As a new mom, I couldn’t wait to start reading to my baby. You know how it is; you’re just so excited about everything! We read picture books together all the time, but by the time she was 3 or so I was just dying to read her longer books too, a chapter at a time. Of course I was jumping the gun; she was not ready yet! I had to wait a little while. As my girls got bigger, though, I read to them quite a lot, and eventually made a list of my favorite read-alouds for ages 3-6 to share with my friends.
Most children will probably not be ready to listen to chapter stories until age 3.5 – 4. It might be longer than that. And, although most parents seem to immediately think of Winnie-the-Pooh, I found through personal experience that some other books with simpler storylines and larger illustrations should come first. So, in order from simplest to more complex, here is my list of favorites:
- My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett This is a wonderful book to start with, featuring Elmer Elevator’s adventures with a baby dragon. There are 3 books. The first one has an odd habit of calling the protagonist “my father” instead of Elmer, but you can edit as you read if you wish. My daughter promptly made Elmer Elevator her first imaginary friend, and we took him everywhere for a month or so.
- Jenny and the Cat Club by Ester Averill Jenny is a shy black cat who longs to join the Cat Club. She has several books of adventures and they are wonderful. (Don’t miss her friend, Pickles the Fire Cat. He has his own easy reader.)
- All About Sam by Lois Lowry Funny stories about life from a baby-to-preschooler perspective. There are four Sam books and the first two are the best, but they’re all fun.
- The Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook by Joyce Lankester Brisley This sweet and very English book has stories of everyday life in a village. Milly-Molly-Mandy has many gentle adventures that show how much a little girl can do.
- Tales from Grimm Most ‘real’ fairy tales are too intense and complex for little ones, but this selection from the author of Millions of Cats is an excellent first book of fairy tales.
- Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder The rest of these classics should wait a while, but this first title is perfect for a 4-5 year-old child.
- The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary My favorite ‘first Beverly Cleary’ book, in which Ralph the mouse meets a boy–and they bond over their mutual love of toy cars. Ralph is just the right size to ride the motorcycle…follow Ralph through 3 books.
- Arabel’s Raven by Joan Aiken Arabel is a sweet little girl; Mortimer is her horrible and beloved pet raven. There are 3 books, and they are so funny. Mortimer destroys everything in sight, but Arabel can’t live without him.
- The Little Bookroom by Eleanor Farjeon One of my favorite books ever, this is a collection of fairy tales by one of my favorite authors. Some are too long for younger children, and some are perfect. Try “The Lady’s Room” first.
- Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson Moomintroll and his motley collection of friends have adventures in the forest. There are several strange and wonderful books in this series.
- All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor A warm and classic story about a Jewish family of 5 sisters in 1912 New York on the Lower East Side. Very popular with girls, probably not so much for boys, but there ARE boys so give it a try.
- Mary Poppins, by P.L. Travers If you’ve never read these before, you’ll discover that Mary is impatient, cross, vain, and always denies everything, but is nevertheless beloved by her often-naughty charges. Lots of fun. (If you have a pre-1981 edition, just edit the chapter about the compass adventure as you read.)
- Nurse Matilda: The Collected Tales by Christianna Brand Speaking of nanny stories, here’s a very funny one. You might know this book as the inspiration for the film Nanny McPhee.
- The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne Of course. Just not for the first read-aloud. 🙂
By the time your child is old enough to enjoy the last few books on this list, the possibilities will widen out considerably. There are so many wonderful books out there to read to your child! I could go on listing titles for a long time, but my aim here is to provide a list of excellent books to ease into reading aloud a chapter at a time.
All of these books will also come in handy later on as your child learns to read independently. My Father’s Dragon, Jenny and the Cat Club, and the others may be enjoyed for years to come. Be sure to have your child read aloud a bit to you every so often!
Jane-Emily homeschools two daughters in California. She is a librarian who loves to quilt and embroider, and she’s a Bollywood addict. Her favorite author is Diana Wynne Jones. She blogs about reading at Howling Frog Books.