As children become exposed to reading at an early age, they may advance quickly and be ready to enjoy more challenging books to read. Finding the right books that are both age-appropriate and captivating to young readers may be a growing challenge for some parents.

At Stratford School, we have found that helping students craft a reading list—one that will challenge them and provide interesting topics to enjoy—all while avoiding subjects they may not be emotionally mature enough to handle, can be a delicate balance. Many such books are written with young children in mind, but with vocabulary and literary complexities typically associated with older readers.

Below is a curated list of books specially designed with young readers in mind. These great books will make them want to read more while fulfilling their desires for heftier literature. Enjoy and happy reading!

Preschool and Kindergarten

I Can Read! Series (Various Levels): With titles like Amazing Snakes! and Beyond the Dinosaurs, your preschooler will love the fun pictures, and the pronunciation guides will help them learn new words. Start with level 1, then as your child progresses introduce some of the level 2 titles. Arthur’s Loose Tooth is a great way to get your reader ready for the inevitable day when that tooth will come out. There are also favorite characters like Batman, Flat Stanley and Marley. These colorful books are lots of fun and will have your child reading them again and again. 

First to Third Graders

Who Was (Is) Series by Various Authors: This exciting, illustrated biography series is perfect for children who are beyond easy-to-read books about famous people, but not quite ready for thick, lengthy biographies. The books cover sports heroes, presidents, musicians, authors, and scientists. The books will give young readers a good sense of who these people were (or are). There are little blurbs on what else was going on in the world at certain moments in history, which helps put the subject in context.

Fourth to Fifth Graders

The Doughnut Fix (Series) by Jessie Janowitz: Tristan’s family has always loved living in New York City, but all that is about to change. His dad announces that they are moving to a dilapidated, purple house on a hill on the outskirts of the very small town of Petersville in upstate New York. Tristan is devastated because he is a city kid through and through. They won’t be starting school for several months, and Tristan’s parents tell him that he must complete a project. Tristan, who loves to cook like his chef mom, decides to start a business making and selling the supposedly mind-blowing chocolate-cream doughnuts once famous in Petersville but now no longer made. His business plan leads to adventures, new friends and a sense of acceptance. Tristan’s doughnut endeavor will hold wide appeal as a pleasure read and may inspire young foodies or entrepreneurs to think beyond the lemonade stand.

The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz: Join William, an oblate on a mission from his monastery; Jacob, a Jewish boy who has fled his burning village; and Jeanne, a peasant girl who hides her prophetic visions. They are accompanied by Jeanne’s loyal greyhound, Gwenforte . . . recently brought back from the dead. Told in multiple voices, in a st‌yle reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales, the narrator collects their stories, and the saga of these three unlikely allies begins to come together. A fantastic story set in the middle ages with beautiful characters, fast-moving action and creative artwork in the marginalia. This book transmits a strong set of values. Enjoy this author’s Grimm series as well. 

Middle School

How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems by Randall Munroe: Former NASA robotics scientist Randall Munroe considers unlikely solutions to common problems. The book is written in a question and answer method. Questions are presented and followed by scientific answers. The book covers subjects such as forces, properties and natural phenomena, with the aim of encouraging readers to reach for revolutionary ideas by considering unusual and fun approaches. Calculating how thick a wall of cheddar cheese would need to be to support an above-ground pool leads to a discussion of nuclear weapons testing and the engineering disaster that formed California’s Salton Sea. If your child loves this book, there are more by this author. Munroe also wrote the following books:  What if?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions and Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words.