In-depth baby product reviews led by a Pediatrician

Best Books for Kids

The best books for kids are more complex and adventurous, and in this review we share our favorites to help your big kid get hooked on a lifetime habit of reading.
Credit: Abriah Wofford
By Molly Bradac ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Monday July 19, 2021
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Need some books for kids to add to your home library? Our review includes 11 outstanding books of 2021. To rank our favorites, we've researched the market before purchasing top contenders to put them through lots and lots of reading to determine which are the most entertaining, leaving your kid feeling excited to pick up and read over and over again. We even took a close look at each book's story and text for qualities and characteristics to match reading level and broad interests. Whether your child is a beginner reader or more advanced, we believe there's a great chance a book in our lineup will meet their needs.


1

Best Overall Kids Book


Waiting Is Not Easy!


Author: Mo Willems | Illustrator: Mo Willems
Comical and good for eager early readers
Simple for advanced readers

Featuring Mo Willems's famous duo, Gerald and Piggie, Waiting is Not Easy! wins the popularity contest. Piggie wants to surprise Gerald with something special, but Gerald (who is struggling to be patient) must wait, wait, and wait… But what is he waiting for? This book is all about patience, a "muscle" that children (and adults) need to exercise, which is not always easy. Thanks to the large font size, simplistic pictures, and simple sentence structure, we think this book is suitable for eager early readers. Plus, it is downright funny. This comical success is one of many books in the series, which means the fun doesn't stop here. Consider the Elephant & Piggie: The Complete Collection if you adore these two characters.

There's not much to dislike about this book; however, if your child requires more complex literature, you might want to jump to chapter books. But, if your kid enjoys humor and is at the beginner reader level, we believe this book is terrific. Honestly, you can't go wrong with any books by Mo Willems.

We love the famous duo, Elephant and Piggie, and if you like it too...
We love the famous duo, Elephant and Piggie, and if you like it too, there are plenty more books in the series.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

2

Best Bang for the Buck


Henry and Mudge


Author: Cynthia Rylant | Illustrator: Sucie Stevenson
Set of six books
Level two books may be too difficult for young readers

Ready for some "tails" and "tales"? The Henry and Mudge books (a six-book set) are budget-friendly and adorable for dog-lovers. These books are excellent for growing readers because they start simply and increase in difficulty as you progress in the series. The books include cartoon-style illustrations that help cue the reader.

These books are level two, meaning they use slightly more complex sentences and vocabulary, which may be too advanced for beginner readers. However, keep in mind, reading aloud is a delight and has many benefits, plus your child will eventually graduate to this level in time (maybe even faster than you think). If you like this book set and want more Henry and Mudge, there are plenty more books in the series to read.

The Henry and Mudge series is budget-friendly and great for beginner...
The Henry and Mudge series is budget-friendly and great for beginner readers ready for slightly more complex sentences and vocabulary.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

3

Best for Graphic Novel


Narwhal and Jelly Box Set


Author: Ben Clanton | Illustrator: Ben Clanton
Funny
Some advanced vocabulary

We think your child will be hooked on the Narwhal and Jelly Box Set, a fun series of graphic novels for new readers. They'refintastic! Narwhal and Jelly, two unlikely friends, explore the ocean together and have some funny conversations. This set includes the following books, "Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea," "Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt," as well as "Peanut Butter and Jelly." These books are filled with fun and will crack up your kiddos.

The books use some vocabulary that may be challenging for early readers to decode. However, with practice and coaching, we think they'll master the tricky vocab in no time. Alternatively, if you're reading these books with your child, you can overlook this factor. Graphic novels can be an excellent way to get your kid excited about reading, and we recommend this book to readers who love fishy tales or comic-style reading.

