Beginning Books Are Perfect for New Readers Mastering Sight Words and Decoding Text!
We were having dinner at an Italian restaurant one night when I noticed Pickle staring out the window intently, studying something off in the distance. He furrowed his brows, and I could tell he was puzzling over something in his head.
“What are you looking at, Sweetheart?” I asked. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what had captured his attention.
“Jah-puh-nees,” he said slowly. He pointed at something outside, and when I gazed out the window, I saw red lights flashing from across the street. Japanese Restaurant, they said.
I looked at him, totally astonished, as he had only been in kindergarten a few months and he had just begun decoding simple words a couple weeks earlier.
“What did you say?” I asked.
“That light across the street. It says Jah-puh-nees,” he said again slowly. Then, “Japanese! They have sushi there, I bet.”
His eyes sparked with light, two small fireflies dancing in the night.
We were with my parents, and I caught my mom’s eye. We grinned over our plates of lasagna, and if you know how important reading is to me, you know I totally wanted to stand up on the table and cheer like there was no tomorrow.
“You just read that all by yourself!” I said. “That was amazing!” Pickle beamed, his face radiating happiness.
The rest of the night was joyful, and I couldn’t believe my first baby was really beginning to read.
And then I knew that it was time to stock up on beginning books for our house. When I gave Pickle a variety of books to choose from a few days later, he was obsessed. He loved the fact that he could pick up his new stories and read nearly all of the words on his own, with very little help from me.
But this only happens when he has just the right books.
What makes for an awesome beginning book for new readers?
If you haven’t yet noticed, the best books for beginning readers are VERY different from easy chapter books. Books for beginning readers, also referred to as “beginning books,” “emergent readers” and/or “easy readers,” have distinct characteristics, making them different from chapter books and even picture books. The font in beginning books is usually large, and the sentences are short. The illustrations typically provide supporting clues to the reader, and you will often notice that the text is repetitive in structure, containing word families and rhyme. In beginning books, the words are fairly simple and easy to decode.
Is your child ready to tackle beginning books?
Your kids are ready for beginning books if you see the following:
(1) they are mastering sight words,
(2) as they read, they are beginning to decode unknown words, often through chunking the text (breaking words up into smaller components),
(3) their reading fluency has started to become smoother and less robotic, and
(4) they can self-correct when the word they are reading doesn’t make sense.
When selecting beginning books, It is important to remember that each publisher has different leveling criteria, so a “Level 1” book published by one imprint may be slightly easier or more challenging than a different publishers’ Level 1 books. That being said, no matter the publisher, you will know that as the numbers increase, so too does the complexity of the text.
Before we get to our new list beginning books, there’s one thing you should know. Many of these books —and I say this as nicely as possible — simply aren’t very good. Because these books must be simple with short sentences and easy vocabulary, the stories are often lacking when it comes to plot and character. The problem with this? A dull story won’t typically fulfill the very critical function of engaging your new reader.
Thus, Pickle and I have tested out even more books since we published our first best books for beginning readers post, and these are the stories that we keep coming back to. I’ve got an insanely curious kid on my hands, so we have included a bunch of fascinating non-fiction titles, too. We particularly love the National Geographic Kids series, as you can find books on every topic under the sun, from animals to space to biographies of important historical figures.
One important reminder: coming back to books for a second, third and even fourth and fifth read is a FANTASTIC thing! The more your child reads a particular book, the more he sharpens his reading skills, and the more his fluency improves. Since practice is key when it comes to reading, repetition is awesome. So what does this mean? Our goal as parents and educators should be to get books into kids hands that they will want to read again and again. Why? It’s easy…
a terrific beginning book will help foster your child’s love of stories!
And now, without further ado, here is our new list of beginning books. We hope you love these stories as much as we do, and we can’t wait to hear your thoughts!
As you read through these titles, keep in mind that within each particular category, the titles start off easy and increase in complexity as you get further down the list in that section. Enjoy!
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Beginning Books: Fiction!
