There are literally millions of children’s and young adult books to choose from, so how to find the absolute best? This list includes some favorites from teachers and librarians, some classics that are a part of our culture, and some award winners. Take time to share some of these with your child and then branch out from there.
Best Books for Pre-K and Kindergarteners
Preschoolers and kindergarteners are prime audiences for read-aloud books. Choose some great picture books with colorful and vivid illustrations, rich language, and themes that help them learn or understand life’s truths. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
Virginia Lee Burton / $14.99 hardcover
This classic story has been around for decades (since 1939, in fact) and it’s still a favorite of young children everywhere. The award-winning illustrations are memorable and vivid, and the story is downright heartwarming. Mike and his steam shovel, Mary Ann, work hard until they find that they are becoming obsolete. Will they be forced into retirement?
Virginia Lee Burton won awards for her book. The illustrations and story are outstanding, and it is well worth adding to your child’s library. The book comes in lots of different formats, so find one that’s right for your pocketbook.
The Incredible Book-Eating Boy
Oliver Jeffers / $14.38 hardcover
In this imaginative tale, the hero loves books so much that he can’t resist eating them. If it has pages, it’s fair game to munch. Each book he eats makes him smarter, which seems like a dream come true. He gets into trouble, though, when all of the information gets so jumbled that he can’t digest it.
This book is the perfect read-aloud for young children who are dreaming of learning to read. It celebrates the joys of reading and helps children see that the hard work of learning is worthwhile in the long run.
Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go
Richard Scarry / $13.25 hardcover
Most children are fascinated by cars and trucks, and this book will keep them entertained for hours. Richard Scarry delivers once again. There are literally hundreds of vehicles in this gem, all clearly labeled with drawings in incredible detail.
In addition to being just plain fun, Scarry’s book helps children learn to maintain attention to detail. Each page holds a wealth of things to discover and kids will find new details each time they look. There’s also a fun “treasure hunt” for the hidden Goldbug on each page.
Best Books for Grades 1-3
I Spy Fly Guy
Ted Arnold / $6.97 hardcover
Fly Guy and his friends are at it again with a rollicking game of hide and seek. Young readers will delight in their new-found ability to read a whole book on their own, and the gross-out factor of playing games in a garbage dump cannot be underestimated.
Fly Guy is actually the starring character in a whole series of books, so if your child enjoys this one, there are over fifteen other titles. Each one has a delightful story and the kinds of nice, easy words that encourage the youngest readers.
Ten Apples Up On Top
Theo. LeSieg / $6.90 hardcover
Here’s a classic from none other than Dr. Seuss, written under the pseudonym of “LeSieg” which is an anagram of his real last name. This beginning reader features simple, repetitive text and clear illustrations that give solid clues about the story. It’s perfect for children who are just uncovering the magic of learning to read.
The rhyming Seussian text sort of rolls off of the tongue, making the book a great read-aloud. The words are simple and include many of the first words that children learn in kindergarten and first grade, so they will be able to pick it up and read on their own at a very early stage. There’s nothing like the encouragement of success with reading!
Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus
Barbara Park / $11.99 hardcover
This is the first book of an amazing series about Junie B., a kindergartener with style. Junie calls ‘em like she sees ‘em, and your young reader will have a ball following her exploits. In this story, she is getting ready to start school and does NOT want to ride the “stupid, smelly bus.” Her hilarious comments and actions will have young readers rolling on the floor.
This book is a wonderful introduction to “chapter books” for children who are ready to move on from the beginning readers that they started with. It’s funny and fast-paced, with short chapters that leave the reader wanting more. And if your child enjoys it, there are dozens more like it on your library’s shelves.
Is Everyone Ready for Fun?
Jan Thomas / $13.46
Chicken gets a visit from the cows, and finds they have some crazy ideas in mind. They want to jump, dance and wiggle on his itty-bitty couch! Needless to say, Chicken is not particularly happy, and comedy ensues.
Here’s a fun book that may not be quite as intimidating as a beginning chapter book, but still will provide your young reader with the practice needed to build skills. At only 40 pages, it’s much shorter than many books for children at this stage, but it is funny enough to keep them reading.
Best Books for Grades 3-5
Louis Sachar / $15.97 hardcover
This award-winning chapter book is sure to captivate your tween with the gripping story of Stanley Yelnats and his incredibly bad luck. Young readers will enjoy the friendship, adventure and bonding that the characters experience, and will learn from their perseverance, endurance, and other positive qualities.
The story is unforgettable, and can also be explored in the movie of the same name. It’s an excellent book to begin by reading the first chapter or two out loud to upper elementary students, and then allowing them to pick up on their own after they get intrigued.
The Phantom Tollbooth
Norton Juster / $13.99 hardcover
Join Milo on the adventure of a lifetime as he travels to an incredible world where the kingdom of letter and the kingdom of numbers are at war. Mile is a bored young man when he discovers that someone has left a toy tollbooth in his room one dull afternoon. Having nothing better to do that day, he hops into his toy car, travels through the tollbooth, and leaves his mundane world behind. In his travels, he learns to value learning in all its forms and especially to embrace his imagination.
This book has been a favorite for decades with its vivid and engaging style, its wealth of words, and its rollicking action. It has so many incredible characters that it is difficult to choose a favorite. The book makes a great read for upper elementary kids, and it’s also incredibly good to read aloud to share with the whole family.
Warriors: Into the Wild
Erin Hunter / $11.89 hardcover
This is the first book of a popular series that appeals to both boys and girls. It’s the story of a common housecat named Rusty who ventures into the woods to find that there’s a whole other world waiting for him. Clans of feral cats battle according to ancient rules called the Warrior Code, but one clan is gaining power by breaking the Code. The honorable ThunderClan is threatened and may not survive. Can Rusty save the day?
Warriors is an award-winning best seller that your upper elementary child will fall in love with. The book encompasses all of the things that make young adult fiction great: action, suspense, an underdog character that plays a huge role in saving the day, and more.