As a children's librarian, I find that the best picture books to read aloud to a preschool audience are the ones that have large, clear, eye-catching illustrations that hold the kids' attention. I also look for books with a storyline that is engaging and easy to follow. My favorites often contain a repeated action or series of events that helps children predict and anticipate what will happen next. Kids also especially enjoy books with funny words or sounds that they can repeat or say along with the reader. Here are six of my all-time favorite picture books to read aloud to this age group:
Watch Out! Big Bro's Coming by Jez Alborough (Candlewick Press)
A mouse's warning grows into a rumor that frightens all of the animals in the jungle in this hilarious picture book with a surprise ending. The large, vivid illustrations and wide range of animals will catch and hold the attention of even the most restless preschoolers.
A Hat for Minerva Louise by Janet Morgan Stoeke (Puffin)
Minerva Louise the chicken wants a hat to warm her head on a snowy day, but where can she find one? The colorful drawings that illustrate her hilarious search make this a wonderful book to share for classroom units on Winter. Preschoolers love to shout out the names of the objects Minerva Louise tries to use as a hat.
Bark George by Jules Feiffer (Harper Collins)
George the puppy makes every animal sound, but can't seem to bark. When his mother takes him to the vet to find the cause, they are all in for a big surprise. Kids love the incongruity of a dog who moos, quacks and meows (and doesn't follow his mother's directions), and the illustrations are priceless. The unexpected plot twist on the last page usually draws laughs even from parents.
The Baby Beebee Bird by Diane Redfield Massie and Steven Kellogg (Harper Collins)
When the tiny (but very loud) baby beebee bird arrives at the zoo, none of the other animals are able to sleep. Their solution, and the beebee bird's response, always makes kids laugh, and preschoolers love making the sounds of the different animals. This a large, beautifully illustrated book that can be shared with kids of any age. The story also makes a wonderful, easy drama piece for children to act out.
The Gunniwolf by Wilhelmina Harper and Barbara Upton (Dutton Juvenile)
A little girl's mother warns her never to go into the forest. What happens when she doesn't listen? This retake on the Little Red Riding Hood story has preschoolers on the edge of their seats, as the little girl has to outsmart and outrun the dreaded Gunniwolf. The text is full of quirky speech patterns and sounds like "Hunker-CHA Hunker-CHA" that mesmerize kids and make it a joy to read aloud. The colorful, charming illustrations in this updated version keep the Gunniwolf from being too frightening for younger listeners.
WHAT! Cried Granny: An Almost Bedtime Story by Kate Lum and Adrian Johnson (Puffin)
Patrick is sleeping over at his Granny's house for the first time, but Granny doesn't have an extra bed. Her solution? Chop down a tree and build one. But their troubles don't end there. This story about a little boy and his very talented, industrious Granny will have kids laughing. Preschoolers love to chime in on the repeated "WHAT!" and to try to guess what Patrick will demand next.
For more great books to share with preschoolers, I recommend the Read Aloud America web site (http://www.readaloudamerica.org/booklist.htm), which contains a wide range of booklists organized by grade level.