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Books You Gotta Read: Age 3

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Books You Gotta Read Age 3

Are you looking for books to share with your 3-year-old?

I began compiling this list of books when my children were 8, 5, and 2. We are a homeschooling family. I put a lot of emphasis on reading. In addition to more formal reading lessons, my oldest also must read 2.5 hours on her own each week. My younger two will also be required to read for fun as each learns to read.

While searching for books to read with my children, I found the book 101 Books to Read Before You Grow Up by Bianca Schulze. I started reading through the recommended picture books and additional suggested titles with my kids. However, I did not like all the books, and I thought some fabulous titles were missing. 101 Books includes titles for preschoolers through tweens. I thus decided to compile my own list of pictures that I label as gotta-reads.

1: Old Bear and His Cub
Written and Illustrated by Olivier Dunrea

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Old Bear and His Cub by Olivier Dunrea

  • Age: 3
  • Genre: Animals, Family
  • Publisher: Philomel Books
  • Date: 2010
  • Page Count: 32

Author and Illustrator

Born in 1953, author and illustrator Olivier Dunrea has created more than 70 books for children including the Gossie & Friends series. He is a painter and sculptor whose work focuses on farms, animals, architecture, and folklore. He is also a master mapmaker who creates decorative and detailed medieval style maps. Dunrea currently lives in a 100-year-old Arts and Crafts house in a tiny, remote mountain village of Narrowsburg, New York on the western edge of the Catskills Mountains with his husband, John Riffey.

Synopsis

Old Bear loves Little Cub with all his heart, and Little Cub loves Old Bear with all his heart. Old Bear makes sure that Little Cub is taken care of. Little Cub does not necessarily like being told what to do, but he listens to Old Bear because he knows Old Bear loves him. After telling Little Cub to wear a scarf, Old Bear himself comes down with a cold. Fortunately, Little Cub knows just how to take care of his caregiver. Young readers will delight in meeting the loveable characters and poring over the details throughout the pages.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

Dunrea frequently makes changes to his illustrations as he goes from initial sketches to finished work. The smallest details that he includes throughout the pages are never missed by his young observant readers.

2: Polar Bear Night
Written by Lauren Thompson and Illustrated by Stephen Savage

Polar Bear Night by Lauren Thompson

  • Age: 3
  • Genre: Animals, Polar Bears
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press
  • Date: 2004
  • Page Count: 32

Author

Born in 1962, author Lauren Thompson has written many New York Times bestselling children’s books including the award-winning picture book Polar Bear Night. She is also the author of the Mouse’s First and Little Quack series, among other titles. As a child, she loved ballet class but never got the chance to dance in a ballet recital. She worked as a children’s book editor before becoming a writer. She currently resides in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and son.

Illustrator

Born in 1965, illustrator Stephen Savage is the recipient of a New York Times Best Illustrated Book Award, a Sendak Fellowship, an ILA Primary Fiction Award, and a Geisel Honor Award. His book Where’s Walrus? was named a best book of the year by Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Horn Book, and the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books. His illustrative work has appeared in dozens of major newspapers and magazines including The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. In addition to writing and illustrating, he teaches at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife and daughter.

Synopsis

On a keen and cold night, a polar bear cub awakes and heads out on a nighttime journey. She sets out to explore the starlit Arctic night, and the moon follows. The little polar bear wanders and wonders, taking in the marvels around her. Young readers will delight in the simplicity of the lyrical text and the limited color palette of the bold illustrations. Polar Bear Night was recognized as an ALA Notable Children’s Book and Charlotte Zolotow Honor Book in 2005.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

Savage illustrated Polar Bear Night with linocuts, which is a printmaking technique similar to woodcut. Designs are cut in relief on sheets of linoleum (linocut is a blend of linoleum cut). Ink is then applied to the linoleum and pressed onto paper or fabric. The technique evokes Inuit stone carvings. Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse were early artists who adopted the linocut technique.

3: It’s Mine
Written and Illustrated by Leo Lionni

It’s Mine by Leo Lionni

  • Age: 3
  • Genre: Animals, Sharing
  • Publisher: Dragonfly Books
  • Date: 1985
  • Page Count: 32

Author and Illustrator

Born in 1910 in the Netherlands, author and illustrator Leo Lionni studied in Italy at the University of Genoa until moving to the United States in 1939. He earned a doctorate in economics but taught himself to draw while visiting museums in Amsterdam. He initially wrote about European architecture for a magazine and then became a professional graphic designer. He began his career as a children’s author and illustrator in 1959 with his book Little Blue and Little Yellow. He received the 1984 American Institute of Graphic Arts Gold Medal and was a four-time Caldecott Honor Winner for his books Inch by Inch, Frederick, Swimmy, and Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse. Lionni died at age 89 in October 1999 at his home in Tuscany, Italy.

