Children need to hear poetry and rhymes from a very young age in order to learn the rhythm and flow of the English language. Additionally, exposure to poetry from a young age can help foster a lifelong appreciation for this form of literature.
When they are a bit older, 2 or 3, they love Shirley Hughes’ Out and About: A First Book of Poems, which has poems organized by season. Of course, you also get the benefit of Hughes’ distinctive, detailed illustrations which accompany each poem. Her other poetry collection, Rhymes for Annie Rose is fun for fans of Alfie and Annie Rose, and celebrates sibling play and mundane family life.
Our four year old loves Robert Louis Stevenson’s poems in A Child’s Garden of Verses. These poems were intended for children, written with simple themes and commonplace similes that children will readily grasp, but many are still mini masterpieces. They make great first exercises in memorization.
Pied Beauty: A Children’s Book attempts with some success to make a wonderful poem by Gerald Manley Hopkins accessible to young children. Breaking the poem down line by line, this book offers imagery and word definitions to help your children understand.
Check out more of my book lists for Little Catholic Kids!
This post contains affiliate links. See footer for full disclosure.
By age three, toddlers are becoming preschoolers and are ready for longer, more challenging stories. Here are some of our favorites for this age!
If you only buy one book off this list, buy Dogger. In my opinion Shirley Hughes’ greatest work, Dogger tells a humorous and heartwarming story of losing a favorite toy, and big sister saving the day through a sacrifice. I always tear up for this one. Themes: sacrifice, sibling love, giving
With The Big Alfie Out of Doors Storybook, you get four stories plus poems in one book! In this collection, Alfie and Annie Rose build a store, help a cow find its way home, go camping, and visit the seashore. Themes: enjoying nature, patience, playing together, sibling love
Under the Moon by Joanne Ryder has incredibly beautiful, detailed nature scenes (my kids wanted to eat the blackberries!). Mama Mouse teaches baby mouse to find her way home by using her senses. Themes: nature, five senses, mother-child love
Make Way for Ducklings is a famous Robert McCloskey story about a mallard duck couple raising their babies in a busy city. Themes: helping, kindness to animals
Speaking of ducklings the lesser known Lucky Ducklings is a fun story about baby ducklings falling down a storm drain and being rescued in a dramatic manner by fireen and a truck with a tow hitch. Themes: helping, rescues, bravery
Jane Hissey’s beautifully illustrated Old Bear books about the adventures of a collection of plush animals are definitely worth buying. Her original unabridged stories are difficult to find, but The Old Bear Collection contains most of her charming text and illustrations. Themes: friendship, sharing, kindness
The Little Island by Margaret Wise Brown is a layered story about at once an island steadfast through the seasons of the year and a curious kitten who adventures on the island.
The Perfect Pony is a perfect story for horse loving children. It has an amazing theme about patience and kindness mattering more than beauty.
The Apple Pie Tree describes two sisters watching their apple tree and a family of robins throughout the year, eagerly waiting to make an apple pie! Themes: waiting patiently, observing nature, sibling fun
Tractor Mac, the friendly red tractor, learns about building a barn, patience, and humility in Tractor Mac Builds a Barn. Themes: patience, humility, boasting, hard work
Charlie Goes to School is a funny story about Charlie the ranch dog’s family starting their school year as homeschoolers. Charlie is such a sweet, amusing, sleepy basset hound he is sure to become a family favorite. You can find more of his adventures in Charlie the Ranch Dog and Charlie Plays Ball . Themes: starting school, homeschooling, friendship, helping
Percy the parkkeeper is another wonderful character of British children’s literature. In Percy’s Bumpy Ride , Percy invents a flying lawn mower and takes his animal friends for a ride over the park. Themes: friendship, building machines, kindness
The Brave Cowboy is a tale of a little boy whose days are colored with cowboy adventures courtesy of his vivid imagination. The illustrations are cleverly executed with the boy’s visions in red ink and real life in black ink. Themes: bravery, imaginative play, the wild west
Another cowboy tale, Cowboy Small rides his paint pony cactus on the range, getting back on even when he hits the dust, in this fun little story from Lois Lenski. Themes: trying again, bravery, perseverance, wild west
Raven and River is a beautifully illustrated story about a Raven and a winter in Alaska. Simple, beautiful text, poetic in its diction and rhythm, make this book memorable.
Homeplace is a fascinating book about a homestead that has been passed down through seven generations of a family. The detailed illustrations visualize what each generation adds to what begins as a tiny log cabin and ends as a thriving home and farm.
The Seven Silly Eaters is a hilarious rhymed story of a mom struggling to cope with seven picky children until they decide to do something for her for a change. I found it heartwarming, even if the ending is far fetched, and kids love the detailed illustrations. Themes: picky eating, helping out, big families
Eric Carle’s Pancakes, Pancakes! is stellar for starting preschool minds thinking about from where food comes and appreciating the work that goes into a simple meal. Jack wants a pancake, and his mother will make it if he gathers all the ingredients himself! Themes: hard work, perseverance, where food comes from, earning something makes it sweeter
Doctor Dan the Bandage Man is the story of Dan learning from his mom’s care of his own cut to care for the hurts of his sister, pet, and even dad. Themes: caring for others, helping, bravery
As I add yet another British classic to the list, I’ll confess a weakness for British children’s books! Mick Inkpen’s Kipper Story Collection introduces Kipper, the sweet-natured dog, whose gentle adventures with his stuffed animals and real animal friends make soothing bedtime stories. Themes: friendship, kindness
The Mitten in its unabridged form is a fine lesson for children in caring for their belongings. Nicki loses his mitten despite his grandma’s warnings, and when he finds it is stretched out from a tangle of animals using it as a den. Themes: good stewardship, sharing
Another favorite Jan Brett, Annie and the Wild Animals features adorable Annie, who is searching for a new pet after her cat Taffy disappears. Themes: perseverance, friendship, loneliness
Home Sweet Home is a beautiful book both both in its detailed illustrations of different animal habitats and in its simple message of God blessing all things. Themes: appreciating nature, blessings
The Complete Adventures of Curious George: 75th Anniversary Edition is, to me, a good book in essence as long as one adequately discusses George’s disobedience and its negative consequences. These original stories by the Reys are funny and have good lessons about obedience, impulse control, and friendship. Themes: obedience, actions have consequences, helping, self control
A new baby on the way is an exciting time for a Catholic family, but sometimes the toddler or preschooler is a little less than enthusiastic. Or they may be excited, but still anxious. These books can help answer their questions, put a positive picture of big brother or sisterhood in their minds, and reassure them they are still special.
