Our kiddos have gone back to school, and with that miraculous return to learning, you may find yourself with a brand new reader at your house. This is a moment for celebration! But beyond the early reader practice books your child’s teacher sends home, you may feel like it’s a struggle to find great early reader books for your kiddo. In the learning-to-read world, these books are referred to as having a controlled vocabulary, meaning that the authors only use the most common English words, setting newer readers up for success decoding familiar words using the reading skills they are learning at school. You’ll notice that many of these books are part of a series, as series reading is a skill we hope readers will cultivate! Following a character through many different stories helps readers learn about characterization and identify character traits. As a school library teacher I’ve seen my fair share of new readers and great books, so here are a few recommended titles for early elementary school readers:
- Baby Monkey, Private Eye by Brian Selznick. An adorable monkey and a repeating text structure pair up in this book for pure early reader gold. Brian Selznick’s detailed pencil illustrations could actually keep a reader busy for ten times as long as it takes them to read the words in this book. Bonus: because of the abundant illustrations in this book, it is THICK and gives a young reader that much-coveted “big chapter book” look.
- Elephant & Piggie (also known as Piggie & Gerald) by Mo Willems. It’s a special kind of early reader that can make both children and adults laugh out loud, but Elephant & Piggie books manage that feat with aplomb. Not only do these two best friends nicely represent that friendships occur between characters with vastly different personalities, they also teach the valuable skill of reading speech bubbles and action lines to understand a story. (It is great fun to read these books with two readers: one person reads Piggie, one person reads Gerald) Mo Willems published the final Elephant & Piggie book (The Thank You Book) in 2016, much to my chagrin. However, Elephant & Piggie now cameo in the books selected for the Elephant & Piggie Like Reading! series, so we still see them on occasion. The titles from that new series are also well enjoyed by my students.
- Mo Jackson series by David A. Adler. Mo Jackson’s love for sports comes from deep inside him, but he does not necessarily have inherent sporting talent. That doesn’t stop him from dedicating time to learning different sports and honing his skills, though, which I think is the perfect message for kiddos in this age range!
- Rabbit & Robot series by Cece Bell. Expressive illustrations help early readers interpret the text in this comical series about two unlikely friends. The friends face common challenges (jealousy, for one) and give readers ideas on how they can navigate their own friendship challenges.
Beginning Chapter Books:
- Charlie & Mouse series by Laurel Snyder. Brothers Charlie and Mouse spend their days like so many 6-to-9-year olds…hanging out with a sibling. Text and illustrations pair perfectly in these lovely “small moment” stories that feature everyday activities many readers will recognize from their own lives.
- Katie Woo series by Fran Manushkin. Main character Katie uses her spunky personality to help her navigate life’s challenges. Readers will easily relate to her daily life, from getting used to wearing glasses, to coping with the death of a pet. Also check out the author’s early reader series about a character named Pedro.
- King & Kayla series by Dori Butler. A dog named King and his human, Kayla, solve mysteries in this realistic series. The characters are endearing and the humor is appreciated by young readers, especially the way Kayla can’t seem to understand what King is trying to communicate to her. Young readers will enjoy reading about a character their age who can solve problems.
- Mr. Putter & Tabby series by Cynthia Rylant. The original stories in this charming series about an elderly gentleman and his pet cat, Tabby, were published in the mid-1990s. Since I began my school library career in 2002, I have shared books from this series with kindergarten students and every year they are charmed by the quiet humor and soft illustrations. If you had told me when I started my career that 5-year-olds would enthusiastically read a series of books about an elderly man and his pet, I would have found it hard to believe…yet it happens year after year. Cynthia Rylant is one of my top five authors I would like to meet and talk to, because she has managed to captivate me with such vastly different characters and stories through the years. Also try her Henry & Mudge series.
Illustrated Chapter Books:
- Dragon Masters series by Tracey West. This illustrated chapter book series is part of the Branches early chapter book line published by Scholastic that aims to help newly-independent readers build up their reading stamina. Main character Drake is selected as a Dragon Master in training due to his special skill connecting with dragons, which allows him to effectively train them. The 15th book of this series is set to be published in the spring of 2020. Even though the target audience of these books is more the grades 2-3 crowd, my fourth graders who love the series clamor for the new titles as soon as they arrive in the library.
- Heidi Heckelbeck series by Wanda Coven. After being homeschooled for K-1, Heidi starts attending public school for second grade. She faces all the real-life situations our young readers encounter daily at school, but she has a secret…she’s actually a witch! She needs to keep her powers a secret, but she also finds herself in situations where she wants to use those powers. And as a witch in training, things often don’t go exactly as she planned. Heidi’s likable personality as well as her friends and family make this a series that readers enjoy for many books….number 26 in the series is set to be published in October 2019.
- Owl Diaries series by Rebecca Elliott. This series has color illustrations and is written in a journal style, documenting the life of an enthusiastic main character, Eva (an owl). Eva learns important lessons through the series, including that you can ask friends for help when you feel overwhelmed.
- Yasmin series by Saadia Faruqi. Main character Yasmin has an imagination that helps her creatively solve all of life’s problems…or at least a second grader’s problems. I enjoy how the author deftly conveys Yasmin’s thinking as she is problem solving, giving readers ideas of how they can use a similar thought process when they find themselves in a similar situation.
For ideas beyond this short list of my students’ favorites, be sure to check in with your child’s own school library teacher, or any of the youth librarians at your local public library.
Do you have any favorite early reader books or series? Share them in the comments below!