“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” — Albert Einstein
Reading to children every day puts them almost one year ahead of those who are not being read to. Think that doesn’t matter? Consider this: Good readers often have better grades and higher IQs, and mature to have more financially rewarding jobs.
Plus, it can make them nicer.
“Reading is so critical in developing empathy,” says Dr. Michal Goldberg, a pediatrician with Sharp Rees-Stealy. “It allows kids to see the world from different characters’ points of view. In this day and age, remember to make reading a priority.”
But how do you know which books to introduce and when? Babies seem more interested in ripping pages than hearing stories — and older children straddle fine lines of what they can read, and what they should read. Dr. Goldberg shares the following book suggestions based on age.
Infancy (up to age 1)
Young babies don’t comprehend reading the way we do. But reading aloud to them does wonders for their development. Hearing your voice helps them learn about communication, introduces concepts, builds listening and memory skills, and improves their visual stimulation. Books with simple shapes and colors, and movable flaps and textures, help them develop their senses and builds the framework for more complex learning. But most importantly, reading offers a unique closeness to you.
Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell
Where’s Spot? by Eric Hill
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr.
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
Toddlers (Ages 1-3)
Kids make big leaps in vocabulary during their toddler years, so experts recommend at least one scheduled reading time each day. This is also an important time for learning how the world works (from planets to the potty) and how to manage emotions (from fear to jealousy). Help your child develop their independence by reading whatever book they choose, even if it’s the same book each night. Read slowly and expressively, and take the time to stop and ask questions or talk about the illustrations.
Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann
Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle
Potty by Leslie Patricelli
Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen
Early Preschool (Age 3)
When kids start leaving toddlerhood, they tend to grow an independent spirit. This applies to reading, too. Encourage your child to read on their own, while still making regular reading sessions a time for bonding. They can also listen longer and remember plots better than toddlers, so you may find them sharing familiar stories. Help your child build their writing skills by identifying letters in books, and encouraging them to write them down. Over time, they’ll make the connection between letters and words.
Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin
The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson
Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton
Olivia by Ian Falconer
Late Preschool (Age 4)
It’s around this age that kids start exploring words, their structure and their meaning. They may start recognizing and writing some letters of the alphabet, and may even read and write their name. As you continue to read to them, choose words to spell out, and focus on the sounds each letter makes. Give your child the freedom to make up rhymes or silly phrases, as they help them get a stronger grasp of language. But not everything has to be a teaching moment. Continue to share and explore your child’s favorite stories to strengthen their listening and imagination.
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett
How to Babysit a Grandpa by Jean Reagan
Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees
What Do People Do All Day? by Richard Scarry
Kindergarten (Age 5)
You may find your kindergartener “reading” books to you at this stage, as their memories allow them to retell stories from start to finish. With their cognitive skills sharpening, they may even be able to predict outcomes of new stories. They now understand fundamentals of reading — and can recognize and sound out full written words. These are the building blocks for reading and writing. At this stage, it’s important to keep the momentum from their school learning going. Take the time to write letters to grandparents or read words you see out in the world — like labels in the grocery store.
The Night Before Kindergarten by Natasha Wing
Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes by Eric Litwin
The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt
The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
First and Second Grades (Ages 6-7)
Reading and comprehension takes off at this age. Encourage your children to continue to sound out words — even the ones that are unfamiliar to them. Choose books with pictures that provide context, to help put all the reading pieces together. Try to take a step back as kids read aloud — they are now building the skills to recognize when they make a mistake, and fix it. Find several books that your child likes best and will be excited to read repeatedly. Knowing and loving the story and characters will encourage them to read to the end. Now is a great time to introduce your favorite books from when you were their age, so you can share a love for certain stories or characters.
Waiting Is Not Easy! by Mo Willems
Hi! Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold
Mercy Watson to the Rescue by Kate DiCamillo
Stink series by Megan McDonald
Second and Third Grades (Ages 7-9)
By this age, kids begin to understand full paragraphs and apply what they know to their own writing. They’re mastering spelling, punctuation and phrasing. They read confidently on their own, and stick with longer books. You may find them writing notes or messages, and engaging more in games that involve words and letters. They’re beginning to pick up on genres, and gravitate to certain types of books — like mysteries or science fiction. Get your child involved in a series. The familiarity of the characters and writing style can motivate them to “graduate” to the next books, and give them a sense of completion. Be cautious of content. Kids stick with story lines at this age, so keep the scary stuff to a minimum.
A-Z Mysteries series by Ron Roy
Dog Man and Cat Kid series by Dav Pilkey
Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Fourth through Eighth Grades (Ages 9-13)
As children move up through grade school and prepare for high school, they start developing specific tastes in book styles. They’re no longer learning the act of reading, but instead are learning about the content itself. Their own writing can take a creative turn at this level, as they apply their own experiences to story writing.
Keep in mind that even independent readers need parents to check in and support their literary development. Talk to your child about his or her novel selections and preview the books together. At this level, as reading material becomes more challenging, content level also grows more advanced. Just because your child may be able to decode a high-level chapter book, it does not always mean that the material is suitable for his or her age. Both fantasy and historical fiction books are great genres to challenge readers without getting into tricky topics, such as relationship dynamics, that realistic fiction novels may explore.
Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
No Talking by Andrew Clements
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
The Land of Stories series by Chris Colfer
*It’s important to remember that every child develops at a different pace. If you have concerns about your child’s reading skills, talk to their doctor.