Emma’s Favorites for Elementary School
“What does someone just starting out in the world need to take? What book in his knapsack might help him along his way? (Not the one I’ve read today; it seems too nerve-racking, freighted with anxiety. It would weigh him down.) What builds courage? Lightens despair?”– Barbara Feinberg, “Welcome to Lizard Motel: Children, Stories, and the Mystery of Making Things Up“
The elementary years span a broad age-range, therefore the reading recommendations are equally diverse in scope. Most, if not all, of the picture books recommended in the preschool section are still beloved by this age group – as they now make great independent reads in addition to remaining favorite read-alouds. Also important at this stage are Early Readers, which generally come in series form. Chapter books are now ideal next-level read-alouds, and also make for more rewarding reading for older elementary students who may be ready for them.
Be sure to take advantage of the American Library Association’s (ALA) annual lists of their award-winning books, as well as their Notable Children’s and Young Adult book list (www.ala.org). You can also find great lists from Reading Rockets (www.readingrockets.org) as well as their new sister site, AdLit (www.adlit.org). For more ideas on finding great, age-appropriate books, see the “Recommended Resources” section at the back of this book.
You can click on any of the titles below to buy directly from Amazon.com:
Elizabeti’s Doll (Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen/Christy Hale) – The Elizabeti series offers young readers a glimpse at the life of a child growing up in Tanzania. In this tender tale, Elizabeti longs for a doll, and creatively makes do with a stone instead.
Joan of Arc(Diane Stanley) – A magnificently illustrated picture book that marries history with compelling storytelling and artwork. Stanley’s historical biographies cover a wide range of subjects, including Michelangelo, DaVinci, Shakespeare, and Queen Elizabeth.
Let’s Read and Find Out science series (various – HarperCollins) – Simple and direct concept-books that engage reader involvement with questions and answers coupled with lively illustrations. Personal favorites include:
- A Nest Full of Eggs (Priscilla Belz Jenkins/Lizzy Rockwell)
- From Caterpillar to Butterfly (Deborah Heiligman/Bari Weissman)
- How Do Birds Find Their Way? (Roma Gans/Paul Mirocha)
- Big Tracks, Little Tracks: Following Animal Prints (Millicent E. Selsam/Marlene Hill Donnelly)
- How a Seed Grows (Helene J. Jordan/Loretta Krupinski)
The Raft (Jim LaMarche) – A boy’s lonely summer vacation is transformed by the discovery of a raft with animal figures painted all over it.
Skippyjon Jones series (Judy Schachner) – The hilarious antics of a hyperactive kitten, chock-full of rhyming chants and Spanish expressions.
The Sneetches and Other Stories (Dr. Seuss)- Four of Dr. Seuss’s best-loved stories with important moral lessons.
- Horton Hears a Who – The sweet, philosophical tale of Horton the elephant, who rescues a world on a speck of dust – because “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”
- Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories – A trio of funny bone-tickling tales with wise lessons contained within.
- I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew – The comical tale of a journey to find a better place which reminds us that troubles are better off faced than escaped.
- Oh! The Places You’ll Go! – The perfect send-off for children of all ages who are entering a new phase in their lives.
The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales (Jon Scieszka) – Jon Scieszka, the first National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, is hilariously adept at fresh, irreverent takes on familiar tales. Among Jon’s many other wonderful books are:
Stone Soup (John J Muth) – The classic tale retold with Buddhist monks, who help a village discover the joy of sharing. Muth’s vibrant watercolor illustrations are a delight.
- Zen Shorts – Short Buddhist tales integrated into a central story of three contemporary siblings who befriend a giant panda one rainy day.
- Zen Ties – Muth’s irresistible panda, Stillwater, and friends return in this tale of friendship, empathy, and the rewards of our emotional ties to one another.
- The Three Questions – The gorgeous retelling of a Tolstoy tale, in which a boy asks three life-questions of a wise turtle, and learns the answers for himself.
The Three Pigs (David Wiesner) – The familiar tale, redux – the three pigs leave the confines of their own storybook and enter into others. An amusing and thought-provoking poke at story structure.
Walter, the Farting Dog (William Kotzwinkle/Glenn Murray/Audrey Colman) – Trust me.
Where the River Begins (Thomas Locker) – A boy and his grandfather journey into the mountains to find the source of water. Accompanied by Locker’s glorious landscape paintings.
I Can Read / Early Readers
One of the great things about Early Readers is they tend to come in series format, such as…
Amelia Bedelia (Peggy Parish) – The hijinx of a beloved but literal-minded housekeeper.
Biscuit (Alyssa Satin Capucilli) – The adventures of an adorable pup and the little girl who loves him.
Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa (Erica Silverman/Betsy Lewin) – A young cowgirl and her talking horse.
Frog and Toad (Arnold Lobel) – Two best friends, always there for each other.
