The Best Children’s Books By Age: A Guide to Great Reading

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Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

Every child — every person — reads at a different level, at a different rate, and with differing interests. But for parents who are helping their young readers develop an interest in books, sometimes the easiest place to start is digging into the best children’s books by age. What your first grader might like to read may differ than what another parent’s first grader prefers, but exploring children’s books by age offers a way to share developmentally appropriate titles and helps the youngest readers explore what it is that interests them.

Find below a guide to children’s books by age. We’ll go from birth through 8th grade, offering a selection of titles per age, along with links to lengthier booklists for those age groups.

The Ultimate Guide to Children’s Books by Age, From Birth To Age 14

Jump to:

Books for babies | Books for toddlers | Books for preschoolers | Books for kindergarteners | Books for 1st graders | Books for 2nd graders | Books for 3rd graders | Books for 4th graders | Books for 5th graders | Books for 6th graders | Books for 7th graders | Books for 8th graders

Books For Babies and Books for 1-Year-Olds

Sure, babies aren’t independent readers, but reading to babies and working to develop their literacy skills is essential. Begin by learning some early literacy strategies and the resources available to develop those skills, and then seek out some of the following books for them.

Board books are gold for babies. They’re durable in construction and are image-heavy, perfect for developing eyes. Board books tend to be affordable, too, whether purchased new or used.

Among the 50 must-read board books for babies are:

A Book of Sleep by Il Sung Na

“Korean author and illustrator Il Sung Na creates such whimsical visuals, a particular style unlike what you usually see in board books. The text is sparse but lovely and pairs with the unique illustrations for a story that’s simple, soothing and a treat for the eyes.”

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

“No list of board books would be complete without this classic. The timeless story, beautiful artwork and die-cut pages make this a favorite of parents and babies alike.”

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

“The Snowy Day first broke the color barrier in mainstream children’s publishing in 1962 when it introduced us to Peter, an absolutely precious little brown boy in a red snowsuit playing in the snow. Keats has made a concerted effort to make all of his characters diverse and for that he gets all of the points.”

Note that you may need to toggle your selection to “board book” on each link to access that specific edition.

>> Find 50 of the best board books for babies here <<

Another great option for introducing books to babies and toddlers is through soft books. Soft books offer crinkly pages made of fabric, but they might also include other sensory features to them that make the books equally interactive as toys for young readers.

Among the 25 best soft books for babies are:

Earlyears Farm Friends — Crinkle Book Baby Toy

“Part stuffed animal, part book, this soft book is cuddly and sure to be a favorite.”

Color Me: Who’s in the Water? by Surya Sajnani

“This is so clever — the pages change color when they’re wet! There are multiple animals to choose from.”

>> Find 25 of the best soft books for babies here <<

For even more great books for babies, check out the following:

And of course, some helpful tips for how to find free baby books.

Books For Toddlers

Ah, the toddler years! Here are some of the best books for 1-year-olds, best books for 2-year-olds, and best books for 3-year-olds. Depending on your child, they may be ready to enjoy picture books on their own, but even if they’re not yet there, reading picture books with your toddlers is vital for literacy, for developing a love of books, and for bonding with your little one.

These are some of the best books for toddlers:

Bear Moves by Ben Bailey Smith (Doc Brown) and Sav Akyüz

“This dancing bear will get kids grooving, with sweet moves like Furry Breaking and Running Bear. Bold colours and exciting illustrations will make this one to read again and again.”

Hip-Hop Lollipop by Susan Montanari and Brian Pinkney

“An energetic little girl dances her way through her bedtime routine — something that I can certainly relate to. I pace when brushing my teeth, which can sometimes turn into a bit of a dance. The illustrations by Caldecott Honor winner Brian Pinkney are perfectly matched with the energy of the narrative.”

I Am Actually A Penguin by Sean Taylor and Kasia Matyjaszek

“A funny story about being yourself, starring a little girl who decides to live like a penguin when she’s given a penguin costume.”

>> Find 30 of the best book for toddlers here. <<

For even more of the best books for 1-year-olds, best books for 2-year-olds, and best books for 3-year-olds, check out:

Another way you can encourage your youngest ones to read is giving them a special space in which to do it. Check out how to make a toddler reading nook (and it’s okay if you as an adult want one for yourself!).