Synopsis

On an island in the middle of Rainbow Pond lived three selfish frogs who fought with each other all day every day. Even after a big toad chides the frogs for their quarrelsome ways, the three keep arguing. Then one day a huge storm covers all but one rock with muddy water. The three friends quickly learn the importance and joy of sharing.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

Lionni frequently uses mice as characters in his stories. His illustrations have been compared with those in the stories of Eric Carle.

4: Little Blue Truck
Written by Alice Schertle and Illustrated by Jill McElmurry

Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle

  • Age: 3
  • Genre: Vehicles, Rhyme
  • Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
  • Date: 2008
  • Page Count: 32

Author

Currently residing in the small town of Plainfield Massachusetts, author Alice Schertle has written many best-selling children’s books including the Little Blue Truck series, Very Hairy Bear, Button Up!, and All You Need for a Snowman. She is also a poet.

Illustrator

Born in Los Angeles, California in 1954, illustrator Jill McElmurry created the pictures for many books including the Little Blue Truck series and her own Mad About Plaid. She lived in Taos, New Mexico as a child and later in Good Dog Island, Minnesota with her husband. She grew up in a family of artists and briefly studied at both SUNY Purchase and the School of Visual Arts in New York. McElmurry died in August 2017 from breast cancer at age 62.

Synopsis

Filled with truck sounds and animal noises, Little Blue Truck introduces young readers to Little Blue Truck and his animal friends. Little Blue Truck drives along a country road while beep beep beeping at all his pals. Then along comes a rather rude Dump Truck who gets stuck in the mud. Blue and the animals help Dump get unstuck from the muck, and Dump learns a lesson about friendship in the process.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

The Little Blue Truck is also available in Spanish. Little Blue Truck’s Christmas features flashing colored Christmas lights on the final page.

5: The Little House
Written and Illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton

The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton

  • Age: 3
  • Genre: Adventure, Change
  • Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
  • Date: 1942
  • Page Count: 44

Author and Illustrator

Born in 1909 in Massachusetts, author and illustrator Virginia Lee Burton wrote and illustrated seven of her own children’s books and illustrated six other titles. She is daughter of Lena Yates, an English poet and artist. She attended the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco on scholarship at which she studied art and dance. She attended a Saturday morning drawing class at the Boston Museum School in 1930 and soon married the teacher, sculptor and artist George Demetrios. The couple had two sons together. She published her first book Choo Choo in 1935 followed by the ever-popular Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel in 1939. Burton died in October 1968 of lung cancer at age 59.

Synopsis

Burton based The Little House on her own little house which her family moved from a street into a field of daisies surrounded by apple trees. The well-built Little House perches on a beautiful hill in the countryside. She notices lights in the distance and wonders about the city. But soon the city lights get closer and closer until the Little House sits abandoned, surrounded by skyscrapers. She can no longer see the sky, sun, moon, and stars. One day, the great-great-granddaughter of the man who built the Little House recognizes her. The Little House is moved back away from the hustle and bustle of the city. In the end, she is happy and never again curious about the city. The Little House won the Caldecott Medal in 1934.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

Burton was known for designing her entire books including design, illustration, typeface, and space. She was one of the first authors to format the text of her books to better fit the illustrations.

Buildings do not usually have faces, but Burton created the Little House with features that allow her to express powerful emotions from joy at watching the moon move across the sky to sadness as she sits, dilapidated, in the middle of the big city.

6: Song and Dance Man
Written by Karen Ackerman and Illustrated by Stephen Gammell

Song and Dance Man by Karen Ackerman

  • Age: 3
  • Genre: Grandparents, Nostalgia
  • Publisher: Dragonfly Books
  • Date: 1988
  • Page Count: 32

Author

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio in October 1951, American author Karen Ackerman published her first book, Flannery Row, in 1982. Her second book, Song and Dance Man illustrated by Stephen Gammell, received the Caldecott Medal. She has published over twenty-five books to date. She has received multiple recognitions for her books including ALA Notable Books, New York Library Best List, Horn Book’s Best, and School Library Journal Best Books.

