When my oldest was a baby, I used to look at him and think, "This kid and I are going to read so many books together." I'd envision him as a big kid, sitting next to me in hazy sunlight, reading books for hours upon hours, with almost zero interest in athletic activities.
In reality, however, it turns out that I have a kid who loves reading and athletic activities… which means I only know how to handle about 50% of that situation.
Something I didn't envision was having a 1st grader who reads at a 5th grade reading level. Now, I'm not bringing this up to "humble brag," I'm bringing this up because it has presented us with a problem I didn't anticipate: It's hard to find books at that reading level that are appropriate for a first grader.
I mean, he can read a book about bloody historical battles or high school relationship problems or terrifying ghosts born from grisly murders… but should he?
I, personally, say "Um, no."
So, what's a parent to do? Roll up your sleeves and start researching, I guess.
Luckily, I've done the research for you, so all you have to do is order a few of these gems from the library, check them out, and see if you think they'll work for your kid. I think you'll be able to find at least one or two that work well!
I have absolutely fallen in love with graphic novels. The illustrations are often incredible, and it's a great way to make reading fun. Of course, many graphic novels can come with themes and images that are far more adult in nature than one might think, so it's important to flip through them first. Here are the series I’ve found to be consistently engaging and relatively safe in terms of content:
The Flying Beaver Brothers by Maxwell Eaton III
This series follows Ace and Bub, two adorable beaver brothers. They're often caught up in silly adventures and interrupted by devious animals (like dastardly penguins), and always manage to save the day. Some dry humor, cute illustrations, and irreverent woodland creature humor makes this series fun for parents, too.
Learn more about the Flying Beaver Brothers
The Binky Adventure Series by Ashley Spires
Binky is a cat… a cat who is part of a top-secret animal space organization determined to battle the insects (aliens) of the world. With an adorable cat hero who takes himself a little too seriously, even I found myself chuckling as I flipped through these books. It's important to note that there's some "toilet humor" in these books. Binky tends to be a little, well, gassy at times. If that's not something you're okay with, you might want to skip these. If you run a toilet humor-friendly household, be prepared for some serious giggles.
Learn more about The Binky Adventures
I'm not sure if my oldest is actually reading these chapter books in their entirety yet, but he's definitely skimming through them at the very least, and will sometimes be looking at them for almost an hour. I'm not going to add The Magic Treehouse to this list because it's a very popular recommendation, but be sure to give that a look. My kids didn't take much of a shining to it, but I can see how they would go over well with lots of kids.
Geronimo/Thea Stilton by Elisabetta Dami
Geronimo Stilton is the owner of a popular newspaper… and is also a mouse. His chapter books are narrated in first person, and follow Geronimo as he reluctantly takes on zany adventures with his friends and family. There is a "sister" series about his sister, Thea, who tends to be much more adventurous than Geronimo. Those books focus on a group of adolescent girl-mice who also go on adventures together. My only caution is that these books mention "crushes" and hint at romance between the characters, so if you don't want to start those conversations just yet, save this series for later.
Also, both Geronimo and Thea have graphic novel series that are more historical in nature. Our public library has these in different sections, so be sure to check both the fiction and the graphic novel sections for these mousy adventures.
Learn more about Geronimo and Thea Stilton
There's an entire group of series offered by Scholastic called "Branches," which is designed to "branch out" from picture books to chapter books. What ends up happening is a beautiful mix between graphic novel and chapter book. Our favorites are Haggis and Tank Unleashed, Kung Pow Chicken, Olive and Beatrix, Princess Pink and the Land of Fake-Believe, but there are plenty of others that your children might like.
Learn more about Scholastic Branches