My friend Brandy has a great little category on her blog titled “My Favorite Things.” She regularly posts on her favorite (something) in literature, most recently her favorite literary mothers. I love this idea–such a great way around the inevitable (and totally unanswerable) question posed to bibliophiles: “What’s your favorite book?” I mean, really. Who can answer that? So, to start off our own favorites section here and to highlight an oft overlooked category of children’s literature, I’ll list my favorite Beginning Reader series. These are so worth seeking out and, unfortunately, (as Brandy and I were bemoaning today) you’ll have to head to a library. The “beginning reader” category at the big box bookstores usually stars pop culture remakes that are worthless as far as actual literature goes. But these books are the first ones a child actually reads and they will remember these books. These books will help shape their future literary experiences, so make these early experiences good ones! Great stories! Well-crafted text! Well-executed illustrations (which must walk that fuzzy line between illustrations that help carry picture book texts and merely subtle illustrations occasionally in a chapter book).

A truly great beginning reader series is a work of art. Any author who can craft a well-written (and often well-illustrated) book for this reading level is a genius. Try writing a story someday using such a limited vocabulary and make it something even a grownup wants to read. Try… just try. In the meantime, here are some to look for in your library (in no particular order):

  1. Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel (OK, I lied. These are my faves. And my all-time favorite Frog and Toad is Frog and Toad Together; the cookies story is especially appropriate as Girl Scout Cookie season approaches….)
  2. Little Bear by Minarik (and illustrated by Sendak; my all-time favorite and the best read aloud of this series is Little Bear’s Visit–especially the goblin story)
  3. Elephant and Piggie by Mo Willems (and his single story Amanda and her Alligator)
  4. Poppleton and Friends by Cynthia Rylant
  5. Henry and Mudge by Cynthia Rylant (and the ones about Henry’s cousin, Annie and Snowball)
  6. Cat in the Hat and other Seuss beginning readers*
  7. Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same by Grace Lin (single book, not a series) 
  8. Danny and the Dinosaur by Syd Hof (incidentally, this was the very first book I read on my own–I still remember the experience vividly… it was the page with the monkeys on it where the letters suddenly coalesced and became meaningful and I’ve never been the same!)
  9. Are you My Mother? and The Best Nest by P. D. Eastman (just for the record, Go, Dog Go! drives me crazy)
  10. George and Martha by James Marshall (and I can’t even pick a favorite here–they’re all awesome!)**

*The most phonetic and approachable for new readers–still, after all these years!
**The George and Martha books are not as phonetic as the others on this list, just so you know.