Books for Preschoolers

Finding books for preschoolers is so much fun. Books for 3-year-olds and books for 4-year-olds range from board books — so anything above — to picture books that make great read-alouds, as well as picture books that encourage independent reading. Whether your preschooler is able to read each word or simply admire the art, now is a perfect time to introduce your readers to this wealth of reading options.

Here are some of the best must-read preschool books:

Be Boy Buzz by bell hooks

“‘I be boy. All bliss boy. All fine beat. All beau boy. Beautiful’

Famed author bell hooks brings us a tight, exuberant story that captures the essence and energy of what it means to be a boy.”

Round is a Tortilla: A Book of Shapes by Roseanne Thong

“In this lively picture book, children discover shapes all around them: rectangles are ice-cream carts and stone metates, while triangles are slices of watermelon and quesadillas. Many of the featured objects are Latino in origin, and all are universal in appeal. With rich illustrations, a fun-to-read rhyming text, and an informative glossary, this playful concept book will reinforce the shapes found in every child’s day!”

Swimmy by Leo Lionni

“Deep in the sea lives a happy school of fish. Their watery world is full of wonders, but there is also danger, and the little fish are afraid to come out of hiding…until Swimmy comes along. Swimmy shows his friends how — with ingenuity and team work — they can overcome any danger.”

>> Find 50 must-read books for preschoolers here. <<

For more outstanding books for 3-year-olds and books for 4-year-olds, check out:

Books for Kindergarteners

Seeking books for 5-year-olds and books for 6-year-olds? These books for kindergarteners are the perfect way to encourage more independent and shared reading.

Kindergarteners are the perfect age for read-alouds, so start with sharing some of these outstanding books:

Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts

“The rhyme scheme in this book is delightful, and the illustrations are wonderful. Tiny Ada Twist has more questions than her parents can handle. Initially overwhelmed, they begin to realize that she’s actually a super curious scientist kid who shouldn’t be stifled! The other two titles in this series are equally lovable: Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer.”

Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio and Christian Robinson

“This book is an adorable lesson in diversity. Gaston doesn’t exactly look like his poodle siblings: Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, and Ooh-La-La. While at the park, he meets a family of dogs that he does resemble, and they happen to have a poodle that matches his family. The mismatched puppies switch, but something doesn’t feel right.”

Maybe Something Beautiful by F. Isabel Campoy, Theresa Howell, and Rafael López

“A  thoughtful, gloriously illustrated story about a young girl who wants to use art to make her neighbourhood less grey. Based on the true story of the creation of the Urban Art Trail in San Diego, California, it’s really an inspiring story.”

>> Find the best kindergarten read-alouds here. <<

And never fear. There are boatloads of awesome books for 5-year-olds and books for 6-year-olds still to discover:

If you’ve been wondering how to get your young reader excited about books, get to know the 1000 books before kindergarten program, too.

Books for 1st Graders

As you seek out book for first graders, keep in mind that picture books are perfect no matter the age. Often, books for 6-year-olds and books for 7-year-olds can focus on beginning chapter books or stories which feature more text than images, but picture books are always developmentally appropriate and make for excellent read-aloud choices.

Here’s a look at some of the best books for 1st graders:

Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke

“An early chapter book set in Africa is a hard thing to find; but add a dollop of humor, lovely illustrations, great writing, and you’ve stumbled upon a wonderful book for young readers. Anna lives inside a compound that is surrounded by a big, lovable extended family. She loves snow and sometimes has to watch her twin brothers Double and Trouble. Kids will learn about both contemporary and traditional Africa as they follow Anna on her adventures around her home.”

Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen by Debbi Michiko Florence

“Jasmine Toguchi wants to help her family make mochi, but she’s only 8 years old and too young to assist in the tradition. So far there are four books in the series, which follows Jasmine and her Japanese American family. These books have a very Ramona Quimby–esque vibe”

Juana & Lucas by Juana Medina

“Kids innately love diversity. They love learning about different cultures and places. They love learning how kids live around the world. So they’ll really love Juana & Lucas: Juana is a little girl who lives in Colombia. Juana does not love school, and she especially hates learning English, but when a special opportunity crops up, Juana decides that maybe learning English won’t be so bad.”

