I am constantly in awe of my mom friends who routinely paint, pretend play, sculpt clay, and dress up dolls with their toddlers. I’ve never been able to delve too deeply into this kind of expressly “toddler stuff…
… but I will say that I love reading to my kids.
You are reading: First chapter books to read aloud
Yes, reading to my children is perhaps the only thing that has come easy to me as a parent. we’ve indulged in all the classics and stumbled upon new favorites along the way; but now that my oldest son is approaching four and a half years old, I am eager to take things to the next level. this age range, from early childhood to kindergarten/first grade, is a kind of preteen period when it comes to books: most kids can’t read yet, but many are ready by their time. development to take a step forward. ducklings and dragons love tacos.
Turns out there are a number of books and series that are perfect for first chapter books with pre-readers: they follow fun yet simple stories, ignite children’s imaginations, and feature relatable but quirky characters. These books introduce children to the concept of chapter books and longer, more fleshed-out stories while still meeting them where they are.
when i asked james if he wanted to read some “adult chapter books” with me, he really liked it. And we’re having a great time! If you’re ready to give chapter books a try, here are our favorite recommendations for reading aloud to your kids—happy reading, everyone! tell us how it goes 🙂.
first chapter books to read aloud to preschoolers and pre-readers
my father’s dragon trilogy, ruth stiles gannett, illus. ruth chrisman gannet
Parents everywhere rave that my father’s dragon is perhaps the best place to start when it comes to chapter books. Elmer’s adventures with the baby dragon he rescues have truly stood the test of time – the adventure stories and beautiful illustrations in this series often keep even young children hooked to the edge of their seat.
Zoey and Sassafras (series), Asia Citro, illus. Marion Lindsay
These books are awesome. All of Zoey’s escapades involve the science process (and a whole cast of magical creatures!) – they’re great fun, easy to follow, and teach kids about science. plus, we love that the main character is a girl of color; We seriously need more of this on children’s shelves. [get a pack here.]
the swan’s trumpet, eb white, illus. fred marcellino
eb white’s children’s books are adored and renowned for their clarity and honest storytelling, and this book is no exception. Set against a serene and richly described natural landscape, we love this simple yet charming coming-of-age tale for first-time listeners. (note: with its gentle touch, minus the harsh realities of farm life, we think the swan’s trumpet is universally appropriate for little ones, although it does represent some outdated gender norms…in a family of swans, though you can also get the eb white box that comes with charlotte’s web and stuart little, because, quite simply, yes. eventually you will get there).
meet yasmin! (series), saadia faruqi, illus. i hate ali
These books about second grader yasmin focus on family, everyday life, creativity, and problem solving. one reviewer describes yasmin’s character as charming and feisty, and we love that these stories feature a Pakistani-American family and a Muslim culture (note that they are not religious).
mr. popper’s penguins, richard atwater and florence atwater
This sweet and silly story about what happens when a man is given a penguin (whose friends also quickly appear) will have little kids laughing all the time. a top choice for lots of laughs! (beware, it was written in the mid-1900s, so it sucks at dubious genre normative phrases…they’re pretty easy to edit in real time, my fancy strategy, but just FYI).
Winnie the Pooh Collection, A.A. Milne, illus. EH Shephard
do we have to say something about it? These books are so much fun to tell, and kids love the recognizable characters and easy-to-follow stories. no matter how old you are, there’s always something to get out of winnie the pooh and the gang.
mia mayhem is a superhero! (series), kara west, illus. leeza hernandez
These “high energy” stories follow Mia, an 8-year-old girl with a propensity to cause chaos wherever she goes, as she navigates a newfound superpower. they are fun, engaging and both parents and children love them. .
magic tree house starter set, mary pope osborne, illus. salt murdocca
There are a ton of books in this series (ok, 50), telling the stories of siblings annie and jack’s journeys through space and time. each of the stories focuses on some element of history/social studies (dinosaurs! castles! pirates! oh my!) — add a dash of adventure and a dash of mystery, and you’re good to go.
