This first grade summer reading list is aimed at children ages 5-7 and includes both picture books and beginning reader books. Children this age still love picture book read alouds and I encourage you to spend a lot of time this summer reading aloud. I decided to stick to a folktale theme for the picture books for reasons I explain below. I also curated a group of easy readers because some kids who are headed into first grade are emergent readers. But remember, it’s perfectly normal for your first grader to not yet be reading!
The average age of learning to read is seven years old. I had one child who was reading fluently by the age of four and another who didn’t want to even try and read until he was almost seven so I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum. I hope you and your kids enjoy this first grade summer reading list! (Note: book covers and titles are affiliate links.)
1st Grade Summer Book List: Picture Books
I am a huge advocate for reading world folktales to your children, and rising first graders are at a perfect age to enjoy these timeless tales. When you read these books aloud, ask your children, “Why do you think this story has been passed down for generations? What makes this story stand the test of time.” I bet they come up with some great answers. Folktales also make excellent picture books to read aloud in the summer if you have older kids at home, too. Perhaps another question might be, “Why do people of all ages enjoy folktales?”
Rabbit’s Gift by George Shannon is a gentle story about showing kindness towards others. Rabbit finds a turnip in the snow, but as he is eating it, he thinks of his friend, Donkey, and wonders if she has any food. Rabbit leaves her extra turnip at Donkey’s door and when Donkey finds it, she leaves it for her neighbor, Goat. On and on it goes, with each friend, in turn, considering the well being of another. Eventually, they all come together for a meal in friendship. A wonderful story.
The Emperor and the Kite by Jane Yolen. Princess Djeow is so small that she goes unnoticed by her family. Her favorite toy is a kite that she flies every day, “like a flower in the sky.” When her father is captured and imprisoned in a tower, her siblings become useless, spending their days weeping and moaning. Djeow, however, uses her kite to fly baskets of food to her father. One day a passing monk gives her inspiration in the form of a poem and the intrepid princess invents a way to use her kite to rescue her father. He realizes his daughter’s worth and she rules along side him.
See more: Chinese folktales
Tops & Bottoms by Janet Stevens is a trickster tale with roots in the American South, as well as in Europe. American folktales in the post-colonial age often draw from the tellers European ancestry. The lazy bear owns a farm but since he doesn’t want to do the work he makes a bargain with the poor rabbit family. The deal is that the rabbits will work the land and split the harvest in half with the bear. Rabbit only wants to know, does Bear want the tops, or the bottoms? When Bear chooses tops, Rabbit plants root crops. When Bear chooses bottoms, Rabbit plants corn. This is a clever, funny tale, and great for story time.
See more: American tall tales and folktales
The Lizard and the Sun by Alma Flor Alda on your list. Ever wonder why lizards like to laze about in the sun (hint: it’s not because of their cold blood)? It all started when the sun disappeared and the lizard went in search of it. With a little help from an Aztec emperor, a woodpecker and a great feast, he is able to bring the sun back from its slumber. With lots of detail, the illustrations bring the Aztec culture to life. Bilingual.
See more: Latin American folktales
Grandma and the Great Gourd: A Bengali Folktale by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. When Grandma sets out to visit her daughter she must travel through the jungle. On the way, many wild animals threaten to eat her, but she puts them off by explaining she will be plumper on the journey home (after she has feasted at her daughter’s table). Her hide-in-a-gourd strategy on the way home fools everyone but the fox, but her faithful dogs save the day (and her).
See more: Folktales from India
The Treasure by Uri Shulevitz . Isaac has a dream that he should go and look for treasure under the bridge by the Royal Palace. He feels quite foolish doing so, but cannot ignore the command. The poor, elderly man sets off on the journey only to find a heavily guarded bridge and a guard with his own dream. Isaac’s reverse journey has an interesting narrative repetition. The overall story is a rather quiet tale of trust and faith, with the message “sometimes one must travel far to discover what is near.” Uri Shulevitz earned a Caldecott Honor for this book and the illustrations are outstanding, as good a reason as any for picking up this book.
See more: Jewish folktales
1st Grade Summer Book List: Beginning Readers
Not every child will be ready to read these books independently the summer before first grade, but if you have an emerging reader on your hands, give these books a try!
Fox the Tiger (series) by Corey R. Tabor. This is a giggle-inducing story about a mischievous fox who admires tigers so much he wants to be one. After all tigers are big, fast, sneaky and “the best.” So what does he do? Why he gives himself stripes, of course! Your kids will love the whole Fox series.
Good Night Owl by Greg Pizzoli. This is a very cute book about an owl who wants to get to bed, but can’t because of noises in the night. I love all of Pizzoli’s early readers, and they even make fun and simple read alouds, which is not an easy feat for easy reader book!
The Giggle Gang series by Jan Thomas. I was so excited to learn that my favorite story time author has a funny early readers series! If you have never read a Jan Thomas book, you are in for a real treat and if your child is still reluctant, pick up one of her picture books to read aloud. Your child will laugh so hard he or she will want to make sure not to miss the giggles in the early reader books, too.
Big Cat by Ethan Long. I had a hard time singling out one title by Long. He has several in the “I Like to Read” series, and they are all funny early readers. They are all truly easy to read, too! Getting kids who may not want to read but are at the stage where reading ability is starting to emerge are helped along by humor and this book stands out.
Don’t Throw it to Mo by David A. Adler. So far there are two Mo Jackson books and I suspect there are more on the way. Both my son and I found the series charming. Mo loves sports but he’s not necessarily the most talented kid on the team. It doesn’t matter, though. His perseverance pulls him through. Both boys and girls will see themselves in Mo, even if their passions lie in a non-sporty direction.
Confetti Kids series by Paula Yoo. This is a great series of beginning readers about a diverse group of neighborhood kids. In Want to Play? the children (including Pablo, who “reads books in both English and Spanish”) head out to the park for a day of fun.
A Trip to the Bottom of the World by Frank Viva. Viva’s own experience traveling to the Antarctic inspired the story of a mouse and his owner. Dialogue is told in comic bubbles, with the mouse repeating the familiar refrain, “Can we go home now?” On the journey the duo meet penguins, swim in a warm water lake (yes, it really exists!), spot an orca… in other words they have such a good time, that when it’s time to go, mouse inquires, “Can we go back there soon?” You really can’t go wrong with any of the TOON books. They are labelled with different reading and interest levels. If graphic novels motivate your beginning readers, you will do well to bring home stacks of TOON books for your child. I’ve never read one I didn’t like.
Want more 1st grade summer reading books?