I've written over 50 articles about children's literature for library, preschool, or home settings. I have a BA in English Lit from BYU.
Selecting the Right Books for Story Time
Some children's books are designed to be read aloud in a group setting, but others may not work for groups of toddlers and younger preschool children. Sometimes books are too long, too complicated, or just not engaging enough. And keeping the momentum is a component of a successful story hour or classroom reading time. And, while there's much more to putting on a great storytime program or preschool classroom than selecting and reading books, selecting the right books really helps!
Below is a list of books that I read in a preschool story time setting. I recommend most of these children's picture books because they have textual and visual elements that can keep a group of young children engaged in the story. While you can never predict a young child's behavior, these books were used during multiple story time presentations, and were particularly suited to groups of children.
Tips for Toddler Story Hours
Keep it simple, sweeties! This age group is curious, mobile, and not at all used to sitting still. Expecting a group of 2 year olds to sit still for more than 2 minutes is a recipe for failure. I recommend you use short board-books geared to this age and enhance your story hour with lots of music and motion activities that you repeat over and over, so that they become a fun, familiar, and anticipated part of your story hour structure.
Tips for Mixed Age-Group Story Hours
Small community libraries are often more limited in space for story hour presentations. Try to keep a mix of short and longer books and incorporate music and motion. You may have more space limitations and distractions. Read your books for younger children first, and draw your inspiration from the needs of your group. Humorous stories with vivid illustration and lots of group participation during readings can help children focus and stay on track.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See by Bill Martin, Jr. and Eric Carle is meant to be chanted more than read, I think. This book is simple and repetitive and lends itself to easy memorization. My children love this book so much that it has become completely shredded through multiple re-readings. I recommend you get a board-book version of this story because it will be well-loved in a preschool, library, or home setting. In fact, all of the books in this series are just as good, focusing on different senses.
Caps for Sale: A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys and Their Monkey Business by Esphyr Slobodkina, when the local seller of hats decides to take a nap under a tree, a band of mischievous monkeys start stealing the peddler's wares. In this classic story, the monkeys steal the show. Young children can mimic the monkeys as you read the book, and help the reader with the lines "Caps, for sale, caps for sale, 50 cents a cap." You may want to mention that things cost a lot less when this book was written, though most young children won't be concerned about such details.
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. (Author), John Archambault (Author), and Lois Ehlert (Illustrator). Rhythmic alphabet fun as the alphabet letters climb up the coconut tree. An all-time children's favorite because it reads as a percussive, sing-song chant that will have kids remembering all the words. The new sequel to this story has been made into an entertaining short film that I strongly recommend if you have multimedia access. Many a librarian has made this a feature story during story hour, and it is a must-have for home libraries, too.
Corduroy and A Pocket for Corduroy by Don Freeman is the classic, irresistible story about a cute little teddy bear and his adventures that take him into a department store and through the wash.
Does a Kangaroo Have a Mother Too by Eric Carle is a simple and repetitive board book designed for very young toddlers, ages 18 months to 2 1/2. It is not a story with rising and falling action. In fact, it is so repetitive that some parents very legitimately find it grating after several readings. So why is it on this list? Because story hour is for children first, and young kids love the easy repetition of the text. Does a (fill in the name of an animal here) have a mother too? Yes, yes they do! As the reader, you can ask the question, and let the children repeat Yes, yes, they do. Also, a child's parents through the first years of life are their entire world. This book is very emotionally satisfying to a young person. Eric Carle's trademark vivid collage pictures show several animal pairs before the last page focuses on a child with a mother. The artwork does not disappoint. I recommend this for story time reading but it does quickly become tiresome to parents, so don't buy a copy for home, unless you are very, very patient or zealous. Otherwise you may end up dropping it in a toilet accidentally on purpose. I'm not kidding. Instead, buy the Brown Bear series of board books by Carle, and maybe some fun titles by Sandra Boynton for your home library.
