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Ten Excellent Books To Read To Small Children

Updated on January 23, 2015

Most people, especially children, love being read to. Consequently, there are thousands of available children’s books. Since parents and other caretakers of small children will spend innumerable hours reading to children before they learn to read themselves, it’s useful to know which volumes other parents and caretakers recommend. While you can always turn to the popular children’s books such as Goodnight Moon, Where The Wild Things Are, or If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, there are many other worthwhile children’s books to consider.

This list is not comprehensive. What you will want to read to the child in your care may be influenced by whether you favor educational books, as well as what those closest to you are reading to the children in their care. Or else, akin to how I find new reading material as an adult, you may stumble upon an excellent children’s book at a garage sale or the library. Moreover, your child or children may be interested in dinosaurs or pirates or topics not addressed in this list.

While these books can be read to any child under the age of seven, they will likely be most enjoyed by children ages five or younger.

Little Monkey Lost, written and illustrated by Keith DuQuette, is an entertaining and educational volume about a little monkey who goes exploring and meets many types of other monkeys. The dialogue is fresh, and the action moves quickly enough to engage even very young listeners. The illustrations are remarkably lifelike, and, once the story concludes, there is a section called “Meet the Monkeys” in which you can learn more about the type of monkeys described in the story.

Summertime in the Big Woods, written by Laura Ingalls Wilder and illustrated by Renee Graef, is a simple story about life in the 19th century on a homestead in Wisconsin. This is a younger children’s version of the longer book of the same name from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s much loved Little House On The Prairie series. The illustrations are beautiful and true-to-life, and the story helps the young listener understand that life was once very different than it is now. This volume is more likely to be enjoyed by girls, though certain boys may appreciate it. This book is recommended regardless if you plan to eventually read the Little House On The Prairie series to your child, or if you want to read this book on its own.

Written by Katharine Holabird and illustrated by Helen Craig, Angelina and Henry has much to offer young listeners. It tells the story of Angelina, a young mouse who loves ballet, as she embarks on a hiking and camping trip with Henry, her younger cousin, and her Uncle Louie. The story opens with a comment about hoping they don’t run into the Big Cat while out in the woods, and there is a moment in the story where Angelina must be very brave and help Henry when the howling wind in the woods sounds like it could be the screeching of the Big Cat. Expertly illustrated and a delight to read more than once, this volume is not to be missed.

Pig Love Potatoes, written by Anika Denise and illustrated by Christopher Denise, is a brief, lighthearted story about a pig family who decide they want potatoes for dinner. The plot is straightforward: More pigs wants potatoes, and therefore the mommy pig, with help from a few family members, keeps peeling potatoes and throwing them into the pot. She even throws one in for good measure. This book encourages teamwork and togetherness.

Alison Jay’s volume Welcome to the Zoo! is the only book in this list without any words. Instead, the readers are invited to turn the pages slowly in order to observe the details in her colorful and visually-appealing images. Depending on the age of the child you are “reading” to, it can be helpful to ask the child to point to and count how many zebras, elephants, or women wearing hats they see in each particular picture.

Bernard Weber’s Ira Sleeps Over tells the story of Ira, a young boy, who has been invited to sleep over at his best friend Reggie’s house. He has a stuffed teddy bear he sleeps with, and he doesn’t know if he should bring this or leave it at home. His older sister tells him not to bring it unless he wants Reggie to make fun of him. After much discussion and indecision, he decides to leave his beloved teddy bear. Reggie’s house is right next door to Ira’s house, and he goes over for a night of fun and games. At bedtime he notices Reggie getting something out of a drawer. This something looks a lot like a teddy bear. Reggie is asleep with his teddy bear when Ira returns home to get his teddy bear to sleep with. The imprecise, colorful illustrations, along with a message that your true friends will accept your quirks and habits, are additional reasons to check out this book.

Frank Asch’s Popcorn tells the story of a young bear who throws a Halloween party while his parents are gone. The first guest to arrive brings popcorn as a party favor. Unfortunately, so does the next guest until every guest has brought popcorn as a party favor. Uncertain what else to do, the young bear decides to pop all the popcorn. There is so much popcorn, however, that it fills the entire house. The whimsical illustrations and humorous ending make this a must-read.

But No Elephants, written by Jerry Smath, is a sweet and silly tale about a single woman who keeps buying animals from a traveling salesmen. Every time she buys an animal, however, she reminds him that she is unwilling to buy an elephant. The salesman eventually brings an elephant to her, and she says no. Abandoned by the salesman in front of her house, the elephant sits there until the arrival of cold weather forces this woman to change her mind and add the elephant to her menagerie. The elephant saves the day when they run out of food by physically moving the house to a tropical location. Brightly illustrated and humorous, this book is recommended for children between two and four years old.

Written by Audrey Wood and illustrated by Don Wood, King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub is a goofy tale about a chubby, bearded king who refuses to get out of the bathtub. Since he refuses to leave the bathtub, this means all activities must unfold while he sits there. He attends a ball, plays chess, and eats a marvelous feast all while soaking in his bathtub. The lavish illustrations and King Bidgood’s endearing, however unconventional, character result in a superb read.

Green Eggs And Ham, the much-loved volume by Dr. Seuss, offers colorful, zany illustrations and a plot which unfolds in an engaging rhyming pattern. The mild absurdity--after all, who has ever heard of green eggs?—of the plot is another selling point. In addition, this particular Dr. Suess book isn’t nearly as challenging to pronounce or perform as Fox In Socks and Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You?

Reading to the child or children in one’s care is a wonderful way to bond, create memories, enhance learning, and encourage a lifetime love of books and reading. Several of these volumes, including Popcorn and But No Elephants, were read to me as a child, and I am thrilled I can now recommend them to a new generation.


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    • Julie K Henderson profile image

      Julie K Henderson 3 years ago

      You are welcome. I hope your grandkids enjoy the books I recommended.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      The three books you mention as old favorites are some of the best ever written for children. So grateful to have this list of ones I never heard of (except Dr. Zeuss) to try out on my grandkids. Thanks

    • Julie K Henderson profile image

      Julie K Henderson 3 years ago

      Precious moment! Thank you for sharing.

    • mactavers profile image

      mactavers 3 years ago

      I just gave two books to a friend's 5 year old grandson on Sunday. He curled up in a big chair with them and eventually went to sleep still looking at them. It melted my heart.

    • Julie K Henderson profile image

      Julie K Henderson 3 years ago

      Thank you both for your comments. I am glad my book choices are ones you enjoyed with your daughters. I hope parents still read to their children. My sister loves to read to her three kids, and I still buy children's books to give any of my friends who are expecting.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 3 years ago from California Gold Country

      My Daddy read "bedtime stories" to me for many years, and it made me want to read.

      I knew it was important ,so I read to my young sons. We went through the nursery rhymes and Aesops and Grimm's tales --all of Dr. Suess, as well as many other stories of the time.

      Even after they were reading pretty well, I read through other classics like 20,00 Leagues Under the Sea and Treasure Island.

      With all of the media now available, I don't know if parents read to their kids as much. I hope that it is still important.

    • mactavers profile image

      mactavers 3 years ago

      So much has changed since our daughters were young. So nice to see some of the same classics that they enjoyed on your list.