Learning Through Play for 70 Years

Favorite Stories for Preschoolers

If you’ve ever been asked to read a novelization from a second-rate kids movie at bedtime, you might be forgiven for thinking that 2018 is well past the zenith of the golden age of children’s literature. While we are certainly in a glut of middling children’s media, there are some gems out there deserving of a place on your family bookshelf. Here are a few recommendations to help you break free from the book-movie-merchandise feedback loop.

The Love Monster Series

This kitsch series by Rachel Bright follows the only (and I-suppose-a-bit-googly-eyed) monster in Cutesville as he learns about love and friendship. Perfect for the child who loves all things cute, fluffy and rainbowed, Rachel Bright’s irreverent narration and the doodly illustration will make you cheer for Love Monster, especially if you prefer books with a strong message. The series really shines in the later books, Love Monster and the Perfect Present and Love Monster and the Last Chocolate. And if you have an aspiring George Romero enthusiast on your hands, try Love Monster and the Scary Something.


It’s no surprise that this wonderful little book by Stephen Savage won a Theodor Seuss Geisel award.The garbage truck enthusiast in your life will love to read about the mysterious truck that saves the city during a snowstorm. Savage uses bright colors and geometric designs to bring the trucks of New York City to life. You’ll also appreciate the word economy for the littlest page-turners.

A Unicorn Named Sparkle

Amy Young brings us a sweet and silly book about a little girl who orders a unicorn in the mail for twenty-five cents and receives a goat not quite what she expected. This one is a great read for kids who love rainbows, sparkles and butterflies and teaches us to learn to appreciate the ones we love for who they are. If you’re not uncomfortable with bodily sound effects, your kid is guaranteed to laugh out loud (as long as your burping game is on point).

The Tractor Mac Series

Recently reprinted for mass market, Tractor Mac books were once only a rare find in a Litchfield boutique. Billy Steers’ series features farm animals, fire trucks, planes, trains and of course the eponymously-named red tractor himself, while imparting some wholesome lessons about life on the farm. This series has a rare kind of charm that manages to capture the hearts of boys and girls alike. Some favorites include Tractor Mac: You’re a Winner! And Tractor Mac: New Friend. The series also features board books and a lift-the-flap book.

Where’s the Party?

If you are raising a hipster, look no further. Complete with Brooklyn brownstones and artisan pickles, Ruth Chan’s Where’s the Party? follows a cake-loving tabby and his quest for an impromptu party for his friends. Insecurity and self-doubt is something that we don’t often talk about with our children at this age. Chan’s Georgie takes us on a little adventure that ultimately proves the endurance of friendship and teaches us what it means to be a good friend.

School’s First Day of School

Everyone gets the first-day-of-school jitters, even Frederick Douglass Elementary School. Adam Rex and Christian Robinson let the school tell his own story as he worries that the children won’t like him and that he won’t be a good school. This story is great for children who are apprehensive about starting a new school and provides a gentle nudge to be open to learning new things and making new friends.

One Boy, Lemons Are Not Red, Black? White! Day? Night!

If you’ve been hunting for something that your two-year-old and four-year-old will both love, stop here. Lauren Vaccaro Seeger’s lift-the-flap books are wonderful for a range of ages and she really manages to take the lift-the-flap concept to a new level. The bright straight-forward illustrations entertain the littlest readers, while the sophisticated word play engages preschoolers and kindergarteners who are learning to read independently.

Lenny and Lucy

Looking for a friend in his strange new home, Peter uses pillows and blankets to build Lenny to guard his house from things that might live in the dark unfriendly woods. Philip and Erin Stead won a Caldecott Medal for A Sick Day for Amos McGee and Lenny and Lucy lives up to their usual standard. All of their picture books feature nostalgic watercolor illustrations and unironic stories for children with a sensitive soul. Like so many books for young readers, Lenny and Lucy is a testament to the power of friendship in a world that can at times be lonely.

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble

Written by the late William Steig, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble won the Caldecott medal in 1970 and has been beloved by children for nearly fifty years. It’s certainly not alone in its category of children’s books that prominently feature tragedy and loss. When Sylvester accidentally turns himself into a rock, he finds himself feeling increasingly hopeless while his heartbroken family searches for him in vain.

During his Caldecott acceptance speech, Steig remarked that he was particularly drawn to Pinocchio as a child because of the “turmoil of emotions, the excitement, the fears” he experienced. Don’t be afraid to read this sweet, sad book to your child. Sylvester’s story ends happily and reminds us of the powerful and enduring love between a parent and child.

William Steig’s acceptance speech is included as an addendum to Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. For Steig, books, especially those that we read when we are very young, hold a special kind of power:

Art, including juvenile literature, has the power to make any spot on earth the living center of the universe, and unlike science, which often gives us the illusion of understanding things we really do not understand, it helps us to know life in a way that still keeps before us the mystery of things. It enhances the sense of wonder. And wonder is respect for life. Art also stimulates the adventurousness and the playfulness that keep us moving in a lively way and that lead us to useful discovery.

All of the titles mentioned are available at Fairfax County Libraries. If you decide to purchase these books, or any other books for your child, don’t forget to use the ACPS Amazon Smile page!