Duck on a Bike by David Shannon. Ducks don't ride bikes! Shannon as a children's book author was wildly popular during the 1990s, and for good reason. David Shannon's bike-riding duck, and his jealous barnyard friends are just one example of his quirky, clever, and mischievous sense of humor. This isn't the only book where barnyard animals are trying to do people things. Be sure to pair this with Click, Clack, Moo, Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin or Don't Let The Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems. Back to Shannon's Duck on a Bike: this book has large, attractive, bright illustrations that will hold a child's attention, and you can read the animal sounds using different voices, or invite children to participate by making the noise, or ask them what sound that animal makes. Another favorite title worth mentioning here by David Shannon is a Bad Case of Stripes which depicts a child getting sick with stripes instead of spots, and being colorfully homebound.
Five Little Monkeys Jumping On The Bed by Eileen Christelow is a short book that follows the well-known action rhyme with cute pictures and makes for fast-paced reading to very young preschoolers and toddlers. This title works well paired with another monkey-themed book, such as Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb. This book could also be a companion reading to Curious George Rides a Bike. The advantage of shorter books like this: the truth of story hour with very young kids is reading is not the main event. Not if you are doing it right. Books for young toddlers need to be short and very engaging.
Any books in the Froggry series by Jonathan London will be entertaining reading in a preschool and early elementary-aged story hour. While too advanced for toddlers, I particularly like Froggy's First Kiss and Froggy Bakes a Cake. Jonathan London's Froggy is very likable, and is a boy character who has many different adventures that preschoolers can relate to.
The Gingerbread Boy by Paul Galdone This popular traditional folktale is told to perfection by the master folk tale author, Paul Galdone. Folktales like the Gingerbread Boy are suberbly paced, follow a quick-paced story with rising action, a clever villain, and key phrases that can be repeated over and over. Children can chime in with "you can't catch me, I'm the Gingerbread man!" There's a reason this centuries-old tradition of oral storytelling is popular in folktale books like the Gingerbread Boy. Another title I like just as much, perhaps even more by Galdone is The Three Billy Goats Gruf. Folktales are longer and require a little more focus than some of the other titles in this list. I recommend for preschool and up, not toddlers.
Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury is one of THE GREAT children's picture books for presenting during a children's story hour. It is a lot of fun to read, and after you have finished reading with children, you can follow a set of paper bear prints through the library for additional fun. This version of the Going on a Bear Hunt chant is illustrated with toddler-friendly water color images. They are not vivid like some other picture books, but the happy-go-lucky family in the story will put a smile on your face.
The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle is a clever concept book that also tells a bit of a story. A grouchy ladybug tries to bully his way up the food chain, first picking on tiny insects and moving gradually to a giant whale that is so large, the ladybug talks to whale's flipper! This book is about animals, telling time, bullies. With toddlers, I would not emphasize the time-telling aspect as much as the animals and the size differences. It is a great read with repetitive phrases and beautiful artwork, as usual.
Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb, by Al Perkins (Author) and Eric Gurney (Illustrator). This fun book is a finger-tapping, foot-stomping good time. It is widely appealing to older toddlers because, like Chicka, Chicka, Boom, Boom, you can almost sing the words as you read them. This book is also features playful Monkeys. Your story hour options with this book include having the children drum along, clap, or join in the story. Some children will undoubtedly be familiar with this story from home.
Hilda Must Be Dancing by Karma Wilson. Hilda the Hippo needs a new hobby, and how! But what could be better than dancing? All of the other animals try to discourage her from following her passion, because dancing is so impractical for a hippo. The brightly-colored images of Wilson's artwork make her an artist and author to read again and again. Wilson is more well-known for her Bear books. Make sure to read A Frog in a Bog, and all of the books in her Bear series, including Bear Snores On, Bear Wants More, and Bear Stays Up. I recommend this book for preschool ages and up.
I Need My Monster by Amanda Noll is a long but entertaining story by an author with an ear for storytelling. This book is meant to be read aloud. This book could be read during Halloween or for any bedtime-themed story hour, but is for older preschoolers and elementary ages.
Harry and the Terrible Whatzit by Dick Gachenbach. Harry is sure that a double-headed, three-clawed, six-toed, long-horned Whatzit has taken his mother down in the basement. He must face his fears to rescue his beloved mom. I have to confess I do have a soft spot for this vintage tale. My aunt read it to me when I was a child. But the appeal for story hour is the very fun, repeated name of the monster, "A double-headed, three-clawed, six-toed, long-horned Whatzit." Try it say it out loud. See, it IS fun! When Harry confronts the monster in the laundry room of the basement, the monster starts shrinking.
