Early Readers - Good Books in order of difficulty

The past year has contained a magnificent breakthrough in Ali’s reading. At the beginning of the school year, Ali despised reading. We would painfully make it through two pages of a super simple book before she and I were both exhausted. We kept at it, and finally made it to the promised land. I now regularly catch her reading without being prompted – a miracle indeed. She has read 120 books this school year, and can now read two books in about ten minutes.

And, since we’ve been through 120 early readers this year, we’ve read a lot of good ones, and a lot of bad ones.

We have read some seriously crappy little books.

I had the epiphany last year that I never wanted to read bad read-alouds ever again (which birthed by 101 Read-Aloud books post,) so I thought that this year, I would share my list of early reader books that are worth reading.

I’ve organized them in four levels of reading proficiency to make it most effective for you and your child.

Disclaimer: I am not an education professional. This is merely a non-scientific listing based on our experience. Feel free to disregard everything I say from here on out.

LEVEL ONE: These books are simple and easy to read, with very few words on each page.

Fly Guy Books – These are my absolute favorite super-easy readers. They’re cute, have personality and plot twists, and are fun to read. Ali loves them too, for what it’s worth.

Biscuit Books – Not the most creative storylines, but that’s hard to find in beginning readers! Cute, simple books about a dog named Biscuit.

Dixie Books – Another series about another dog. Dogs are apparently popular with kids these days.

Dora the Explorer Ready-To-Read and Go Diego Go Ready-To-Read – These are simple readers that have pictures interspersed with words. I’m not sure that this strategy would help all early readers – it might confuse more than help. However, Ali enjoys it.

Clifford’s Scholastic Readers – These are simple and easy to read. And Clifford doesn’t completely annoy me. Most of the time.

Mia Ballerina Books – Ali loves these since she’s taking ballet this year. They come in a couple of different levels, but all tend to weigh toward the easy side of reading.

Olivia Ready to Read Books – So Olivia is a pig. And kids like her. She’s cool.


LEVEL TWO: These books typically have about 30 pages (31 pages to be exact – I have no idea why it’s such a popular page quantity) and 2-3 sentences on each page. They have a slightly more advanced vocabulary that can help spark conversation.

I Can Read Narnia Books – We recently discovered these and love them! They tell short snippets out of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and are illustrated with screenshots from the movies. We are currently reading through the Narnia Series for our read-aloud, so these are especially timely.

Pinkalicious Books – These are cute girl’s books with personality. Similar to Fancy Nancy, but without all of the fancy vocabulary and crazy hair.

Fancy Nancy Books – The epitome of girl reading. Fancy Nancy has personality, spunk, and plot twists. They tend to all run together after a while, but are loved by girls everywhere, including mine.

Splat! and Snail City – These two books are by Jane O’Connor, the author of Fancy Nancy, and I adore them. I wish she would write more off-topic books – they are my favorite readers in this section. They’re so creative and enjoyable to read.


LEVEL THREE: These books are longer, may have chapters, and take dedication to finish. They can be read earlier, though, if digested in multiple sittings.

Dr Seuss Books – When Ali started to read, I was surprised at how long Dr. Seuss books were! It’s great because it challenges her, but they’re twice as long as most modern books in the “I Can Read” series. Some are easier reading than others (Hop on Pop, Red Fish Blue Fish One Fish Two Fish, The Foot Book, The Ear Book, The Eye Book), but most have about 60 pages and will need a dedicated reader to finish them (or will need to be read over several days.) They’re great books, though – No one writes quite like Dr. Seuss!

Katie Woo Books – These books are set up in chapters, which is fun for a new reader, because it makes them feel accomplished. They’re cute stories and typically have a good lesson in them – about not being bossy or sharing or something that you probably want your kids to learn.

Hooray for Amanda and her Alligator – This book by Mo Willems is SO fun. It’s cute, quirky, original, and attention-grabbing. It’s also set up in chapters to help kids feel accomplished.

Big Max Books – These are fun, longer books but still easy to read. They have creative storylines which make for more interested kids and parents. I just wish there were more of them!


LEVEL FOUR: These books have one or more paragraphs on each page and are much longer stories.

Amelia Bedelia – Although they have recently added a few earlier readers, most of these are longer books meant for kids with a longer attention span and dedication to reading.

Berenstain Bears – These books are great for teaching integrity, values, and morals, but are also a bit higher of a reading level. They’re great for reading out loud until they get there, though!


