Reading With Your 3 and Under Child


For the past 20 years or so, I have been telling people what their kids should be reading. I was a school librarian for 15 years and before that, I worked at various book stores around town. I think my suggestions were mostly on point, but I was using professional expertise as opposed to personal experience.

Now that I have a 2-year-old, my viewpoints have changed just a little bit. I may have rolled my eyes at those books based on popular television shows before I had my own kid. And I know that books that make noise really got on my nerves. One of my favorite things about having a child is that I can watch her touch, feel, and taste books. I am now getting the chance to share intimately these things I have loved and enjoyed all of my life about books with an actual child of my own. Field research!

Things To Know About This Age Group

I know that many times, when parents think about reading with their babies and toddlers, they envision a quiet house, a quiet and still baby on their lap, with snuggles and kisses in between pages. This ideal scene MIGHT happen for you once or twice but more often, you will read one page and your toddler will run away from you. THAT’S OKAY! Do not be discouraged. As parents, we all want to do what is best for our children.

What is best at this age, as far as reading goes, is to have lots of print around. Let them look at your books, at magazines, at newspapers, AND at their books. Visit the library with your child and let them explore the books on the shelves. ALWAYS check out what they bring to you to read. Attend story times. Our local public libraries have story times for the youngest of readers. Don’t worry if your little one is running around and not sitting on your lap … the fact that you are there and that they are hearing stories is what is important … not perfect behavior. Let them see you reading.

Best Practices At Home and Away

Start reading habits NOW – no matter how young your new baby is, it is time to start reading to them. Make reading a book part of the nap/bedtime routine … the book does not have to be very long (books for this age group typically are not long to begin with), just read something before settling for bed. This will make establishing the habit easier later in life.

Give your toddler books to look at while you are making dinner. Give your little one books to play with – board books make great stacking blocks. Put books in your diaper bag to pull out at restaurants, church, and appointments. Put a couple of books in the crib for your baby to look at when they wake up in the morning or after nap, but before you come to get them. This has been a great tool in my house for a few extra minutes of quite coffee time for me, while she sits in her crib “reading.” There are many little things you can do to help your child grow into a reader. Start now.

Family Favorites

Here are a few of the BEST books I have found to enjoy with my little one. Hopefully, they are all books you will enjoy too! These are excellent choices for ages 0 – 3, but many older readers will enjoy these books too!

Books by Sandra Boynton 

Chances are, you have already read a Boynton book to your kiddo. These books are GREAT for this age group. Many of her books are board books (small and sturdy, made of thick paperboard) that stand up to toddler abuse. There are also quite a few water proof ones that can be read in the tub! They are silly and fun to read aloud. Boynton is active on social media, which can be fun to follow. Her website is awesome, and she even has an app — all of which are toddler approved. 

Books by Todd Parr 

Todd Parr’s books work for this age group as well as for the elementary school set. They are simple, bright and colorful, and tackle a lot of life lessons. His books always end with a letter from Todd, explaining the point of the book. They are excellent gift books for teachers and friends too. Todd Parr is active on social media and has a great website and YouTube channel

Touch and Feel Books 

My little one has loved touch and feel books since (what feels like) day 1. These books are great because they allow babies and toddlers to touch and experience various textures. They are often simple, usually with one picture/one word to a page. This allows the reader to make a connection between the image itself and the “feel” of the image. Read a touch and feel book about animals before visiting the zoo, and your little one will connect what they read and felt at home to what they are seeing and feeling in real life! DK has an excellent touch and feel series, as does Usborne Children’s Books

touch and feel book | Columbia SC Moms Blog

Lift the Flaps Books

Similar to touch and feel books, books that allow kids to lift flaps are excellent to get them interested in reading and looking at books. Don’t worry if these books rip and fall apart. They will. But, your baby will enjoy playing with them and having a fun experience with a book, which will be important for the future. Often, these books are concept books that teach readers about different animals, numbers, colors, and shapes. 

Art for Baby, Faces for Baby, and Color for Baby – Yana Peel

These books are awesome for babies under one. They are made of the same material as board books (but Art for Baby and Faces for Baby are larger in size. Color for Baby is small, but comes “accordion” style – allowing baby to play with it as well as look at the images). These books are not stories, but are made of photographs of various pieces of art for baby to look at. Great for looking at with your baby while asking questions (what color is that? what is that person feeling?).

Books for the bathtub 

As mentioned above, many of Boynton’s books come in a waterproof format. If you look at Babies R Us, Buy Buy Baby or Amazon, you will find many other books in this format. Don’t spend too much money on these, because I have discovered that mold can develop on them, but you just throw it away and get a new one. Many times these books also squeak, which is fun for this age group. Having books in the bathtub is a good idea because the more you read with your child (and do it in a fun atmosphere), the more they will come to think of it as something they enjoy and will begin to pick up books naturally later on. 

Books based on television characters

I always rolled my eyes at books that are based on television shows and movies for kids. To me, they were poorly written and made simply to make money for the creators of these television shows. While that may be true, kids love these characters, therefore, they love these books. I now have my share of Peppa Pig and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse books and my daughter LOVES them.

If you think about the ultimate purpose of books at this age, it is to make reading fun, so that when it comes time to learn to read, they will want to and they will be more likely to become a lifelong reader and lover of books. If reading a Peppa Pig book for the millionth time helps my kid become a reader, then I will do it. So, buy the books with your kid’s favorite characters on them. It will be worth it in the end!


These books are awesome. Larger size board books with raised buttons on each page for kids to “pop.” Kind of like bubble wrap and just as addictive! The series includes books about animals and books based on popular nursery rhymes. Check out the website here.

Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes and Songs 

These rhymes are timeless. Your child will learn them and be able to read and sing with you in no time. 

What are some of your favorite books for ages 3 and under?

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Valerie Byrd Fort was born in Florida, but when she was four years old, her family moved to the midlands and never looked back. She is mom to Katy (human) and to Lucky, Mozzy, and Penny (rescue dogs). She is married to Marty Fort, owner of the Lexington School of Music, Columbia Arts Academy, and Irmo Music Academy. She is an Instructor for the School of Library & Information Science at the University of South Carolina, where she teaches Children’s Literature to future classroom teachers and librarians. She is also Coordinator for Cocky's Reading Express, the University of South Carolina's literacy outreach program. Valerie is passionate about books, literacy, libraries, and reading aloud with children of ALL ages. She writes about books and other literacy related topics on her blog, Library Goddess. In her free time, Valerie enjoys reading, Barre3, going to Target and endless scrolling of social media  


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