The King With Six Friends Jay Williams (Author), Imero Gobbato (Illustrator). King Zar is out of a job, and with only the clothes on his back, he sets out on a quest to find a new kingdom to rule. His six new friends help. Another vintage story, this one is too long for toddlers. But once your older preschoolers can sit still for a good story, this one has a wonderful message about humility and working together to solve problems. There's a princess to win, a kindom to save, and the King's friends can do some amazing things!
The Little Red Hen Makes a Pizza by Philemon Sturges. In this modern retelling of the classic fable, Little Red Hen invites the friends in her city neighborhood to help her make a pizza. This book is an appealing modern retelling of the familiar folktale.
Llama Llama Mad at Mama by Anna Dewdney. Little Llama gets frustrated when his mama takes him for a long, boring, shopping trip at the Shop-O-Rama. Rhyming text in a situation every toddler and young preschooler can relate to. Llama Llama Red Pajama and Llama Llama Misses Mama are strong recommends by this author. I find Llama's behavior a little whiny and irritating, but toddlers will understand why he feels trapped in the shopping cart. Good authors write for children and relate to them.
No David! by David Shannon. Little David is ALWAYS getting in trouble. How many ways can his exasperated mom say no? Lots of laughs for this contemporary fave that is full of mischief, short on words, and short enough that even a toddler-aged boy will enjoy it. You may want to check into other books from the David series, or look into some of Shannon's other entertaining titles, like Duck on a Bike and A Bad Case of Stripes.
Olivia by Ian Falconer. Olivia has a fun-filled day any preschooler would envy, from moving the cat, to viewing world-famous pop art. All of the books in the Olivia series are particularly good, but I really enjoy a follow up story in this series by Emily Sollinger called Dinner With Olivia. I think Olivia may be a bit precocious for some children, but she will win the hearts of parents in your story hour crowd. She had me at moving the cat.
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, by Laura Numeroff (Author) and Felicia Bond (Illustrator) Laura Numeroff's book If You Take a Mouse To School is another good read for the beginning of the school year. Laura Numeroff's series of cause and effect stories includes other popular titles like If You Give a Cat A Cupcake, and If You Give a Moose a Muffin. All of these stories have circular plots, beginning where they end. The books require a great deal of suspension of disbelief. But hey, this is children's literature! This is a much-parodied title, and can become a little grating to adults who read this series over and over, but it is well-loved by children.
If You're Happy and You Know It is one of those storytime selections you need to have on hand because it is such a great way to incorporate music and motion into your story hour.
The Rainbow Fish by by Marcus Pfister and J. Alison James. This modern children's book classic tells how Rainbow Fish learns to share his beautiful scales and make friends instead of being the loneliest, most beautiful fish in the ocean. Sharing is a concept that children start to be developmentally ready for at between ages three and four.
Snowballs by Lois Ehlert. This fanciful book about building a snowman uses colorful objects from all over the world in new and unique ways to create an entire snow family, and even a family snow cat. You'll love Lois Ehlert's snow people collages. Others I like by Ehlert include Eating the Alphabet, Pie in the Sky, Planting a Rainbow, Leaf Man, and Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf. Ehlert is the illustrator of over 60 children's book and is known for her lovely collage-art illustrations. You really can't go wrong with Lois Ehlert books.
There's an Alligator Under My Bed by Mercer Mayer. This children's classic takes a humorous peek under the bed at a little boy's bedtime fears. The rhyming text is reassuring and funny. A great read for October. An enjoyable companion tale by the same author is There's a Nightmare in My Closet. I like incorporating vintage children's books with modern books that are bright-colored and fast paced. Mercer Mayer's stories have a staying power because they are hilarious.