Illustrator

Born in February 1943, American illustrator Stephen Gammell is best known for his nightmarish illustrations in the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark trilogy by Alvin Schwartz. Growing up in Ohio, he found inspiration in the periodicals that his father, an art editor for a major magazine, brought home. He began his career in freelance commercial work. Published in 1973, A Nutty Business by Ida Chittum was the first children’s book he illustrated. He has received a Caldecott Medal and two Caldecott Honors. He currently resides in St. Paul, Minnesota with his wife.

Synopsis

Song and Dance Man tells the story of three grandchildren who visit their grandfather, who once upon a time back in the good old days was a song and dance man on the vaudeville stage. While waiting for Grandma to finish dinner, Grandpa wonders if his tap shoes still fit. He and the grandkids head up to the attic where Grandpa relives his younger days by putting on a song and dance show. With pencil drawings using full colors, Song and Dance Man received the Caldecott Medal in 1989.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

The video version of Song and Dance Man received positive reviews from the School Library Journal.

7: Owl Moon
Written by Jane Yolen and Illustrated by John Schoenherr

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

  • Age: 3
  • Genre: Animals
  • Publisher: Philomel Books
  • Date: 1987
  • Page Count: 32

Author

Born in Manhattan in 1939, American author Jane Yolen has written or edited over 350 books to date. As a child, she lived in both New York and California. She received a BA from Smith College in 1960 and a master’s degree in Education from the University of Massachusetts in 1978. She worked as an editor at various magazines and publishers in New York City during the 1960s. She ran her own young adult fiction imprint, Jane Yolen Books, at Harcourt Brace from 1990 to 1996. She is also known for her How Do Dinosaurs…? series for young children. She had three children with her husband David and currently resides in Massachusetts.

Illustrator

Born in Manhattan in 1935 and raised in Queens, American illustrator John Schoenherr grew up in a German-speaking household. He studied art at the Art Students League of New York and at Pratt Institute. He is known best as the original illustrator of the dust jacket art of the 1965 science fiction novel Dune by Frank Herbert. He received the Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist in 1965 and was posthumously inducted by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame in 2015. Schoenherr died in April 2010 at age 74.

Synopsis

In the middle of a winter night during a full moon, a father and child trek into the woods to go owling. The child knows she must be completely silent. She follows her father without a sound though the dark trees. He stops now and then to call out for the owl. Finally, in a clearing, an owl answers back. The father turns on his flashlight just in time to light up a great horned owl landing on a branch. Owl Moon received the Caldecott Medal in 1988.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

Yolen based the little girl in the story after her own daughter, Heidi, and the father after her husband, David. She also based the entire story on the many owling adventures that her husband took her children on.

8: Kitten’s First Full Moon
Written and Illustrated by Kevin Henkes

Kitten's First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes

  • Age: 3
  • Genre: Animals
  • Publisher: Greenwillow Books
  • Date: 2004
  • Page Count: 32

Author and Illustrator

Born in Racine, Wisconsin in November 1960, American author and illustrator Kevin Henkes planned to be an artist until one of his high school teachers encouraged him to pursue his writing. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Combining his artistic and literary interests, he published his first book, All Alone, in 1981. He has since created more than fifty children’s books including the award-winning Kitten’s First Full Moon, Waiting, Owen, and Penny and Her Marble. Henkes currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin with his family.

Synopsis

Kitten wakes up on the night of her first full moon. She sets out on a quest to get to the bowl of milk in the sky. Her adventure leaves her bothered and bewildered, but she ultimately finds her way back home to a special surprise. Kitten’s First Full Moon received the Caldecott Medal in 2005.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

Henkes came up with the idea for Kitten’s First Full Moon while working on a failed attempt at a simple concept book about circles. He wrote the line “The cat thought the moon was a bowl of milk,” which inspired the story in Kitten’s First Full Moon.

9: Big Cat, Little Cat
Written and Illustrated by Elisha Cooper

Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper

  • Age: 3
  • Genre: Animals
  • Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
  • Date: 2017
  • Page Count: 40

Author and Illustrator

Born on February 22, 1971, American author and illustrator Elisha Cooper attended Foote School and Hopkins School in Connecticut. After graduating from Yale University, he worked for The New Yorker as a messenger. He published his first book, A Year in New York, in 1995. He received a Charlotte Zolotow Award Commendation in 1998 for Country Fair and the New York Times Best Illustrated Book of the Year in 2001 for Dance! He was a Maurice Sendak Fellow, a residency program for illustrators, in 2016. Cooper currently resides with his family in New York City.

