When we were getting ready for bed the other night, my soon-to be 4-year-old did something I didn’t expect. For her bedtime, she didn’t choose the same picture books that have been in the same order for years. Instead, she reached in the back and found a chapter book with a funny-looking fox on the cover. When did I think we were going to read my kids their first chapter book? Like diapers and high chairs, a child’s first move to big kid books doesn’t always happen at the same time. As parents, it’s our job to make sure our kids have a lot of choices so that when they’re ready, they have everything they need to move forward.
If you’re a young person, what are the best first chapter books for you? No, there isn’t a perfect book for kids to start with. I asked librarians, teachers, educational experts, and other parents for their recommendations of the best books to help young readers who have different attention spans and big imaginations learn to read, and I found out what they said. Here is a list of all the things you need for your own bookshelf, so that when your young reader is ready for the next step in her reading journey, she can just reach out and grab one of these books.
Mercy Watson Series by Kate DiCamillo, Illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
Crossing age gaps is easier than Mercy Watson, the pig hero, sprinting to the neighbor’s house in search of sugar cookies. This award-winning series can do that more quickly than Mercy Watson can. Because this series is so popular with kids of all ages, it doesn’t matter how you read it to them or how you teach them to read.
Magic Treehouse Series by Mary Pope Osborne.
These books have been around for a long time, so there’s a chance you remember this series from when you were younger. I promise (and teachers agree), these books still have a lot to offer. The Magic Treehouse series tells the story of Jack and Annie, two siblings who find a treehouse in the woods filled with books. These books take them to new places, like the moon, Elizabethan England, and the Revolutionary War. The simple writing and magical stories will make you happy when your child asks for “one more chapter, please,” and you’ll be happy to oblige.
Blastoff! Readers by various authors, a Scholastic imprint
Nonfiction books from Scholastic are for kids who are more interested in the world we live in than one that’s in a galaxy (or a treehouse) that’s a long way away. They talk about a lot of different things, from “Delivery Drivers” to “Babies Sea Otters.” These early chapter books are almost certain to answer your child’s never-ending list of questions about the world around him or her.
Owl Diaries Series by Rebecca Elliott
Friendship. They are very cute. Every page has a story. There are a lot of people who love Owl Diaries: parents, librarians, and kids of all ages. It’s a series by a Scholastic imprint called Branches that’s aimed at young people who can read. Haggis and Tank Unleashed, Press Start!, and Diary of a Pug are some of the other series that people like from Branch.
Nate the Great by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat
When Nate the Great first came out more than 40 years ago, he was one of the first books to teach kids about mysteries. He or she might become an expert sleuth after only reading two or three chapters. When you see her, you might even get to know where she put the remote you’ve been looking for all week long.
Zoey and Sassafras series by Asia Citro, illustrated by Marion Lindsay
Zoey and Sassafras are the stars of a multi-award-winning series that combines real science with magic. A sick baby dragon who needs someone to help him or her Getting into trouble? Cat-erflies?! Because these stories are creative and silly, your child will squeal with delight. You’ll stay for the cute illustrations.
Fantastic Mr. Fox by Road Dahl
Road Dahl is the best at making kids happy. You and your child (and the child in you) will both love when animals outsmart mean people in each chapter. Other recommended books by teachers are Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach. The Witches, on the other hand, might be better kept for when they’re a little older so they don’t have 2 AM night terrors while reading them at night.
Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid, by Megan McDonald, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
There is a feeling that every child has that they won’t grow up at all. It’s not like that for Stink. One morning, the ruler reads an inch shorter than it did the day before. This book is fun and funny, and there are “cartoons” from Stink that your child will love.
Pedro, First Grade Hero, by Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Tammie Lyon
He’s kind and a little unsure of himself, but Pedro always does his best. Your child will love him. Make sure you have this book series on your bookshelves because it has a lot of different characters and fun illustrations.
Jasmine Toguchi series by Debbie Michiko, Illustrated by Elizabet Vukovic
You should get your hands on a copy of Jasmine Toguchi’s book if you haven’t already. As far back as 2018, this Japanese-American girl has been on the best-of lists for books. The Flamingo Keeper is a good place to start if you’re new to the series. I don’t think it’ll surprise you if you keep it in your bedtime routine for weeks on end.
Mr. Putter and Tabby, by Cynthia Rylant, Illustrated by Arthur L. Howard
As a librarian for 20 years, I’ve seen Chris Bulsa-O’Meara say, “Classic, rich, and funny,” which I agree with. This series has been a hit with beginning readers and their parents for a long time. Librarians and teachers keep recommending it to new readers and their parents. Make sure your child reads Henry and Mudge as well if they fall in love with these books.
Baby Monkey, Private Eye, by Brian Selznik and David Serlin
This best-selling graphic chapter book has great black and white illustrations and funny stories that are sure to keep young readers coming back for more. This is a great book for kids who are just learning to read. They can look at the imaginative pictures, or they can read the text on their own.
Ivy and Bean, by Annie Barrows, Illustrated by Sophie Blackall
It was a landslide when I asked other parents for their favorite books. Afterward, I saw what all the fuss was about. They don’t seem like they’d get along, but their differences end up making them the best of friends in this award-winning show. They both have a lot of love for each other, and the illustrations alone are enough to keep you as excited as your child.
This is our list of the best books for kids who start reading on their own. (At least for now) Choose a few or all of these to put on your book shelf. Make sure that when you start teaching your child how to read chapter books, you give her a lot of different books to choose from. The best way to mix things up is to mix nonfiction with fiction and graphic books with text-only books, easy stories with slightly more complicated ones. The teacher and curriculum specialist for grades K-12, Irene Stanhope, says that you should let your child decide whether they need something a little more difficult or not so difficult. Important: “The most important thing is to have fun and keep them excited about reading.”