Too Many Pumpkins, by Linda White is a blend of realistic fiction with a touch of fantasy. When the pumpkin truck drops a pumpkin onto Rebecca Estelle's lawn and seeds itself into the garden, she has too many pumpkins. But being practical and kind, Rebecca Estelle turns a problem into a blessing when she shares the bounty from her nuisance pumpkin patch with her neighbors. This charming and hopeful message of kindness, generosity, and thrift appeal to a modern society where 1 in 5 children in America are hungry. This book always chokes me up a little bit (ok, I admit it, more than a little). I love Rebecca Estelle's practical generosity and the wisdom she uses to overcome bad memories so she can act for a better future. This is children's writing at it's finest, because it is not a heavy-handed story at all. Appropriate for older preschoolers.
Lily's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes. Lily LOVES, even idolizes, her teacher, until he takes away her shiny new purple plastic purse. Kevin Henkes' books are really for elementary-aged kids, but I am including it here because all young children can relate to getting into trouble. This book is a delight. All of Henkes books have well-developed plots, characters children can easily relate to, and unapologetically big vocabulary words for early elementary-aged kids.
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. Young Peter in his red snowsuit enjoys playing in a snowy winter wonderland. Keats is one of my favorite children's book writers. Keats view of childhood is innocent and yet realistic. The Snowy Day makes reading about playing in the snow an experience of sensory catharsis, all the way to the hot bath and warm snack at the end of the story. You may also like A Letter to Amy, Goggles (about bullying), and Peter's Chair. His other titles tend to be a little wordier and more geared to preschool-aged children.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, ISBN 0399247459. A very hungry caterpillar gets a tummy ache when he eats all the wrong things in this classic story by beloved children's author Eric Carle. Of course, any book by Carle is a winner. From Head to Toe by the same author will get kids up and moving.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, ISBN 0060254920. Max in his wolf suit is sent to his room and there begins his journey to the land of the Wild Things, where he conquers and becomes king. This iconic children's tale is a childhood fave of multiple generations of readers.
So Much! by Trish Cooke (Author), Helen Oxenbury (Illustrator), This book of familial love has a rhythmic cadence that requires some practice reading, but is a beautiful story that illustrates the many ways family members show their love for a baby on the day of his dad's surprise birthday party. Be sure to practice reading this aloud before presenting to your group. It is a bit tricky to read, but not unnatural. Kids enjoy the satisfying repetitions and the contrasts in ways that family members show their love for the baby while they are waiting for the party. In the story you meet a large, loving, extended family including cousins, two grandparents, and an uncle.
More About Library/Preschool Storytime Programs
- Using Music Effectively in Your Toddler or Preschool...
Music is a useful component when working with toddlers, preschoolers and kindergarten students, with proven benefits. This article offers some tips and advice for integrating music and simple preschool-friendly musical instruments into your teaching
- How to Start a Highly Effective Storytime Program at Your Local Library
This group of topics provides in-depth information for starting a library or preschool story time, including planning, advertising, crafts, and leveraging volunteer help--if that isn't already you!
- Preschool Library Storytime Ideas for Presenters
Here is the basic formula I use for our library's story hour. I use books, music, movement, and transitions to create the sense of routine that young children crave.
© 2008 Carolyn Augustine
Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on October 05, 2016:
When my daughter was little she loved my reading books to her before going to sleep. Most of the books we read are not on this list, except Dr. Seuss and the Gingerbread boy. Considering that she's now 25, that should be understandable. This is a lovely list of children's story books.
Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on October 09, 2011:
Thanks Plainjane, I appreciate your feedback. I am working on breaking up some of my other hubs into shorter articles, perhaps I will do the same with this one. Regards and good luck with your children's book authoring.
plainjane44 from Saint Petersburg, Florida on October 09, 2011:
Good list of books. Your article was a bit too long, but great. I write children books. And I hope one day, my book or books will appear on your list. Hugs and kisses or as the teens say now, XOXO.
Lindsey Whitney on May 05, 2011:
Again, thanks for this great information. I'm going to follow your future hubpages!
rocksandal from victoria bc on April 09, 2011:
Story is the way of any children's heart . You can enter by any children 's heart and you can also motivate any children with good story . Because story always attract children attention and he learn so many things by this. This is duty of every parents and you have done a very perfect act .........................
Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on May 27, 2010:
Thanks for that Brenda. I honor your many years of service!
Treasures By Brenda from Canada on May 26, 2010:
I read for years in my children's classrooms and the school library. You have some of my favorite books on your list.