Elementary school takes kids from The Book With No Pictures to Harry Potter in the blink of an eye. The best books for grade schoolers include chapter books, series and easy readers that grow along with them.
You might long to see your grade schooler curled up with the classics you loved. (Are you there, God? It’s me, cramming this book down your throat.) But literacy experts say it’s important for kids to have a say over their choice of reading.
Often as not, that’s going to lead them to graphic novels. Don’t fight it! Some parents sneer that graphic novels aren’t “real” books, but they are in fact an excellent tool for emerging literacy.
And don’t be too eager to let go of picture books, many of which are aimed squarely at kids over 5. The vocabulary used in picture books tends to be more sophisticated than early readers, and the pairing of images and words helps with comprehension.
Nonfiction can be another great choice for a kid you might think is a reluctant reader. The most important thing for elementary school students is that they learn to love reading – whether it’s novels or comic books or cereal boxes. Don’t get in the way with outdated assumptions about “real” reading.
Here are some of the best books for grade-schoolers at all stages.
Best Picture Books for Grade Schoolers
This book by Jacqueline Woodson is about beginning school, but also about using your voice and taking up space in the world. It’s a gift.
This picture book won both the Newbery Medal and a Caldecott Honor. In it, a boy travels on a bus with his grandmother, who teaches him to see beauty in the dirt around them, and to share their blessings.
Ramon loves to draw, until a comment by his brother makes him question his talent. For a certain kind of kid, perfectionism is a struggle that could keep them from trying new things. This book is all about letting go of perfection to embrace the struggle.
Sweety is a naked mole rat who doesn’t quite fit in. She learns to march to her own beat and embrace her odd interests, like interpretive dance and mushrooms. A great choice for a quirky child.
Fox and Chick are the latter day Frog and Toad. Their odd couple adventures are charming and relatable.
This sweet story of a dragon who makes friends with an apple was released as part of Scholastic’s Acorn line of early readers.
Children familiar with Bruce of Mother Bruce picture books can transition to this easy reader about a not-so-fun day.
This spinoff of Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson series is a bridge between the earliest readers and chapter books. Also worth a look is her Bink & Gollie series.
Best Graphic Novels for Grade Schoolers
If you haven’t already been cajoled into buying all the books in this series and Pilkey’s Captain Underpants collection, buckle in for a long ride. Kids will read these over and over (and over).
Telgemeier is a master of the graphic novel memoir, and kids relate to her struggles with siblings, braces and more. In this latest release, Telgemeier talks about the anxiety that manifested as tummy aches, and how she learned to deal with it.
Oh, the vagaries of female friendships. In life as on Project Runway, one day you’re in and the next, you’re out. This revealing look at shifting friendship alliances will feel all too familiar to girls navigating these waters. (And their moms.)
Jordan is one of the only kids of color at his fancy private school. This graphic novel gets to the heart of what it’s like to start over in a new school when you’re different.
Making friends at a new school is never easy – but especially when your differences are obvious. This 2015 Newbery Honor book is a memoir from Cece Bell about her hearing loss at a young age and experience with a powerful hearing aid.
Best Novels for Grade Schoolers
You can’t go wrong with a Kate DiCamillo book, but this one about a china rabbit who endures harrowing misfortune before a tender reunion will get them in all the feels.
This touching novel inspired by the true story of a captive gorilla, and told from his perspective, captures the spirit of Charlotte’s Web.
Yeah, that thing we said before about cramming Judy Blume down kids’ throats? Forget it. Turns out, some of her books are as relevant now as ever. This one stands the test of time.
Coyote has lived on the road with her dad, Rodeo, ever since her mom and sisters died in a car crash.
Best Series for Grade Schoolers
This is a perfect starter series, giving kids enough familiarity and repetition to make them more confident in their reading, but enough new adventures to hold their interest.
She’s a princess and a superhero. What could be better for a girl emerging from princess mania and ready to kick butt?
A little sister with a big imagination takes the lead in this series that will appeal to fans of Junie B. Jones.
In this series for older grades, clans of great cats are at war, and it may be a lowly housecat who is the bravest of all.
We give this series to our favorite budding readers. It’s a funny adventure series that explores mythology from different cultures.
Best Nonfiction for Grade Schoolers
An ode to African-American triumph from the Newbery winner and Caldecott honoree. It talks about the hardship of slavery and the perseverance of some of black history’s greatest heroes, in verse form.
For the young explorer in your life, this guide to wonders of the world is a great portal.
This is a beautiful book that captures the life of someone your children know well in the most unexpected of ways. You have our permission to steal it from your child.
Yes, this counts as reading. If you have a kid who loves sports or numbers, this can be a great way to get them to love reading, too.
This series addictively tells the stories of famous people (and places) in history, as well as contemporary musicians and athletes. It now has its own Netflix series, The Who Was Show. Get it for your little history buff.
Another series that brings history to life – and covers everything from the civil war to the Donner party. Gripping nonfiction.
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