Classic Read-to-Me Books for Early Readers

This is the golden age for reading aloud! The stories are more complex and interesting, and there are so many wonderful books to read aloud to kids at this age. You doubtlessly remember several from your own childhood. Many of these books can begin as read-alouds for the family or classroom, and become books that children read to themselves–now or later, depending on their reading abilities. We tried to pick a mix of boy heroes, girl heroes and animal heroes, but the truth is, these books will connect with all the members of your family or classroom in different ways.

Note: For this age group, we’ve split the “Classics” list into two parts, this Read-to-Me section, and “I Can Read Myself Classics.” Be sure to check out that list as well!

For more read-alouds for the Early Weeks of School, Choice Literacy has a wealth of suggestions in their free newsletter, The Big Fresh. You can access these ideas  in the newsletter “There’s Room for Me Here,” under Free for All. 

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Mr.-Popper's-PenguinsMr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater

This is the 1938 classic about Mr. Popper who dreamed of being an explorer before settling down to be a husband, father and housepainter. When his letter to Admiral Drake unexpectedly results in the gift of a penguin, kindly Mr. Popper quickly acquires a second to help cheer the first lonely penguin. When the two penguins have some babies, Mr. Popper and his family have to find a way to feed all these penguins- and they come up with “Poppers’ Performing Penguins!” This charming book actually has a lot to teach kids (and parents) about following your dreams and creative problem solving.

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PippiPippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

Everyone loves Pippi, and every child wants to be her. Who wouldn’t want to live in a treehouse (with no parents around!), have a suitcase full of gold, a pet monkey, be superstrong, and have fabulous red braids? The book is delightful and funny, and Lundgren very wisely provided the characters of Annika and Tommy as the people that we can imagine being while wishing we were Pippi. The (numerous) sequels never reach the heights of the original, but will delight the hardcore Pippi fans. Let Pippi be your introduction the wonderful Swedish author Astrid Lundgren, who also wrote Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter and The Brother’s Lionheart (be forewarned—this one is a 4 -hankie book!).

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Charlotte's-WebCharlotte’s Web by E. B. White

If ever there was the book that needs no introduction, it’s Charlotte’s Web. Few young readers reach the age of ten without reading –or hearing–this classic about Wilbur the pig and his friends, Charlotte, Fern, and Templeton the rat. A sweet (and sad) tale of friendship, devotion and love will appeal to everyone. (One note of caution- it’s wise to be prepared in advance with your answers about meat coming from animals like Wilbur. Younger readers who happily eat chicken, and know what a barnyard chicken is, often haven’t yet made the connection that they are the same thing. )

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RamonaRamona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary

Some heroines are princesses (Sleeping Beauty), some are very rich (Eloise), some are fabulously beautiful (Snow White), some are incredibly strong (Pippi) or brave (the Paperbag Princess). Ramona is a normal little girl – funny, smart, energetic, and beleaguered by all the problems every 8 year old faces. Kids love Ramona because they identify with her travails and the way she deals with them. Parents love Ramona for the same reasons. This is actually the second book in the series, which begins with Ramona and Her Father. For those who love the characters, there are several additional titles in the series.

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SuperfudgeSuperfudge by Judy Blume

Everyone, from 4-40 (and beyond) loves Judy Blume. Superfudge is the sequel to Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing, but in many ways it’s an even better book. Fudge is a little older, so his antics are funnier and more pronounced, which makes this book a favorite of many kids. It’s also a great book for introducing several topics with your kids- moving, a new baby, and yes, even the existence of Santa Claus (if you don’t feel like your kids are ready to talk about Santa, SKIP THAT CHAPTER- that’s what we did in our family). For families with an age range of kids, one nice idea is to let the older child(ren) read Tales of A Fourth- Grade Nothing to themselves while reading this aloud to the whole family.

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James-and-the-Giant-PeachJames & the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG, Matilda – for this age group you can’t go wrong with any of these Roald Dahl classics. We recommend starting with James and the Giant Peach partly because you can follow up with the fun movie, which is appropriate for younger children and because the animal friends and creatures are fun. It may be a little grittier than you remember, which only makes it better when rereading as an adult! The Lane Smith illustrated edition is wonderful for kids who love Stinky Cheese Man, but you may prefer the classic edition with illustrations by Quentin Blake.

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Little-HouseLittle House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The first of the Little House on the Prairie series is a wonderful introduction to the the Ingalls family. Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in 1867 in the log cabin described in this book. She and her family then traveled by covered wagon across the Midwest. As an adult, Laura wrote about her childhood growing up on the American frontier. Her books have touched millions of readers as they come to know her and her family through their years of living as pioneers. Important note: Revisiting the books as adults, you may be troubled by a few stereotypical—to the point of prejudicial—views of Native Americans. These comments are infrequent and easy to delete when reading aloud, but the pioneer view of “who owns this land” is woven through the books. For older readers, this is a great way of introducing the topic for teaching and discussion. Another idea is to pair the series with Louise Erdrich’s The Birchbark House, in which the same slice of history is seen through the eyes of the spirited, 7-year-old Ojibwa girl Omakayas, or Little Frog.  (For more information on the whole series of Little House books, check out Little House Memories.)

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Stone-FoxStone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner and Greg Hargreaves

This is a perfect family or classroom read-aloud book, a story of two compelling heroes. Willie is determined to win a dog sled race to save his grandfather’s farm, and he trains with his beloved dog Searchlight every day. Stone Fox, a Native American, has a team of five Samoyeds and has never lost a race. He races to earn prize money so that he can buy back land taken from his people. The description of the race itself is detailed, riveting, and full of suspense. With its powerful, emotional ending, youngsters begin to understand that not every story has a happy ending and you have to learn to accept the good with the bad.

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Mouse-and-motorThe Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary

Ralph, a mouse, and Keith, a young boy, are two unlikely friends united by their loved of adventure—and riding motorcycles. They share Keith’s bright red shiny toy motorcycle in this imaginative and comical tale. A great road-trip read. And for more adventures, you can follow up with Ralph. S. Mouse and Runaway Ralph.

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VelveteenThe Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams and William Nicholson

“‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'” This sentimental tale was first published in 1922—and has been a favorite read-aloud ever since. The toy velveteen rabbit is a gift to a little boy at Christmas time, and he wants to become so loved by the boy that he becomes real. It’s hard to read without a lump in the throat.

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My-Father's-DragonMy Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett and Ruth Chrisman Gannett

Since the 1940’s, young readers have enjoyed hearing this book—and picking it up to read on their own. This off-beat humorous adventure story introduces us to the narrator’s father, Elmer Elevator, when he was a boy. With the aid of a very strange crew—including pink lollipops, rubber bands, and an old alley cat, he manages to rescue a baby dragon from a faraway enchanted island. What could be better than to fly triumphantly home on the back of a dragon? While there is plenty of action, mostly involving the little boy outsmarting a series of wild animals in order to reach the dragon, there’s nothing the least bit scary here. Readers eager to hear more adventures can follow up with Elmer and the Dragon and The Dragons of Blueland.

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