If there’s one thing book lovers can all agree on, it’s that we want kids to love reading as much as we do. To that end, we’ve picked out the best children’s books to read for beginners, so that you can introduce the kids in your life to this wonderful, fulfilling hobby.
The United States might have a reading crisis on its hands. Although adults’ reading habits haven’t changed much since 2011, young children and early teens are reading fewer books for fun today than they have in previous years. Additionally, 54% of people aged 16–74 in the United States cannot read at or above a sixth-grade level, and more than 20% are or are near functionally illiterate. Combine those statistics, and it’s plain to see that U.S. literacy might just be in trouble.
There’s some good news, however. Children’s literature has come a long way toward being more representative of the kids who read it — and more engaging to boot.
Many of us grew up with only a handful of children’s book series available to us, such as Amelia Bedelia and Goosebumps. Today, kidlit publishers regularly bankroll long series of books so that the children who fall in love with them will keep turning pages, rather than falling into a dreaded reading slump.
Best Books to Read for Beginners
Awesome Orange Birthday by Mitali Banerjee Ruths and Aaliya Jaleel
Mitali Banerjee Ruths and Aaliya Jaleel’s Awesome Orange Birthday kicks off the Party Diaries series. Here, readers meet Priya, a young girl who’s been hired to throw her beloved aunty a birthday party. She plans to donate her party-planning fee to an environmental charity, but with so much work to do — and so little time to do it in — Priya’s really starting to feel the pressure.
Dino Trouble by Nate Bitt
Dino Trouble follows a pair of BFFs as they work to save their sleepy hometown from being overrun by video game enemies. Travis and Journey spend most of their free time hanging out in Arcade World and racking up high scores. So when one of the arcade’s game cabinets comes to life and spits its characters out into the real world, these intrepid youngsters may be the only citizens capable of setting things back to rights.
The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey
To look at them, you’d never think Mr. Piranha, Mr. Shark, Mr. Snake, and Mr. Wolf were the good guys — and that’s the problem. This stylish foursome is about to launch a massive image-rehabilitation campaign, starting with a giant jailbreak that will free 200 dogs from the pound. Find out whether their mission is a success, in The Bad Guys.
The School Is Alive! by Jack Chabert and Sam Ricks
Sam would rather be anything but a hall monitor — or so he thinks. Eerie Elementary School is packed with things that go bump in the night, and it’s up to the heroic third grader to keep his fellow students safe. The School Is Alive! follows Sam as he tries to live up to the hall-monitor legacy he’s inherited while investigating Eerie Elementary’s deeply hidden secrets.
The Ember Stone by Katrina Charman and Jeremy Norton
The first installment of the Last Firehawk series, The Ember Stone centers on Tag, a little owl with a big heart. As an evil vulture and his shadowy army advance their campaign to take over Perodia, Tag and his closest allies, Skyla and Blaze, set out to find a legendary stone of power that could save their home.
Dragons and Marshmallows by Asia Citro and Marion Lindsay
A science-loving girl and her cat team up to investigate a series of anomalies around their home, in Dragons and Marshmallows. Zoey wants to know what’s up with the weird photograph she found among her mom’s things, but there are more pressing matters at hand; a sick dragon hatchling has just shown up at her home. With Zoey’s mom away, it’s Zoey and Sassafras to the rescue.
Rise of the Balloon Goons by Troy Cummings
Alexander isn’t sure if finding a guidebook to the monsters in his new hometown has made moving to Shermont better or worse. School, though — that’s definitely the worst part of the whole arrangement. His homeroom is in the morgue, he’s having a hard time fitting in, and a strange bunch of balloon monsters has just decided to attack the town. Alexander might come to love Stermont … if he can survive the Rise of the Balloon Goons.
The Quest for Screen Time by Marti Dumas and Marie Muravski
Child prodigy Jaden Toussaint takes center stage in this series-starter from Marti Dumas and Marie Muravski. The Quest for Screen Time follows 5-year-old Jaden as he tries to convince the book-loving adults in his life that he needs — you guessed it — more time on his computer and tablet each day. Get this one for the future lawyer in your life.
Eva’s Treetop Festival by Rebecca Elliott
Eight years after the first installment appeared in stores, Rebecca Elliott’s Owl Diaries series has 18 volumes and its own Apple TV+ series — Eva the Owlet — to show for it. The story begins in Eva’s Treetop Festival. Eva can’t wait to impress her friends and teachers with her excellent festival-planning skills. Her teacher wanted her to accept help from her archnemesis, but Eva was determined not to let Sue steal her thunder. Now, she’s stuck with too much to plan … and too little time.
Happy Paws by Vicky Fang and Christine Nishiyama
A girl and her three robots form a rock band and rescue their local amusement park from a business downslide, in Happy Paws. After she learns that the Happy Days Amusement Park might be forced to close its gates forever, Layla enlists the help of her robot friends — Beep, Bop, and Boop — to build a winning business plan: shift the park’s focus to its dog-owning clientele.
