The number of early reader books (other terms used are “beginning readers” or “easy readers”) on the market available today is mind-blogging. However, when I was a young mother, I was a bit “underwhelmed” by many of the early readers. I couldn’t wait for my kids to be able to dive into chapter books. I have since discovered a treasure trove of books in this category that I love, that my children have enjoyed and that are worth lingering over long after your child ready for easy chapter or full chapter books.
As a child, one of my early memories of learning to read in English – I was already reading in French by that time – was Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss. Theodore Geisel’s zany stories and characters are imprinted in my mind – they are happy memories of my mother teaching me English words which were so very different from the French words I had learned so far, words like up, ball, red, dad, sad, hop, stop. But it was the illustrations that jumped out at me – they were so culturally different from the pictures in my French workbooks. What was different in my child’s mind, I can’t completely recall, but I think that it was partly that the illustrations were colorful, fun, and humorous. There is also an element of chaos in Dr. Seuss books that I found appealing. It drew me in and I found myself wanting to read them over and over again. Isn’t that what early readers should do?
What is an early reader?
Early readers are shorter books (1,500 words max) but are broken up into either chapters or vignettes that will give the reader the feeling of reading a book with real chapters in it. These books are written for kids ages 4 to 8. The font size is larger than a chapter book and they include illustrations, although not as many illustrations as a picture book. Many of the early readers are graded (level 1, 2, 3) so that kids can develop their reading skills and move up gradually to more independent reading.
- Level 1 – simple words and short sentences to the newest readers
- Level 2 – vocabulary and sentence length for beginning readers
- Level 3 – Longer stories with paragraphs
- Level 4 – First chapter books for advanced beginners
One of the first early readers is the Beginning Books, which was founded by Theodor Geisel. In 1957, Theodor Geisel, who took on the pen name Dr. Seuss, responding to an article in Life magazine that lamented the use of boring reading primers in schools, decided to create a more exciting “primer” using only 228 words. The Cat in the Hat was an instant success.
“I have great pride in taking Dick and Jane out of most school libraries,” he said. “That is my greatest satisfaction.”
Dr. Seuss then accepted the challenge from his editor, that he couldn’t create a fun book with 50 words or less. Green Eggs and Ham which uses exactly 50 words, proved the editor wrong.
The 50 words are: a, am, and, anywhere, are, be, boat, box, car, could, dark, do, eat, eggs, fox, goat, good, green, ham, here, house, I, if, in, let, like, may, me, mouse, not, on, or, rain, Sam, say, see, so, thank, that, the, them, there, they, train, tree, try, will, with, would, you.
Dr. Seuss wrote many popular titles for beginning readers including Hop on Pop, Fox in Socks, Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. In the Beginning Reader series, I also recommend P.D. Eastman’s books Go, Dog, Go! (one of my son’s favorites), Are You My Mother? and The Best Nest.
In addition to Dr. Seuss’s and P.D. Eastman’s masterpieces, here are some great series to explore with your young reader:
Biscuit series (level 1) by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, illustrated by Pat Schories (1996)
This series about an adorable yellow puppy named Biscuit, is great for preschoolers and emergent readers alike. A very popular series, Biscuit is everyone’s favorite playful and cuddly little puppy whose antics will amuse the whole family.
Dodsworth series (level 3) by Tim Egan (2007-2013)
This series is great for your little world traveler. Dodsworth and his mischievous duck set out on their travels to different places around the world. It all starts off with a trip to New York –
“Dodsworth wanted adventure.
He wanted to fly in a plane.
He wanted to sail on a ship.
He wanted to see the world.”
His adventures are anything but boring, thanks to his traveling companion, a crazy duck who is constantly misbehaving. I love everything about this series – it’s funny, it’s fast paced and it’s perfect for TCKs who can identify with planes, trains and suitcases and mishaps along the way. Books in this series include:
- Dodsworth in New York
- Dodsworth in London
- Dodsworth in Paris
- Dodsworth in Rome
- Dodsworth in Tokyo
Frances books by Russell Hoban (1948-1970)
Frances, the badger, books are widely recognized as one of the great classics of children’s literature. Written by Russell Hoban and illustrated by Lillian Hoban, these stories are gems that are often remembered with fondness into adulthood. There are seven books in this series, all about an strong and independent little girl who loves to make up little rhymes for every occasion.
Who doesn’t remember these lines from Bread and Jam for Frances?
