On the hunt for the perfect picture book to captivate your little one's imagination? Look no further! I’ve curated a list of the best picture books that are sure to delight kids from toddlers all the way to kindergarteners. Whether you have a curious 3-year-old, an imaginative 4-year-old, or an eager-to-learn 5-year-old, these books are filled with colorful illustrations and engaging stories.
The good news is that kids all the way up to age six - and sometimes even seven - enjoy picture books. So as long as you find books that grow with their reading needs, you can get a lot of mileage out of your home library.
First, let’s take a quick look at what each age needs in a book.
Do 3-Year-Olds Still Read Board Books?
At the age of three, toddlers are graduating from board-books only, to big kid picture books. Think: hardcovers and even paperbacks now that they’re no longer shewing the pages as the primary source of entertainment. The stories get a little longer, and the illustrations a little more complex to maintain their attention. Great books for this age will be interactive or use a call-and-response format. Kids love shouting out the answers to questions and pointing at the pages.
What Type of Books Should a 4-Year-Old Read?
At four years old, kids are looking to connect. As preschoolers, they have a growing sense of independence, while at the same time… they still need us. Kids at this age will have books read to them during story time at preschool. But when they come home, they’ll be looking for connection with their parents again. Four-year-olds are likely to pick up an old favorite and ask you to read it to them. Story time is no longer for bedtime only.
What Should I Read to My 5-Year-Old?
Five-year-olds are still very much in picture book territory. In a couple of years, they will move onto bigger reading challenges, but right now they are in that in-between stage. Kindergarteners are expert learners. They are mini sponges! They will soak up books that have fun facts, or novel social situations. Even books that have been read to them a hundred times before start taking on a new shape in their mind as they interpret it with their growing kindergarten curiosity.
The Top Five Best Picture Books for Ages 3-5, IMHO
There are an infinite number of “Best Picture Books” articles out there on the web. So I’m going to skip the really obvious choices like the latest award-winner, or the classics we all already know. Below are my personal top picks for books that grow with your child during the toddler, preschool, and kindergarten years. These are all books my kids and I have here at home, so they are battle worn and kid-tested.
1. I'm a Dirty Dinosaur (buy it here)
This is a fun rhyming book with a great rhythm. Kids love it because the topic is getting dirty and the main character does a very thorough job of getting as muddy as possible. The little ones enjoy the rhyming and silliness, while the older kids will start looking more closely at the hidden details in the illustrations. The illustrations are made with actual mud (I think), while the main character is drawn using a thin rainbow-colored line that is, frankly, fascinating to stare at.
The book wraps up with our dirty dinosaur getting clean… but not for long. Kids love that.
Authors: JANEEN BRIAN & ANN JAMES
2. Elmer (buy it here)
Elmer is a goofy yet sweet tale about being yourself. It’s full of color, and lots of opportunities to “spot the difference” in a crowd, which the youngest ones really spend a lot of time doing. And for the five-year-olds, this picture book tells a story they can start to relate to now that they’re in big-kid school and working their way through tons of new social situations: what it’s like to feel different.
The message is positive, though. Unlike many other books that tackle the topic of being different, this story has zero bullying or name calling. The feeling of being different comes from within the protagonist, Elmer. And it’s from within that he learns to accept that being different is what makes him special. It’s all very gentle, while being simultaneously silly.
Author: DAVID MCKEE
3. You Are A Star (buy it here)
I have no idea where I picked up this book, because it is tiny. I mean, really small. But it’s aspirational. The illustrations are unique as they’re largely black and white charcoal sketches, with the main character contrasted in a neon yellow. What is that main character, you might ask? Well, it’s a line.
The story is simple, but kids young and old enjoy looking at how this little line twists itself into a new shape on each page, to end up as - you guessed it - a star in the final verse. Like Elmer, the message is that you are different and different is special. But unlike Elmer, it’s got no funny bone. It’s a quiet, gentle little bedtime book that leaves everyone feeling a bit Zen.
Author: ARIELLA ABOLAFFIO
4. The Book With No Pictures (buy it here)
Ok, this one skews a little toward the older side, but just a tad. There are no pictures, as the title mentions, but the amount of silly noises you are forced to make while reading this book will drive your kids absolutely BONKERS with delight. This is a great one to read to a classroom full of kids if you ever get called in to participate in a parent read-aloud at your kid’s school. You’ll have them in stitches (sorry teacher, they’ll be wound up afterwards).
My kids loved this book so much that we invented a character called Ms. Doo Doo Fart (don’t judge me) whose only job is to answer any question with a nonsense word.
Author: B.J. NOVAK
5. The Awesome Animals Series (buy it here)
More than a single book, this is a series of short books. Technically, a non-fiction series, these are more like what silly science meets goofy pictures would look like. Each book is about a single animal, and one core fun fact about it, plus tons of goofy call-and-response scenarios like “Can a snake wear shoes? NO!”
Each book is fairly short, clocking in around 28 pages. The little kids get a huge kick out of the black and white goofy animal drawings, and call out answers to the questions. While your kindergartener will latch onto the many factoids contained on each page.
Author: KELLY TILLS (yup, that’s me)