30 Best Books for Elementary Readers

30 Best Books for Elementary Readers

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based on 31 ratings
Updated on Apr 17, 2014

Teacher Esme Raji Codell has sifted through thousands of books as a children's literature specialist and author of the parent's guide, How to Get Your Child to Love Reading (Algonquin Books, 2003). Here are her top 5 picks for grades kindergarten through fifth grade, plus a list of recommended authors for good measure:


Hint: Reading early doesn’t mean reading better! Take your time and savor the world of picture books. Here's a list of books to get started:

  1. Fancy Nancy by Jane O'Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser (HarperCollins, 2005) The color fuchsia, lace-trimmed socks, tiaras, French accents and frilly toothpicks, this little sister likes all things f-a-n-c-y FANCY, and she's generously willing to share her expertise in private lessons.
  2. An Egg is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long (Chronicle Books, 2006) Though most children encounter eggs cold, white and by the dozen in their refrigerator, this book brings eggs to life as the source of just that, in a multitude of colors, shapes, and textures. A lovely literary introduction to looking closely at the natural world.
  3. Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Jen Corace (Chronicle Books, 2005) "If you want to grow up and be a big, strong pea, you have to eat your candy," Papa Pea would say. "If you don't finish your candy then you can't have dessert," Mama Pea would say. But yuck! Little Pea doesn't like candy! Can he make it through dinner to dessert…and a surprise ending? Gotta love vegetables with a twist.
  4. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, illustrated by Henry Cole (Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, 2005) Roy and Silo walked together. And sang to each other. And built a nest together. And wound their necks around each other. But there was one thing Roy and Silo couldn't do together. With the help of a sympathetic zookeeper, these penguin partners were able to become a family. Based on the true story, this is a perfect blend of storytelling, science and sentimentality.
  5. Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey (Puffin, 1976) A bear mother and child and a human mother and child accidentally trade places during a delicious day of berry-picking on the hill.  Sweet as pie, this reassuring, straightforward classic story suggests that someone to take care of you is always right around the corner.

Other Authors: Ezra Jack Keats, Kevin Henkes, Tomie de Paola, Rosemary Wells, Eric Carle, Leo Lionni

First Grade

Hint: Turn on the closed-captioning feature of your television set to expose your child to sight-word vocabulary, even when you aren’t reading from books.

  1. The Giants and the Joneses by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Greg Swearingen (Henry Holt and Co. , 2005) Both Jumbeelia and Colette are avid collectors, and they both tire of their collections fairly quickly. The big difference between them is just that: Jumbeelia is a giant, and she has finally found a magic bimplestock to climb down and collect some adorable igglyplops, or human beings…namely, Colette and her siblings! With the help of a glossary, children will soon be bilingual in Giantese, and read-aloud has never felt so fresh and funny.
  2. The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds (Walker Books Ltd, 2004) "Just make a mark and see where it takes you," Vashti's art teacher advises. When a simple dot gets kudos in class, Vashti ups her own antie and makes quite a splash at the art show.
  3. The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss (Dr. Seuss Green Back Books, 2003) A collection of subtle stories about tolerance and the value of being different.  Do we love others even when they don't have stars upon thars?  What are the drawbacks of naming twenty three sons "Dave"?  And the pale green pants with nobody inside them...friend or foe?
  4. Heckedy Peg by Audrey and Don Wood (Voyager Books, 1992) In this introduction to the dark, moody, dreamlike world of fairy tales, a loving mother rescues seven children named for the days of the week from the clutches of a truly wicked witch. 
  5. Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies by Carolyn Crimi (Candlewick, 1995) More interested in books than timber-shivering or plank-walking, Henry is the laughingstock of the swarthy pirate crew. But when no one heeds his red-sky-at-morning warning and the ship is lost, it is Henry's book-smarts that save the day. This book demonstrates that readers are leaders!

Other Authors: Bernard Waber, William Steig, Aliki, David Weisner, James Marshall

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