Big Dog and Little Dog Tales of Adventure, by Dav Pilkey: Did you know the creator of the famous Dog Man and Captain Underpants series also writes beginning books for kids? This collection of five simple stories captures the friendship — and hilarious shenanigans — of Big Dog and Little Dog, both entertaining your children and developing their reading skills at the very same time. This collection was a huge winner in our house when Pickle first made the jump to beginning readers.
Ballet Stars, by Joan Hollub and illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas: Calling all tiny dancers! Your ballet loving kiddos will love this rhyming story featuring large text and easy words that moves from ballet class to dress rehearsal to the final curtsey at the end of their big performance. Your dancing queens (and kings!) will pirouette with this beginning book all around the house!
Danny and the Dinosaur, by Syd Hoff: Danny is one dinosaur loving kid, and when he visits the museum one day, he can’t help but voice how cool it would be to play with a dinosaur for real. And then magic happens, because the dinosaur he is checking out decides it would be pretty awesome to play with Danny, too! In this classic, your new reader will join Danny and the dinosaur on adventures that make even the must mundane activities seem extraordinary!
Shampoodle, by Joan Hollub and illustrated by Tim Bowers: Even dogs must get ready for picture day! When this special day arrives at the dog park, all the pups need to undergo some serious grooming. What do they do? They head to Shampoodle, of course, where they get scrubbed and pampered — until some curious cats come by and things get more than just a little bit messy!
Unicorn Wings (Step into Reading), by Mallory Loehr and illustrated by Pamela Silin-Palmer: If you have a unicorn lover at home who is ALSO starting to read on her own, this is the perfect beginning book! Here, Unicorn can make rainbows. Even cooler? He can heal wounds with his horn. But what he really wants is to fly! Unicorn thus sets off on a quest to find himself some wings. This one is adorable, and a favorite new gift for unicorn-obsessed kindergarteners!
The Littlest Leaguer, by Syd Hoff: Harold is the smallest player in the baseball league, and no matter how hard he tries, he’s just no good at the game! He can’t catch a ball, he runs too slow, and he spends more time on the field than on the bench. But one day, during a big game, little Harold has the chance to make a big, big play. If you have a sports lover in your home, you don’t want to miss this book!
Duck, Duck, Porcupine! by Salina Yoon: In this Geisel Honor early reader series, Big Duck constantly bosses around her little brother, Little Duck. And this means that when Porcupine joins their crew, Big Duck is definitely the leader. Yet, even though LIttle Duck is too young to speak, it seems he just might have the know-how to outsmart his big sister and get this darling trio out of whatever pickle they find themselves in. This is an absolute delight, and we love Salina Yoon’s work!
Kick, Pass, and Run, by Leonard Kessler: In this classic book, a group of animals discover… an egg? But when a boy comes along and is excited to find his football, the animals realize their mistake and then learn a thing or two about this awesome sport! This is such a fun story to hook your new readers — who are also sports fanatics - on great books!
Do You Like My Bike, by Norm Feuti: I’m loving this new Acorn line of books from Scholastic for early readers. Do You Like My Bike is the first book in the Hello, Hedgehog series, and in this fun story, Hedgehog loves his new bike and wants his friend Harry to go for a ride with him. Harry, however, does not want to go. Is it because Harry doesn’t like the bike? Or could it have something to do with the bike’s lack of training wheels? This one is absolutely adorable, and we can‘t wait to get our hands on the rest of this series!
What is Inside this box?, by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Olivier Tallec: In the first of a witty and fun new series, best friends Monkey and Cake grapple with some of life’s most perplexing questions. In this book, the two wonder what lies inside Monkey’s mysterious box. How on earth will they find out? Your little ones’ imaginations will take flight with this fun — and thought provoking — book, and if you love Elephant and Piggie, we have no doubt that you will love these books too!
