50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

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Welcome to Amy’s Bookshelf! Here, teachers will find carefully curated book lists for each grade level from kindergarten to twelfth grade. Moving forward, new lists filled with book recommendations will be published weekly. Sometimes, these lists will be organized around a specific theme, like a holiday or seasonal event. Other times, they will feature rockstar books – books practically guaranteed to get your students reading. 

Before jumping into reading recommendations, a few words about how books are selected.

First, it is so important that teachers prioritize reading interest over reading level. Students will often choose to read well above or below their reading level if they are particularly interested in a book or topic. Teachers only hurt students by limiting them to a specific selection of titles grouped according to an arbitrary number or level. Think of the books on these lists as starting places for you and your students, but if a student wants to read up (or down), that is a-ok.

Also, please note that these lists lean heavily toward modern selections as opposed to the classics many teachers are familiar with. A true renaissance is happening in children’s literature today, and the books coming out are truly exciting. One of the factors that makes this such an exciting time for kid lit is how diverse the selections are in terms of genre, characters and subject matter. These lists will feature fiction and nonfiction selection as well as graphic novels, novels written in verse, and more.

Any book list or classroom library worth its salt includes books featuring LGBTQIA+ characters, racially diverse characters, characters with disabilities, characters in the foster care system, characters from a wide variety of socioeconomic and religious backgrounds, and so on. Importantly, the diversity of the characters doesn’t always need to be the focus of the literature – in other words, a book featuring a black character or gay character doesn’t need to be about those individuals exploring their blackness or their gayness; those characters can have kid problems that apply to all children regardless of their race or sexual orientation. Similarly, students should be encouraged to read stories featuring people of diversity all year long – not just during a month set aside to celebrate a specific heritage.

One final note:

Today’s children’s literature does not shy away from frank discussions of gender, race, sex, sexuality, abuse, mental illness, and more – nor should it. I will not censor books from these lists based on these controversial areas. What books you recommend will depend on the specific district you work in and your clientele. I encourage you and your students to read widely without fear.

First grade

First-grade readers know their alphabet and letter sounds and are beginning to sound out words. They can read simple words and need as much practice reading as possible. The majority of these books are books teachers can read aloud to students, though this list features some early readers. Early readers are books that are perfect to help students decode words and read on their own. They have short sentences, and picture clues help first graders decipher words all by themselves.

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1. The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend

by Dan Santat

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santa - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

In this book, imaginary friends are born on an island where they await their turn to be chosen by a special child. In the end, of course, Beekle finds his friend and earns his name.

2. Flashlight

by Lizi Boyd

Flashlight by Lizi Boyd - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

Flashlight is a wordless picture book about a young boy camping at night. He sets out from his tent to explore the night world with his flashlight but ends up getting lost. The nocturnal forest creatures he meets give him a helping hand.

3. Sam and Dave Dig a Hole written

by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole is a Caldecott Honor Book (an award given for excellence in picture book art) and the winner of the Irma Simonton Black and James H. Black Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature. In this book, Sam and Dave literally dig a hole. Hilarity ensues. 

4. !

by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Tom Litchenheld

! written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Tom Litchenheld - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

The main character in this book is an exclamation mark, and he learns the very important life lesson that it’s okay to be different. This is a picture book that could double as a graduation gift, too.

5. Actual Size

by Steve Jenkins

Actual Size by Steve Jenkins - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

In collage format, artist Steve Jenkins shows animals (or parts of animals) in their actual size in relation to the page. Some animals fit entirely on the page, while all we see of the giant squid is its eye. 

6. Flora and the Flamingo

by Molly Idle

Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

In this wordless picture book, Flora dances with her flamingo friend. At first, their dancing is not synchronized, but at the end of the story, they learn to work together. Flaps make reading the book an interactive experience.

7. And Tango Makes 3

by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole

And Tango Makes 3 written by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell and illustrated by Henry Cole - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

This is the true story of two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo who are given a motherless egg that they successfully hatch into baby Tango. It’s a heartwarming story about nontraditional families.

