Reading to Your Kids: Books for Every Year
A love of reading opens up a whole new world for kids. It expands their vocabulary, activates their imagination, and provides them with entertainment and education. You can start out by reading to your children when they are babies and continue reading with them throughout their lives. It's a good way to bond with your kids when you read and discuss books with them.
I learned how to read when I was three, most likely because my mom read to me a lot and I would read beside her while she was studying her nursing textbooks. I quickly developed a love of reading that has stayed with me my whole life, and I believe that every child should be encouraged to find books that interest them and speak to them.
In this article I have compiled a list of books, one for each year of your child's life, that correspond to the events in their lives and the changes that they might be going through. Read to your kids in the beginning, and as they get older they can read with you or separately, and you can discuss the books together.
1. Goodnight Moon
This book is a classic, with a simple rhyming poetry scheme that is easy to remember. One year olds are just beginning to learn words, so a book showing them the names of all kinds of things can help to expand their vocabulary and their understanding of the world they live in. They also tend to sleep a lot, so a bedtime story is helpful for giving them a routine to settle in.
Goodnight Moon is perfect for young children, with colorful illustrations and a calm, soothing tone, and it has been beloved for generations.
2. Green Eggs and Ham
Two year olds are adorable, but they can be stubborn, with "No!" being a favorite word. They also tend to be picky eaters that seem to randomly like or dislike certain foods. With Green Eggs and Ham, you might be able to charm your picky eater into trying something new. Dr. Seuss used only 50 words in this story, as the result of a bet he made with his publisher.
Amusingly, Ted Cruz once read the book on the Senate floor in the middle of a filibuster over the funding of Obamacare. If it's good enough to entertain the Senate, it might entertain an obstinate toddler.
3. Rainbow Fish
Children may start preschool at the age of 3, so it is important for them to begin learning how to play well with others.
Rainbow Fish is a story about a fish with beautiful scales in many colors. Another fish wants to have one of his shiny silver scales, and at first, he is rude and doesn't want to share, but he ends up becoming lonely and goes on a journey to find out why the other fish don't like him. Eventually, he realizes that if he is nice to others and shares, he will be happier and have an easier time making friends.
The book is beautifully illustrated, and the shiny metallic scales are a nice detail that will mesmerize your child. In the spirit of the book, I am sharing it with you in the hopes that you will pass it on.
4. Where the Wild Things Are
This book is great for growing kids developing a vivid imagination. Max, a little boy who runs around in a wolf suit, gets sent to bed for being bad. In his room, he imagines that it becomes a forest, and befriends the wild things that live there. If your child is afraid of monsters under the bed, reading this book to them may help them be less afraid, and can show them that they can befriend the monsters instead.
5. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
If you give a mouse a cookie, he's gonna want some milk to go with it, and if you give him the milk, he'll need a straw to drink it with. This fun story will make your child laugh at the increasing demands of the energetic little mouse, and is a good way to introduce your kindergartner to the concepts of cause and effect. Kids will identify with the mouse's needs and the boy's desire to help his mouse friend with those needs. It's illustrated in a cute, fun way and is a good book to entertain your child. It may make them want a cookie, though.
6. The Little Engine That Could
Six can be a difficult age, as kids are typically entering first grade and things are becoming more difficult for them academically. This book, The Little Engine That Could, will inspire them with its iconic phrase "I think I can."
In the story, there is a long train full of toys being pulled by an engine over a very tall mountain, but that engine breaks down and cannot continue. Lots of engines ignore the engine in trouble or are not able to help, until the little engine that could comes along. Repeating the phrase, "I think I can", the little engine is able to pull the train over the mountain to its destination. This book teaches kids how to be a good Samaritan and also shows them the importance of positive thinking and determination.
7. Junie B. Jones
At the age of seven, kids might be starting out with chapter books. The Junie B. series is hilarious and easy for young readers to follow, and chronicles the misadventures of a sassy kindergartner and her family and friends as she goes through the school year, and enters first grade later in the series. The author really captures the voice of a child well, and it's a fun book to read out loud and act out because of Junie B.'s opinionated, lively personality.
Some of the things Junie B. does may be a good opportunity to discuss misbehavior with your child before your child does those things themselves, like cutting the dog's hair and calling 911 because she's having a potty emergency, but even if Junie B. misbehaves it's a worthwhile read from the first book to the last. Unfortunately, the author died after a long battle with ovarian cancer, so there will be no more new books in the series.
8. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Charlie Bucket, a poor boy who lives in a one room house with his entire family, dreams of escaping poverty and making a better life for his family. One day, he finds a dollar bill on the ground and goes to buy a chocolate bar, only to discover that he has won a contest to visit the candy factory owned by the mysterious Willy Wonka.
This classic 1964 novel is whimsical and yet somewhat dark, a hallmark of Roald Dahl's writing. Dahl tried to not talk down to readers, to give them an honest look at life's ups and downs and peppered his books with puns, alliteration, and other literary devices that will help your child see how to have fun with language. He is known for creating cautionary tales that will show children what not to do, and the other children's fates in the story can create good discussion points about not being bratty and throwing tantrums to get what you want (Veruca Salt), not eating too much junk food (Augustus Gloop), or limiting your screen time (Mike Teavee).
This is a modern classic, and the movie versions are great to watch with your kids too after you finish the book. I liked the original better than the remake, it feels more true to the style of the book.
9. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing centers on the relationship of 9-year-old Peter with his 2-year-old little brother Fudge (his real name is Farley Drexel, so you can see why he needs a nickname). Fudge is a little troublemaker and gets on Peter's nerves a lot, but ultimately the two siblings love each other.
The story is honest, refreshing, and funny.The Hatcher family isn't perfect; Peter sometimes wonders if his mother loves Fudge more than him, so this could be a good place for discussion on favoritism and sibling rivalry. Children with younger siblings may relate to Peter really well, and find the story cathartic.
Note that the book was written back in 1972, so the gender roles are more traditional, and corporal discipline is sometimes used. You could use that to discuss the differences in society today from society back then.
Judy Blume is now 80 years old and continues to write. Her most recent book, In the Unlikely Event, is meant for adults and is based on 3 plane crashes that took place in her hometown when she was young.
10. The Chronicles of Narnia
After reading this series, you may find your child pressed against the back of your closet, trying to find the doorway to Narnia. This was one of my favorite book series as a kid, and it really draws you in with all sorts of wondrous magical creatures, mystical lands and cultures, and of course Aslan, the majestic lion king above all kings in Narnia.
This series is known for being a Christian allegory, but children of all religions and walks of life can relate to its themes. You can discuss the redemption and character growth of Edmund and Eustace, the courage of Prince Caspian, and the familial relationships of the Pevensie children and their loyalty to Aslan. The Narnia series contains more depth than you might expect from a series of children's books, and is definitely recommended.
11. The Harry Potter Series
It was hard not putting this modern-day classic earlier, but starting the journey at the same age Harry is during Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone feels right.
The Harry Potter series follows the life of a boy named Harry Potter. He begins the series as an orphan who lives in the cupboard of his abusive aunt and uncle's house, but on his 11th birthday, he learns that he is a wizard and is invited to attend Hogwarts, a magical boarding school. He faces many trials and tribulations, from the constant specter of Voldemort, the evil wizard who terrorized Britain and killed his parents, to fitting into wizarding society and finding the courage to do the right thing.
The series starts off whimsical but has some powerful statements about the nature of love, friendships, prejudice, death, and society as a whole. I was originally just going to put the first book on this list to get you started, but you and your child will probably end up getting hooked and reading the entire series very quickly.
I got my grandpa hooked on this series, and some of my favorite childhood memories are of us sitting at the kitchen table, coming up with theories for what might happen in the next Harry Potter book. It's a worldwide phenomenon for a reason, and if you've never read the books they are definitely worth reading for J. K. Rowling's fantastic worldbuilding and strong characterization.
Once you finish the series, you can head over to Pottermore and find out what Hogwarts house you belong to and read tons of interesting background information about the series from J.K. Rowling herself.
12. A Series of Unfortunate Events
A Series of Unfortunate Events chronicles the miserable lives of three orphans, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, after their parents die in a mysterious fire and they are shuffled from eccentric guardian to eccentric guardian. As the series goes on, the children search for answers about what happened to their parents and get embroiled in a conspiracy involving a secret society and a sugar bowl.
The books tackle serious themes such as social commentary, human nature, and moral relativism in a way that children can understand, and does this in a Victorian Gothic, absurdist style. The author of these books, Lemony Snicket (whose real name is Daniel Handler), may tell you not to read these books, for they are dark and gloomy and filled with a myriad (a word which here means a lot) of horrors. I am inclined to disagree with him.
Lemony Snicket has a really fun narrative style where he comments on things and defines terms in a humorous, sometimes sarcastic manner. This series expanded my vocabulary a lot as a kid. There's a lot of hidden cultural references for adults to enjoy in these books as well, such as a political joke about Bush and Cheney, and multiple nods to Edgar Allan Poe. It's a series that will make you think and challenge your perceptions on what is right.
