Best Books for First Graders That’ll Make Them Love to Read
What's on your reading list? If you have a young reader, choosing the right books to ignite their excitement and encourage reading fluency is one of the best gifts a parent can offer.
There are hundreds of incredible books for grade schoolers, but these are among the best books for first graders to help them fall in love with reading.
Mr. Popper's Penguins
Year published: 1938
The 1939 Newbery honor winner "Mr. Popper's Penguins" is a classic. It has aged remarkably well, with timeless morals articulated in a way that young readers can relate to. Mr. Popper is a house painter who dreams of adventure. After he writes to a famous explorer, a penguin appears on his doorstep. One penguin turns into nine, and Mr. Popper takes his unlikely zoo family on the road to earn extra money.
The language is dated, but the messages and humor are not. Most first and second graders can read it on their own, but this tale offers parents an opportunity to discuss evolving family roles, too.
RELATED: 30 Best Young-Adult Book Series Ever Published
The Hundred Dresses
Year published: 1944
"The Hundred Dresses" is equal parts moving and relatable. It's a departure from the lighthearted, humorous take that's popular in modern-day children's books, instead imparting a valuable, poignant lesson about acceptance and community.
A little Polish girl named Wanda begins attending a new school in Connecticut. Her classmates tease her about her unfamiliar last name and plain blue dress. Wanda claims to have 100 dresses at home, but no one believes her. When a dress design contest takes place at school, she submits 100 stunning sketches. By the time her classmates realize she was telling the truth, Wanda has already moved to a different school to escape the discrimination. The beautiful illustrations are enticing to first graders, and the message of tolerance and respect is more relevant than ever.
The Cat in the Hat
Year published: 1957
Dr. Seuss's track record with cultural and racial sensitivity isn't great, but his books were also published nearly a century ago. And most of them are easy-to-read gateway books that help first graders practice their skills and build fluency. "The Cat in the Hat's" sing-songy rhyme scheme is predictable and catchy, making it a breeze to read.
The cat's antics are entertaining, and the story has several teachable moments if you look for them. Be wary of strangers, look on the bright side, and be honest.
RELATED: Best Dr. Seuss Books of All Time
Frog and Toad Are Friends
Year published: 1970
The beloved amphibious duo Frog and Toad impart funny, heart-warming messages about friendship, adventure and life in general. Their trials and tribulations are perfectly ordinary, like feeling embarrassed wearing a swimsuit or not wanting to wake up from hibernation in the spring. The two friends accept and support each other, even when one or the other is being a nuisance.
Plus, the book won a Caldecott medal in 1971, and it's well-deserved.
Henry and Mudge
Year published: 1987
Pretty much all '90s kids grew up reading "Henry and Mudge," and in our opinion, it's a great read for any first grader. The realism is refreshing, and kids will relate to the adventures and companionship of young Henry and his beloved dog, Mudge.
At first, Henry is lonely. He's an only child with no friends nearby, and Mudge becomes his partner in crime. They make plenty of messes, get into trouble and eventually find the friends they've both been longing for. If the first one is a hit with your kiddo, there are 27 more in the series to binge-read.
The Magic Tree House Series
Year published: 1992
Mary Pope Osborne's Magic Tree House Series is nothing short of genius. The series follows the reserved elder brother Jack and his spirited sister Annie as they discover a magical treehouse that transports them to the time period of any book they open.
The elements of mystery and magic capture kids' attention, all while teaching them world history. It's educational but addictive to read at the same time.
Ivy + Bean
Year published: 2006
A more modern chapter book, "Ivy + Bean" is a fantastic series to help kids make the leap from picture books to chapter books. Ivy and Bean aren't much alike on the outside, but the pair learn to accept their differences and become faithful friends.
Plot points are relatable, like sibling squabbles, and the oversized print won't intimidate kids who are just starting to read longer books on their own.
There Is a Bird on Your Head
Year published: 2007
Repetition and humor are a winning combination for first graders, and that's where Mo Willems shines. "There Is a Bird on Your Head!" is just one of 25 Elephant and Piggie books, and they're all hilarious. Gerald is the level-headed worrywart, while Piggie is full of energy and mischief.
The contrast between the two is an excellent teaching point, and the simplicity of the text is ideal for beginning readers. It's a great read-aloud series as well. With this one, try taking turns reading every other page with kids to give them practice without too much pressure.
Dragons Love Tacos
Year published: 2012
Dragons love tacos. Didn't you know? This one does, anyway, at least until he accidentally eats one with spicy salsa. The moral of the story is to keep an open mind and try new things, but the silliness and colorful artwork is the real selling point here.
There's not much educational value to this one, but any book that helps a kid enjoy reading is a winner.
Year published: 2014
Gaston is beautifully illustrated by Christian Robinson, but the story's message is surprisingly deep. Gaston, a French bulldog puppy, is switched at birth with a French poodle.
When their mothers realize the mixup, one question remains: Where does each puppy really belong? It brings up excellent questions about what it means to be a family and the value of being true to yourself, even if that means going against the grain.
The Book With No Pictures
Year published: 2014
"The Book With No Pictures" was written by B.J. Novak who played Ryan Howard on "The Office." It's far from a literary masterpiece, but that's not the point. It's designed to get kids involved in a read-aloud book that forces the reader (usually parents) to say completely nonsensical phrases.
It's imaginative and goofy, and it's all but guaranteed to make kids laugh. If they have any apprehension about reading, "The Book With No Pictures" will help break the ice.
Ada Twist, Scientist
Year published: 2016
"Ada Twist, Scientist" is one of five amazing books for first graders by Andrea Beaty. Each story is STEM-themed, and this one is a perfect representation of children of color, and girls, in math and science. Ada is curious, bright and eager to learn, unpacking the scientific method in a way that even 6-year-olds can understand.
Ada Twist is now an animated TV series as well, which is likely to entice reluctant readers to give the book series a try.
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls
Year published: 2016
We can't speak highly enough of the "Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls" series. It's best suited for kids ages 6 and up, and reading this one together is ideal.
Each book in the series includes 100 stories about incredible women who have changed the world, from Marie Curie and Amelia Earhart to Venus Williams. It's a great read for all genders, emphasizing empowerment, perseverance and equality throughout. The stories can be a little dry, but we can overlook that because of the amazing educational value and positive messages.
RELATED: Inspiring Books on Women's History for Young Readers
The Day You Begin
Year published: 2018
Everyone is apprehensive about their first day at a new school. "The Day You Begin" helps grade schoolers build empathy.
The young protagonist learns that she's not alone in feeling different and that it's important to be compassionate and open-minded towards others, even if you don't relate to them at first.
Julian Is a Mermaid
Year published: 2018
There's an endless list of excellent books for first graders, but we couldn't skip this newcomer. "Julian Is a Mermaid" defies gender stereotypes, following a little boy who loves mermaids.
There's no need to overcomplicate the message: Be who you are, and like what you like. Colors, games and imaginary creatures aren't gender-specific. If you want to dress up like a mermaid, go for it. If you want to play with trucks, that's fine, too.