8. Keep a pocket in your poem

by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Johanna Wright

Keep a pocket in your poem written by J. Patrick Lewis and illustrated by Johanna Wright - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

This clever poetry anthology pairs classic poems (like “Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening”) with parody poems written by author J. Patrick Lewis. It’s a nice introduction to classic poets and parody, too.

9. In the land of milk and honey

by Joyce Carol Oates, illustrated by Floyd Cooper

In the land of milk and honey by Joyce Carol Oates and illustrated by Floyd Cooper - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

Famous American author Joyce Carol Oates has won the National Book Award, teaches at Princeton and has been a finalist for the Pulitizer Prize. This picture book is her story – the story of her family’s journey from Oklahoma to California. It is filled with diverse characters who all seek the American Dream.

10. The Great Big Book of Families

by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Ros Asquith

The Great Big Book of Families written by Mary Hoffman and illustrated by Ros Asquith - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

Today’s families come in many forms, and this book is a celebration of all types of family configurations. A section of the book explores family celebrations such as Kwanza and the Chinese New Year. It’s a great title for introducing inclusivity.

11. This is not my hat

by Jon Klassen

This is not my hat by Jon Klassen - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

This is a companion to Jon Klassen’s book I Want My Hat Back. In this tale, a small fish has playfully stolen a hat from a bigger fish who happened to be sleeping. The humor is deadpan and very funny. This is Not My Hat won the 2013 Caldecott Medal honoring outstanding illustration.

12. Harold and the Purple Crayon

by Crockett Johnson

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

This book is the classic story of a little boy with a big imagination. Harold uses his purple crayon to draw himself into all sorts of adventurous scenes. 

13. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Ray Cruz

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day written by Judith Viorst and illustrated by Ray Cruz - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

Alexander and his awful day have been around for a long time, but this classic picture book is still a great title for teaching the lesson that sometimes, life isn’t fair. Sometimes, we have bad days, but that doesn’t mean tomorrow won’t be brighter.

14. The Mitten

by Jan Brett

The Mitten by Jan Brett - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

Author-illustrator Jan Brett retells a Ukranian folktale in this picture book that has become a modern classic. A young boy drops his mitten in the snow, and one by one, woodland creatures squeeze inside.

15. Chrysanthemum

by Kevin Henkes

Chrysanthemum by by Kevin Henkes - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

A little mouse named Chrysanthemum loves her unusual name until she gets to school and the other kids make fun of it. In the end, she learns to love her name and be proud of who she is.

16. Corduroy

by Don Freeman

Corduroy by Don Freeman - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

This book is perfect for any child with a special stuffed animal friend. Corduroy tells the story of a bear waiting on a department store shelf for a child to bring him home.

17. Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct

by Mo Willems (author, illustrator)

17. Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct by Mo Willems (author, illustrator) - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

Edwina’s friend Reginald is determined to be right! He tries to spoil all the dinosaurs’ fun by convincing everyone they are extinct. In the end, being right doesn’t matter, and Reginald learns to relax. Willems well-known characters Knuffle Bunny and Pigeon (from the Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus series) appear as Easter eggs throughout the book.

18. La Princesa and the Pea

by Susan Middleton Elya and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

La Princesa and the Pea written by Susan Middleton Elya and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

Winner of the Pura Belpré Award, which is given for an illustrator and writer who best celebrates the Latino cultural experience. La Princesa and the Pea is a bilingual retelling of the well-known fairy tale, the Princess and the Pea, with a fun twist at the end.

19. The Story of Ferdinand

by Munro Leaf

19. The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

Ferdinand the Bull just wants to stop and smell the flowers, but because he looks fierce and tough, he is forced into a bullfighting ring. When Ferdinand refuses to fight, he winds back up where he wants to be, in his field with his flowers. The moral is clear – be yourself, not who others want you to be.

20. Extra Yarn

by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

The story starts with Annabelle who lives in a black and white town and has a magic box of extra yarn. She travels around her town knitting for people and animals alike, bringing transformative color everywhere she visits.

21. My Father’s Dragon

by Ruth Stiles Gannett, illustrated by Ruth Chrisman Cannett

My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett, illustrated by Ruth Chrisman Cannett - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

Elmer Elevator runs away to the Wild to catch himself a baby dragon. This delightful book is the first in a series of three, followed by Elmer and the Dragon and The Dragons of Blueland.

