Chapter Books to Read to Pre-Schoolers and Kindergarteners

It’s exciting when your kids reach the point where they can sit still and listen to longer tales. Adding chapter books to your read aloud repertoire is fun, but judging by the number of parents I see asking where to start with chapter books, it can also be intimidating. Frankly, not every book is a good first chapter book to read out loud. Through trial and error, we’ve found a lot that work for us and a few that don’t.

In general, my kiddos like stories that still have a lot of pictures in them (although a compelling enough story will carry the day even without pictures). If there is a book I think they will enjoy that doesn’t grab them when I am reading out loud, I might also try it as an audio book. For us, some books they like me to read and some they prefer on audio. It’s worth trying both. But if my kids don’t get into a chapter book, I just put it away to try again later. They are still very young. We have many years of reading together to enjoy the many wonderful stories out there. I say this also because if your kids don’t want to read chapter books yet, don’t stress! Enjoy all the picture books and be patient… they will get there.

I’ve written about many of these before, but I wanted to compile them all in one place. Since we are still in the preschool phase, I hope to keep adding to this as we discover more and more chapter books that transport and delight us.

The Missing Bookshop by Katie Clapham. When her beloved local bookstore closes unexpectedly, Milly is determined to discover what happened to the owner and to make sure the bookshop isn’t converted into something awful… like a bank!

Dara’s Clever Plan by Liz Flanagan. Princess Dara is no damsel in distress. She is famous throughout the kingdom of Cambodia for her wisdom, beauty and design and building skills. When she leaves home to find building material for a special project, three evil men plot to get rid of her husband so one of them can marry Dara and become rich. But Dara has a plan to set things right.

The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary. If you accuse me of having children partially to have someone to read Beverly Cleary’s books to, I will not contradict you. Reading our first Cleary novel together just felt right. We started with Two Times the Fun, which is a very early chapter book and a great starting point for kids as young as 2 or 3. From there we moved on to Ramona the Pest, who was my favorite scrappy heroine as a kid, but it was when we hit the Mouse trilogy that my young audience became as hooked on this author as I am. Once your kids have fallen in love with this funny little rodent, you can move on to Ralph S. Mouse and Runaway Ralph. Don’t worry, I am saving plenty from this prolific author for the elementary school years.

Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures by Jackson Pierce and Maggie Stiefvater. Young fantasy fans rejoice! Pip Bartlett is a chapter book with multi-age appeal. This is a great one to turn to if you want something with cross appeal to older siblings. Pip has trouble talking to adults, but can easily converse with magical creatures. It’s a handy skill to have when mysteries abound, like why creatures that constantly burst into flames have suddenly come to town. The sequels to this lighthearted tale, Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Unicorn Training and Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Sea Monsters follow Pip as she trains a nervous unicorn, solves the mystery of who is stealing unicorn tails and saves a vacation town from some seriously large and hungry sea monsters. Plenty to entertain readers up to age ten, with nothing scary or inappropriate for the much younger set. My little ones request this trilogy on audio all the time.

Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke. A charming series of stories about Anna Hibiscus who lives in amazing Africa on a family compound with her parents, her twin brothers and many, many loving cousins, aunts and uncles. I just love Anna Hibiscus!

Freddie Ramos Takes Off and the Zappato Power series. When Freddie receives an anonymous gift in the form of cool new sneakers with super-speed capabilities, he must figure out how to be a hero an average everyday kid at the same time. Start with the first one and follow Freddie as he gains other super-powers in the sequels.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming. A classic for sure, my kids are delighted by the antics of this magical car that outwits bandits and saves the family of a mad-cap inventor.

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren. Another classic tale, my kids love the antics of the irrepressible redhead with no adult supervision and super strength. When reading, I omit references to cannibals and I am skipping the problematic sequels and sticking with just the first one.

Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo. This porcine wonder has my kids in stitches each time we read about the butter loving pig who is always stirring up a ruckus on Deckawoo Drive. Mercy is the main attraction but the supporting casting is equally entertaining. Another one that is requested often around here.

Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon. If your kids like funny stories, this is a surefire hit. Dory is a highly imaginative six year old who drives her brother and sister so crazy that they make up a tale with an evil villain to scare her. But Dory isn’t easily scared, but if your kids are, wait a year or so on this one. The Dory books are absolutely hilarious and even with a young main character, they will entertain much older kids. I think this is currently my kiddos favorite book series.

Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters and Iggy Peck and the Mysterious Mansion by Andrea Beaty. I love the popular picture books that introduce the Questioneers: Rosie Revere, Iggy Peck, Ada Twist and Sophia Valdez. This kid quartet represent an engineer, architect, scientist and community organizer. And now they are back in chapter length books working together to put their wits and curiosity to good use. Clever, funny and inspiring for creative kids.

