Best Books for Early Readers in Grades K – 3

Bonnie Bader

  • Summary. An early reading book filled with photos and facts of sloths. Kids learn about this slow-moving mammal through the use of basic vocabulary and short sentences that are appropriate for early readers.

  • Reviews. This is a sweet book filled with lots of images for children to enjoy. A read along for the youngest students and basic read for students in grades 1 – 2.

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Brian Selznick

  • Summary. Baby Monkey has a job as a private eye to find lost jewels and missing pizza. This book is a blend of picture book and graphic novel for early readers in Kindergarten and higher.

  • Reviews. Appropriate for very young readers and as a read along. The beautiful illustrations are loved by children. And, the story line is both enjoyable and engaging. Some reviewers find this more appropriate for preschoolers, age 3 or 4.

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Kevin McCloskey

  • Summary. Children will learn about all the activities and structure of worms. The book takes readers through a descriptive journey of how worms see, why they are cold and slimy, and what they do all day.

  • Reviews. This nature science book is great for students in K – 1 who are learning to read. Speech bubble text and illustrations engage children and help them learn how to connect sounds to written words and develop an understanding of the meaning of those words. In particular, children love the funny, kid-friendly language.

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Mo Willems

  • Summary. These books are about friendship and the life adventures of Elephant and Piggie.

  • Reviews. The Elephant & Piggie books are fun and entertaining for children of all ages. Read the simple text aloud and young students will mimic the story and learn to read along the way. Kids love the simple text, wonderful illustrations, and searching for Pigeon on the inside back cover.

  • Kids may also enjoy learning how to draw the characters of Elelphant & Piggie on author Mo Willems’ site Pigeon Presents.

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Peggie Rathmann

  • Summary. As the grown ups stay busy at a pie eating contest, a young boy assumes the responsibility of taking care of all the babies. He goes on a short adventure chasing the babies through bogs with frogs and creating a makeshift pulley to carry them back to safety. The unique black illustrations have hidden pictures of butterflies and frogs.

  • Reviews. The rhyming narrative of this wonderful book is enjoyed by parents and children of all ages. Kids have fun spotting hidden items such as a tiny caterpillar in the illustrations. Readers love how the story is told from the perspective of a mother telling a bed time tale to a child. The unique artwork is another great reason to buy this book.

  • Related Books. Another wonderful book by Peggy Rathmann is Officer Buckle & Gloria, a Caldecott Medal Book. Officer Buckle’s presentation about safety tips results in an audience of sleepy, bored students. That is, until he brings his K-9 companion, Gloria, who captures everyone’s attention with funny tricks.

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James Dean

  • Summary. A collection of short rhyming stories take the reader through a day in the life of Pete the Cat and his friends.

  • Reviews. The rhymes are fun and easy for young kids to learn and repeat, which helps them develop early reading skills. These are simple stories with fun illustrations that captivate children and encourage them to start reading independently.

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Andy Griffiths

  • Summary. A easy to read rhyming short story book for the youngest students. The book is filled with simple rhymes and creative hand drawn illustrations.

  • Reviews. The short book is great for preschool and Kindergarten children. Kids love the drawings of cows flying in space and falling into soup. The witty rhymes are fun to read many times and make it easy for children to connect sounds to words.

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Best Books for Kids in Grades 4 – 5

William Pene du Bois

  • Summary. On a voyage in a hot air balloon across the Pacific Ocean, Professor Sherman lands on Krakatoa and discovers a world of wealth and eccentric inhabitants.

  • Reviews. The story is filled with adventure, excitement and hope that sparks imagination. The book is recommend for elementary and middle school students. However, the narrative can be overly wordy with too much detail and technical descriptions in certain parts, which slows down the story.

  • Newbery Medal Winner

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Eloise Jarvis McGraw

  • Summary. An ancient Egyptian mystery about Ranofer who wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a master goldsmith. First he must escape confinement by his evil half brother. When this poor young boy with no skills finds a priceless golden goblet, he knows his destiny is about to change.

  • Reviews. Story is well written and engages the interest of children. Appropriate for ages 8+. A good book to read aloud. Filled with informational Egyptian history, adventure and suspense. Some readers may find that the beginning is too drawn out.