“Frances did not eat her egg.
She sang a little song to it.
She sang the song very softly:
“I do not like the way you slide,
I do not like your soft inside,
I do not like you lots of ways,
And I could do for many days
Books in this series include:
- Bedtime for Frances
- A Baby Sister for Frances
- Bread and Jam for Frances
- A Birthday for Frances
- Best Friends for Frances
- A Bargain for Frances
***some illustrated by Garth Williams, most illustrated by Lillian Hoban
Arthur series (1989) by Lillian Hoban (writer and illustrator)
Arthur, a young chimp, and his younger sister, Violet, explore the ups and downs of sibling relationships, family, and early childhood. A classic timeless series.
Books in this series include:
- Arthur’s Honey Bear
- Arthur’s Pen Pal
- Arthur’s Loose Tooth
- Arthur’s Prize Reader
- Arthur’s Christmas Cookies
- Arthur’s Funny Money
- Arthur’s Halloween Costume
- Arthur’s Great Big Valentine
- Arthur’s Camp-Out
- Arthur’s Back to School Day
- Arthur’s Birthday Party
Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel (1970-1979)
These classic stories are not to be missed! Each book contains five simple, often humorous, but also heartwarming short stories about the adventures of a frog and his best friend, toad. Frog, tall and green, is relaxed and easy going, Toad, short and brown, is a serious sort of fellow and considers himself the more responsible of the two. Together they learn the true meaning of friendship.
Frog and Toad series includes:
- Frog and Toad are Friends (1970) (Caldecott honor book)
- Frog and Toad together (1972) (Newbery honor book)
- Frog and Toad all Year (1977) (Christopher Award)
- Days with Frog and Toad (1979)
“Tales that are a masterpiece of child-styled humor and sensitivity.” -School Library Journal-
Also by Arnold Lobel, I highly recommend Mouse Tales, Mouse Soup and Owl at Home.
Little Bear series by Else Holmelund Minarik, illustrated by Maurice Sendak (first published in 1957)
This is also a classic series about a bear family (Mother Bear, Father Bear and Little Bear) and Little Bear’s friends, which include a hen, a duck and a cat. These stories are filled with love, friendship, humor and imagination, as Little Bear plays with his friends, explores his neighborhood and celebrates the pleasures of childhood. Publication of Little Bear, with illustrations by Maurice Sendak, launched the I Can Read series. Maurice Sendak’s illustrated the first five books, the last book, Little Bear and the Marco Polo was published in 2010, two years before her death and is illustrated by Dorothy Doubleday.
- Little Bear (1957)
- Father Bear Comes Home (1959)
- Little Bear’s Friend (1960)
- Little Bear’s Visit (1961)
- A Kiss for Little Bear (1968)
- Little Bear and the Marco Polo (2010)
Fancy Nancy (Beginning Reading level 1)(2010) by Jane O’Connor, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser
Fancy Nancy is a 2005 children’s picturewritten by Jane O’Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser . The book spent nearly 100 weeks on the New York Times Bestsellers list. There are now more than 70 Fancy Nancy books. Fancy Nancy has been translated into over 20 languages.
This newer series for girls is now available in I Can Read early reader series and one of my most often requested book series. Fancy Nancy is a little girl with a big personality who loves everything fancy. She loves fancy clothes, but also loves fancy words like “extraordinary” or “iridescent” as well as french words. So although all the glitter and shoes and tiaras will appeal to the princess in your little girl, she will also expanding her vocabulary.
Amelia Bedelia (I can read, level 1 & 2) by Peggy Parish (1963-2015)
This is one of those series that children love and will request over and over again, despite the protests of Mom and Dad. Amelia Bedelia, a maid, is cheerful, kind and always full of good intentions, but she cannot understand common expressions and idioms, and takes everything literally. She puts clothes of a chicken when told to “dress” the chicken, she gets out paper and crayons when asked to “draw” the curtains, etc. Children will roar with laughter at all her crazy antics. At the end of the day though, there is always some delicious pie or cake to end the day on a sweet note! There are 41 books in this series.
Cynthia Rylant, the Newbery medalist, is amazing. Her early reader series are pure reading pleasure. What she manages to create within the confines of an early reader leaves many other early reader books in the dust. These three series will be enjoyed by your child (and yourself) long after your child leaves the other early readers behind. These are not action packed, but filled with simple pleasures of every day life, surrounded by family, friends or pets.
