Monday, October 5, 2015

Our Favorite Children's Books (Ages 4-8)

(If you're looking for books for younger kids, check out my favorite books from birth to 3.)

Reading beautiful children's books aloud is one of my favorite perks of being a mom. No matter how our day goes, as long as we manage to fit in some good read-aloud time, I feel that my time has been well spent. Our time spent in books is fun, it's sweet, it's the cornerstone of our home preschool, and it sparks some of our best conversations.

I have found reading aloud to be more and more fun as our eldest can understand and pay attention to longer and more complex books. He still loves flap books and simple rhymes (which is lucky for our 2-year-old), but he can sit still for longer picture books and even some short chapter books.

When I say "sit still," of course, it is a relative term. He is still a 4.5-year-old boy. He might be in one of our laps, or he might be playing with clay (I save the real grown-up clay for when I'm reading a chapter book aloud), drawing, playing in the dirt, or whatever he can do and still listen.

My age range of 4 to 8 is just an estimate as I don't really know whether my 4-year-old will still enjoy these as an 8-year-old, but I can't see why not! We adults genuinely enjoy all of these, too.

This list is by no means even close to exhaustive. These are just a few of the many, many lovely books for kids of this age.

Picture books

The Pink Refrigerator  by Tim Egan

Metropolitan Cow and others by Tim Egan. In addition to unusual stories with moral lessons that don't punch you in the face, Egan's books also feature beautiful, walkable neighborhoods.

No Such Things by Bill Peet

Cyrus the Unsinkable Sea Serpent by Bill Peet

Encore for Eleanor by Bill Peet, and anything else by Bill Peet.

The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss. I cannot say that I enjoy reading much Dr. Seuss aloud, but this is one I can read over and over again.

Jumanji and others by Chris Van Allsburg

Lilly's Big Day by Kevin Henkes. If you're looking for an irrepressible and delightful heroine, Lilly is your mouse.

Sheila Rae, the Brave and others by Kevin Henkes

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble and others by William Steig

I'm a Frog! and other Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems. The Pigeon books are wonderful too, but Elephant and Piggie start treading into the beginning reader category without being mind-numbing to read aloud.

Frog and Toad are Friends and others by Arnold Lobel. These are another series of beginning reader books that are pleasant to read aloud.

Chapter books

Starting chapter books with a preschooler can feel both daunting and exciting. It is rewarding to finally get to some of the chapter book classics we remember, and yet we are still dealing with discriminating attention spans and wiggly bodies. I would recommend these as good first chapter books to read aloud.

Two Times the Fun by Beverly Cleary. This was one of the first chapter books we read with my son, and he loved it.

A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond

My Father's Dragon and sequels by Ruth Stiles Gannett

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. I loved Roald Dahl as a kid, but as a parent, I have found some of his novels to be darker than I remember. This one is a good bet for younger ones.

Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard Atwater


Scranimals by Jack Prelutsky. If you like Shel Silverstein, you will love Jack Prelutsky.

Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant by Jack Prelutsky

I've Lost My Hippopotamus by Jack Prelutsky

A Family of Poems edited by Caroline Kennedy

Shakespeare's Seasons by Miriam Weiner and Shannon Whitt. This is a gentle introduction to Shakespeare as short quotations from the Bard are paired with charming illustrations.


I have been astounded by the variety and quality of children's nonfiction books. I am convinced that even for adults, there is a kids' nonfiction book to serve as the foundation for any area of interest. Now whenever I am looking to get a good overview of something, whether it's Shakespeare or Darwin, learning how to draw or how to play the guitar, I start in the kids' section.

Here are a smattering of books we have enjoyed so far.

The Magic School Bus Inside the Earth and others by Joanna Cole. Magic School Bus books are a bit tricky to read aloud because of all the different images and insets, but my son loves them and follows many of the scientific concepts. If the format becomes too cumbersome, I skip the sidebars and just read the story.

I Face the Wind and others by Vicki Cobb. These introduce basic concepts to the youngest scientists.

Motion, Magnets and More by Adrienne Mason. This is slightly more advanced than the Vicki Cobb books and introduces a variety of physical science concepts using simple experiments.

Sunshine Makes the Seasons by Franklyn M. Branley and other Let's-Read-and-Find-Out-Science books. Despite the cumbersome name, this series has something about pretty much any science question my son has thrown at me.

How People Learned to Fly by Fran Hodgkins

Pitter and Patter by Martha Sullivan. This playful book follows two drops of rain as they move through the water cycle.

On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein by Jennifer Berne

Henri's Scissors, a picture book biography of Henri Matisse by Jeanette Winter

The Iridescence of Birds: A Book about Henri Matisse by Patricia MacLachlan

What have I missed? What are your favorite children's books for this age group?