Mia Mayhem by Kara West. There is a new superhero in town and she causes chaos and mayhem wherever she goes. Mia is delighted when she discovers that she is the newest trainee at an after school academy for superheroes. But it turns out being a superhero isn’t as easy as she hoped! This was one of the books I discovered when I went looking for more early chapter books featuring BIPOC characters and it’s one of the kids’ favorites. Now, I need to get my hands on the sequels.

Max Loves Munecas by Zetta Elliot. This independently published book is hard to find (although as of today, it is available on Amazon) and it’s a shame because my kids were enraptured by this story and I am completely in love with it. Max desperately wants to learn to make dolls like the ones in the local shop, but he is afraid the kids will make fun of him. When he meets the shops owner, Pepe, Max gets more than he expected as Pepe shares his gripping life story with the aspiring doll maker. This story was much deeper than I expected and may be too serious for some kiddos in this age range, but if you can find it, grab it. It’s well worth it, even if you wait a bit to share it with your kids.

The Lighthouse Family series by Cynthia Rylant. A cat, a dog and three young mice form an unusual family that live in a remote lighthouse. These gentle and enchanting stories have an old fashioned atmosphere to the sweet adventures. Get the whole series and prepare to be enraptured.

Thumbelina retold by Xanthe Gresham. The vibrant, gorgeous illustrations totally steal the show in this Barefoot Books version of the classic tale of a tiny girl who is carried away on unexpected adventures.

My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. Elmer Elevator wants to be a pilot when he grows up so he can fly. When a stray cat he befriends tells him that he can fly now if he goes to a remote island and saves a baby dragon, Elmer doesn’t hesitate. Like any good hero, he immediately sets off. Saving the baby dragon leads to more adventures in books two and three of this series.

Meet Yasmin by Saadia Faruqi. Yasmin is a curious and creative second grader who can be a builder, an explorer, an artist or a fashionista if that is what the moment calls for. This is a quick read with colorful illustrations and a Palestinian- American main character that will have wide appeal.

Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same by Grace Lin. Ling and Ting may look the same to outsiders, but the identical twins know that when they are making dumplings, getting haircuts and learning magic they are not just alike. These are early readers that would make solid first chapter book read alouds. Several sequels follow Ling and Ting through everyday, relatable, gently paced experiences.

One final word: as you dive in and enjoy chapter books with your kids, make sure you don’t abandon the picture books. There are so many treasures, new and old, in picture books. And the vocabulary in them is rich and beautiful. Make space in your reading journey for both!

Disclosure: As a Barefoot Books Community Bookseller, I earn commission on any of the Barefoot Books ordered from these links. I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.  Bookshop.org supports independent bookshops.

Chapter Books to Read to Pre-Schoolers and Kindergarteners

My Top Ten Barefoot Books

I have written about many of these before, but I realized I never compiled my list of all time favorites from Barefoot Books. This list covers a couple of board books, a bunch of picture books, a sing-a-long, an anthology and an early chapter book. What do they all have in common? Beautiful artwork and compelling stories and/or information that will draw children and adults in. Some of these books we have owned for years now and our copies are quite worn because I love reading and re-reading them. As my kiddos grow and new titles come out, the pile of well-loved books from Barefoot just grows larger.

Note: In addition to the usual book covers for each title, I am including a inside spread from most books because you simply have to see the art to understand why I am so enthusiastic about Barefoot Books.

The More We Get Together by Celeste Courtright. It may be a classic song for little ones, but the creative team who turned it into a sing-a-long book have breathed new life into this tune. The vibrant pictures and message of community is simply heartwarming. Read more of my thoughts on this book here.

Mama Panya’s Pancakes by Mary and Rich Chamberlin. If I could only keep one Barefoot Book on my shelves, it would be this one. While it’s a story that can easily grow with your family from toddler years right up through early elementary ages, I started reading it to my kids when they were a month old (they didn’t complain!) and it’s still one we visit regularly. I love the Kenyan village setting, I love Adika’s joyful exuberance and confidence that they have enough to share with all their friends and I love the neighbors of all ages who come together in the end to create a shared feast.