If your kid is ready to take on graphic novels, consider the Narwhal...
If your kid is ready to take on graphic novels, consider the Narwhal and Jelly books.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

4

Best Chapter Book


Magic Tree House Boxed Set


Author: Mary Pope Osborne | Illustrator: Sal Murdocca
Four book set
Adventurous
Not for new readers

Chapter books are exciting for young readers, and we think the Magic Tree House Boxed Set is worthy of consideration. These books follow Jack and Annie (brother and sister) as they discover a treehouse in the woods, which takes them on a series of adventures. Where did they go, and who will they meet along the way? More importantly, how will they make it home? These books let children discover new things the more they read.

Naturally, chapter books offer longer text and fewer pictures (although there are some pictures here and there). If your child still relies on images for context clues or still enjoys illustrations, these books may be less engaging, despite being fun and adventurous stories. The list of Magic Tree House books is long, and this set is a great kick-off for your collection. We recommend this set to families ready to read chapter books with their kids or the advanced youth looking for easier reading.

Take off on an adventure with Jack and Annie in the Magic Tree House...
Take off on an adventure with Jack and Annie in the Magic Tree House series, which are great introduction chapter books.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

5

Best Set of Dr. Seuss Books


Dr. Seuss's Beginner Book Collection


Author: Dr. Seuss | Illustrator: Dr. Seuss
Great for beginners
Includes five books
Slightly longer

The Dr. Seuss's Beginner Book Collection is excellent for children who are beginner readers mastering phonics. These books use repetitive sounds and clever rhyming, making them fun to read aloud, perhaps even tongue-twisting at times. The set of five books includes "Green Eggs and Ham," Fox in Socks," "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish," "Hop on Pop," and "The Cat in the Hat." Dr. Seuss's books were likely part of your library growing up, and these classics offer creative illustrations and fun tales to unlock little imaginations.

The books can be slightly longer, maybe testing a beginner reader's reading tolerance. But, there's nothing wrong with you stepping in to finish reading the book. We believe that once your child's reading confidence and fluency improve, so will their tolerance to read longer books. We highly recommend Dr. Seuss's Beginner Book Collection to friends and family, and we have read them billions of times with our children, as the stories never get old.

The Dr. Seuss Beginner Book Collection is great for beginner readers...
The Dr. Seuss Beginner Book Collection is great for beginner readers as it provides text to practice phonics.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

6

Best for Perseverance


Rosie Revere, Engineer


Author: Andrea Beaty | Illustrator: David Roberts
Rhyming lines
Hardcover book larger in size
Slightly longer story

Rosie Revere, Engineer is a captivating story about Rosie, a brave heroine and budding inventor of gadgets and gizmos with big dreams of becoming a great engineer. However, will her next invention be successful? What happens if you fail? This story promotes resilience, perseverance, and creative thinking with witty rhyming lines, making it enjoyable for adults and kids alike.

If your child is easily restless during storytime, this one has a bit more text, but its cadence and flow make it zippier than some other longer stories. We appreciate the story's multi-generations of girl power and its ode to perseverance. We think it is most suitable for kids beginning elementary school or those who need the inspiration to keep going.

Dream big and creatively with Rosie Revere, Engineer, a fantastic...
Dream big and creatively with Rosie Revere, Engineer, a fantastic book about resilience and perseverance.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

7

Best for Jokes


The Big Book of Silly Jokes for Kids


Author: Carole P. Roman | Illustrator: Dylan Goldberger
Various types of jokes
Less fun to read alone

Who doesn't love a funny joke? No kid we know! Every kid in our lives can't wait to share their favorite, hilarious one-liners. The Big Book of Silly Jokes for Kids includes more than 800 knock-knocks, tongue twisters, puns, riddles, and more. It also offers some exciting and silly stats. We think this book provides a fun twist on reading, plus laughter creates positive relationships between parent and child, and, in our opinion, it is some good soul food.

We believe the art of joke-telling is learned and takes some adults' guidance to help younger children understand punchlines and puns. But there's no doubt that kids love jokes. Plus, they offer quick payoffs, especially for struggling readers. If you are willing to help your child understand some jokes and share the experience of joke-telling, we think this book may be a good fit. You may notice your child becoming quite the little jokester!

