There’s something incredible about a four-year-old that doesn’t really hit you until you’re in the middle of it. You’ve spent so much time getting them ready for those previous milestones: transitioning from soft foods, diapers, daycare, etc. that suddenly you’re in the company of a little kid who likes to take long walks and have even longer talks. 

While the infant stage might be a thing of the past, there’s a certain degree of reason to them now, and there’s also a fierce sense of what is fair and what is not. You’ve got a debater, a conversationalist, and you might even have a little comedian on your hands who entertains the family with hilarious and clever kids jokes at every holiday dinner. And, chances are, you’ve also got a budding reader who needs some clever, meaningful and entertaining new books on their bookshelf now that they’re a big preschooler.

Related: 23 great books every toddler will adore

How to choose the best books for 4 year olds

Four-year-olds are in that sweet spot between toddler and big kid. They can handle heavier plot lines, but we still want to preserve their innocence and sense of wonder about the world. By this point, lots of preschoolers are ready for books with more words each page and have graduated from board books to paperback or hard cover books.

Whether they’re modern tales or classic books we read as kids, the best stories help them learn important life lessons, show examples of empathy and making good choices, and expose them to all types of family structures, skin colors, ethnicities, religions and disabilities. Kids books should show them, as young readers, how beautiful and valuable different cultures are around the world.

Related: 25+ of our favorite gifts for 4-year-olds–from the practical to the fun

The following books for 4 year olds tap into that innate sense of right and wrong, social justice, and compassion that are developing and taking hold in the mind of your preschooler. They also connect with their fears about place and belonging in the world, and offer encouragement to embrace who they are. And, of course, a couple of them are just downright silly, just like that loveable creature you call your own. 

Best children's books for 4-year-olds

we are water protectors book

We Are Water Protectors, by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade

There is little that compares to a four-year-old’s sense of justice which makes it the perfect age to empower them to become protectors of the planet. In “We Are Water Protectors,” Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe Indian member and author Carole Lindstrom calls on children and their parents across the planet to join the movement to become water protectors. Inspired by the indigenous movements against the Dakota pipeline and other egregious acts against safe drinking water and the land, the beautiful illustrations and poetic text together are a call to arms your kids will completely and instantly understand.

my monster and me book

My Monster and Me by Nadiya Hussain, illustrated by Ella Bailey

You may remember Nadiya from “The Great British Baking Show, but beloved baker Nadiya has also suffered from anxiety for as long as she can remember. She wrote this book to help children everywhere who also suffer from big worry monsters. In this story, a worry monster follows the little boy everywhere he goes. Whether your child suffers from anxiety, knows someone who does, or gets anxious sometimes, this book opens the dialogue and offers ways to normalize the conversations around anxiety in young children. 

always anjali book

Always Anjali by Sheetal Sheth, illustrated by Jessica Blank

For any kid who can’t find their own name on a keychain or a mug, this one’s for you. Little Anjali and her friends are so excited to get matching personalized license plates for their bikes, but Anjali can’t find one with her name! And when she gets bullied for having a different name, she wants to change it. But Anjali learns to love her name and carry it with pride. A wonderful book that honors the differences in all of us, from the spelling of our names to the way we view each other, and an excellent book for fostering love and self-acceptance. 

mermaid kenzie book

Mermaid Kenzie: Protector of the Deeps by Charlotte Watson Sherman, illustrated by Geneva Bowers

An incredibly unique book, Mermaid Kenzie is written in  African American Vernacular English and reads like a beautiful poem. Remember that sense of justice we mentioned four-year-olds having? This is another book that will tap into it with a deep connection to wanting to rid the oceans of plastics and protect the beautiful sea, just like little mermaid Kenzie. Destined to be a classic and a call to arms at once. 

small in the city book

Small in the City by Sydney Smith

Even when you’re not a baby anymore, you can still feel small. And being small in a city is definitely a thing. In this sweet book, kids can relate to feeling small in a big city, where people don’t always notice you, and sounds can be loud and scary. The illustrations and empathetic text combined make it clear why this book has won multiple awards and honors, including the Ezra Jack Keats award.