Dara’s Clever Trap by Liz Flannagan. Years ago I read an article that suggested that one key to getting more young girls interested in science might be found in storytelling. Personally, I think it is human nature to be drawn to stories and I rely heavily to stories to introduce science to my little ones. They in turn, love stories of scientists, inventors, and makers. And if these creative characters outwit people of… ahem … bad intent, so much the better. I credit this combination with making this book a winner both at our house and from my old library story times. This tale of a Princess in Cambodia omits the damsel in distress in favor of an engineering mastermind, who traps the kingdom’s most dishonest schemers and saves her husband. And instead of simply living happily ever after, Dara and her prince contentedly live out their days designing, building and governing with great wisdom. Highly recommend!

Story Tree by Hugh Lupton. If you’d like to create a home library filled with folktales from around the world without spending a fortune, Story Tree would be my top suggestion for your shelves. It contains classic tales from Germany, Russia, India and more. My kiddos favorites from this volume are “The Magic Porridge Pot” and the funny “Monkey-See, Monkey-Do.” In my experience, anthologies can be quite hit or miss, but this one and several other of collections published by Barefoot are well worth the money and bookshelf space.

My Granny Went to Market by Stella Blackstone. Oh, but I would have loved it if one of my grandmothers had bought a magic carpet and travelled around the world picking up unique treasures when I was a child. It would be even better if she eventually met up with me and handed off said flying carpet so I could trot around the world myself. Since a trip around the globe, via carpet or any other mode of transportation, is in not in my family’s immediate future, I’m glad we can travel by book along with this adventuresome granny. Fun rhymes and colorful pictures help this book stand out from the hoards of other counting books.

Barefoot Books Children of the World by Kate DePalma and Tess Strickland. If Barefoot Books has a “signature” book, this is probably it. And with good reason. The straightforward and compelling text, along with David Dean’s striking hand-painted illustrations, embodies the company’s manifesto, which proclaims a commitment to “honor diversity in every sphere of life” Children of the World has won all sorts of awards and accolades. I love how it celebrates (without being the tiniest bit didactic) the many types of families, homes, holidays, beliefs, bodies and feelings experienced by children around the globe. Plus it’s both a great read aloud and an attention-grabbing one to simply leave out at home or in a classroom for children to discover and examine on their own.

Herb the Vegetarian Dragon by Jules Bass. If Mama Panya is my personal favorite Barefoot title, Herb takes home the Kids’ Choice Award in our family. Knights setting out to stop dragons who are intent on devouring the sweet princesses and crunchy knights of a kingdom is the stuff of a standard fairy tale. But in a twist, the true hero of this book is not a sword wielding knight, but rather a lovable dragon. Gentle, unique, true to himself and steadfast ’til the end, Herb, with the backing of a very loyal and brave friend, ultimately brings peace to both people and dragons.

Chandra’s Magic Light by Theresa Heine. This is a beautiful story about sibling love and enterprising young children set in Nepal. The two endearing sisters in this book see a solar lamp at the market and realize immediately that their family needs one. The smoky lamp that they currently light their home with has caused lung trouble for their baby brother. When they bring the idea home to their father, he sadly tells them the family can’t afford it. Undeterred, the sisters set out to earn the money and restore their brother’s health themselves.

Sounds Around Town by Maria Carluccio. The last two on my list were early editions to our home library. This board book is filled with pictures and sounds that are familiar to most babies and toddlers. The well-done cut paper illustrations, gentle pacing and simple scenes are perfect for parents to read and talk about with their youngest children. A lovely book to help with early language development.

Peek-a-Boo Set by Phillis Gershator. The three books in this set can be purchased individually, but personally I would want them all in my home for my babies. Children are fascinated by animals from their earliest months and these amazingly illustrated volumes, which introduce the inhabitants of the farm, the garden and the forest, are given an extra dose of fun with the peek-a-boo holes that effortlessly turn reading into playing for babies and their adults. If I were making my baby registry again, this collection would be on it for sure.

Bonus

These aren’t books, but I love them enough that they get an honorable mention. My kiddos love when I make up stories to tell them, so I am frequently spinning yarns about tractors that get stuck in a ditch and twins with super powers. Every once in awhile, I can use a bit of a boost to think of something new and it’s fun to stretch my creativity. That’s where these storytelling cards really shine. Barefoot Books Storytelling Cards are a marvelous edition to your home. You can get a set that contains the Community Helpers, Ocean Adventure, and Magical Castle cards or if you have a budding astronaut or alien lover, you can try Space Quest. There are a number of ways to play with these, but we keep it simple: pick three or four and tell a story about the characters, scenes and scenarios on the cards. My kids are starting to get in on the action too, so if your kids are preschool aged or older, they can flex some storytelling muscles too.

Disclosure: As a Barefoot Books Ambassador, I earn commission on any of the Barefoot Books ordered from these links. 

My Top Ten Barefoot Books