Silly Jokes for Kids is all about the art of joke-telling, providing...
Silly Jokes for Kids is all about the art of joke-telling, providing countless jokes, puns, tongue-twisters, and more to make anyone giggle.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

8

Best for Self-Esteem


Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon


Author: Patty Lovell | Illustrator: David Catrow
Filled with self-confidence and self-love
Brings up the topic of bullies
Best for kindergarten age

In the book Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon, "Molly Lou Melon is short and clumsy, has buck teeth, and a voice that sounds like a bullfrog being squeezed by a boa constrictor." Her grandmother's words are wise and offer encouragement; but, will it be enough to stand up to the class bully? Read on to find out. This book is all about self-confidence and self-love, despite the opinions of others. We appreciate that this book sparks conversations about bullies and your child's unique characteristics (you gotta rock what you've got!).

We think this picture book is most suitable for kindergarten age and slightly above. If you would like a book that touches on self-esteem, we believe Molly Lou Melon is one to read.

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon is all about self-love and a great book...
Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon is all about self-love and a great book to remind us to "stand tall" despite what others say or do.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

9

Best for Plot Twist


I Want My Hat Back


Author: Jon Klassen | Illustrator: Jon Klassen
Rhyming lines
Hardcover book larger in size
Some readers don't like the ending

The bear has misplaced his hat, and he wants it back, so he asks the animals he comes across if they have seen it. Will he find it? The story may not end the way you think. I Want My Hat Back is a great kids' book for beginner readers, thanks to its large font, simplicity, and repetitive text pattern. The story includes dialogue among the animals, which also makes this book a great read-aloud. We even dare you to try out some fun voices for the characters. The illustrator's visual style is minimal, adds a dash of humor, and is different than other books in our lineup.

The story's ending is not enjoyed by everyone (hint: the bear's revenge is tasty, literally). However, we think kindergartners don't mind the twist ending, plus it is subtle. If you seek a book for your young reader with a plot twist, consider this option.

I Want My Hat Back is an excellent option for beginner readers as it...
I Want My Hat Back is an excellent option for beginner readers as it offers large text and simplicity yet a plot twist you may not predict.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

10

Best for Picture Book Classic


Madeline


Author: Ludwig Bemelmans | Illustrator: Ludwig Bemelmans
Classic
Old school

We can't think of Paris without thinking of Madeline, the smallest but most fearless among the twelve schoolgirls living in an old house covered with vines. First published in 1939, Madeline is undeniably a classic and a well-loved picture book for generations. The rhyming text and cadence make it fun to read aloud, and Bemelmans' illustrations of Paris are beautiful (can we book a ticket to Paris?). For an additional challenge, see if your family can spot some Paris scenes identified in the book.

The book's story includes rhyming text with shorter sentences, making it an option for beginner readers to practice and master. However, if your kid needs more advanced text, you may want to look elsewhere. We believe this book has stood the test of time and think it is worth reading with your kindergarten-aged child or beginner reader. Plus, if you like this book, there are more in the Madeline series.

Madeline is a picture book classic that has been well-loved for...
Madeline is a picture book classic that has been well-loved for generations.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

11

Best for Creativity


The Day the Crayons Quit


Author: Drew Daywalt | Illustrator: Oliver Jeffers
Rhyming lines
Hardcover book larger in size
Slightly longer story

Why did the crayons quit? The Day the Crayons Quit is about Duncan's box of crayons, a kid who went to school and wanted nothing more than to color but found a stack of letters in the crayons' place. Through a collection of letters sent from the crayons, the story unfolds as the crayons explain their reasons. So, what is Duncan to do? This picture book is cute, comical, and creative.