Now we need new book ideas! What are your favorite early readers? Please add them in the comments!

28 thoughts on “Stepping Stones of Early Readers: What to Read and When.

  1. I LOVE anything by Cynthia Rylant. My favorite reader series’ are “Mr. Putter and Tabby”, “Henry and Mudge”, and “Annie and Snowball”. She also has a Poppleton series that is cute and High Rise Private Eyes although my kids haven’t read as many of those. She has some awesome picture books as well – “The Relatives Came” and “When I was Young in the Mountains” are really fun reads. I haven’t tried her middle grade books yet – I like the early readers too much to move on! Enjoy.

  2. I love the Mr. Putter and Tabby series by Cynthia Rylant. I basically taught my kids to read in four stages:

    (1) Letters/letter-groups and sounds
    (2) A bunch of lists of words that I made up (e.g. “here are a bunch of words in which “c” spells the /s/ sound”)
    (3) Bob Books
    (4) Mr. Putter and Tabby

    I am also a fan of the older Nate the Great books. About the same level as Mr. Putter, maybe a little easier.

    The nice thing about Mr. Putter is that over the course of several books, the author has been able to develop the characters nicely. They are character-driven stories.

  3. My kids are older then Ali and so their favorite books aren’t ones she could read but she may like them read aloud to her.
    My 10 year old likes the Ready Freddy series and both my 8 and 10 year old are loving the first book in a series called Frankly Frannie. I am enjoying reading that one to them as well.

  4. We got The Big Picture Story Bible, and my 6-year-old is absolutely loving it! He can read all of the “normal” words, and I help him out with the more complicated Bible words (like “doubted” and “Lazarus”…). It wasn’t meant to be an early reader, so he can’t read it on his own yet, but he gets SO VERY EXCITED when it’s bible story time!

  5. I’m surprised that Amelia Bedelia is in the same level as Berenstain Bears…I thought the bears were an easier read but then again it’s been almost 25 years since I’ve read mine (which are beautifully boxed up and waiting for my future spawn).

    I loved the Magic School Bus books but I’m not sure if they’re the right level for her.

    1. Magic School Bus is good, but they’re still at the “read aloud” stage – mainly because they’re so ADD about where the text is and what’s going on where on the page. :-)

  6. Great list!

    On a side note, my parents have this Biscuit book and there are 5 pages where the text is literally, “woof! woof! woof! Hop. Hop.” and on and on.

    Wish I could have gotten paid to write that one :)

  7. This is a great list! Thanks for suffering through for us:-)

    I have an answer about the 31-page books, it’s actually 32 pages (including the title page) and that’s an industry standard for children’s books. It’s based on the number of pages that can be printed on a sheet on their large printers and basically 32 is the most economical number of pages they can print. You might see smaller or larger but always in a multiple of 8 so there’s no wasted paper. :-)

    1. I’m glad to know it’s a practical reason and not that some study was done that children should ideally read 31-page books. Thanks for the info!

    2. I noticed that last summer when we were counting pages for the summer reading programs (pages = library prizes). I wondered why they so often had 31 pages. That’s really interesting!

  8. Anything by Mo Willems!!! We love all of the pigeon books but our favorite is definitely every book with Piggie and Gerald. They are easy readers with little talk bubbles. Ella is always Piggie and I am always Gerald!

  9. I love Dr. Seuss! My son did too. The only books I can remember that he liked in elementary school was Captain Underpants. Don’t know if that one is a good first reader book though. That was a long time ago!

  10. I love this! People ask me all the time for book recommendations for their kids (one of the by-products of being a librarian, I suppose) – I’m going to point them to this list!

  11. We loved the Bruce Larkin books when my sons were learning to read. The stories are fun and funny. The higher levels often overlap subjects (some science, history, and social studies subjects). And the best part is that every book has a little “about the author” story in the back that is a completely made-up, silly story. We couldn’t wait to get to the end of the book to see what Bruce said at the end!

  12. I am a grandmother to 5 who chanced upon your blog and love it. I always loved Are you my Mother, The best Nest, and Now I’ve found Flap your wings. I also love (as a grandmother) the I’ll read to you you read to me books by Mary Ann Hoberman. They are colored coded for “”your Part” and the child’s part” but are probably best at end of second or third grade. Great to get a reluctant reader to read. My grands love the fairy tale one. My own boys loved joke books with one joke on each page. Bennet Cerf wrote several which are now sadly out of print.

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