Henry and Mudge (Cynthia Rylant and Suçie Stevenson/Carolyn Bracken) – The escapades of young Henry and his gigantic, beloved mastiff.
Little Bear (Elsie Holmelund Minarik/Maurice Sendak) – The first “I Can Read” series, celebrating the simple family values of Little Bear, his family, and his friends in the woods.
Mercy Watson (Kate Dicamillo/Chris Van Dusen) – The hilarious hijinks of a porcine wonder.
Poppleton (Cynthia Rylant/Mark Teague) – Tales of a city pig who moves to the country.
Tales of Amanda Pig (Jean Van Leeuwen/Ann Schweninger) – A wholesome collection of stories about how Amanda handles every day life, and how her parents, in turn, handle her.
The BFG (Roald Dahl) – A young orphan is kidnapped by a “BFG” – that’s “Big Friendly Giant” – and taken off to the Land of the Giants. One of Dahl’s best-loved works.
The Borrowers series (Mary Norton) – A multi-award winning classic, featuring a magical world of tiny people who live underneath the floorboards of an English country home and borrow all manner of objects from above. Other titles in the series include:
Bridget (Gen LeRoy) – Bridget makes increasingly zany attempts to get the boy she likes to notice her.
- Emma’s Dilemma – Emma’s asthmatic grandmother moves in, which means the beloved family dog must move out.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl) – Only five children will be allowed inside Willy Wonka’s new chocolate factory – but they’re in for the adventure of a lifetime.
Clementine series (Sara Pennypacker) – A spirited third-grader, with a knack for trouble and a big heart.
The Cricket in Times Square (George Selden) – The adventures of a musical country cricket, accidentally transported to Times Square.
D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths (Ingri D’Aulaire/Edgar Parin D’Aulaire) – The best-loved children’s book about the gods and goddesses, kings, and heroes of ancient Greek mythology.
Frindle (Andrew Clements) – A 5th grade boy coins a new word for “pen” – and soon the whole country is using it!
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (E.L. Konigsburg) – Claudia decides to run away from home with her younger brother, and chooses to live in the “comforts” of the Metropolitan Museum.
Harriet the Spy (Louise Fitzhugh) – Aspiring writer Harriet spies on her friends and records her notes in a notebook – but her world is turned upside down when the notebook is discovered.
The Hundred Dresses (Eleanor Estes) – A powerful book about the pain of being teased at school, and one girl’s journey to compassion.
The King’s Equal (Katherine Paterson) – A prince searches for his equal in beauty, intelligence, and stature – and finds her, and his humility, in a simple country girl.
The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles (Julie Andrews) – Three children and an eccentric professor of genetics travel to “Whangdoodleland” to rescue the last mythical creature from potential oblivion.
The Magic Tree House“ series (Mary Pope Osborne) – Jack and Annie have countless adventures, traveling through time and space, thanks to a magic tree house.
Mandy (Julie Andrews) – A young orphan finds her purpose – and eventually her family – by restoring an abandoned shell cottage and its garden.
Misty of Chincoteague series (Marguerite Henry) – The classic series based on the real-life wild ponies from the island of Chincoteague. Other titles include:
…and there are scores of Henry’s other horse tales beyond the “Misty” series.
Mr. Popper’s Penguins (Richard and Florence Atwater) – The delightful tale of Mr. Popper the house-painter and his houseful of penguins, ice rink included.
My Father’s Dragon (Ruth Stiles Gannett) – A boy named Elmer rescues an over-worked and under-appreciated baby flying dragon. The sequels are great, too:
Pippi Longstocking series (Astrid Lindgren) – The irrepressible, pig-tailed hero who lives alone with her pet monkey and whose high-spirited adventures cause as much trouble as fun. Others in the series include:
- Pippi in the South Seas
- Pippi Goes on Board
- Pippi Goes to the Circus
- Pippi’s Extraordinary Ordinary Day
Ramona series (Beverly Cleary) – Beverly Cleary’s books have delighted generations, and Ramona “the Pest” Quimby, age 8, is one of her best-loved characters. Titles in the series include:
- Ramona the Brave
- Ramona and her Father
- Ramona and her Mother
- Beezus and Ramona
- Ramona the Pest
- Ramona Forever
- Ramona’s World
- Ramona Quimby, Age 8
Cleary also wrote a series about Ramona’s neighbor, Henry, and his dog, Ribsy, who get up to all kinds of shenanigans together, including:
- Henry Huggins
- Henry and Ribsy
- Henry and Beezus
- Henry and the Paper Route
- Henry and the Clubhouse
The Secret Garden ( (Frances Hodgson Burnett) – A Victorian orphan and her sickly cousin discover a new appreciation for life through the care of a secret garden. A childhood classic.
Stuart Little (E.B. White/Garth Williams) – The famous mouse, born to a family of people, who set out on a quest across the American countryside. A classic.