  • Newbery Honor book

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Frances Hodgson Burnett

  • Summary. Orphan Mary lives in her uncle’s grand mansion in the Yorkshire Moors. Life there is full of secrets. While exploring the property, Mary meets a new friend and discovers a secret garden that has been completely forgotten for years. She sets out to bring the garden back to life. This is a classic story of friendship.

  • Reviews. A classic that many read as a child and then later in life buy as gifts for children and grandchildren age 8+. Be sure to buy a full early edition. There are multiple editions available online; some are only abridged versions without the beautiful illustrations.

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Jean Craighead George

  • Summary. Young Sam Gribley is unhappy living with his family in a crowded city apartment. He packs a few necessities and runs away to the peace, solitude, and danger of the Catskills mountains. He must rely on his own inherent will and the natural resources of the great outdoors. Along the way, he finds a side of himself he never knew before.

  • Reviews. Appropriate for kids age 9+ as well as adults. A favorite among most readers for a fantasy fulfilled, adventure and the idea of escaping to a land of peace and solitude. Many reviewers enjoyed reading this book again after reading it as a child. Pay attention to the edition as some mass market copies have weak illustrations.

  • Newbery Honor book

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Armstrong Sperry

  • Summary. Written from the perspective of a teenage Polynesian boy, Mafatu, who gains the courage to overcome his fear of the ocean. In a canoe with only his little dog and pet albatross, Mafatu faces seaworthy challenges and rewarding adventures before finally returning home.

  • Reviews. Readers enjoyed this as a compelling story with excellent, descriptive writing. They enjoy the emotional adventure and inspirational tale. Some reviewers feel there is too much detail in certain parts of the book, slowing down the story. While some reviewers read the book with their children age 8+, others felt some of the scarier parts of the story, written in vivid detail, were better suited for teens or young adults.

  • Newbery Medal Winner, 1957

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David Macaulay

  • Summary. Engaging descriptions of the latest technology that has become a part of our everyday lives. From windmills and levers to lasers and Wi-Fi, the book offers insights and a visual guide into the mechanics and inner workings of common machines. An illustrated wooly mammoth explains scientific principles through humorous and entertaining references and instruction.

  • Reviews. The book is most often viewed as an excellent STEM reference for students in elementary and middle school. The book uses humor and creativity to help kids understand what would otherwise be a complicated introduction to physics. Many reviewers use the book as a teaching tool.

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National Geographic Kids

  • Summary. Kids learn about nature’s skilled builders, including insects, birds, and beavers. The book has nearly 50 pages filled with expert-written texts and colorful images.

  • Reviews. Appropriate for elementary students. While also enjoyed as a read aloud with younger kids, this is a great nature book for independent readers. It is great for homeschooling curriculum as well as gifts for young students.

  • Related Books. You may also enjoy other National Geographic Kids books, including Great Migrations Whales, Erupt! 100 Fun Facts About Volcanoes, and Meteors.

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H. A. Rey

  • Summary. This is a guide to the constellations. The book contains star charts, details by season, and descriptions of the movement of planetary objects. There are facts, figures and scientific information for each planet.

  • Reviews. An excellent book for learning about all the objects we see in the night sky. Readers bought this book for themselves and often as gifts for children.

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Rudyard Kipling

  • Summary. This is a tale of a courageous young mongoose who saves a boy and his family from evil snakes that live in their garden. 48 pages.

  • Reviews. The hardcover edition (1997) is filled with beautiful illustrations that children love. The picture book is a wonderful read aloud with kids. It’s a classic story for children aged 7+ and a great book for independent readers to enjoy multiple times.

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Brothers Grimm

  • Summary. The Cunning Little Tailor is a tale of a wise little tailor who attempts to solve a princess’s riddles in exchange for the reward of marriage. He proves to be the best at solving the riddles and to win the ultimate prize of marriage, he must survive one night with a bear. This book is Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales, filled with dozens of short stories, including Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, and Sleeping Beauty.

  • Reviews. A classic fable and fun read aloud with kids of all ages. Appropriate for independent readers able to understand a higher level of written prose.

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Kelly Milner Halls

  • Summary. A brief 62-page book exploring the construction, voyage and tragic shipwreck of the Titanic in 1912.

  • Reviews. A great introduction to nonfiction reading. This history book about the Titanic is appropriate for elementary students in grades 4 and up. The text is easy to follow and bold illustrations help independent readers understand the events.

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LLC Penguin Random House

  • Summary. Collection of 25 short illustrated books about historical figures and American history.