A Friend for Dragon, by Dav Pilkey: This is another new Acorn series by the great Dav Pilkey, and this book is just darling. Poor Dragon simply wants to find a friend... and finally, he finds one! But — can an apple really be a true friend? And what happens when the apple falls ill? This beginning book will make your little ones laugh out loud, and your kids will love this charming story of love and loss.
Ballet Cat, The Totally Secret Secret, by Bob Shea: We absolutely love this story of friendship, compromise and sharing secrets with the one you trust most. Sparkles the Pony and Ballet Cat are best friends… best friends who always play ballet in their free time. But Sparkles has a secret — he really doesn’t enjoy ballet but he is scared Ballet Cat will no longer be his best friend if he shares the truth. Ballet Cat has a secret of her own though, and it just may be that there is something she loves even more than ballet!
Penny and her Song, by Kevin Henkes: Penny just loves to sing, and she has a really special song. But when she gets home from school, no one wants to listen to her because — shhhh! — the babies are sleeping. Will Penny ever find the right time to sing to her family, or will she be forced to keep singing to herself? This book is such a gem!
Lulu Goes to Witch School, by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Bella Sinclair: Lulu is so nervous about her first day of witch school. She rides her broom to school and loves her new witchy teacher, and she does great on broom riding practice around the cemetery. The one thing she doesn’t love, though, is little miss Sandy Witch who seems to do everything better than Lulu. This one is perfect for kids who have a strong ability to read on their own, but still need a little bit of help and guidance!
Here Comes the Strikeout, by Leonard Kessler: This is an oldie but goodie for your sports lovers about one boy who is so good at baseball — except when it comes to actually hitting the ball! He can run, slide and catch, but he just can’t hit. Or can he? With a lot of hard work and perseverance, Bobby may find he has what it takes to get a home run. We love this awesome story to teach growth mindset!
Noodlehead Nightmares, by Tedd Arnold, Martha Hamilton, and Mitch Weiss: I cannot adequately express how much Pickle loved this book and the other two books in this series. To say he was cracking up as we read this is an understatement! This is the story of Mac and Mac, two hollow headed noodles who are pretty easy to fool… especially when their friend Meatball gets involved. If you love Fly Guy, we have no doubt that you will be big fans of the Noodleheads!
Beginning Books: Nonfiction - Animals
Dinosaur Babies, by Lucille Recht Penner and illustrated by Peter Barrett: Do you have a dinosaur obsessed kiddo in your house? If so, she will love this beginning book that explores everything we know about these majestic creatures. Following different dinosaurs from the hatching of eggs to adulthood, this is an awesome introduction to some of the world’s most fascinating babies of all time!
Amazing Gorillas!, by Sarah J. Thomson: This exciting line of non-fiction books features spectacular animals, easy to read text, and stunning photographs from the Wildlife Conservation Society. This edition features information about gorillas, from their families to their striking similarities to people, and animal lovers will be mesmerized by both the facts inside and the beautiful pictures.
Hungry, Hungry Sharks, by Joanna Cole and illustrated by Patricia Wynne: I bet you never knew that sharks lived on earth even before dinosaurs! If your kids are mesmerized by these massive animals and their many, many teeth, they will love this classic beginning book that has been a staple early reader for more than twenty years. Informative, fascinating, and thrilling, shark enthusiasts will love this one!
Flight of the Butterflies, by Roberta Edwards and illustrated by Bob Kayganich: Kids are fascinated by the mesmerizing transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly. Now, they can continue learning about these delicate, beautiful creatures with this engaging read that takes readers on the exquisite, 2,500 mile migration journey of the monarch butterfly.
Fake Out Animals that Play Tricks, by Ginjer L. Clarke and illustrated by Pete Mueller: Pickle is totally fascinated by this super cool book that describes how various animals engage in bizarre behaviors, particularly when they feel threatened. Your kids will be intrigued when learning that a mimic octopus can change its shape and color to blend in with its surroundings, and that one particular type of goat actually faints whenever it feels threatened. Fascinating, fun and fabulous for your kids that are becoming more proficient readers!
