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Calling All Parents: Books to Help You Raise a Reader

“Books can transform lives,” affirms Tisha Hayes as she shares a comprehensive and diverse list of children’s and young adult titles during National Reading Month. Hayes is Service Director, McGuffey Reading Clinical Services in the Sheila C. Johnson Center of Clinical Services and Associate Professor in the Curry School of Education and Human Development at the University of Virginia.

What are your favorite children’s and young adult titles? We welcome your comments below!

In The Ramped-Up Read Aloud, Maria Walther wrote that reading aloud to your children equals joy. I can’t agree more. Books can transform lives. Reading aloud to your preschool child can help build foundational skills crucial to future reading success and foster an early love of reading. Reading with your grade-school child can help solidify those foundational skills and build a level of confidence. Reading with your adolescent child can help build reading motivation and a sense of empathy beyond oneself. In his book Raising Kids Who Read, Dan Willingham provides two simple steps to how parents can support their children as readers: 1 – have fun and 2 – start now. So, let’s do just that – talk about how to get started and have some fun with current children’s and young adult literature to help to ‘raise kids who read.’

Even at birth, reading to your child is important. Pamela Paul and Maria Russo, authors of How to Raise a Reader, describe this as building a ‘book culture’ where reading is a part of daily life from the start. To get your child started on his path as a reader, think simple and straightforward with big, bold images and few words. Think board books to allow for chewing and dropping (what baby doesn’t love the ‘drop and pick up’ game!) like Who? A Celebration of Babies by Robie Harris, Baby Sees Colors by Akio Kashiwara, Where’s the Astronaut? by Nosy Crow, and TouchThinkLearn: ABC by Xavier Deneux.

Children love collecting. As my son professed when he was four, “I’m a bug guy.” No truer statement had been made; he spent hours in our backyard collecting insects and on my lap reading books like Aaaarrgghh! Spider! by Lydia Monks or our handy pocket guide to insects. You can capitalize on this love of collecting and build a collection of books that reflect a sense of identity for your little one. Build upon their interests, like bugs in my case, as well as books that support your child’s foundational skill development. You can get started with a collection of fun alphabet and rhyming books. Check out these suggestions.



·         Alphabeasties and Other Amazing Types by Sharon Werner and Sarah Forss – a feast for the eyes


·         Creature ABC by Andrew Zuckerman – a double duty book with letters bold and highlighted alongside Zuckerman’s wildlife photography

·         The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABC’s (the Hard Way) by Patrick McDonnell – a fun ABC story ending up in friendship

·         LMNO Peas by Keith Baker – go on a journey through the ABC’s with some busy little peas!

·         A B See by Elizabeth Doyle – highlights letters in a search-and-find fun format

·         Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin and John Archambault – an absolute classic, taking the reader (and the ABC’s) up the coconut tree!

·         All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold – a rhyming book that celebrates diversity


·         Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp! by Wynton Marsalis – takes us through the sounds of Marsalis’ neighborhood

·         Dream Flights on Arctic Nights by Brooke Hartman – introduces animals of the Arctic through rhyme

·         Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series by Josh Funk – a funny food fight with rhymes galore

·         Nothing Rhymes with Orange by Adam Rex – funny rhymes in a books about friendship and inclusivity

·         Tiny and the Big Dig by Sherri Duskey Rinker – a story about grit with a rhyming beat!

As children move through elementary school, they are building their reading fluency and stamina. With this comes confidence. One sure way to help your grade-school reader build confidence in her reading is through a loved book series. With a series, your child will know characters and become familiar with storylines. Here are some series to check out with easier ones on the left for your child in first or second grade moving to harder ones on the right for your child in third or fourth.


·         Meet Yazmin! by Saadia Faruqi – this series introduces you to Yazmin and her Pakistani American family


·         Sadiq by Siman Nuurali – a new series about third grader Sadiq and his third grade friends

·         Pedro by Fran Manushkin – Pedro is a spinoff series of another series, Katie Woo

·         King & Kayla by Dori Hillestad Butler – solve mysteries with Kayla and her dog, King

·         Ghost Patrol by Andres Miedoso – this series follows Desmond and Andres as they battle monsters

·         The Alien Next Door by A.I. Newton – meet Zeke, an alien living on Earth trying to fit in


·         Animal Planet Chapter Books by various authors – nonfiction–check out Sharks! by Lori Stein from this series


·         Cilla Lee-Jenkins by Susan Tan – this series follows Cilla, a spunky third grader, on her many adventures

·         Stella Diaz by Angela Dominguez – a new series about a budding environmental activist

·         Wedgie & Gizmo by Suzanne Selfors – a funny series following a family’s pets, Wedgie the dog and Gizmo an evil genius guinea pig

·         Ranger in Time by Kate Messner – this series follows a time-traveling golden retriever

·         A Boy Called Bat by Elana Arnold – this series introduces us to Bat, a boy on the autism spectrum



Research shows that children’s motivation to read declines with each passing grade. This is especially true once a child hits adolescence and can be intensified if they have experienced any difficulty along the way. 2018 National Book Award winner Elizabeth Acevedo recently stated, “Every time you encourage someone to read, you are engaging in an act of love. You are offering someone a difficult gift, and you are also planting a seed.” To help build motivation, plant a seed with these book suggestions, ranging from titles for middle schoolers on the left to high schoolers on the right.


·         Front Desk by Kelly Yang – now a series with its second installment, Three Keys, coming out, this book takes us into the life of Mia who lives at a hotel with her immigrant parents.


·         The Last Last-Day-of-Summer by Lamar Giles – meet Otto and Sheed, masters of deduction, as they find adventures during their last days of summer

·        The Truth As Told by Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor – this is a story of resilience and love as we read about Mason and the death of his best friend

·         Guts by Raina Telgemeier – another great graphic novel from Telgemeier about growing up and finding the courage to face your fears

·         Scary Stories for Young Foxes by Christina McKay Heidicker – you’ll find yourself lost in the story of Mia and Uly, two foxes separated from the litters

·         New Kid by Jerry Craft – this graphic novel brings us into the story of Jordan who feels like he is living in two worlds and not fitting into either one (the sequel is coming out soon, Class Act)

·         Almost American Girl by Robin Ha – this graphic novel memoir is about finding a sense of belonging and how art can change a life


·         The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo – this novel-in-verse introduces us to Xiomara, who finds her voice in her school’s slam poetry club

·         Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi – the first book in the Legacy of Orisha series tells a fantastical story of magic and danger

·         Redwood and Ponytail by K.A. Holt – this novel-in-verse tells the story Kate and Tam, two high schoolers finding out about love

·         Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi – this is a young adult’s book based on Kendi’s National Book Award-winning book, Stamped from the Beginning

·         The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis – this dystopian novel takes on social issues and the high price of freedom

·         Pet by Akwaeke Emezi – this book has been described as a genre-defying novel that gives perspective on our modern political climate

·         Just Mercy (Adapted for Young Adults) by Bryan Stevenson – this is the YA version of the bestseller that tells the true story about the pursuit of true justice