Henry and Mudge by Cynthia Rylant (1987-2007)
I love, love, love these books! I get so excited when I find copies at garage sales and thrift stores. I now have a large stockpile of them, although they don’t last long and I need to often replenish my supply.
Henry and Mudge, a boy and his very large, drooling 180-pound English Mastiff dog are inseparable. They set out of a series of adventures, enjoying the big outdoors and all those happy moments every child looks back on and sighs. There are 29 books in this series – too many to list.
Mr. Putter and Tabby by Cynthia Rylant (1994-2015)
This series captures the beauty of Rylant’s writing. Mr. Putter, an elderly man decides to adopt a cat to keep him company. So begins a series of adventures and heartwarming moments between Mr. Putter and his furry friend, Tabby. There are thirteen Mr. Putter and Tabby books.
The stories in this series are about a pig named Poppleton who moves from the city to a small town. He shares a series of adventures with his friends and neighbors.
- Poppleton (1997).
- Poppleton And Friends (1997).
- Poppleton Forever (1998).
- Poppleton Everyday (1998).
- Poppleton Has Fun (2000).
- Poppleton In Fall (1999).
- Poppleton In Spring (1999).
- Poppleton In Winter (2001).
Tales of Amanda Pig and Tales of Oliver Pig by Jean Van Leeuwen (1979-2008)
This series was my daughter, Lindsay’s, favorite. As a new reader, she couldn’t get enough of Oliver and Amanda Pig tales. Perhaps as the youngest in the family, Lindsay enjoyed stories of family life, the joys and challenges of sibling relationships, and the simple pleasures of being a preschoolers, like baking oatmeal cookies on a rainy day, or a visit from grandma, or putting on snowsuits to play in the snow. There are 20 early readers in this series.
Nate the Great by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat and illustrated by Marc Simont (1972)
This is the perfect early reader (the books are more the size of a chapter book) for mystery lovers. Nate the Great is a series of detective stories about a boy detective and his dog, Sludge (who comes on the scene in the second book). There are a couple of dozen in this series. These are a classic and introduces kids to problem solving and logic. Also great for reading aloud. (ages 4-8)
Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems (2007-present)
This series is hugely popular right now! These hilarious stories about a friendship between an elephant and a pig are sure to make kids laugh. Most of the books is in the form of a dialogue between the two characters (the pig’s words appear in pink bubbles and the elephants words in grey bubbles). There Is a Bird on Your Head and Are You Ready to Play Outside? won the Geisel Award (see below) in 2008 and 2009.
Commander Toad series by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Bruce Degen (1980-1998)
Brave Commander Toad and the crew of the spaceship “Star Warts” set out on a mission to explore other planets. However, when they reach a water covered planet and disturb Deep Wader, a monster who inhabits this planet, they have to be brave and smart to escape with their lives. Join Commander Toad, co-pilot Mr. Hop, Jake Skyjumper, and lieutenant Lily on their many space adventures.
Perfect series for all those Star Wars lovers out there.
- Commander Toad in Space (1980)
- Commander Toad and the Planets of the grapes (1982)
- Commander Toad and the Big Black Hole (1983)
- Commander Toad and the Dis-asteroid (1985)
- Commander Toad and the Intergalactic Spy (1986)
- Commander Toad and the Space Pirates (1987)
- Commander Toad and the Voyage Home (1998)
Non-fiction early readers
I Spy series (Level 1) by Jean Marzollo
These I Spy books (search and find books) make learning new words into a game. Read the word, then look for it on the adjoining page. Hours of fun (and learning)!
Magic School Bus series (level 2) by Anne Capeci, illustrated by Carolyn Bracken
Scholastic Reader has published a series of The Magic School Bus books specifically geared for early readers. If your child enjoyed the Magic School Bus picture books, then these are great for your emergent reader. There is lots of action, dialogue and colorful illustrations and reads like a graphic novel.
Finally, I thought I would mentiona that there is an annual award given to beginning readers – The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award. The Geisel Award is given annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States during the preceding year. For a list of yearly award winners and honor books, go to ala.org
For a complete list of books available to families living overseas, go to my librarything list and search in the tags for “early reader”. And be sure to let your child pick out some books himself/herself. Your little independent reader will love choosing books to suit his or his interests.
Do you have any favorite early readers from childhood? or that your child enjoys?