Meet Yasmin! by Saadia Faruqi and Hatem Aly
Meet Yasmin! follows its eponymous heroine as she flexes her problem-solving skills to navigate her neighborhood, complete two initially frustrating school assignments, and throw an at-home fashion show while her parents are away. Pakistani American children will love seeing their experiences reflected here, and children from other backgrounds will get a fun crash course in Yasmin’s culture.
Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen by Debbi Michiko Florence and Elizabet Vukovic
As New Year’s Day approaches, 8-year-old Jasmine finds herself resentful of her older sister’s mochi-rolling privileges. Sophie gets to do everything first, and Jasmine’s fed up with their dynamic. To get one over on her big sister and assert her independence, she decides to pound rice with the men instead. Before she can help out, however, she’ll have to train her muscles to lift the mochi hammer, in Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen.
The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, and LeUyen Pham
A goat-eating monster is preying on the local goatherd’s flock, which means it’s time for Princess Magnolia to turn into her superhero alter-ego and save the day! The Princess in Black follows Magnolia — a.k.a. the Princess in Black — as she juggles saving her subjects with keeping her super-identity a secret from the nosy Duchess Wigtower.
Abuela’s Birthday by Jacqueline Jules and Kim Smith
Sofia and her cousins want to plan a surprise for the titular event, in Abuela’s Birthday. All they wanted was to build a piñata for their grandmother’s party. Now, a major mess has waylaid the kids’ fun. Can they get cleaned up before the party gets rolling?
Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business by Lyla Lee and Dung Ho
Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business centers on its eponymous heroine, who finds herself in an unpleasant bind when she transfers schools. Mindy doesn’t have many friends at her new school, and her classmates’ aversion to her seaweed snacks isn’t winning her any popularity contests. After her new friend steps in to convince the other kids to try Mindy’s food, however, the two girls realize they might be able to start their own business in the halls of their elementary school.
Prunella and the Cursed Skull Ring by Matthew Loux
Prunella has always been told to avoid the monster-filled forests that surround her hometown. After she finds a cursed ring that transforms her into a living skeleton, however, Prunella is forced into exile. Billed as “sweet and gently macabre,” Prunella and the Cursed Skull Ring follows one resourceful girl as she tries to get her life back on track in the wake of a dreadful curse.
Out in the Wild! by Mike Lowery
Mike Lowery spins a fun story of foraging and survival in Out in the Wild! Bug Scouts Doug and Abby can’t wait to get their foraging badges, but earning them may prove to be a tall order. The forest is full of toxic vegetation, not to mention the frog that would love to eat a tasty Bug Scout. Together with their sourpuss friend Josh, Doug and Abby blaze their own trail here.
The Haunted House Next Door by Andes Miedoso and Victor Rivas
Desmond Cole isn’t like other elementary school students. He patrols his own beat, keeping the monsters and ghosts of Kersville at bay. Narrated by Desmond’s fraidy-cat best friend Andres, The Haunted House Next Door follows Desmond as he tracks down a house-hopping ghost with a tummy ache.
Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye by Geronimo Stilton
Geronimo Stilton has enjoyed decades as a kidlit staple. His adventures begin in Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye. The story here follows writer-adventurer Geronimo as he takes to the sea with three family members — his sister, cousin, and nephew — to investigate a deserted island that may hide a hoard of buried treasure.
Mia Mayhem Is a Superhero! by Kara West and Leeza Hernandez
Join a plucky heroine on her journey toward superherodom in Mia Mayhem Is a Superhero! Mia’s the newest member of THE PITS: an after-school club that teaches young superheroes how to use their powers responsibly. It doesn’t take long in the Program for In-Training Superheroes for Mia to realize that her supposed clumsiness is actually evidence of her superhuman abilities. Now, she has to figure out how to be a superhero and a kid — no easy feat.
The books on the list above will give any young child a great introduction to the wonderful world of reading.
What are the first books that children should read?
Caregivers can introduce children to reading as early as they like. Board books and other rip-proof formats, such as Workman Publishing’s Indestructibles, are great for small children who are just getting the hang of holding books but aren’t ready to read by themselves.
Children who are just beginning to read on their own will benefit from Scholastic’s Acorn line, Level 1 and Step 1 readers, and Penguin Random House’s Beginner Books line.
What is a beginning reader book?
Beginning reader books are intended for children who are in the early stages of learning how to read independently. Some children who are fully independent readers may enjoy a beginning reader book, as may those who still need their grownup’s help to sound out unfamiliar letters and words.
What are Level 1 readers?
According to I Can Read!, Level 1 books are “just right for readers who are beginning to sound out words and sentences,” because “[t]he vocabulary is just challenging enough to stay interesting.”
Should my child be reading by 1st grade?
Every child progresses at their own pace. The “typical” first grader “ends the school year as an independent reader, with improved phonics and reading comprehension skills,” according to U.S. News and World Report, which adds that “first graders should [ideally] be able to read at least 150 high-frequency words by the end of the year.” There are plenty of rising second graders — and third graders, and so on — who struggle with reading, however, and many schools have reading-interventionist programs in place to help children become confidently literate.