50 Must-Read Books for Second 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.

Second grade

This second-grade list contains a healthy mix of picture books and chapter books as elementary-aged students are stretching their reading wings and growing into reading independently. While second-graders may be more capable of reading on their own, they still love to hear stories out loud from the adults in their lives – and hearing stories outloud reinforces their growth as independent readers.

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1. Hello Lighthouse

by Sophie Blackall

Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

Hello Lighthouse won the 2019 Caldecott Medal for exemplary illustrations in a picture book. This surprisingly emotional story tells the tale of a lighthouse keeper and his family. It’s outstanding.

2. Most Magnificent Thing

by Ashley Spires

Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

A young girl has an idea for a new invention – a magnificent thing! She works hard to build her invention but can’t get it quite right. She gets mad and quits. She takes her dog for a walk and comes back to the project with renewed vigor and gets it just right! It’s a great story that teaches about the power of perseverance.

3. What Do You Do With an Idea?

by Kobi Yamada, illustrated by Mae Besom

What Do You Do With an Idea? by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

This book explores the creative process and the ephemeral, uncertain way in which we are struck with new ideas. A young boy has an idea, but he doesn’t know exactly what to do with it. Soon he feels comfortable sharing his idea, and while some people laugh, others understand. Readers learn to trust their ideas and see them through to fruition.

4. The Princess in Black

by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale and illustrated by LeUyen Pham_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

Princess Magnolia is a dainty lady by day but the Princess in Black in secret. In her alter ego, she fights monsters and saves the day. This is the first book in a series of chapter books perfect for showing readers you don’t have to fit into a traditional role but can make it your own.

5. Firefly July

by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Firefly July by Paul B. Janeczko and illustrated by Melissa Sweet_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

Thirty-six short poems explore the seasons in Firefly July. This is a great book that can act as a mentor text for students beginning to write their own short poems, too.              

6. The Hundred Dresses

by Eleanor Estes, illustrated by Louis Slobodkin

The Hundred Dresses written by Eleanor Estes and illustrated by Louis Slobodkin_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

This is the story of a young girl named Wanda who is bullied by her classmates for wearing the same dress every day. Eventually, Wanda leaves the school and her classmates feel terrible. This was originally published in 1945 and was named a Newbery Honor Book.

7. The Paper Bag Princess

by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko

The Paper Bag Princess written by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

The traditional fairy tale trope is turned on its head in this story as princess Elizabeth sets out to rescue Prince Ronald from a fierce dragon. It’s empowering and fun.

8. Feel the beat

by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Kristi Valiant

Feel the beat written by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Kristi Valiant_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

This is a fantastic poetry collection in which the poems are written to mimic the style of various forms of dance, everything from hip-hop to samba. It makes the music of other cultures highly accessible and is just a ton of fun, too.

9. All the Colors of the Earth

by Sheila Hamanaka

All the Colors of the Earth by Sheila Hamanaka_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

This book celebrates both nature’s beauty and human diversity by comparing human skin and hair colors to the nature’s scenery and landscapes. It’s written in rhyming, poetic text that makes it a lovely read-aloud.

10. Billy Twitters and his Blue Whale Problem

by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex

Billy Twitters and his Blue Whale Problem written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Adam Rex_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

Billy isn’t following the rules at home, so his parents get him a pet whale as a punishment. Now Billy has to care for his blue whale, which includes taking it for walks through the hilly streets of San Francisco. It’s a ridiculous premise that delivers lots of laughs.

11. Joseph Had a Little Overcoat

by Simms Taback

Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

This is an interactive book which is great to read with a child. Joseph has an old coat full of holes (these are actual holes in the book). Rather than just throwing the coat away, he turns it into something else.

12. A Bear Called Paddington

by Michael Bond, illustrated by Peggy Fortnum

A Bear Called Paddingtonwritten by Michael Bond and illustrated by Peggy Fortnum_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

A Bear Called Paddington has been a staple of children’s literature since 1958. It’s about a bear, originally from Peru, who winds up in London with the Brown family. This is the first in a series of novels starring Paddington and his adventures.

13. Bunnicula

by Deborah and James Howe

Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

Howard, a pet dog, and his friend Chester, a pet cat, are a bit concerned when a baby bunny is added to the family. The bunny turns out to be a vampire bunny, and Chester and Howard set out to save their family from Bunnicula. It’s hilarious so a great choice for emerging readers.