Synopsis

“There was a cat who lived alone,” begins Big Cat, Little Cat. Then one day a black kitten joins the white cat. The white cat shows the black kitten what to do. As the new cat grows from a little cat into a bigger cat, the older cat grows older and eventually dies. The death of the older cat is hard on the entire family. But then another new kitten joins the family, and the cycle begins again. Big Cat, Little Cat received a Caldecott Medal in 2018.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

Cooper wrote Big Cat, Little Cat based on his experiences of watching animals cycle through life while growing up on a farm.

10: Millions of Cats
Written and Illustrated by Wanda Gág

Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag

  • Age: 3
  • Genre: Animals
  • Publisher: Coward-McCann
  • Date: 1928
  • Page Count: 32

Author and Illustrator

Born in New Ulm, Minnesota in March 1893, American author and illustrator Wanda Gág is best known for Millions of Cats, the oldest American picture book still in print. She was the oldest of seven children. When her father died when she was 15, some townspeople thought she should quit school to help support her family. Instead, she continued her education, graduating in June 1912. After teaching country school in Springfield, Minnesota, she attended The Minneapolis School of Art and then the Art Students League of New York through a scholarship, studying composition, etching, and advertising illustration. She illustrated A Child’s Book of Folklore: Mechanics of Written English by Jean Sherwood Rankin in 1917. She began earning a living as a commercial illustrator in 1919. She had her first solo art exhibition in the New York Public Library in 1923. After catching the attention of Ernestine Evans, director of Coward-McCann’s children’s book division, in 1927, Gág published Millions of Cats in 1928, a story that she initially created to entertain the children of friends. She enjoyed fairy tales and translated and illustrated Tales from Grimm in 1936. She disliked the “trivialized, sterilized, and sentimentalized” Disney version of Snow White and in reaction translated and illustrated the Grimm story Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1938. Gág died from lung cancer in June 1946 in New York City at age 53.

Synopsis

With hand-lettered text created by the author’s brother, Millions of Cats tells the story of a very old man and a very old woman who were very lonely. The woman suggests getting a cat, so the man sets out to look for one. After a long time, he comes to a hill covered with cats. He decides to choose the prettiest one but ends up taking home hundreds and thousands and millions and billions and trillions of felines. His wife, pointing out that they cannot feed them all, suggests letting the cats decide which one will stay. In the end, the man and woman are no longer lonely, instead sharing their home with the most beautiful cat in the world.

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Recommended Reading

Fun Facts

Gág is widely considered a pioneer in the development of the picture book. She integrated the text with the pictures and sometimes stretched both across a double page.

Millions of Cats received a Newbery Honor in 1929, one of the few picture books ever to receive the honor.

11: Blackout
Written and Illustrated by John Rocco

Blackout by John Rocco

  • Age: 3
  • Genre: Weather, Family
  • Publisher: Hyperion Books
  • Date: 2011
  • Page Count: 40

Author and Illustrator

Born in July 1967 and raised in Barrington, Rhode Island, American author and illustrator John Rocco did not take drawing seriously until age 19. He studied illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design and the School of Visual Arts in New York City, earning a degree from the latter. He worked as the pre-production art director at DreamWorks for the computer-animated movie Shrek. He also worked as animation director at ImagineAsia in Manila, Philippines. He is best known for the cover illustrations of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series by Rick Riordan. In addition to receiving a Caldecott Honor in 2012 for Blackout, he also received an Irma Black Award Honor in 2015 for Blizzard.

Synopsis

A hot summer night starts out normally. Everyone is busy inside. And then the power goes out. A boy yells for his mother. His sister can no longer talk on the phone. His mom cannot use the computer. His dad cannot finish cooking. To escape the heat, the family ventures up to the roof and discovers a block party in the sky. In the street below, people talk, sing, and eat ice cream before it all melts. When the electricity comes back on, the family has learned a lesson about living life in the moment. Blackout received a Caldecott Honor in 2012.

Recommended Reading

12: Spoon
Written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Illustrated by Scott Magoon

Spoon by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

  • Age: 3
  • Genre: Self-esteem
  • Publisher: Hyperion Books
  • Date: 2009
  • Page Count: 40

Author

Born in April 1965, American author Amy Krouse Rosenthal attended and graduated from Tufts University. She wrote more than thirty children’s books, including three named on the Best Children’s Books for Family Literacy list, during her short career. She was a frequent contributor to TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design), an American media organization that posts talks online for free. Her final work before her death from ovarian cancer was an essay for The New York Times entitled “You May Want to Marry My Husband.” Rosenthal died at her home in Chicago in March 2017 at age 51.