>> Find the best books for 1st graders here. <<

First grade is such a fabulous and fun time for many readers, and it’s reflected in the wide range of books available to them:

For the parents and caretakers out there helping emerging readers work toward independence and strengthening literacy skills, here are some reading tips for parents.

Books for 2nd Graders

Finding books for 7-year-olds and books for 8-year-olds can get a little tricker, as some readers are eager to dive into longer and more complex chapter books. Others are still most comfortable with beginner chapter books, as well as lengthier picture books. Consider the best books for 2nd graders a mix of titles that challenge the young reader, as well as those that may be “easy” for them to read but which challenge them to slow down, evaluate the text and images, and consider some of the book’s literary elements (rhyming, foreshadowing, etc., are all age appropriate).

There are so many great books for 2nd graders. Here are a few to start with:

The Princess in Black book cover

The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale and LeUyen Pham

“All I have to do to get kids interested in this book is open it and let them see the pictures. The illustrations by Dean Hale and LeUyen Pham are very bright and appealing for most beginning readers, plus the story is really cute, and perfect for fans of cartoons like Princess Sophia.”

Meet Yasmin! by Saadia Faruqi and Hatem Aly

“Yasmin is a 2nd grader with a big imagination, and she doesn’t back away from tough situations. Each short chapter focuses on a challenge that Yasmin must work to solve, which she does with a whole lot of creativity. Yasmin is part of a large, charming, multi-generational Pakistani American family. So far there are ten books in the series.”

Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson

“Phoebe and her unicorn’s relationship begins when Phoebe skips a rock across a pond and hits a unicorn in the face. The Unicorn’s name is Marigold Heavenly Nostrils (of course), and from the very beginning Phoebe and Marigold become best friends. This comic has a very strong Calvin and Hobbes vibe, which is a good thing. “

>> Find the best books for 2nd graders here. <<

Genre books become increasingly prevalent (and awesome!) as children grow, so in addition to the books above, there are myriad options of books for 7-year-olds and books for 8-year-olds. Note that many of these links lead to lists that encompass children age 6–12, so use these to introduce growing readers to even more books.

Best Books for 3rd Graders

Seeking the perfect books for 8-year-olds and books for 9-year-olds? Look no further. Again: picture books are outstanding choices for any age, even by the time a reader is completely independent and, perhaps, starting to dip their toes into middle grade reads (middle grade encompasses roughly 3rd grade to 6th grade, depending on the reader!). Books in the earlier categories would make great choices, as would the following.

Start with these books for 3rd graders:

Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi

“Aru accidentally wakes up the Destroyer and has to join up with her spirit sister, Mini, to travel through spheres of Hindu mythology in order to save the world.”

Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill

“Princess Amira, astride a unicorn and sporting a mohawk and military jacket, helps Princess Sadie decide to leave behind her tower and her self-doubts about her big body as they go off on adventures, encountering flustered princes, difficult older sisters, and, finally, a happily ever after.”

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

“Described by the author in her TED Talk as a sort of Chinese Wizard of Oz, our heroine Minli sets out to find fortune for her struggling family and community, encountering a dragon, a magic goldfish, a king, and a green tiger. Lin is a genius and everyone should read this book.”

>> Find the best books for 3rd graders here. <<

Never fear a lack of options when it comes to books for 8-year-olds and books for 9-year-olds. Here is just a sample of possibilities:

Best Books for 4th Graders

Although it’s not universal, many 4th graders are now in their final year of elementary school and preparing for the transition to intermediate or middle school. Many are ready to transition to longer chapter books, are finding their groove in middle grade books, and are familiar and comfortable with genre fiction and the sorts of stories they love. Finding the perfect books for 9-year-olds and books for 10-year-olds at this point can be so much fun as young readers explain what it is they love in a story (“I want an adventure set on the high seas with a dog!” — chances are there is the perfect book for that 4th grader!).

Dig into these great books for 4th graders:

Arnica, The Duck Princess by Ervin Lazar, Translated by Anna Bentley

“A classic Hungarian’s children’s story. In it, clever Princess Arnica loves Poor Johnny. Both are cursed by the Witch of a Hundred Faces. One must always be a duck, one must be human.

