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Best First Chapter Books to Read Aloud to Preschoolers

I’m constantly in awe of my mom friends who routinely paint, pretend-play, sculpt playdough and dress up baby dolls with their young children — I’ve just never been able to dig too far into these kinds of expressly “little-kid” things… 

… but I will say that I LOVE reading to my kids.

Yes, reading to my children is perhaps the one thing that’s come effortlessly to me as a parent. We’ve indulged in reading all the classics and stumbled on new favorites along the way; but now that my oldest is approaching four-and-a-half, I’m eager to take things to the next level. This age range — older toddlerhood through kindergarten/first grade — is a sort of tweener period as far as books are concerned: most kiddos aren’t yet reading, but many are developmentally ready to take a step up from the likes of Make Way for Ducklings and Dragons Love Tacos

It turns out that there are a number of books and series that are perfect for first chapter books with pre-readers — they follow fun, but simple, storylines, ignite children’s imaginations, and feature relatable-yet-quirky characters. These books introduce children to the concept of chapter books and longer, more developed stories while still meeting them where they are. 

When I asked James if he wanted to read some “grown-up chapter books” with me, he was super into it. And we’re having an awesome time! If you’re ready to give chapter books a go, here are our favorite recommendations to read out loud to your kids — happy reading, all! Let us know how it goes 🙂.

First Chapter Books to Read Aloud to Preschoolers and Pre-readers

Roald Dahl Collection

first chapter books Roald Dahl

All the classics you know and love — Matilda, The BFG, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory… — plus some lesser-known but equally-enjoyable titles like Esio Trot and Billy and the Minpins. Yes, this box set will keep you busy and entertained for a while. Any Roald Dahl book is a magical place to start your chapter-book journey, but we especially love James and the Giant Peach and George’s Marvelous Medicine for the first forays.

first chapter books James peach

My Father’s Dragon Trilogy, Ruth Stiles Gannett

first chapter books my father's dragon

Parents everywhere rave that My Father’s Dragon is perhaps the single best place to start when it comes to chapter books. Elmer’s adventures with the baby dragon he rescues have really stood the test of time — the adventurous stories and the beautiful illustrations in this series routinely keep even little children hooked on the edge of their seat.

The Trumpet of the Swan, EB White

first chapter books trumpet of the swan

EB White’s children’s books are adored and renowned for their clarity and earnest storytelling, and this book is no exception. Set against a richly-described, serene natural landscape, we love this simple-but-enchanting coming-of-age tale for first-time listeners. (Note: with its gentle touch, less the harsh-realities of farm life, we think The Trumpet of the Swan is pretty universally appropriate for littles ones, but you can get the EB White box set that also comes with Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, because — just, yes. You’ll get there eventually.]

first chapter books EB White

Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Richard Atwater and Florence Atwater

first chapter books mr. poppers penguins

This sweet and silly story about what happens when a man is gifted a penguin (whose friends quickly turn up, too) will have little kids giggling all the way through. A top pick for lots of laughs! 

Winnie the Pooh Collection, A.A. Milne

first chapter books winnie the pooh

Do we even need to say anything about this one? These books are so fun to narrate, and kids love the recognizable characters and easy-to-follow stories. No matter what age you are, there’s always something to take away from Winnie the Pooh and gang.

Magic Treehouse Starter Set, Mary Pope Osborne

first chapter books magic treehouse

There are a gazillion books in this series (OK, 50), which tells the tales of siblings Annie and Jack’s travels through space and time. Each of the stories centers on some history/social studies element (Dinosaurs! Castles! Pirates! Oh my!) — add a dash of adventure and a pinch of mystery, and you’re set to go. 

A handful of other particularized picks(!):

For those who want colorful illustrations to match: 

Mercy Watson series, Kate Dicamillo

first chapter books mercy watson

This comical series about a pig (Mercy) who lives with the Watsons is a parent favorite for getting little, little listeners (think: even a 3-year-old can do it) hooked on chapter books. (One reviewer likened it to Curious George with a bit more depth and verve.) With its bright, vivid illustrations and funny antics, the Mercy West books are a great way to gently help get your child on board with longer reading sessions and stories. 

first chapter books illustrations

For slightly older kiddos (or more experienced listeners): 

Begin (book one in The Growly Series), Philip Ulrich and Erin Ulrich

first chapter books begin

This story about a bear’s meandering escapade (why are bears the feature characters in SO many children’s books? Someone should write a book about that…) is just the right pace for young children. It’s kind-hearted, spirited, and encouraging, and swaps out the traditional fantasy series “evil stuff ” for real-life tribulations kids can relate to. 

The Very Very Far North, Dan Bar-El

first chapter books the very very far north

The story of Duane, a thoughtful, friendly polar bear, and his arctic friends in the way, way North. Think: Winnie the Pooh with a little more pomp and circumstance. On ice.

first chapter books

The Dragon of Doom (book one in the Moongobble and Me series), Bruce Coville

first chapter books moon gobble

The Dragon of Doom tells the story of a boy who becomes an apprentice to a wizard. This book series has everything fantasy-lovers want — dragons, magic, witches, and quests — without any of the scary (or inappropriate) fare. 

first chapter books fantasy

For those who prefer poetry: 

Where the Sidewalk Ends, Shel Silverstein

first chapter books where the sidewalk ends

This classic collection of illustrated poems is plucky, imaginative, and fun-loving. It’s a great way to introduce young children to verse, and we also love it for those times when you just want a quick lyrical diversion.

first chapter books poetry

For twins: 

Two Times the Fun, Beverly Cleary

first chapter books beverly cleary

This adorable book is so fun for twins — fraternal 4-year-old twins Jimmy and Janet get into all kinds of relatable shenanigans together in this four-chapter book. Cleary herself had twins, so it’s written with the hand of experience — and since Ramona may be a little too much for the average preschooler, but this is a perfect way to get your Beverly Cleary fix a little early. 😉

first chapter books cleary

Do you have a favorite first chapter book? Please leave us a comment below – thanks and happy reading!


Comments

  1. Avatar

    Fun list! My 4-year-old daughter just started getting into chapter books a few months ago. My husband has been reading The Rescue Princesses series to her, which is about princesses who save animals. I’d like to get her started on some of these more classical stories when they finish. However, this list is heavily skewed toward male characters. It’d be nice to see more female representation.

  2. Avatar

    A few early chapter books my 5-year-old has loved (with female main characters) are The Adventures of Sophie Mouse (series, 16 books) and The Princess in Black (series, 7 books). We also enjoyed the two Barkus books (also female lead), and the Zoey & Sassafrass series – which combines a smart girl with lots of science/nature. We have only read one in the Polly Diamond series, but it was good, too.

    1. Avatar

      We’ve read some of the Princess in Black ones too! Actually, I’ve gotten the audio books and put them on for her while I work. Thanks for the other suggestions!

      1. Avatar

        We just started two new series – one called “Mia Mayhem”, it is pretty fun. But the one we are really loving is called “Kitty” – girl by day, cat by night. If your daughter loves cats, she will be all in!

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