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best read aloud books for four year olds

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I am excited to share our read aloud book list for age four with you today!  We love to read books out loud and always have a book (or two!) that we are reading together in our homeschool.  But you don’t have to homeschool to have a read aloud tradition at your home — just fifteen minutes a day will mean all the world to your child and his/her development towards fluency in reading!  {Scroll down for a free printable of this list to bring to your library!}


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My son loves to curl up with me and read.  Oh I am a proud and happy mama when we are reading together.  His imagination runs wild from all the adventures that he reads about in books.  And his vocabulary is vastly expanded through the written word.

Did you know that the written word contains three times the vocabulary as the spoken word?  According to Jim Trelease, author of The Read Aloud Handbook,

“When it comes to building rich vocabulary, nothing does it like words that come from “print.” When researchers counted the words we use most often, the total came to 10,000 different words (the most common word is “the”). Beyond the 10,000 mark, you meet what are called the “rare” words. Though we use these words less frequently in conversation, they make up more and more of what you must know in order to understand complicated ideas and feelings in print, … thus the more rare (book) words a child knows, the more easily he or she will be able to read complex ideas” (Trelease).

When to read to your child?

Bedtime is the perfect time to continue a read-aloud book together.  Share fifteen minutes in the same text together and you will see your emotional bond and your child’s vocabulary and thinking skills improve.  If you homeschool, then you can read even more than this — perhaps after or during lunch.

What to read to your child?

By age four, children are able to connect with more than one character, and follow that character through multiple situations.  While you shouldn’t go beyond their comprehension level, you can push them to read past your basic “picture books.”  It’s important to have a check on learning with questions like, “What is happening right now?” “Where is the character going?” “Why do you think the character did that?”

If the subject matter is completely above your child’s head, then by all means skip it.  But if they are enjoying it, keep reading!  Abel’s Island by William Steig is a perfect example of a complex novel for a four year old.  The sentence structures and thought-provoking, almost poetic text is rich even for me as an adult, but my son loved the story about the little mouse.  He loved Abel!  So I kept reading and exposing my son to the rich vocabulary and themes of the book.

We have read every title in this list and enjoyed them all!!  Find what’s right for your child’s interest and developmental level.

Story collections for reading aloud

We also love story book collections, many you’ll see below, these allow some coherence from day to day and night to night for your child.  This also provides some rich text-to-self and text-to-text conversation!  Ask questions to probe your child’s thinking:

Where did we leave off?  

Did we hold our place?  

Can you find what page number we were on?

What happened last time?

What was your favorite part?

Do you think that ___ will ____?

Children are able to do, or comprehend, more than we can imagine — give them the credit and read them high-quality literature!  You will watch their imagination and vocabulary grow by leaps and bounds!

A word on read aloud time

My son can sometimes sit for 15 minutes of uninterrupted reading.  Other times, he will bounce on the couch (or bed), get up, play with Legos, twirl around, knock something over, etc.  Sometimes, I will let him know that I’ll stop the reading if this continues, thinking that he is no longer engaged or interested.  But he, 10 times out of 10, always yells, “No, mom, keep reading!!”  He is listening.  Some children need to move — but they are listening.  Of course, I’m not going to allow him to get another game or toy out that could be a distraction, but quiet Legos or movement is just fine, and should be expected!

Check out our free printable list at the end of this post :)

Read Aloud Book List for Age Four:

Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard Atwater is the story of house painter Mr. Popper who spends his days painting and his evenings hum-drumming through life. Imagine his surprise when his beloved radio show hero, Admiral Drake, to whom he wrote a letter, sends him a real live penguin. The escapades of his penguins grow grander and grander in this 1939 Newbery Honor Book

Abel’s Island by William Steig is a gloriously written story about a dignified and well-educated mouse who finds himself stranded on an island with his beloved wife’s scarf. A winner of the Newbery Honor, I’m amazed at Steig’s prose and incredible story about the heroic and life-like mouse.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White is the Newbery Honor book story about love, life, and even death in this touching story of Wilbur the pig who is saved by a little girl anmed Fern and redeemed by a noble spider named Charlotte.

The Boxcar Children Books by Gertrude Chandler Warner are a delightful set of stories about four orphaned siblings who live in an abandoned caboose. The stories produce camaradarie and teamwork and are delightful to read with children.

Arthur Chapter Books by Marc Brown are a fun, easy to read series about Arthur, the lovable aardvark. The silly dialogue and age-appropriate stories make this a fun set of books for any preschooler!