The Seven-Headed Fairy must help them, but will she come in time?

A story of friendship for children of all ages.”

Dragons in a Bag by Zetta Elliott

“After his mom leaves him in Brooklyn with grouchy ‘Ma,’ 9-year-old Max finds a mysterious package on her table. This sets in motion a series of magical events.

As it turns out, Ma just might be a real witch who must return three dragons to their magical realm.

This is an enthralling city-based fantasy for kids.”

The Last-Last Day of Summer by Lamar Giles and Dapo Adeola

“This is a quirky adventure novel about cousins Sheed and Otto Alston, legendary heroes in their hometown. This book has everything that you might for a rollicking adventure: time travel, robots, time freezing, magic mirrors and familial bickering. Overall, this strange tale kept me on my toes and left me with a smile on my face.”

>> Find the best books for 4th graders here. <<

Any of the resources listed in the previous sections would make for great places to find books for 9-year-olds and books for 10-year-olds. But don’t miss out on these tremendous resources in your search for books for 4th graders, either:

Best Books for 5th Graders

In what can often be a big time of transition, books for 10-year-olds and books for 11-year-olds can provide comfort, enjoyment, and a space to work through changes. Many 5th graders are starting or are in the midst of physical and biological changes, while others are navigating new changes to friendships, as well as changes to their schooling.

Whatever the case may be, these books for 5th graders can be a way to help them traverse this tricky time of their lives. And for those 5th graders who aren’t experiencing upheaval of some sort, these books can help them empathize and understand others who are, as well as prepare them for the future.

Here are some ideas for where to begin with books for 5th graders:

The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch

“This book is about Cass and Max Ernes, who somehow end up with a mysterious box of vials known as the Symphony of Smells. This sends them on the trail of a magician who has disappeared into thin (and stinky) air and onto the path of an adventure. That’s about all the information I can give you since the plot, much like the title, is a secret.”

President of the Whole Fifth Grade by Sherri Winston

“Brianna has dreams of owning her own cupcake company. Her first step towards this is becoming her class president. When she is faced with competition for this role from her classmate Jasmine, she has to decide if she is going to win fairly or use underhanded tactics.”

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

“A group of 16 people are gathered at the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. What follows is a puzzle hunt for his fortune in one final game from the eccentric millionaire. This one has been delighting readers for years and will no doubt continue to do so in the future.”

>> Find the best books for 5th graders here. <<

There are so many incredible options when it comes to books for 10-year-olds and books for 11-year-olds. Fifth graders are a prime audience especially for middle grade books, so take a gander at a bevy of options:

Best Books for 6th Graders

Let’s take a look at books for 11-year-olds and books for 12-year-olds in this roundup of children’s books by age. Eleven- and 12-year-olds are, depending on one’s community, either finishing up intermediate school and preparing for middle school/junior high, or they’re entering their first year as a middle schooler or junior high student. Again: while any of the books in the above categories make for great reading for 6th graders — especially readers who may be less eager to pick up a book on their own or who may struggle with immersing themselves deeply with literature — middle grade books and some YA books will likely make up the bulk of books for this age group.

Begin with these books for 6th graders:

Front Desk by Kelly Yang

“Mia Tang has a lot of secrets.

Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, 10-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests.

Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed.

Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?

It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?”

The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #1) by Rick Riordon

“Magnus Chase has seen his share of trouble. Ever since that terrible night two years ago when his mother told him to run, he has lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, staying one step ahead of the police and the truant officers.

One day, Magnus learns that someone else is trying to track him down — his uncle Randolph, a man his mother had always warned him about. When Magnus tries to outmaneuver his uncle, he falls right into his clutches. Randolph starts rambling about Norse history and Magnus’s birthright: a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.

The more Randolph talks, the more puzzle pieces fall into place. Stories about the gods of Asgard, wolves, and Doomsday bubble up from Magnus’s memory. But he doesn’t have time to consider it all before a fire giant attacks the city, forcing him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents…

Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die.”

New Kid by Jerry Craft

“Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.

As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds — and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself?”

