary. Alden is, after all, still asking “Why that mommy would put her baby in a tree?” after they learned some simple songs one day in preschool.

What else? What are the best books for a 3-year-old?


21 responses to this post.

  1. Though he may not remember as much of it as Sophie does, we are nostalgic for Goodnight New York City. : ) No slapstick, but she loves to hear stories about where she was born.


  2. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

    Anything by Mo Willems (The Pigeon Series is brilliant, Elephant and Piggie series are way better than a series of books called Elephant and Piggie deserve to be). I don’t get tired of reading any of them.

    Scout doesn’t want to read anything but Calvin & Hobbes lately, so I’m blanking a bit.


    • Awesome! I totally forgot about that bus-driving pigeon and cookie-eating mouse. The pig and elephant are new to me, as is Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. I’ve ordered them all. Thanks!


  3. Posted by Megan on May 13, 2011 at 9:10 am

    Please, Baby, Please by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee. It’s about a naughty toddler that gets into trouble all day long.

    Hippos Go Berserk by Sandra Boynton

    The Paperbag Princess By Robert Munsch. The prince is kidnapped by a dragon, the princess outsmarts the dragon to rescue him. There is lots of opportunity for silliness while you read and the language is fun for little kids (“oh, a princess. I love to eat princesses but I have already eaten a whole castle today and I am very busy dragon. Come back tomorrow.”)


    • Wonderful suggestions, thank you. We love Sandra Boynton, but don’t have that one yet. I’ve never heard of Paperbag Princess. It sounds great. I’m particularly happy to get your suggestions as it’s important to us to make sure white boys aren’t always the default in Alden’s world. I’ve ordered all three.


  4. Posted by Mary on May 13, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    If he enjoys Goodnight Gorilla, try Peggy Rathmann’s “Ten Minutes Till Bedtime.” You’ll discover something new in the illustrations every time you read it.


  5. Posted by jen on May 13, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    the george & martha books (charming hippos!); in the night kitchen if he likes where the wild things are; knuffle bunny and knuffle bunny too (for more NYC and more Mo willems).


  6. William Joyce, for illustration and story. Pre Rolie-Polie Olie, which I admit to not having read, so maybe it’s good too, but definitely Dinosaur Bob ( and A Day with Wilbur Robinson ( Maybe George Shrinks, though you might want to vet that. And I’ve given out at least a dozen copies of Santa Calls.


  7. ps. nothing wrong with the used copies, Thomas’ “Wilbur Robinson” cost 10 cents at the library bookstore…


  8. Posted by Ingrid on May 14, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    My daughter is crazy about animals too– have you heard of “Click Clack Moo” and “Dooby Dooby Moo”? They’re funny and some of our favorites.


  9. Posted by Janice on May 14, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    Try anything by Kevin Henkes. All of his mouse stories are fantastic. Owen, Chrysantemum, A Weekend With Wendell, Wemberly Worries, Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse.


  10. You have some great recommendations here. My current favorite is Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. Also fun are Pat the Beastie, Dinotrux, Everyone Poops, and these by Julia Cook: It’s Hard to Be a Verb, My Mouth Is A Volcano, and I Am A Booger. . .Treat Me With Respect.


  11. Posted by Tia on May 27, 2011 at 9:34 am

    I’m a little late in the game but wanted to add some of Charlie’s favorites. (by the way, punch whacking is super popular in our home, as well!)

    Cowboy and Octopus by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith (At one point, Octopus is hit on the head by Cowboy with a hammer. Definitely Charlie’s favorite part!)

    Clinton Gregory’s Secret

    Roly Poly Pangolin

    Rhyming Dust Bunnies (lots of boytastic slapstick humor in this one!)

    Can YOU Make a Scary Face?

    Coppernickel, The Invention (By the way, I wrote the author to tell him how much Charlie loves the book, and he wrote me back!)

    Leonardo, The Terrible Monster

    And Charlie’s current favorite…Toilets of the World


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