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How to Choose Read Aloud Books: Babies to Third Graders

How to Choose Read Aloud Books, for Babies to Third Graders

How do you choose books to read aloud with your child? There are many things to think about: how interesting the topic or characters might be for your child; an intriguing setting, time period, or plot; the liveliness or beauty of the language; or how engaging the illustrations are. Some books are more appropriate based on social and emotional development at each stage of a young child's life. Find guidance here in choosing great read alouds.

Read alouds for babies and toddlers

It’s never too early to start reading to young children. Babies and toddlers are listeners, building their vocabulary before they can even talk.

What to look for in choosing books for babies and toddlers:

  • Brightly colored pictures of simple objects.
  • Simple texts, rhyming, and repetition.      
  • Books that introduce colors, shapes, counting, and letters.
  • Lift-the-flap and sturdy pop-up books to encourage exploration.
  • Board books and cloth books — perfect for young hands to manipulate.

See some of our favorite read alouds for babies and toddlers >

Read alouds for preschoolers

Preschoolers are aquiring language skills quickly. They enjoy the sound of language — even nonsensical words — and a good laugh; after all, they’re developing a sense of humor!

What to look for in choosing books for preschoolers:

  • Bright, big illustrations.  
  • Simple stories with basic plots. 
  • Books that help answer a preschooler’s “why?” questions about their world.
  • Rhyming text, including the classics like Mother Goose and Dr. Seuss.
  • Classic stories with universal themes such as friendship and generosity.
  • Activity books that encourage exploration, observation, and play.
  • Bedtime stories to calm preschoolers after their busy days!

See some of our favorite read alouds for preschoolers >

Read alouds for kindergarteners

Kindergarteners — they're growing up, and so is their taste in books. They’re developing empathy and relationships with other children.

What to look for in choosing books for kindergarteners:

  • Titles that explore kid interests, expand horizons, and offer exposure to different kinds of writing.
  • Stories that let them see how characters in different situations behave toward others.
  • Engaging informational texts with lots of colorful photographs or illustrations that help kindergartners build knowledge about the world.
  • Cumulative tales full of built-in anticipation, like There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.
  • Longer stories or chapter books with thematically rich issues that lead to discussion and reflection.

See some of our favorite read alouds for kindergarteners >

Read alouds for first graders

First grade is when many children begin to read independently. But reading aloud with first graders remains not only a pleasurable but an important activity.

What to look for in choosing books for first graders:

  • Rich language — words and phrases  that deliver complex meaning and imagery.
  • Stories with more complex plots that spark a desire to predict and learn what happens next.
  • Books that relate to the experiences of a first grader and feature characters similar in age.
  • Narrative nonfiction that’s full of fascinating facts yet reads like a story.
  • Silly stories and poems that have fun with words and sounds.  

See some of our favorite read alouds for first graders >

Read alouds for second graders

Second graders are expanding their interests and putting ideas together in new ways. Books — timeworn or new, fiction or nonfiction, poetry or prose — shared aloud allow both adult and child to explore the world together.

What to look for in choosing books for second graders:

  • Old favorites — second graders may want to read the same book many times, even though you may have thought they’d outgrown it.
  • Characters dealing with the same fears, interests, and concerns that they experience.
  • Nonfiction genres that introduce second graders to biography, history, and real stories of nature and science.
  • Picture books that lead you to chapter books, such as Diary of a Spider and Charlotte’s Web.
  • Chapter books to read aloud that are rich in detail and above independent reading level.

See some of our favorite read alouds for second graders >

Read alouds for third graders

Empathy, experience, vocabulary, and a love of language continue to grow long after third graders can read by themselves.

What to look for in choosing books for third graders:

  • Books that tackle tough topics and lead to discussion that helps kids cope with daily challenges.
  • Characters they can relate to and learn from.
  • Stories that keep your read aloud lively and interactive and lead to lots of conversation.
  • Picture books that build knowledge and support connections to the complexities of the world around them.

See some of our favorite read alouds for third graders >

Find lots more tips, videos, articles, blog posts, research, and other resources on reading aloud here.

Reading Rockets, Rachael Walker, Maria Salvadore (2016)

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"Reading is not optional." —

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