kitten and night watchmen book

Kitten and the Night Watchman by John Sullivan, illustrations by Taeeun Yoo

What’s better than a construction site book? A construction site book that has a kitten! This friendship story about the night watchman and a sweet little gray kitten makes a wonderful bedtime story as it invokes an entire landscape of imagination both with the beautiful illustrations and the rich language. 


vamos lets go to market book

¡Vamos! Let's Go to the Market by Raul the Third

For kids today there is no shortage of quality bilingual books but Raul the Third’s books have a quality that sets them apart. The illustrations have a vintage quality that are somehow nostalgic but without any hideous stereotypes, and the cheerful characters and clear scenarios work to help identify the words in both Spanish and English. For children learning to read, the combination of words in each sentence helps identify the meaning and create a beautiful world unique to the author-illustrator, something not every artist can achieve.

a piece of home book

A Piece of Home by Jeri Watts, illustrated by Hyewon Yum

Hee Jun and his family make a big move, all the way from Korea to West Virginia and adjusting isn’t easy. He feels different from his classmates and his teacher is hard to understand. But one day Hee Jun is invited to a friend’s house from school where he sees a flower that he recognizes from Korea. This little piece of home helps anchor him in this new world, and makes his new world feel more like home. Not only is this a well-told story about the immigration experience, it reminds children transitioning into preschool that we can find connections to our home in new places.

rain before rainbows book

Rain Before Rainbows by Smriti Prasadam-Halls, illustrated by David Litchfield

Never underestimate how much a child can comprehend or understand. At age four, your child may not be able to articulate how much change, grief, or sorrow has affected them but rest assured, they are affected by it. In this beautiful book, children and their grown-ups are invited to find courage in change, growth, and moving through difficulties by looking for the rainbows, the helpers, and the new day that will come. This is one to introduce now and keep on the shelf to revisit throughout the childhood years.

jamie and bubbie book

Jamie and Bubbie: A Book About People’s Pronouns by Afsaneh Moradian, illustrated by Maria Bogade

Between the ages of two and four, children begin to understand the concept of pronouns more specifically (prior to this, they often use general pronouns to refer to any and all genders). Early introduction to gender-neutral pronouns helps lay the groundwork for children to practice self-acceptance and acceptance of others. In Jamie and Bubbie, Jamie goes for a walk with Bubbie (grandma), who misgenders people. Jamie gently corrects Bubbie and explains why it is important to not assume others’ genders. We also like this one for the simple section in the back for parents and teachers.

i want my hat back book

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

The first in Jon Klassen’s “hat trilogy,” there’s something disarming about this lovable, large bear and his polite quest for his hat. Your four-year-old will delight in yelling back at the bear just exactly where the hat is.

birdsong book

Birdsong by Julie Flett

A celebration of intergenerational love and elder respect, this beautiful book tells the story of a little girl who feels out of place when she moves to a new town until she meets the older woman next door. She forms a bond with this artistic elder, and her world changes because of it. By Indigenous Cree-Métis author and illustrator Julie Flett, this story will help children find that special connection with the elders in their own community.

i am enough book

I Am Enough by Grace Byers, illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo

This celebration of being who you are, and believing that who you are is enough, is the perfect message for preschool-aged children who are entering the world where, sadly, bullying and comparisons are still a thing. A lyrical, joyful book of self-acceptance, it’s one to remind our children about the power of loving oneself and loving others as they are.

swimmy book

Swimmy by Leo Leonni

Winner of the 1964 Caldecott Honor award, this beautiful book is timeless both aesthetically and in terms of the message of bravery. All of the fish in the sea are afraid to come out of hiding, but one: Swimmy, who happens to also be the one fish that stands out the most. And using his ingenuity, he shows the others how to come out to not be afraid, too. Perfect for your brave four-year-old. 

A version of this article was originally published May 5, 2022. It has been updated.