the princess in black (series), shannon hale and dean hale, illus. leuyen pham
the adventures of princess magnolia are, as one critic put it, a contrast to the narrative of the disney princesses. Instead of being demure, shallow, shy, and/or veiny, Magnolia is a bada$$ superhero. These books are a fun and exciting introduction to both chapter books and feminism! [**note: the horse in this series is sadly called “blacky”, which is…a shame as it’s an old racial slur. a workaround: many parents say they choose an alternate name for the horse from step one.]
a handful of other custom selections (!):
for those who want matching colorful illustrations:
mercy watson series, kate dicamillo, illus. chris vandusen
This comedy series about a pig (Mercy) who lives with the Watsons is a parent favorite for hooking little listeners (think: even a 3-year-old can do it) to chapter books. (One reviewer compared it to Curious George with a little more depth and enthusiasm.) With their bright, vivid illustrations and hilarious antics, Mercy West books are a great way to help engage your child with longer reading sessions and stories.
the owl diaries (series), rebecca elliott
This scholastic series is a fan favorite in terms of transitioning from picture books to chapter books – all titles feature a fun cast of characters, images on each page, and literacy elements like speech bubbles and pages with lines. The sweet stories convey life lessons similar to Daniel Tigre’s.
one of the first graphic “novel” series:
the bad boys (box), aaron blabey
These “bad boy” books are so funny that they seriously make kids laugh. it’s about how typical bad guys (think: the big bad wolf, sharks, tarantulas, etc.) actually try to be good.
for slightly older children (or more experienced listeners):
the one and only ivan, katherine applegate, illus. patricia castelao
This is one of the most amazing books, period. Loosely based on a true story, The One Ivan is narrated by a gorilla who has been living in captivity for nearly three decades. the quiet story is beautifully crafted, introspective and profound. he may have cried. multiple times.
the invincible girls club (series), rachele alpine, illus. dy rivera probe
These delightful new books follow a group of four friends (each book features a different girl as the main character) on various projects of creative passion: In the first, she’s looking for foster homes for older dogs at the county shelter. these stories are all about positivity: the characters are polite, encouraging, talented, and thoughtful. *and they’re all incredibly diverse and inclusive, featuring not just people of color but different types of families (step-parents and siblings, same-sex couples, single adults, etc.).
the far, far north, dan bar-el, illus. kelly pousette
the story of duane, a friendly and thoughtful polar bear, and his arctic friends on the road, on their way north. think: winnie the pooh with a little more pomp and circumstance. on ice. (Also, kind of like Winnie the Pooh, it’s a bit sardonic, which can be hard to follow at times, so we recommend it for experienced listeners.)
roald dahl collection, illust. quentin blake
all the classics you know and love, matilda, the bfg, charlie and the chocolate factory…plus some lesser known but just as fun titles like esio trot and billy and the minpins. yes, this box will keep you busy and entertained for a while. we especially love james and the giant peach (although it’s a bit weird…) and george’s wonderful medicine for early forays. Please note that some (most?) of these stories contain absolutely appalling depictions of adults and caretakers; if this doesn’t suit you, it’s best to stay away.
read about roald dahl’s complicated legacy here. is something to keep in mind.
the dragon of doom (book one of the moongobble and me series), bruce coville, illus. katherine coville
the dragon of doom tells the story of a boy who becomes an apprentice to a magician. This series of books has everything fantasy lovers want: dragons, magic, witches, and quests, without any of the scary (or inappropriate) fare.
for those who prefer poetry:
where the sidewalk ends, shel silverstein
This classic collection of illustrated poems is bold, imaginative, and fun. It’s a great way to introduce young children to verse, and we also love it for those times when you just want some quick lyrical fun.
twice as much fun, beverly cleary, illus. carol thompson
This adorable book is so much fun for the twins: 4-year-old twins Jimmy and Janet get into all sorts of relatable mischief together in this four-chapter book. Cleary herself had twins, so it’s written with the hand of experience, and since Ramona may be too much for the average preschooler, this is a perfect way to get your fix of Beverly Cleary a little sooner. 😉
do you have a favorite book with the first chapter? please leave us a comment below – thanks and happy reading!