The Magic Treehouse Series by Mary Pope Osborne are loved by children everywhere. When I taught second grade, the kids loved reading them on their own or with an adult. They are fun, fast-aced and filled with adventures and history. I highly recommend them, as I enjoy to read them with my son!

The Thomas the Tank Engine Collection by Rev. W. Awdry is a must-have for any chil who loves Thomas! My son adores this series a, and the trains. The whole colletiton of stories is included in this combined volume.

The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne & Ernest H. Shepard is an absolute classic and I was surprised about how much my son enjoyed reading every single page. Pooh and friends are absolutely delightful, especially Pooh’s songs and perceptions about the world! There are a few, rare pages that do not have pictures and my son just wanted me to keep reading! The language is so articulate and unique and can really help to broaden a young preschooler’s vocabulary!

The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Newbery Medal winning author Beverly Cleary is an adorable adventure story about Ralph the mouse who finds and takes Keith’s bright shiny red toy motorcycle out for many fun journeys.

The Babar Collection by Jen De Brunhoff is a set of the wonderful stories of the big elephant who by happenstance became King of Elephant Country. Very whimsical and fanciful. There are more pictures in this collection, but I like that you can keep flipping through pages and continue to read the stories/picture books. A word of caution however: some stories do have racist images that show stereotypical “natives”. The books were written prior to 1931, so the stories should be placed in the context of that time period.

The Paddington Treasury by Michael Bond shares the stories of Paddington, a small bear from “darkest Peru,” who needs looking after as he always finds himself in one complicated situation after another. His British family are a delightful adopted family for the curious bear.

Illustrated Stories from Aesop:This timeless collection of over thirty fables is filled with Aesop’s best-loved characters.  Meet the lion who becomes friends with a mouse, a clever fox, a foolish crow and a wolf dressed up as a sheep.

read alouds for four year olds

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You can download the Preschool Read Aloud Book List.

I hope you can find just 15 minutes to read to your precious preschooler today!

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  1. This is an excellent list and at the perfect time for us! We actually just finished the Mouse and the Motercycle AND the Thomas the Train collection yesterday!!! My son (who’s turning five at the end of the month) has been loving this foray into longer chapter books and I’ve wondered about some of these other titles on this list, whether he’d be interested or not! I’m excited about the Boxcar Children and Mr Popper’s Penguins, especially, and I do have several of these Usborne collections but thought I needed to wait on those. This is so helpful!!! Thanks!!! :) :) :)

    1. Thanks so much — I’m so glad this has been helpful!! We love reading aloud too — and it’s great to have interesting stories for the ADULT too :) :)

  2. One of my favorite activities is sitting down with the family to read a story before bed. It is a good way to encourage my younger ones to read and it promotes discussion and learning. My kids have been reading a new story that I would like to recommend. Their grandmother purchased it for them after hearing about it from a friend and it has quickly become a new favorite. It is called “The Little Brown Animal” written by DiMari Bailey (http://www.dimaribailey.com/). This book is so lovingly written and beautifully illustrated. The lessons contained within are powerful and have the potential to last a lifetime. We need more books like this in circulation for our kids, it doesn’t feel like a cookie cutter copy but instead has its own powerful voice. Although “you are special, love yourself” is an age old theme, this book manages to make it fresh and teaches it to children in a unique and whimsical way. A must own for parents and kids.

  3. The author for Winnie the Pooh is A.A. Milne, the name you have listed did the “decorations”. Thank you for the list, it has several new ideas for the younger ones in our family.

  4. This is a helpful list, but wondering, do you have a post on how to handle “messy” topics like that in The Count of Monte Cristo? I purchased this book from Usborne, and started reading that story, as it’s one I’ve enjoyed! But it honestly was just too much. It’s hard because my daughter still wants to read it, probably to “process” and understand where the story was going. I’m finding it hard with a 4 year old who loves longer stories to find none-messy storylines that don’t involve killing, people dying, or generally messy stories lines that are hard for them to understand. And I also wonder if it’s taking her innocence? To be fair, all of these topics are generally things we talk about when reading Bible stories, but curious if you’ve written on this topic or how you hand these topics when reading with younger kids–like age 4! I think this is a great overall list, and this comment is not meant to be critical by any means. I actually purchased this book for her before reading this post, and it made me feel less guilty seeing it included on a 4-year-old reading list.

  5. Do you have a list like this for three year olds? Or do you find them too young for a non-picture book?

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