13. A Wrinkle in Time
A Wrinkle in Time is a classic fantasy/science fiction novel about a girl named Meg Murry, her brilliant younger brother named Charles Wallace, and her classmate Calvin, and their journey through time and space to find the Murry siblings’ missing father. Three mysterious ladies transport them to many different planets in their search, and the kids learn many valuable lessons about love, courage, and individuality.
Meg’s feelings of awkwardness and ugliness can bring up a crucial discussion with your child about self-esteem; 13 is a tough age and puberty can make you feel uncomfortable. Point out Meg’s good qualities, like her intelligence and bravery, and let your child know that they are special, too. Her feelings for Calvin are also a good place to talk about crushes.
Calvin himself is also good to discuss, as he seems to be a ”cool kid” but is really a misfit deep down. This can show kids not to be intimidated by the popular kids because they are people too.
14. Percy Jackson and the Olympians
Percy Jackson thinks he is a normal teenaged boy until a teacher turns into a monster on a school trip and his other teacher gives him a magical sword that masquerades as a pen to defeat her. He is sent to Camp Half-Blood, where he finds out that he is a demigod of the Greek variety, and is accused of stealing Zeus’s lightning bolt. Percy then embarks on a journey to find the real thief and clear his name and then ends up caught up in a war between titans and gods.
The Percy Jackson series is great for teens. Percy is sarcastically witty and is written pretty realistically. The books also give a lot of information about Greek mythology but do it in a fun way that creates a compelling narrative. It’s easy to read and fun, which is good for kids who are just entering high school who might feel like they're getting burnt out on reading.
Stanley Yelnats is wrongly accused of committing a crime and is sent to a detention camp for boys where they claim digging holes builds character. Stanley and his fellow inmates end up digging up more than they bargained for, and become tied up in an age-old mystery involving the members of Stanley’s family.
This book is a well-written mystery that will keep teens hooked, and has some memorable characters that sound and act like real teenagers. The friendship between Stanley and his friends is one thing that definitely makes the book a good read. The book deals with issues like racism, homelessness, and illiteracy, and could be a good way to open discussion on those topics with your child.
16. The Hunger Games
High school is kind of like The Hunger Games: It can be vicious, there's a lot of competition, and unfortunately, sometimes it can be an oppressive environment. 16 year olds will love Katniss Everdeen, the strong female protagonist who is not afraid to stand up, literally, for what she believes in.
In this series, a post-apocalyptic United States is divided into a Capitol and 13 districts. 74 years before the events of the story, the districts tried to hold an uprising against the Capitol but failed. As punishment, every year the Capitol selects by random draw two children from the ages of 12-18, a boy and a girl, and sends them into an arena to fight to the death on live TV. Katniss's younger sister Prim is selected, but Katniss volunteers to take her place.
The Hunger Games series has a little bit of everything: action, drama, romance, and science fiction. Katniss and Peeta's romance builds slowly, and you get to see both characters at their best and their worst. The worldbuilding in the series is very thought-provoking and interesting, and has lead to the creation of a lot of fanfiction. Overall this series is fantastic and highly recommended for teens.
17. The Lord of the Rings
The Lord of the Rings is probably the most beloved fantasy epic of the 20th century. It follows the journey of Frodo, a hobbit, to destroy the One Ring, an evil artifact created by Sauron. Frodo experiences temptations and tribulations along the way, but with the help of his friends, especially loyal Sam who follows him all the way into Mordor, he is able to complete his task.
Teens may relate to Frodo's temptations to put on the ring, as they are faced with many temptations such as drugs and sex now that they are older; this could be a good discussion point. They may also know what it's like to have your friend group slowly split up, like the Fellowship does.
The theme of a long and arduous journey will resonate with 17 year olds, who are almost done with a long journey through high school and have to think about what to do on the long journey that is the rest of their lives. In addition, 17 year olds can appreciate and understand Tolkien's complex language and will have the stamina to plow through the series that younger kids may lack.
18. Love You Forever
This may seem like a weird choice at first for an 18 year old, but as you read it you can look back together on all of the chaos and adventures of their childhood and teen years, and you can let your child know that you'll always love them no matter how old they get. It's both funny and touching. Just don't take the book literally and use a ladder to climb through their window in their apartment or college dorm and rock them to sleep. Congratulations on raising a wonderful, bright adult! You made it!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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© 2018 Melissa Clason