  • Reviews. This is a great collection for young readers. Each book is well written for kids aged 9+ and filled with interesting historical facts. Children read and re-read the books often.

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Best Books for Middle School Students Grades 6 – 8

Blue Balliett

  • Summary. Petra and Calder find themselves at the center of an art scandal. Everyone seems to be a suspect and Petra and Calder draw on their powers of intuition and problem solving skills to decipher the crime. This unique novel wraps the underlying mystery with pentomino puzzles and clues throughout the text and illustrations.

  • Reviews. Readers who also enjoy math love the clues and pentomino puzzles included throughout the book. A great read for students in middle school.

  • Scholastic Gold

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Linda Sue Park

  • Summary. An orphan Korean boy accidentally breaks a delicate piece of pottery and volunteers to work to pay for the damage. In time, he serves the master potter by embarking on a dangerous journey, which changes his life forever.

  • Reviews. This is a thought-provoking tale of relationships, life lessons and honor. A great read full of adventure and determination. While we categorize the book for grades 6 and up, many reviewers feel this book is appropriate for kids aged 9+.

  • Newbery Medal Winner

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Kate Messner

  • Summary. Three kids are stuck in an airport due to a storm. They band together and embark on a grand adventure to solve the mystery of who stole an American treasure.

  • Reviews. This entertaining mystery captivates the attention of young readers. It’s full of adventure despite being set in a single building. Moreover, students will learn about American history, which is presented in a way that blends seamlessly with the story line. A great book for middle school students.

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Clare Vanderpool

  • Summary. Abilene’s father sent her away to live with an old friend for the summer. Feeling abandoned, she hops off the train and sets out to learn more about her father’s past. During her quest, she finds mysterious letters that lead her and her new friends on a life changing spy hunt.

  • Reviews. Readers enjoy the development of the characters in this novel, which makes them relatable. A wonderful read for middle school kids and teens. Many reviewers read the book as an adult and went on to buy copies for their tween kids or grandkids.

  • Newbery Award Winner

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Rick Riordan

  • Summary. A collection of mystery and adventure books that follow Dan and Amy Cahill on their quest to find 39 clues hidden around the world. The clues offer ingredients to a serum that can create the most powerful person on Earth. The first book in the series is The Maze of Bones.

  • Reviews. The books are filled with excitement and adventure. Although it’s a long, multi-book series, readers are engaged and continue to enjoy the story line with every book. It’s a great series for kids who enjoy lots of action and a bit of mystery. Parents like the history and geography facts incorporated into the story line.

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Jennifer L. Holm

  • Summary. Various circumstances continue to get in the way of the big summer plans Penny and her cousin intended to enjoy. Set after World War II, this novel about family relationships, highlights how things can work out in unexpected ways.

  • Reviews. The author does a wonderful job of incorporating history into the story line. Many parents enjoy reading this with their kids and discussing the characters, events and story together. As the subject matter includes prejudice, this is a great opportunity to discuss the topic with children and work through social and emotional development.

  • Newbery Honor Book

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Lynda Mullaly Hunt

  • Summary. Ally puts forth great effort to disguise her inability to read and never asks for help. Her new teacher, however, recognizes her learning disability. He helps Ally understand dyslexia, develop self-confidence and discover a new view of her world.

  • Reviews. There are great characters in the book, including Ally as well as her teacher, brother and friends. It tackles the topic of dyslexia and the struggles some kids must overcome through a story that is wonderful and inspiring to read. Overall, very high positive reviews. However, some reviewers recommend parents read it first due to some use of self-deprecating language.

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Gordon Korman

  • Summary. Chase has completely lost his memory after falling off the roof. Different kids have different reactions to his return to school. And some kids are very angry at him. It’s time for Chase to not only figure out who he is, but to also figure out who he was.

  • Reviews. There are great characters in the book, including Ally as well as her teacher, brother and friends. It tackles the topic of dyslexia and the struggles some kids must overcome through a story that is wonderful and inspiring to read. Overall, very high positive reviews. However, some reviewers recommend parents read it first due to some use of self-deprecating language.

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Marguerite Henry

  • Summary. A classic story of Sham, a Godolphin Arabian thoroughbred, and the stable boy Agba. Their adventures together take them from the Sahara to the royal courts of France, to the green pastures of England.

  • Reviews. An excellent story crafted by a master storyteller. It’s a beautiful story about a magnificent horse that seems to bring back loving memories of reading it as a child. Horse lovers in particular will truly enjoy this book.

