My first thought when I found out I was pregnant was, “I can’t wait to read Little House on the Prairie with this kid.” Cut to seven years later, and I’m asking the librarian, “Do you have Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants?” I won’t hold my breath waiting for our first grader to come around on Little House. But he is reading on his own now. Huzzah. And while he still likes a parent to partner with, I’ve noticed that the right book gives him the confidence to read independently. Here’s a roundup of the best books for early readers that will engage kids with varying attention spans and big imaginations…
Elephant and Piggie by Mo Willems – Hearing your child read words aloud for the first time is a lot like watching a baby take her first steps. Mo Willams’ punchy word bubbles make it easy for early readers to fly through his books, and it primes them for graphic novels.
You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You: Very Short Stories to Read Together by Mary Ann Hoberman – If you have multiple kids, you know how hard it can be to find one-on-one reading time. This picture book is a great choice because younger siblings can enjoy it, too. Mary Ann Hoberman was the Children’s Poet Laureate during the Obama era and should be recognized as a national treasure.
My Very Favorite Book in the Whole Wide World by Malcolm Mitchell – Written by Super Bowl champion and literacy advocate Malcolm Mitchell, here’s a sweet picture book about a kid who hates to read until he finds the perfect story. So very meta. My kids adore this one.
Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel – My gosh, how we love these depressive amphibians. Their friendship can be filed under life goals. And that ‘70s color palette is *chefs kiss*.
Comics, Graphic Novels and Magazines
Hilda and the Troll by Luke Pearson – We would not have made it through quarantine without this twee Netflix series, so I was thrilled to find the graphic novels it was based on. Hilda is a fearless blue-haired girl who travels through the wilderness befriending mysterious creatures. A great match for kids who also love Moomins or Pippi Longstocking.
Fairy Tale Comics by Chris Duffy – There’s a reason classic nursery rhymes and fairy tales have such staying power. And now that they’re drawn by some of the best cartoonists in the biz, kids can have a new appreciation for the stories they’ve been hearing since their preschool days.
Kondo & Kezumi Are Not Alone by David Goodner – There’s a good chance the Kondo & Kezumi series will lead your kid to binge reading. The third graphic novel in the series features the best friends going home only to find an unexpected guest. Young adventurers will love traveling with these characters from one unique island to another, exploring by boat.
The Essential Calvin and Hobbes: a Calvin and Hobbes Treasury by Bill Waterson – There’s an undeniable charm to this classic comic strip that still appeals to today’s youth. Thank goodness.
Ditto Magazine – This new anti-racist magazine doubles as a coloring book and activity guide and has spurred some interesting conversations in our house. Also the kids were really excited to receive a magazine of their own.
Leonard (My Life as a Cat) by Carlie Sorosiak – When an alien drops to earth and becomes trapped in a cat’s body, it must choose between life among humans or a journey back to its home planet. We’re halfway through this and my son LOLs at least once per chapter, which is music to my ears.
Choose Your Own Adventure: Your Very Own Robot by R. A. Montgomery – There’s a reason the choose-your-own-adventure thing has stood the test of time: it rules. Kids control so little in their lives, so they love taking charge over a creative universe. We started with this one because the age suggestion was 6-8 and our kids love robots.
The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright – Here’s a heartfelt story about a group of New York City siblings in the 1940s who pool their allowances for new outings every Saturday. As you know, reading aloud with an early reader means taking your time on every single word. And it’s a pleasure to take this book slowly to savor the lovely snapshots of another era and—no offense to the world at large—writers were simply better at their craft back then?
Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl – The perfect chapter book for your budding reader to motor through, Fantastic Mr. Fox is a touching testimony to the power of teamwork. According to our 7-year-old literary critic, this one has “some really cool animals that battle the farmers.” Plus, you can follow up with the Wes Anderson film. Win-win.
Illustrated Chapter Books
Mercy Watson by Kate DiCamillo – You won’t find a sweeter series to cozy up to than the adventures of this porcine wonder. No matter your child’s sensibilities, she’ll love reading about a pig foiling a robber or squeezing into a tutu. Come on, a pig in a tutu! That’s hilarious.
Pedro, First-Grade Hero by Fran Manushkin – Pedro has a big heart but a shaky confidence, a combination that’s sure to win over most kids. With diverse characters and bright illustrations, this series is a must for your bedtime rotation. Themes of friendship and positive attitudes toward school never get old.
Brains On Presents… It’s Alive: From Neurons and Narwhals to the Fungus Among Us by Molly Bloom – Fans of the science podcast Brains On will enjoy this picture encyclopedia that dives into everything from the secret lives of dogs and cats to the story behind stinky armpits. Each chapter breaks down one of life’s mysteries with the aid of comics, photos and simple explanations. Even a 38-year-old can understand it!
EllRay Jakes the Recess King by Sally Warner – EllRay Jakes is a small kid with big problems. Relatable! You don’t necessarily need to read these in order. We jumped into the EllRay series with this one simply because it had ‘recess’ in the title, and my son is excited to go back and read more of EllRay’s adventures.
Poppleton by Cynthia Rylant – If I could live in one storybook land, it’d be Poppleton’s. That pig has it made. He’s a sunny retiree with an interesting set of hobbies, a loyal friend group, and an unending supply of snacks. Half picture book, half chapter book, there’s something undeniably appealing about this animal world.
Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen by Debbi Michiko Florence – Do you have a headstrong family member who’s three feet high and rising? Then she’ll want to meet Jasmine Toguchi, who’s so spunky she’d run circles around Ramona Quimby. Jasmine’s determined to make a mark in her family’s mochi-making traditions. You can’t help but root for her. Plus there’s a mochi recipe at the end of the book.
Baby Monkey, Private Eye by Brian Selznick – This was the first book our son ever read aloud so it holds a permanant spot in my heart. Actually, every child in our house, ranging in ages 3-7, loves this book. And they somehow manage to find new details with every reading. I’m just twiddling my thumbs waiting for the sequel.
Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters: The Questioneers by Andrea Beaty – The picture books starring Rosie Revere, Ada Twist, and Iggy Peck have a cult following for due reason. They’re STEM heroes with a rhyming scheme to boot. Now you can follow The Questioneers’ further adventures in chapter books. Life is good.
Chapter Book Series’
The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne – Whatever your kid’s reading level, they’re sure to gobble up this beloved series that features a pair of time traveling siblings. Each installment is like a mini history lesson.
The Dragon Masters series by Tracey West – A Harry Potter primer that features short sentences and manageable plotlines, the Dragon Masters series features all the good stuff: magic, wizards, and, of course, dragons.
Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold – This series is f-u-n. No matter how many times you read it—and we’re going on our thousandth—the tales of Buzz and his pet fly never get old.
Dog Man and Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey – I’m begrudgingly including Dav Pilkey only because his ridiculously annoying, juvenile, bestselling and wildly successful characters made my kid hooked on reading. I surrender to the wedgie-power.