14. Heckedy Peg

by Audrey Wood, illustrated by Don Wood

Heckedy Peg written by Audrey Wood and illustrated by Don Wood_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

The authors of Heckedy Peg have created a modern fairy tale reminiscient of the Brothers Grimm. A mother leaves her seven children at home, each named for a day of the week, while she goes to the local village. A witch turns the children into food, and when the mother gets home, she has once chance to guess which child is which food item to get her children back.

15. The Lion and the Mouse

by Jerry Pinkney

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

This wordless picture book is a retelling of one of Aesop’s fables. A lion spares a small mouse, who returns one day to help the lion out of a hunter’s net. The moral is that no act of kindness is ever wasted. The illustrations are simply beautiful.

16. Not All Princesses Dress in Pink

by Jane Yolen, E. Y. Stemple, illustrated by Anne-Sophie Lanquetin                                                                                   

Not All Princesses Dress in Pink by Jane Yolen, E. Y. Stemple and illustrated by Anne-Sophie Lanquetin_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

This empowering story shows girls playing baseball, climbing trees, and stomping in mud puddles – all while wearing tiaras! It’s a great way to encourage young readers to get outside and be active.

17. The Boy and the Whale

by Mordicai Gerstein

The Boy and the Whale by Mordicai Gerstein_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

A boy finds a whale entangled in a net. Remembering the time when he almost drowned as a child, he determines he will save the whale. The author based this story on a new report of a whale rescue.

18. The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes

by Duncan Tonatiuh

The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes by Duncan Tonatiuh_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

Princess Izta rejects all her suitors until the warrior Popoca pledges his love to her. She gives him her hand, though her father isn’t sure. Popoca is told he may marry the princess if he can defeat the neighboring ruler. Popoca battles Jaguar Claw and ultimately wins, but the defeated ruler tricks Izta into falling into a poisoned sleep. Popoca, devestated, lays down beside her. Legend has it that both became sleeping volcanoes.

19. Drum Dream Girl

by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael López

Drum Dream Girl written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Rafael López_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

Drum Dream Girl was inspired by Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban girl who became a drummer in Cuba, defying the taboo against girl drummers. In this story, a girl grows up hearing that girls can’t be drummers, so she practices in secret. When the village hears her music, the taboo is broken.

20. Infinity and Me

by Kate Hosford, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska

Infinity and Me _ 50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

A young girl named Uma ponders the concept of infinity, an abstract concept made much easier to grasp by the examples in the book.

21. On a Beam of Light

by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky

On a Beam of Light written by Jennifer Berne and illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

This is one of many, many picture book biographies that have been released in the last decade. On a Beam of Light tells the story of a young Einstein as he becomes the genuis we know him as.

22. The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos

by Deborah Heiligman, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos written by Deborah Heiligman and illustrated by LeUyen Pham_50 _50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

This picture book biography is about mathematician Paul Erdos, a genius who traveled the world collaborating on math projects. Young readers see the world numerically, through Paul’s eyes as the book also explores various mathematical concepts.

23. Wild About Books

by Judi Sierra, illustrated by Marc Brown

Wild About Books written by Judi Sierra and illustrated by Marc Brown_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

Molly McGrew drives the bookmobile – and one day, she drives it straight to the zoo! The animals are eager to check out the books, and the whole story is written in fantastic rhyming text with lots of allusions to popular texts.

24. Diary of a Wombat

by Jackie French, illustrated by Bruce Whatley

Diary of a Wombat written by Jackie French and illustrated by Bruce Whatley_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

The book is quite literally what the title suggests – it’s the diary of a wombat who records his daily activities, especially his efforts to get nearby humans to feed him. The text is funny and contains a message about the importance of not feeding wildlife.

25. We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball

by Kadir Nelson

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

We Are the Ship could be just another nonfiction picture, but having an unnamed narrator tell the story of the Negro Leagues makes the reader feel incredibly close to the narrative, as if they are sitting on the back porch listening to someone tell the story. This book beautifully tells the story of players and owners who fought against segregation to make the Negro League baseball a reality.

