23 Classic Children’s Books for
3- to 5-Year-Olds

by Sharon Holbrook

Photography by Seana Williamson

These are the children’s books that you give as gifts or buy for your family, because borrowing them from the library and reading them once or twice will never be enough. They are the ones that join generations, which you may have read as a child, and which will be hard to give away when your children outgrow them. They are the ones you may be tempted to hang on to — “just in case” — to read to visiting nieces and nephews and, just maybe, the ones you keep around long enough to read to your grandchildren. That, friends, is what we mean by classic.

So what really makes a children’s book a classic? It’s not simply amusement value. It’s not pop-ups nor holograms nor any other fun gimmick. No, it’s a book’s ability to evoke the essence of childhood — what it is to view the world through a child’s eyes and to feel the world with a child’s heart. It’s giving voice and stories to children without condescension and with uncommon understanding. And, if we are not hardened beyond recognition, it can even speak to that part of us that remembers what it was to be young.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2016 and updated in 2024.