The crayon's letters are handwritten, which may be tricky for new readers. However, with practice, like most things, it gets easier. If you seek a clever and creative picture book, The Day the Crayons Quit may be a good fit.

The Day the Crayons Quit is told through a series of letters from...
The Day the Crayons Quit is told through a series of letters from the crayons explaining why they have resigned.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Tip: Reading books over and over again hones and sharpens your child's skills. So, repetition is excellent and encouraged.

Each book in our review has been purchased and hands-on tested...
Each book in our review has been purchased and hands-on tested (well, read, over and over again).
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Why You Should Trust Us


Our team At BabyGearLab has been testing baby gear for nearly a decade, and by this point, we have developed extensive testing methods to rate and rank baby gear. Guiding this review is Senior Review Editor, Molly Bradac. Molly not only holds over 14 years of experience as a nanny (reading tons and tons of books over the years!), but she also held a position as an Early Learning Specialist for AmeriCorp, developing and promoting school readiness and reading among the community. There is no doubt that Molly has the experience to help provide expert recommendations for books. For this review, BabyGearLab purchased each product and completed hands-on testing to evaluate performance.

The Narwhal and Jelly books include a poster, for an added perk.
The illustrations of Rosie Revere, Engineer are detailed and fun.

Analysis and Test Results


We spent lots and lots of time reading to determine which books are must-haves and have qualities that match various reading levels.

Easy Readers vs. Chapter Books


Our lineup includes books ranging in difficulty, and we suggest selecting books that match your child's skill level, yet provide enough of a challenge to progress their learning. Easy reader books share common similarities, like larger font and simplicity through shorter sentences and vocabulary, repetition, and illustrations, which collectively provide context clues to the reader. As your child strengthens and masters reading skills, you'll notice that their fluency improves, as well as confidence.

Some books that we consider easy readers in our lineup include Waiting Is Not Easy!, I Want My Hat Back, Dr. Seuss's Beginner Book Collection, and Madeline. Following close behind are the Narwhal and Jelly Box Set and Henry and Mudge, geared towards beginner readers but are slightly more complex. For those ready to introduce chapter books, The Magic Tree House Boxed Set is a great place to start.

Don't forget that reading together still holds benefits in this age group. Our review includes some picture books that you may enjoy reading together, such as Rosie Revere, Engineer, Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon, and The Day the Crayons Quit. Alternatively, try joke-telling with The Big Book of Silly Jokes for Kids.

It is important to remember that every child is unique and will progress differently in reading fluently, confidently, and independently. But, selecting a book for your child is a little like match-making. Follow their interests and passions. Also, provide books that meet them at their reading level. For children who are reading on their own, don't forget that reading together still holds benefits.

Tip Have your child make a bookmark! This activity can be fun, creative, and motivate reading, especially for those moving from easy readers to chapter books.

Credit: Abriah Wofford

Benefits of Reading


Reading, at any age, holds benefits, and for your child, the list of benefits is long. To name a few, it increases their cognitive, language, social, and emotional development. And, while your child may be able to read independently, don't forget that reading aloud with your child creates a positive parent-child connection and bond.

Tip: Create a book club with your child's friends and families, or join one already established. Reading is fun, and discussing books can open up all kinds of conversations. Who knows, you all may end up giggling and enjoying the shared experience. Also, it is a Zoom-friendly activity.

We recommend following your child's interests when selecting a book...
We recommend following your child's interests when selecting a book and providing one that matches their reading level.
Credit: Abriah Wofford

Conclusion


It can be tricky to navigate the world of children's literature. Thankfully our review makes the quest easier, so whether you are searching for the perfect page-turning book, easy reader, or chapter book, we are confident there is a book here for you. Plus, creating a reading culture in your home can make a huge difference and encourage your child's desire to be a life-long reader and learner. We suggest providing various books that catch your child's attention and interest, and don't forget to jump in on the reading. We are confident our lineup includes bookshelf-worthy kids' books. Happy reading!

Molly Bradac