Illustrator

Born in New England and currently residing in Massachusetts, illustrator and author Scott Magoon has been creating children’s books since 2003. He graduated from Northeastern University after studying English literature. He studied art at NU and the Massachusetts College of Art and Design but is admittedly largely self-taught. He has illustrated several acclaimed picture books including a few New York Times bestsellers such as Spoon. He wrote and illustrated Breathe, The Boy Who Cried Bigfoot, and Hugo and Miles in I’ve Painted Everything.

Synopsis

Spoon has always been a happy utensil, visiting his relatives and hearing stories about his family. One day he finds himself feeling blue. He cannot cut and spread like Knife. He is not as used as Fork. He is not exotic like Chopsticks. So his mom reminds him of all the wonderful things that he gets to do. In the end, Spoon realizes that he is pretty special being who he is.

Recommended Reading

13: The Three Pigs
Written and Illustrated by David Wiesner

The Three Pigs by David Wiesner

  • Age: 3
  • Genre: Fairy Tales
  • Publisher: Clarion Books
  • Date: 2001
  • Page Count: 40

Author and Illustrator

Born in Bridgewater Township, New Jersey in February 1956, American author and illustrator David Wiesner who received the Caldecott Medal three times and a Caldecott Honor three times. He graduated from Rhode Island School of Design after studying illustration. His first published work was the illustrations in the picture book Honest Andrew by Gloria Skurzynski. He has since created over twenty books. He was one of five finalists for the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2008. Wiesner currently resides outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with his family.

Synopsis

The Three Pigs retells the classic fairy tale with an unexpected twist. The first pig builds his house with straw, the second with sticks, and the third with bricks. The wolf comes along and huffs and puffs. Except he huffs and puffs so hard that he blows the pig right out of the story. One by one the three pigs exit the story and set out on an unexpected adventure, returning later on to give the wolf an even bigger surprise. The Three Pigs received the Caldecott Medal in 2002.

Recommended Reading

14: Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut
Written by Derrick Barnes and Illustrated by Gordon C. James

Crown An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes

  • Age: 3
  • Genre: Black Heritage
  • Publisher: Denene Millner Books
  • Date: 2017
  • Page Count: 32

Author

Born in Kansas City, Missouri, American author Derrick Barnes grew up in Kansas City, Missouri and earned a degree in marketing from Jackson State University in Mississippi. He became the first full-time black male copywriter for Hallmark in 1999. He left Hallmark in 2003 and eventually received a multi-book deal with children’s book publisher Scholastic. He published the first two books in the Ruby and the Booker Boys series in 2008. Barnes currently resides in Charlotte, North Carolina with his wife Dr. Tinka Barnes and their four sons.

Illustrator

Born in Washington, D.C., American illustrator Gordon C. James attended high school at the Suitland Center for the Visual and Performing Arts in Forestville, Maryland and then earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He was one of only two full time illustrators hired to work for Hallmark Cards Inc. in 1997. His style comes from Impressionism and the art of John Singer Sargent, Nicholai Fechin, and Henry Ossawa Tanner, among others. In addition to Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut, he illustrated Let ‘Er Buck!: George Fletcher, the People’s Champion by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. James currently resides in Charlotte, North Carolina with his wife, children, and dog.

Synopsis

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut is a tribute to the shop at which magic happens for black and brown boys. A boy goes in, sits in the chair, and walks out feeling like royalty. He begins as a blank canvas as the barber drapes him in a princely cape and sets to work shaving straight lines and creating tight fades. He sees other men standing around exuding confidence from their fresh do’s. A fresh cut makes a boy feel fly. Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut received a Caldecott Honor, Newbery Honor, Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book, Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book, Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award Book, and Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Honor Book in 2018.

Recommended Reading

Fun Fact

Barnes used his own experience as a sixth grade boy who visited his own barber Mr. Tony every Thursday to get his hair cut while writing Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut.

Image Credits

All images via Amazon

Books You Gotta Read: Age 3

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Written by Heather Johnson

Heather is a writer, librarian, linguist, wife, and mother who loves her husband, children, dogs, and cat. She has a bachelor's degree in English with a minor in creative writing and master's degrees in library and information science and English studies with a concentration in linguistics.

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