22. A Sick Day for Amos McGee

by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead

A Sick Day for Amos McGee written by Philip C. Stead and illustrated by Erin E. Stead - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

Amos McGee spends every day at the zoo. One day, when Amos is too sick to visit his animal friends, they decide to visit him instead.

23. Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse

by Kevin Henkes

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

Lilly the mouse brings her prized purple purse to show and tell in Mr. Slinger’s class, but her beloved teacher confiscates it after the purse becomes a distraction. Angry, Lilly draws a picture of her “Big Fat Mean Mr. Stealing Teacher” only to discover that Mr. Slinger has written her a kind note and slipped it into her purse. Lilly must find a way to make amends.

24. Harry the Dirty Dog

by Gene Zion and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham

Harry the Dirty Dog written by Gene Zion and illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

Harry runs away on bath day because he really, really hates baths! He gets so dirty that his family doesn’t even recognize him.

25. Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes

by Kimberly and James Dean

 Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Kimberly and James Dean - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

Pete is one cool cat. He strolls and sings and takes the world in as it comes. He loves his new white shoes but doesn’t mind when they turn blue when he steps in blueberries or red when he steps in strawberries. This particular Pete the Cat title teaches about colors, but there are other Pete titles to read, too.

26. Hi Fly Guy

by Tedd Arnold

Hi Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

Hi Fly Guy is the first in a series of Fly Guy books. The series is about the friendship between a fly and a boy. They are beginning chapter books, with each chapter consisting of a couple dozen words. These are great titles for beginning readers.

27. The Paperboy

by Dav Pilkey

The Paperboy by Dav Pilkey - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

The Paperboy is short on text and long on gorgeous illustrations, which explains its Caldecott Honor Book status. This is the story of a boy and his dog on their morning paper route.

28. Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea (A Narwhal and Jelly Book #1)

by Ben Clanton

Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea (A Narwhal and Jelly Book #1) by Ben Clanton - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

Narwhal and his jellyfish friend Jelly explore the ocean and have adventures in this adorable graphic novel.

29. Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to my Daughters

by Barack Obama, illustrated by Loren Long

Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to my Daughters written by Barack Obama and illustrated by Loren Long - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

President Barack Obama has selected 13 virtues (strength, courage) and writes about each through the lens of American heroes who personify those virtues. It’s a wonderful introduction to American ideals.  

30. Mae Among the Stars

by Roda Ahmed and illustrated Stasia Burrington

Mae Among the Stars written by Roda Ahmed and illustrated Stasia Burrington

Get it HERE.

Mae Jemison was the first African-American woman to travel to outer space, and this is her story. It’s a great read-aloud.

31. Splat the Cat

by Rob Scotton

Splat the Cat by Rob Scotton - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

Splat is a character just like Pete or Narwhal – he’s such fun that a whole series of books have been written about him. In this story, Splat the Cat is scared for his first day of cat school, so he sneaks his mouse friend, Seymour, into his lunch box

32. Bear Snores On

by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman

Bear Snores On 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

While Bear hiberates for winter, his animal friends escape into his cave to get out of the cold. A party ensues, complete with food. When Bear wakes up and discovers he slept through all the food and fun, he’s not happy at all.

33. Giraffes Can’t Dance

by Giles Andreae and illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees

Giraffes Can’t Dance written by Giles Andreae and illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

Gerald the Giraffe wants to dance just like his other friends, but he’s gangly and awkward. Later, he discovers he can dance his own way, and young readers learn to march to their own beat, too. Excellent rhymes make this a great read-aloud

34. White Water

by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein and illustrated by Shadra Strickland

 White Water by Michael S. Bandy and Eric Stein and illustrated by Shadra Strickland - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

Michael, while growing up in the segregated south, decides that he wants to taste water from the whites only drinking fountain. This is a great introduction to civil rights and based on a true story.

35. Mango, Abuela, and Me

by Meg Medina and illustrated by Angela Dominguez

Mango, Abuela, and Me written by Meg Medina and illustrated by Angela Dominguez - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

Mia’s grandmother comes to live with her family in the city. Abuela teaches Mia Spanish, and Mia teaches Abuela English. A 2016 Pura Belpré author and illustrator honor book.

