I love books. I could dream them and wear them and eat them for breakfast.
I have a special place in my heart for children’s books. But the hardest age for me to find appropriate reading material for is the emerging reader—the child who is learning to read well, but is not yet up to the challenge of most chapter books. I know plenty of delightful individual books, but they stand alone. My early reader needs lots of practice: ten books, at least.
Here is a list I’ve compiled of easy reads for first and second grade practice and enjoyment. Best yet, everything on the list comes recommended as part of a set. There are at least three volumes of each, and perhaps as many as a dozen. They might be found as boxed sets or in glorious treasuries to savor.
The Ezra Jack Keats books. Prized for their beautiful, collage-style illustrations and simple text, Keats’ books celebrate his love of color, childhood, and quiet adventure.
I Can Read books (by HarperCollins) and Step Into Reading books (by Penguin Random House). Though these books span a wide range of genres and interests, including many I do not prefer, I look for the biography and history titles such as Harriet Tubman, the Titanic, Moonwalk, Balto, and Roger Williams. They are excellent.
Patricia MacLachlan’s books, starting with Sarah, Plain and Tall. Machlachlan writes the simplest and sweetest of chapter books, with memorable characters and beautiful settings.
The Putter and Tabby set, by Cynthia Rylant. What will their neighbor Mrs. Teaberry think of next? All kinds of adventures for every season, between an aging cat and a gentle old man.
The President biographies by Judith St. George. Also called Turning Point books, though they are not searchable by that title. Insightful picture-book stories that focus on the childhood and lesser-known histories of some of America’s famous men. Her book So You Want to be President? is also fun, a wider panorama of life in office.
The Robert McCloskey treasury, which includes elements of fantasy such as talking Mr. Mallard, yet is set solidly in the real world of Maine’s harbors and hills. From Blueberries for Sal to Make Way for Ducklings, his text and illustrations are unfailingly heart-warming.
Mike Mulligan and more. Virginia Lee Burton loved personifying buildings and machines, then telling stories of their exploits.
You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You. Includes a starter book by this title, plus volumes that showcase Mother Goose, fables, and fairy tales. Mary Ann Hoberman is a modern master of verse for children. These are the best read-together books I’ve found: designed to be read aloud in small sections by a child and partner.
The Little Bear books, by Else Holmelund Minarik. Little Bear visits his grandmother, gets cold in the snow, and makes a new friend. I love the simple language, and the detailed pictures by Maurice Sendak.
The Frog and Toad adventures by Arnold Lobel. This classic set of friends learns lessons through the year about life and friendship. Lobel also writes Owl and Mouse.
If you Give a Mouse a Cookie collection, written by Laura Joffe Numeroff. She plays on children’s love of sequence and connection: What happens if that happens? And what will happen next?
Dr. Seuss’s classic book set. Underneath a bunch of seeming nonsense rhyme and short vocabulary, Seuss tucked a few life lessons about bullying, contentment, peace, and taking care of the environment.
The Elephant and Piggie bundle by Mo Willems. These are ultra-easy reads, leaning gently on the illustrations for their storyline and emotion. They’re mostly silly, but focus in on the friendship of two unlikely compadres. Look for the Biggie book collections that contain six volumes each.
The original Curious George treasury by Margret and H. A. Rey. Who doesn’t love the classic monkey stories about curiosity and mishap? But please pay special attention to whether the book is an original or not. There are only seven stories written by the Rey couple, which are (in my opinion) the ones worth reading.
Beatrix Potter stories, starting with The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Miss Potter writes with a wide range of vocabulary, which makes these stories great for readers who are ready to grow. “His sobs were overheard by some friendly sparrows, who flew to him in great excitement, and implored him to exert himself.”
The Poppleton and friends collection by Cynthia Rylant. Poppleton has lots of problems, but his pals are usually at hand to help him out.
Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson. Speaking of pigs, here is one who likes her toast “with a great deal of melted butter.” She gets into all kinds of trouble in these beginner chapter books.
The Hat books—a trilogy by Jon Klassen. These are among my very favorite picture books, with the text and illustrations sometimes saying opposite things, for lots of giggles.
What books would you add to the list for beginning readers?