26. Alligator Pie written

by Dennis Lee, illustrated by Frank Newfeld

Alligator Pie written By Dennis Lee and illustrated by Frank Newfeld_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

Poet Dennis Lee is known as “Canada’s Father Goose,” and the classic book Alligator Pie is why. This is a quirky poetry collection featuring Lee’s well-known verses such as the popular “Willoughby Wallaby Woo.”

27. Library Lion

by Michelle Knudson, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

Library Lion written by Michelle Knudson and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

Library Lion was published in 2009, but it has a much more timeless feel, like it belongs to the era of The Velveteen Rabbit. In this story, the strict librarian doesn’t quite know what to do when a lion wanders into her library – after all, he doesn’t actually break any of her rules. In the end, the lion saves the day and wins over the librarian.

28. Stellaluna

by Janell Cannon

Stellaluna by Janell Cannon_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

A fruit bat named Stellaluna is separated from her mother in an owl attack and lands in a bird’s nest. This educational story teaches the differences between bats and birds, as Stellaluna learns the same.

29. Magic School Bus In the Time of the Dinosaurs

by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen

Magic School Bus In the Time of the Dinosaurs by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

Ms. Frizzle is the science teacher everyone wants to have. Instead of just teaching science, she loads up her class in the trusty old magic school bus and takes her students on an array of adventures. The entire Magic School Bus series is incredibly fun and educational. In this particular title, the bus transforms into a time machine and the Frizzle’s students travel back in time to meet dinosaurs face-to-face.

30. Magic Treehouse #1 Dinosaurs Before Dark

by Mary Pope Osborne

 Magic Treehouse #1 Dinosaurs Before Dark by Mary Pope Osborne_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

The Magic Treehouse series is a bestselling chapter book series about two children named Jack and Annie who discover a tree house filled with books. As it turns out, the tree house is magic and transports the siblings back in time. Throughout the series, Jack and Annie visit pirates, ninjas, Vikings, dinosaurs, and much more.

31. Winnie the Pooh

by A.A. Milne and illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard

Winnie the Pooh written by A.A. Milne and illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

Winnie-the-Pooh debuted in 1926 and since then has been a perennial favorite for generations. This is the first in a series of Pooh books. It’s a simple chapter book perfect for children ready to start reading longer books on their own.

32. Amelia Bedelia

by Peggy Parish, illustrated by Fritz Siebel

Amelia Bedelia written by Peggy Parish and illustrated by Fritz Siebel_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

Amelia Bedelia is hired by the Rogers family as their new housekeeper. She’s eager to please – so eager, in fact, that she interprets all of Mrs. Rogers’ instructions quite literally. When instructed to dress the chicken, Amelia Bedelia quite literally puts the chicken in clothes. This, and all subsequent Amelia Bedelia books is a fun introduction to figures of speech and the idiosyncracies of the English language.

33. Amazing Grace

by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Caroline Binch

Amazing Grace written by Mary Hoffman and illustrated by Caroline Binch_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

Young Grace loves stories, and she loves to act out her favorite parts. When the school announces a production of Peter Pan, Grace decides she wants to be Pan himself. Her classmates tell her she can’t play Peter, because she’s a girl, and she’s black. Grace is determined, and her audition for Peter leaves no one doubting she’s meant for the role.

34. The Scar

by Charlotte Moundlic and illustrated by Olivier Tallec

The Scar written by Charlotte Moundlic and illustrated by Olivier Tallec_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

The Scar is a portrait of grief, a story in which a young boy learns his mother has died and becomes terrified he will forget her. It’s excruciating to read, but powerful and unflinching for children who need it.

35. Balloons over Broadway

by Melissa Sweet

Balloons over Broadway by Melissa Sweet_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

Balloons Over Broadway is a delightful history lesson about Tony Sarg, the man who turned puppets upside down and invented the famous balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

36. Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum

by Meghan McCarthy

Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum by Meghan McCarthy_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

This book chronicles the invention of a new kind of gum – gum that can be used to blow bubbles. The text is also filled with fun facts about the history of chewing gum.

37. The Boo-Boos That Changed the World

by Barry Wittenstein and illustrated by Chris Hsu

The Boo-Boos That Changed the World written by Barry Wittenstein and illustrated by Chris Hsu_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

Quite similar to Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum, The Boo-Boos That Changed the World tells the story of an iconic American invention – the Band-Aid! It’s a narrative with a nice mix of accessible, humorous text and historical information.

38. Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman

by Marc Tyler Nobleman, illustrated by Ross MacDonald

Boys of Steel: The Creators of Superman written by Marc Tyler Nobleman and illustrated by Ross MacDonald_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

Writer Jerry Siegel and illustrator Joe Shuster worked together to create the character of Superman. It’s a great biography filled with facts to introduce readers to one of America’s most enduring superheros.

39. Clementine

by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Marla Frazee

Clementine written by Sara Pennypacker and illustrated by Marla Frazee_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

This is the first book in a series featuring Clementine, a character reminiscent of Ramona Quimbly or Junie B. Jones. The first Clementine book chronicles the title character’s disastrous week.

40. Great Joy

by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

Great Joy written by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

Great Joy is a story for a cozy winter night when a reader wants to feel the Christmas spirit. It’s a quiet tale of young Frances. Frances sees a homeless organ grinder and his monkey appear outside her window, witnesses them sleeping outside in the cold. On the day of Frances’ Christmas pageant, she is inspired to perform a simple act of kindness that brings the organ grinder great joy.

41. The Miniature World of Marvin and James

by Elise Broach, illustrated by Kelly Murphy

The Miniature World of Marvin and James written by Elise Broach and illustrated by Kelly Murphy_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

James has a best friend named Marvin – and Marvin is a beetle. James goes on vacation and has to leave Marvin at home, which means poor Marvin spends the vacation worrying about whether their friendship will be the same when James returns. This is the first book in a series.

42. Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus

by Barbara Park

Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus by Barbara Park_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

Kindergartner Junie B. Jones is not happy at all about having to ride the bus to school. She hates everything about the bus, from the kids to the smell of the exhaust. So, once at school, Junie B. Jones finds a way to get out of riding the bus back home. This is also the first book in a series featuring the same character.

43. Dory Fantasmagory

by Abby Hanlon

Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

Dory’s older siblings ignore her, so she turns to her imagination to have fun. She invents wacky adventures that are sure to make readers laugh.

44. Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things

by Lenore Look and illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things written by Lenore Look and illustrated by LeUyen Pham_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

Alvin Ho features an Asian-American protagonist who is afraid of absolutely everything. While he never says a word at school, at home he plays the superhero known as Firecracker Man. Alvin Ho is the main character in a series of books featuring his adventures.

45. After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again)

by Dan Santat

After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again) by Dan Santat_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

This book is all about overcoming fears, dusting yourself off, and trying again. Humpty Dumpty is a birdwatcher, which is why he was sitting on the wall in the first place. After his great fall, he’s too scared to do the things he loved and must find a way to conquer his fears.

46. Hey Wall

by Susan Verde and illustrated by John Parra

Hey Wall written by Susan Verde and illustrated by John Parra_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

A young boy rallies his community to create a mural on an ugly, graffiti-covered wall in his neighborhood. It’s a story told in verse and will inspire young readers to understand the power they have to make a difference in the world.

47. A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars

by Seth Fishman and illustrated by Isabel Greenberg

A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars written by Seth Fishman and illustrated by Isabel Greenberg_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

This book tackles big numbers – really, really big numbers, such as the hundred billion trillion stars in the universe that inspire the title. It helps readers get a handle on numbers when they move beyond the concrete to the abstract realm of almost too many to count.

48. Bob

by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead and illustrated by Nicholas Gannon

Bob written by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead and illustrated by Nicholas Gannon_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

Last time Livy visited her grandmother in Australia, she told a creature known as Bob to hide in the closet and that, upon her return, she would help him find his family and his home. Now that Livy is back, it’s time she keeps her promise. This is a really nice chapter book with a touch of magical realism.

49. A Different Pond

by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui

A Different Pond written by Bao Phi and illustrated by Thi Bui_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

A Different Pond was named a Caldecott Honor Book in 2018. It tells the story of a father and son who fish for their food in a Minnesota pond. While they fish, the father tells the son the story of his fishing in his homeland in Vietnam.

50. Life

by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel

Life written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel_50 Must-Read Books for Second Graders

Get it HERE.

A variety of animals discuss what they love about life in a picture book that is simple and hopeful in tone. At its heart, it’s about overcoming adversity and finding beauty in the everyday.

Other book lists you’ll love: 


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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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