Beyond Goodnight Moon: My Top 50 Best Books for the Toddler and Preschool Set

Many moms play with their children.  I’m not the world’s best playmate — the laundry or kitchen dishes start calling me after my 10th block tower that is knocked down.  But I do one thing with the kids religiously.  I read.

My favorite kids books teach tolerance, self-esteem, and understanding of the world.  Most importantly, they need to make me laugh out loud or make me cry (happy tears!).

What follows are some of my favorite children’s books for preschoolers.  I’ve left out overly-obvious choices – I assume you know and love these books already.  However I have left in some classics just in case they haven’t yet sprung to mind. So grab your library card, your kiddies and check out these great works (in no particular order):

Anything by Todd Parr.
I think I might be a little in love with Todd.  His messages of compassion, acceptance, silliness and love build self-esteem and empathy, and I can’t help but choke up each time I read them.  The colorful creatures within his stories mimic different races without being overt.  Mr. Parr’s books are appropriate for even the youngest children, but even adults can truly enjoy them.  Now if only the Bush administration would have a Todd Parr circle time! 
I especially recommend:
It’s Okay To Be Different
The Feel Good Book
The Peace Book
The Family Book
The Feelings Book

Love on your family. 
I love books that encourage hugs and kisses during storytime, such as Mommy Hugs and Daddy Kisses .  Then there are the books that express your love for your children, such as I Already Know I Love You by Billy Crystal (yes, that Billy Crystal), I Want to Say I Love You, Snuggle Puppy, and Because of You. I also have a soft spot in my heart for books about love between dads and their children, such as Daddies Are for Catching Fireflies and On a Wintry Morning My favorite lovey book?  Especially if you are expecting a new baby in the family (but even if you’re not), I strongly recommend Just Like a Baby – a folkish tale for reminding us that each family member plays an important role in building familial love.

Beyond the Cat in the Hat.
I have a special place in my heart for the Seuss-man, but most people never make it past Green Eggs and Ham. Why not try a few of his lesser-read but just as timeless books? My choices below contain wonderfully progressive messages in a fun and creative way. The Lorax gives children and introduction to environmentalism and resource conservation, or responsiblity versus greed. The Sneetches and Other Stories (Classic Seuss) remind us that individualism is always better than following the latest pointless fad. My Many Colored Days , published after the good doctor’s death, is a fun journey into color and mood and the message that it’s okay to have different feelings but you’ll always go back to feeling like you.

Be a Potty Mouth. 
Loosen up a bit and enjoy body humor – some of the funnest children’s books I know have to do with bodily function.  My favorite potty training book (written to kids, not adults) is Mo Willems’ Time to Pee! We took the mystery (and even some of the humor!) out of passing gas with The Gas We Pass: The Story of Farts and we stopped little fingers from creeping into noses with The Holes in Your Nose . Finally, in some circles it is already a classic – but I cannot have a list of favorite kids’ books without mentioning Everyone Poops .

Relax. 
As much as I love books that teach, I also love to read purely silly books too: books where we can laugh and imagine together as a family.  Here are some of my favorites:
The Day My Runny Nose Ran Away
Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type
Good Dog, Carl

Dust off your Shel. 
And speaking of silly, I couldn’t make a children’s book list without mentioning Shel Silverstien.  We all loved him when we were young – and even in the preschool years, it’s time to share him with our children:
Where the Sidewalk Ends
A Light in the Attic
Runny Babbit

Teach sharing and empathy. 
One of Each‘s rhyming patterns reminds me much of the good Dr. Seuss and is a great story of how it is much better to share your live and home with others.  The ancient African hymn Cumbayah is now a wonderfully illustrated book that can lure your child out of the worst temper tantrums with its rhythmic cadence.  Children from all over the world and in every skin color are shown crying, laughing, hurting and singing during times of war, celebration, poverty and work. Hands Are Not for Hitting offers other, more positive uses for your little toddler’s hands other than to hurt others.  In Ebb and Flo and the New Friend, Ebb the dog must learn to share and accept change when a new creature comes to visit.  And I can’t go without mentioning one more Shel Silverstien book of which we are all aware: The Giving Tree – the ultimate book on unconditional love.

Teach acceptance early.  
There are many books about the differences in each of us, but the best ones remind us of our similarities.  I absolutely love Mem Fox’s Whoever You Are and apparently am not capable of reading it without choking up.  “More More More,” Said the Baby Board Book (Caldecott Collection) shows three families who have different skin colors (there is even a multi-racial family in there!) but all love each other in similar ways.  Many of the other books I’ve mentioned elsewhere such as Todd Parr books and the Family books talk hint towards the sometimes (percieved) sticky topics of homosexuality and religion in creative, tolerant and loving ways.
Bedtime Stories
Doesn’t it seem like every children’s book ends with everybody going to sleep in the end?  And no wonder with our love of “The Nap”.  But how many of them are any good?  I love Time for Bed by Mem Fox – it has a sweet, slow rhythm to it that encourages rocking and cuddling.  Also by Mem Fox is a book appropriately enough called A Bedtime Story that encourages love of books and self-reliance at the same time.

Self Esteem, Individuality and Feelings
Loud Emily is a sea chanty about a little girl with a very loud voice who finds her place in the world and is a joy to read both for its story and its illustrations. Jamie Lee Curtis has given up her day job to pursue children’s literature – and it turns out she’s great at it.  She scores high with Today I Feel Silly and Other Moods That Make My Day.  And don’t we all love The Story of Ferdinand – yes, there are some allusions to the violence of a Spanish bull fight – but in the end, just as we remember, gentle Ferdinand holds his ground.  Another classic from my own childhood is I Wish That I Had Duck Feet (strangely enough now credited to Dr. Seuss instead of Theo LeSieg like the copy from my youth) which simultaneously encourages both imagination and reminds us all that we are great just the way we are.

See the World.
We love to travel, so we might as well get the kids used to it now.  Usually given to adults or as a high school/college graduation gift, Oh, the Places You’ll Go! (yes, another Seuss! Shoot Me!) has proven to be entertaining even on the surface.  Another oldie but goodie is Come Over to My House which shows children living, playing, and eating in different ways all over the world.  I’m generally not a great fan of the older Babar books which have a few gender and racial slurs, but the more modern Babar’s World Tour talks about language and culture on an international level.  Connor loves maps, so the National Geographic Beginners World Atlas is fun to peruse together – and it is amazing how much his sponge-like brain retains.  Finally, The Noisy Airplane Ride was the perfect way to introduce Connor to the sights and sounds of air travel – and has easily become one of his favorites.

Beyond the Basics. 
Books about A-B-Cs, 1-2-3s and planes-trains-automobiles are required reading in children’s lit.  But how many of the books are fun for parents to read?  Chicka Chicka Boom Boom turns the alphabet into a fun poem.  Counting Kisses: A Kiss & Read Book is a much more fun and interactive way to learn to count than the “4 ducks, 5 pencils” status quo.  Freight Train is a book about a train that also sneaks in teaching colors.

49…and 50.
Okay, so neither of these books fit nicely into any of the above categories, but we’ve enjoyed them nonetheless.  Connor’s favorite song hands down is I’ve Been Working on the Railroad and we’ve spent hours singing this song over and over with this book as our guide.  He also loves to cook, so while it’s not especially healthy or gourmet, we’ve been picking a meal for him to cook each week out of his Better Homes and Gardens New Junior Cook Book.

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