There are so many wonderful books to recommend to young readers! With new books coming out daily, it’s easy to lose track of the books that we enjoyed on our own when we were first beginning to read. The books on this list all have unforgettable characters, outstanding writing and illustrations, and are just plain fun. And all of these books have remained popular with today’s youth. We’ve included chapter books and short novels to cover a broad range of reading skills. The simple sentences, lively illustrations and chapter breaks help ease kids into the reading process.
Note: For this age group, we’ve split the “Classics” list into two parts, this “I Can Read” section, and the classics that your children will want you to read to them (Classic Read-to Me Books for Early Readers). Be sure to check out that list as well.
Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban
Frances the badger is a truly endearing character—a favorite in our family and many others since the early 1960’s. Frances is quite a picky eater, and in this story, her wise mother gives her just what she thinks she wants—bread and jam morning, noon and night! Frances is quite happy with this at first, but as you can imagine, she gets pretty tired of the same food all the time. Her little rhyming songs to herself change until she finally sings, “What I am. .. is sick of jam.” There are several Frances books so young readers can get to know her in other adventures, such as Bedtime for Frances, A Bargain for Frances, and Best Friends for Frances. The books all have child-centered themes, gentle humor, and Frances’ witty songs.
Amelia Bedelia Helps Out by Peggy Parish
Amelia Bedelia is another character children have been enjoying for 40 years. She is known for her extreme literal-minded interpretation of language—cleverly written so children get the joke and appreciate the plays on words. As a housekeeper for Miss Emma, Amelia Bedelia really tries to do her best, with zany results. . . such as carefully planting light bulbs rather than flower bulbs, making “tea cakes” with real tea, and “staking green beans” by tying slabs of steak to them. (Check out all the other Amelia Bedelia books, especially Teach Us, Amelia Bedelia, and Amelia Bedelia and the Baby.)
The Stories Julian Tells by Ann Cameron, illustrated by Ann Strugnell
Julian is a great storyteller—it’s just that his stories aren’t always quite the truth, which sometimes gets him into trouble. For example, when he and his little brother are “just tasting” his mother’s lemon pudding, they eat it all up. Ann Cameron is a terrific writer, with poetic descriptions, and skillful repetition of lines. This collection has six fun-to-read adventures. And you can read more adventures in other Julian books like More Stories Julian Tells and Julian, Secret Agent.
Caps For Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina
This simple tale tells of a peddler who goes from town to town selling caps, which he carries on his head in a single towering pile. One warm day he decides to take a rest under a tree, and after checking that his caps are firmly in place, he nods off. When he awakens, monkeys have stolen his caps. Children enjoy the repetition and rhythms as the peddler tries to get his caps back from the mischievous monkeys. This humorous book is also a great introduction to the fun of old folk tales, with Stone Soup by Marcia Brown as great follow-up.
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Ray Cruz
We all have those bad days—and Alexander helps us relive his moment by moment. His mother forgets to pack dessert in his lunchbox, gum gets stuck in his hair—and he is the only one of this brothers to have a cavity on their trip to the dentist. And that’s only a handful of the trials and tribulations Alexander suffers on this terrible day. With the repeated refrain of “moving to Australia,” and his humorous crankiness, Alexander helps kids commiserate with him and also lighten the load of their own bad days at the same time.
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by Wiliam Steig
This is a touching retelling of the classic tale of a magic object that grants wishes. Sylvester the Donkey find just such a magic pebble, but to escape a lion on the hunt, he wishes he were a rock—and can’t hold the pebble to turn himself back into a donkey. As the story unfolds—to a happy ending–readers relate to the range of emotions of Sylvester and his family. The animals dressed as humans are just plain irresistible, presented in masterful watercolor illustrations that won Steig the Newbury award for the book in 1970.
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
Both of us loved this book as beginning readers, so we know it is a hit from generation to generation. Set in 1940’s Paris, it is the story of little Madeline, a cheerful and adventurous heroine living at a boarding school who has to have her appendix removed. The whole story is told in enticing rhymes that stick in your mind. There are 5 other Madeline stories, all chronicling the Paris exploits of this red-haired adventurer. Madeline and the Bad Hat was–and is– a particular favorite for both of us.
Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell
Clifford is Emily Elizabeth’s big red dog—very BIG! He is so big, that when he runs after cars, he catches them. . .in his mouth! He’s a great watchdog for Emily Elizabeth’s family, especially since his doghouse is larger than their home. Good natured and bumbling, children love reading about his many adventures and mishaps. The first book in the series establishes the friendship between Clifford and Emily Elizabeth. It’s the best of the seemingly endless series, which has books for every season and holiday. A piece of advice: remember these are written for kids, who love them and want to read more because of their interest in this duo.
The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper, George Hauman, and Doris Hauman
The original “power of positive thinking” motivational book. When other, better qualified, engines turn down the job of climbing a towering mountain to bring toys to “all the good little girls and boys,” the Little Blue Engine gamely tackles the job. She famously chants, “I think I can, I think I can. . .” and succeeds in her mission. You may not remember this, but it’s actually a good early feminist book with a strong girl engine as hero. Try to find the edition with original illustrations, which are both intricate and beautiful.
Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
Mr. And Mrs. Mallard have hunted high and low for the perfect spot to raise their new duckling family. The Boston Gardens seem ideal. We agree—our whole family has fond memories of visits to Boston and seeing favorite locations from the Charles River to Beacon Hill. If you are able to go to Boston, be sure to go on a Swan boat ride in the Pubic Garden and view the mallard ducks which are still there. You can also see the statues of Mrs. Mallard and her 8 offspring. The book’s illustrations are simply terrific, and drawn from the duck’s ( or child’s-eye) view. For another McCloskey classic, take a look at Blueberries for Sal.
The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
Remember these opening lines? “The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house all that cold, cold, wet day…” Children today love to read this book as much as their parents did. Wacky and mischievous characters, playful rhymes, and magical illustrations have made this book a go-to classic for young readers. It’s simple enough that they can soon read it on their own, yet the story has enough depth and humor to keep their interest in re-reading.