Best Books for First-Graders

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“The Night Before First Grade” teaches students lessons about how to deal with unexpected changes. Penny is excited to start school with her best friend, but finds that they will no longer be in the same class. In a new classroom with no familiar faces, Penny must meet some new friends and make the most out of her situation. This story can help inspire young students to make the most out of their school experience, no matter the challenges in their way.

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“Never Let a Unicorn Scribble” makes fantastic use of black and white and color illustrations to demonstrate the power of scribbling and the magic of unicorns. Once the unicorn gets ahold of some crayons, color fills the pages in a messy yet wonderful way, allowing the girl to learn that not all art has to be perfect to be meaningful. Young readers will love the girl’s unicorn friend and the imaginative storyline. This book teaches children the importance of never giving up and finding beauty in “messy” things.

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Your child will be able to join Dodsworth and his surprise travel companion, Duck, on a whirlwind trip through the Big Apple. The simple sentence structure sets this book at just the right level for beginning readers. Children love following along on Dodsworth’s adventure, while simultaneously learning about the sights and sounds of New York. The book also teaches kids how to adjust plans due to unexpected setbacks and how to enjoy life for what it is. All in all, “Dodsworth in New York” will prove to be a hilarious read for your first-grader. Kids especially enjoy spotting Duck in each of the book’s illustrations, all of which feature a lovely watercolor and ink wash.

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Middle children in particular will relate to Freddy. With both an older and younger sibling constantly demanding his parents’ attention, Freddy struggles with feeling overshadowed and un-special. However, as Freddy triumphs, children can gain their own sense of confidence alongside him. It’s worth noting this book was written by the prolific and beloved author, Judy Blume. If you are a longtime fan, then this book is definitely one to add to your child’s collection.

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Written by award-winning author Leo Lionni, “Frederick” shows young readers that every contribution counts, no matter how small it may seem on the surface. Frederick’s family learns that he hasn’t been fooling around all autumn; he’s actually spent the season weaving a beautiful poem that will lift everyone’s spirits in the face of the harsh winter weather. “Frederick” is not only a beautiful story but also a vocabulary booster. Some of the words used in Frederick’s poems may be new to your child, helping them enrich their vocabulary.

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“The Antlered Ship” is beautifully crafted on both an illustrative and literary level. Parents and children alike love the lyrical prose, which is fun to read out loud. The illustrations are realistic and rendered with pen and graphite. Children may find themselves equally curious and invested in the answers to Marco’s questions. A map included inside the book adds further engagement by allowing readers to trace Marco’s journey.

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Goat wants nothing more than a bit of privacy, but he lives in a petting zoo that is constantly visited by children who love to pet and hug him relentlessly. But when he finally manages to break away from his home, Goat finds himself faced with too much solitude. In reading “Through with the Zoo,” first-graders gain a stronger appreciation for the balance between companionship and taking time to themselves when they need it. Children also love the colorful and expressive artwork.

Expert Commentary 

“First-graders are still in the earliest stages of their reading development,” Melissa Spurling says. “As a result, books that connect with the child’s interests and passions often make for a great start, and they make reading fun. While a hand-me-down may work in many other areas, the best idea with books is to let your child make their own choices as much as possible.”