Regina Doman’s Angel in the Waters is a beautiful account of life in the womb and birth from the unborn baby’s perspective. Themes: guardian angels, unborn babies
When the Teddy Bears Came is a sweet story about a little boy helping his baby brother with all the teddy bears friends give the baby, then realizing the couch is getting too crowded for him. It ends with a special message that there is always still room on mom’s lap for the older sibling! Themes: helping, sharing, there’s enough love to go around
In Annie Rose Is My Little Sister, Alfie describes his little sister in a touching manner, matter of factly acknowledging her faults, but focusing on the fun of playing with her.
“And we’ll go on like this forever, even until we’re all grown up, because Annie Rose will always be my little sister.
Themes: little siblings are a gift, siblings will always be there
Big Brother, Little Brother is a celebration of the special bond between siblings. Big brother and little brother occasionally disagree, but overall take care of each other. Themes: empathy, taking care of babies, sharing, including little siblings
This post contains affiliate links. For full disclosure see footer.
At two to three years old, children have a longer attention span and a greater appreciation for detailed illustrations. There are so many wonderful books for this age!
Giving is a wonderful conversation piece about all the ways one can give, as described by a little girl and illustrated by the ever-charming Shirley Hughes. Themes: giving, thankfulness, sharing
Blueberries for Sal is possibly my favorite book for two year olds. Little Sal and little bear learn that they should stay close to their mommies, even if yummy berries are tempting! Themes: obedience, courage
Baby’s Boat is a luminous bedtime story we love describing a dream voyage on a moon-boat. Themes: bedtime, poetic language
Little Donkey Close Your Eyes is by the great Margaret Wise Brown. Animals around the world settle down for bed in their own ways as their mothers urge them to close their eyes. Themes: bedtime, animals, mothers
A Home in the Barn is another favorite by Margaret Wise Brown with lovely illustrations from Caldecott Medalist Jerry Pinkney. This book describes the coming of winter and how various farm animals prepare for the cold and wind. Themes: winter, opposites, onomatopoeia
Peter finds treasures on his walk, but has no pockets to put them in! Mommy saves the day by sewing new ones on in Peter’s Pockets Themes: sharing, creativity
Hush Little Baby is a nature-focused variation on the traditional rhyme, and is the version we sing in our house. Themes: mother love, enjoying nature
For the baby loving toddler, Everywhere Babies is sure to be a favorite with its descriptions of everything baby. Themes: loving babies
When the Rooster Crowed is a toddler favorite about the farm animals trying to wake up the sleepy farmer. Themes: persistence, sloth, patience
Shirley Hughes’ Alfie’s Feet is a simple but beloved story in which Alfie gets new boots and solves the mystery of why they feel funny. Themes: growing, calmly solving problems, enjoying the outdoors
Another popular Alfie story, Alfie Gets in First, is a cautionary tale warning children against locking doors. But don’t worry it has a happy ending! Themes: obedience, staying calm in an emergency
Little Lamb to the Rescue, one of the most beautiful picture books we own, is the story of a little lamb helping an even littler bird. Themes: helping, friendship
Little Baby Buttercup is a charming recounting by a loving mother of her day with her little girl. This sweet book is a must read to your little girl! Themes: a mother’s love for her child
Crocodaddy is one for the daddies and sons! A little boy and his father play at a pond, using their imaginations to make an enjoyable day even funner. Themes: using your imagination, daddy-son bonding
In Better Not Get Wet, Jesse Bear, Jesse Bear, a very active little bear, learns about all the times one shouldn’t get wet, and finally when one should! Themes: obedience, patience
Jan Brett’s illustrations in The Hat are, as always, worthy of lengthy study. In this story Hedgehog struggles to get untangled from a stocking, and Lisa tries to find her missing clothes. Themes: perseverance, being kind to others
Little Mommy is a good old story of a little girl caring for her dolls. It’s sure to delight any little mommy! Themes: motherliness
Another good old story, The curious little Kitten details the adventure of a very curious little kitten! It is a good cautionary tale to show the dangers of too much curiosity. Themes: curiosity, persistence
Once Upon a Cloud is a modern tale with illustrations to delight little princesses and a fanciful story of a little girl going on a magic carpet ride to find the perfect gift for her mother. Themes: giving
Little Mouse and the Big Cupcake is a delectable, gentle story about a little mouse trying to get a huge cupcake home, with some help from his hungry friends. Themes: sharing, generosity
Illustrated by the marvellous Hilda Van Stockum, Pamela Walks the Dog is a hilarious little book about Pamela’s lengthy preparations to take her non-existent dog for a walk.