Beginning Books: Nonfiction — Our World and Our Bodies
The Amazing Planet Earth, by Storybots: The most beautiful planet in the whole solar system is the one we get to enjoy calling home: Earth. In this fun, easy introduction to our planet, kids will learn very basic facts about Earth with the engaging robots from Storybots.
I Want to be a Doctor, by Laura Driscoll and illustrated by Catalina Echeverri: When Jack hurts his foot, he and his family head to the hospital where they meet all different types of doctors. For any child who is intrigued by medicine and claims he wants to be a doctor when he grows up, this beginning book gives readers a behind the scenes look at different types of doctors, what they do, and how they help other feel better.
Bones, by Stephen Krensky and illustrated by Davy Jones: We adore this look at what takes place underneath our skin! If your kids have any interest in how the human body works, this is a fabulous beginning book that explains everything from bones to joints to muscles. This is the perfect book for any child who wants to learn about the skeletons inside each and every one of us!
National Geographic Kids: Weather, by Kristin Baird Rattini: “Mommy, how does it rain? Why does it rain? What makes it thunder?” Sound familiar?!?! If your child has questions like mine do, they will be totally intrigued by this great book about what causes the weather events we experience regularly — and not so regularly. We are so in love with this series which is absolutely perfect for your fact obsessed new readers!
Space, Planets Moons Stars and More, by Joe Rhatigan and illustrated by Thomas Girard: Have a child that is intrigued by the solar system? This book is awesome! Complete with photos from NASA and engaging and fascinating facts about the final frontier, this book features information about the planets and explains how earth is just one tiny part of the entire universe. Wonderful for your space obsessed kids!
Beginning Books: Nonfiction — People and Places
Pyramids, by Laura Marsh: This book is iust the coolest, as it takes kids on a journey through ancient Egypt to learn all about the majestic pyramids. From architecture to mummies to tombs and more, this beginning book explains these amazing wonders to new readers, and discusses why they continue to be important today.
Ameilia Earhart, by Caroline Gilpin: National Geographic Kids also has a line of beginning books to teach kids about important and fascinating historical figures. Obviously, we love them! This book brings the story of Amelia Earhart alive for new readers, describing her life, her legacy, her determination to fly and her eventual disappearance.
The Statute of Liberty, by Lucille Recht Penner and illustrated by Jada Rowland: Kids across the United States learn about the Statue of Liberty from an early age! In this beginning book, illustrations and easy text describe how this iconic statue was built, brought to the United States from France, and unveiled, making it one of the most significant and revered symbols of freedom around the world.
George Washington, by Caroline Crosson Gilpin: Do you have a kiddo who is mesmerized by American presidents? In this beginning book, children are introduced to George Washington, one of the most influential American leaders of all time. This story provides an easy to read and informative glimpse into the life of our first president, journeying from his childhood to the American Revolution to his presidency and his eventual retirement.
Helen Keller, by Kitson Jazynka: Readers will be mesmerized by the life, obstacles and achievements of Helen Keller, a woman who was both deaf and blind, but refused to be held back by her challenges. This biography beautifully showcases the admirable, inspiring woman whose quest for knowledge enabled her to help others facing similar disabilities.
Rosa Parks, by Kitson Jazynka: Rosa Parks is an American hero many kids learn about as early as Kindergarten. This wonderful beginning biography teaches children all about her refusal to give up her seat on the bus, and how her actions in Montgomery, Alabama were a catalyst to ending racial segregation in America.
Fly Guy Presents the White House, by Tedd Arnold: We love Fly Guy, and his non-fiction series totally rocks! Kids are fascinated by the White House, and in this beginning book, Fly Guy and Buzz take new readers on a tour of this American icon that is home to the President of the United States.
We hope this fabulous list of beginning books gets two trunks up in your home, too!
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Did you like this list of the Beginning Books to Engage Your New Readers? We are so glad! Check out these awesome lists and reviews for more books we think you will love!
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