>> Find the best books for 6th graders here. <<

Once the above books for 11-year-olds and books for 12-year-olds are finished — or your 6th grader reader is looking for even more options — you’ve got a treasure trove to explore:

Best Books for 7th Graders

Now deeply entrenched in middle school/junior high school, books for 12-year-olds and books for 13-year-olds will cover a wide range of middle grade and young adult titles. As always, books for 7th graders can include outstanding picture books, and some readers may even be ready for adult books —they may not grasp every concept or nuance, but many middle school readers are eager to dig into stories and areas of interest written with adults in mind, and by all means, let them explore. How many young readers have discovered Stephen King around this time? The answer is a lot, as many of his horror stories feature younger protagonists.

Here are some of the best books for 7th graders:

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian Football Team by Steve Sheinkin

“Tackling (no pun intended) both American football history and the horrible, continuing history of the U.S. government’s treatment of Native Americans and their erasure of American Indian culture. A sports underdog story that will draw even reluctant readers.”

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Book Riot Contributor Karina Yan Glaser

“Set at Christmas, a winning family story about a group of kids determined to convince their grumpy landlord to renew their lease. The Vanderbeekers will work their way quickly into your heart.”

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

“A classic for a reason — amazing quotes, spunky female main character, sci-fi magic. Join Meg, Calvin, and her little brother Charles Wallace as they travel across time to rescue her father. The graphic novel version is absolutely amazing, as well.”

>> Find the best books for 7th graders here. <<

For even more outstanding books for 12-year-olds and books for 13-year-olds, explore the following:

*Note: the phrase “reluctant readers” is a loaded one. Consider this particular list, as well as other lists aimed at readers who may be less enthusiastic for reading or who may be challenged by reading for any number of reasons (English isn’t their first language, they have anxiety about their reading skills, they haven’t been given choice in the kinds of materials they consume, among others) a powerful tool for inviting a wide array of more accessible books into the lives of emerging readers.

Best Books For 8th Graders

Last, but not least, it’s time to explore the best books for 13-year-olds and books for 14-year-olds. By now, middle schoolers are preparing for the next big stage in life: high school. But it’s worth remembering that this age group might also be one of the most divergent in terms of what they are — and are not — ready for. Some 8th graders would gladly rent their own apartment and strike out independently, while others are still very much eager to continue being children. Neither is right or wrong, but it’s worth keeping in mind when helping choose the right reading material for 8th graders.

Begin with these books for 8th graders:

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

“This 1984 novel by Mexican American writer Sandra Cisneros uses vignettes to tell the story of Esperanza Cordero. Esperanza is a middle school girl growing up in the Hispanic quarter of Chicago. Living in a poor neighborhood, she dreams of moving somewhere else. But the book explores the culture around her, both celebrating her Mexican American culture and exposing the sexist influences in her life that Esperanza tries to overcome throughout the story.”

Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky by Kwame Mbalia

“Eighth graders who love mythology and Rick Riordan books will devour this new fantasy series. While spending the summer at his grandparents’ farm in Alabama, Tristan accidentally opens — punches — a portal to the magical and scary world of MidPass. MidPass weaves together African American and West African gods. To return home, Tristan must convince the trickster god Anansi to seal the hole he created in the sky. But first, Anansi asks for a dangerous favor in return.”

When You Were Everything by Ashley Woodfolk

“Cleo and Layla used to be best friends. But in Sophomore year, everything changes. The two drift apart until their friendship dramatically ends. Cleo is still trying to make sense of what happens as she tries to move forward making new friends, listening to jazz and reading her beloved Shakespeare. Told in two timelines, before and after, Cleo’s story of grieving for a lost friendship will be relevant for many 8th graders trying to process past middle school friend drama and looking forward to high school.”

>> Find the best books for 8th graders here. <<

These lists of books for 13-year-olds and books for 14-year-olds will capture just about any and all interests, passions, and reading interests under the sun:

*Note: the phrase “reluctant readers” is a loaded one. Consider this particular list, as well as other lists aimed at readers who may be less enthusiastic for reading or who may be challenged by reading for any number of reasons (English isn’t their first language, they have anxiety about their reading skills, they haven’t been given choice in the kinds of materials they consume, among others) a powerful tool for inviting a wide array of more accessible books into the lives of emerging readers.

And for children of any age, don’t miss this excellent resource to free audiobooks for kids.