36. Art and Max

by David Wiesner

Art and Max by David Wiesner - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

Art and Max are two lizards, and this book is about their creative process. Art is an accomplished artist while Max is not. Art encourages Max to develop his creative freedom, teaching readers about art and creativity in the process.

37. Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale

by John Steptoe

Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale by John Steptoe - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

This is a lovely fairy tale about a king on the search for a wife. He meets Mufaro’s daughters, one who is kind, the other who is selfish.

38. At the Same Moment Around the World

by Clotilde Perrin

At the Same Moment Around the World by Clotilde Perrin - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

This unique book teaches children about time zones. The book starts at the Prime Meridian and moves eastward, peeking inside the life of a child in each of the 24 time zones.

39. Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay

by Susan Hood and illustrated by Sally Wern Comport

Ada's Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

The true story of Favio Chávez, a music teacher in Paraguay who makes musical instruments out of trash for his students. Chávez’s recycled orchestra goes on to play shows around the world.

40. One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia

by Miranda Paul and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

A little girl named Ceesay sees how plastic bags are damaging her village, so she invents a way to crochet the plastic bags into purses. It’s a good teaching tool about recycling and ecological awareness.

41. Tar Beach

by Faith Ringgold

Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

Cassie, a little girl living in 1939 Harlem, dreams that she can fly above the rooftop of her apartment building. It’s an allegorical story filled with references to African American culture. Tar Beach is a Caldecott Honor Book.

42. The Keeping Quilt

by Patricia Polacco

The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

The Keeping Quilt is based on the author’s own great grandmother who immigrated to the United States from Russia. To remember her family, she creates an heirloom quilt made from the clothes of family relatives. The quilt is passed down through generations.

43. Swimmy

by Leo Lionni

Swimmy by Leo Lionni - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

This classic picture book was named a Caldecott Honor book in 1964. It tells the story of  a school of fish and their fearless leader Swimmy, who helps them overcome the fear of predators.

44. Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad

by Ellen Levine and illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad written by Ellen Levine and illustrated by Kadir Nelson - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

Henry Brown dreams of freedom his whole life. He grows up a slave. One day, as an adult, Henry decides to mail himself to the North in a wooden crate. It’s a remarkable true story.

45. Strega Nona

by Tomie DePaola (auto, illustrator)

Strega Nona written and illustrated by Tomie DePaola - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

Another classic picture book, Strega Nona is about a witch and her magic pasta pot. But when the pasta pot gets in the wrong hands, disaster ensues.

46. One Grain of Rice

by Demi

One Grain of Rice by Demi - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

Rani, a young girl, outsmarts the raja in this “mathematical folktale” by asking the raja for one grain of rice doubled each day for 30 days. Readers learn about doubling in this clever story.

47. Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad

by Henry Cole

Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

A wordless picture book about a young child who discovers a runaway slave hidden in her family’s barn.

48. The Velveteen Rabbit

by Margery Williams (author, illustrator)

The Velveteen Rabbit written and illustrated by Margery Williams - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

A picture book originally published in 1922, this is a timeless tale about a child’s beloved stuffed bunny who becomes real.

49. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

by Judi Barrett and illustrated by Ron Barrett

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs written by Judi Barrett and illustrated by Ron Barrett - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

A book teachers may remember fondly from their own childhoods, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is about a town where food rains down from the sky, sometimes in hilariously absurd amounts.

50. One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

by Dr. Seuss (author, illustrator)

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish - 50 Must-Read Books For First Graders

Get it HERE.

A celebration of imagination, Dr. Seuss-style, and a great book for beginning readers.

Other book lists you’ll love: 

Must-read books for 1st graders_bored teachers

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AuthorAmy

Veteran Member

I am an unrepentant lover of words - and lucky me, I spend all day, every day immersed in them. When I'm not teaching, I'm reading. Or writing. Or teaching eager (and sometimes not-so-eager) adolescents about the power of the written word. I live on the scenic Oregon Coast with my dog, two cats, and five-year-old son.

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