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Best Books for High School Students Grades 9 – 12

Lois Lowry

  • Summary. Jonas lives in a seemingly idyllic community where everything is determined for the people. Citizens are assigned their partners, children, and jobs, all of which are accepted without question. That is, until Jonas receives his life assignment and begins to question the dark secrets of the community as well as the power of his own inherent feelings.

  • Reviews. While The Giver is often assigned as required reading for higher level elementary school students, we believe the literary quality and depth of the story line is better understood and appreciated at the high school level.

  • Newbery Medal Winner

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Stephen Crane

  • Summary. First published in 1895, this masterpiece novel follows Henry Fleming as a young soldier in the Civil War. Henry is full of fear, cowardice and egotism. It is through the nightmares of battle that he discovers courage, humility and a bit of wisdom.

  • Reviews. Well regarded for accurate depictions of the sights and sounds experienced by soldiers in combat, this well-written novel conjures emotion and self-reflection. While a few reviewers found the writing style disjointed, the overwhelming feedback is positive. This book, filled with adventure, determination and heroism, is a classic.

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Harper Lee

  • Summary. Set in the South, this is a gripping tale told through the eyes of a young girl. Scout’s father is a highly respected lawyer who risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime.

  • Reviews. This book showcases a rich cast of characters and tragic reality of the times. It is filled with life lessons that encourage readers to recognize the meaning of dignity and justice. The writing is beautiful with an intensely developed story told from the eyes of a child.

  • Pulitzer Prize Winner

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George Eliot

  • Summary. Originally published in 1861, this is a simple tale of a linen weaver. The book is notable for its strong realism as it tells the story of Silas who is falsely charged with theft and exiled from the community. He is embittered and detached from society until he rescues a child.

  • Reviews. Get past the cover, which may not attract the attention of modern day teens, and this is a beautifully written tale. Many people do not realize the amount of humor throughout this classic novel. Some reviewers feel the plot resembles that of a soap opera, which may in fact be part of the charm and enjoyment as well written as it is.

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Mark Helprin

  • Summary. Set in 1964, this novel tells the life story of a distinguished gentleman who served in WWI. It is a story of love, friendship, survival, and family. Alesandro Giuliani recounts to a young inexperienced acquaintance his years of service in the Italian Alps, including desertion, forced labor, capture, love and loss.

  • Reviews. This book is remarkable. The descriptive prose captivates readers from the start and never lets go. The characters and setting are so thoroughly developed that readers develop a deep emotional connection and quickly find it difficult to put the book down.

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Jane Austen

  • Summary. Set in early 19th century, title, rank and fortune matter. Accordingly, when Elizabeth Bennet, who has great ambitions for her role in society, initially meets bachelor Fitzwilliam Darcy, she believes him to be arrogant and conceited and is determined to dislike him. In time, their complicated relationship progresses in unforeseen ways.

  • Reviews. This masterpiece develops the characters so thoroughly that readers develop a connection and feel invested in the relationships. Despite very few events actually occurring throughout the long novel, readers quickly become engrossed in the story. High school students will experience a different style of writing, which can build vocabulary and literary skills as well as an understanding of literary history.

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Stanley Milgram

  • Summary. A chronicle of Stanley Milgram’s experimentation on human nature. In the 1960s, the psychologist at Yale University attempted to determine the extent to which people will obey the orders of authority figures. Using electroshock applications, the controversial experiments showcase the troubling danger of accepting authority without question.

  • Reviews. Real events worth knowing and a book worth reading. Reviewers highlight the disturbing reality of how easily and quickly people willingly give up their personal decisions to those of authority figures.

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William Strunk Jr.

  • Summary. A cornerstone upon which to build writing skills. The guide includes rules of usage, principles of composition and a list of commonly misused words and expressions. Updated editions include texting style and emailing style.

  • Reviews. To understand and use correct writing and grammar is essential and this book is a great reference for high school students. The guide assists students in learning punctuation, lexis and structure, grammar, and appropriate use of words.

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James Thurber

  • Summary. Various stories by James Thurber, one of the finest humorists of the 20th century. The collection includes stories from My World and Welcome to It, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and The Owl in the Attic, among others.

  • Reviews. The reviews are overwhelming positive for this book of short stories, which are filled with wit and sophisticated humor.

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