Classic childhood favorites for first graders

Explore these seven timeless tales that offer lessons about compassion and friendship.

By GreatSchools Staff

Charlotte's Web

Charlotte's Web

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White, illustrated by Garth Williams (HarperCollins, 1952). $7.99.
Amazon / IndieBound / Powell's.

Parents need to know that a major character dies, peacefully but alone. All children (and most adults) will cry, but especially sensitive children may be disturbed. Families who read this book could discuss the various concepts of friendship presented here. Charlotte obviously gives a lot in this relationship — what does she get in return? How should one treat one's friends? What should one expect from them? 184 pages. Newbery Honor Award.

— Common Sense Media

The Hundred Dresses

The Hundred Dresses

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, illustrated by Louis Slobodkin (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1970). $7.00.
Amazon / IndieBound / Powell's.

Is it ever too early to teach compassion? That's what this astounding and beautiful picture book aspires to do. When schoolchildren make fun of Wanda Petronski, both for her name and for the fact that she wears the same dress to school every day, Wanda begins to tell the tall tale that she has "one hundred dresses" at home. When the children learn the truth, they are given the chance for self-reflection. The lessons learned here will last your child a lifetime. 96 pages.

— Danielle Marshall and the Kids' Team at Powells.com

I Wish I Had Duck Feet

I Wish That I Had Duck Feet

I Wish That I Had Duck Feet by Theo. LeSieg (Dr. Seuss), illustrated by B. Tobey (Random House Books for Young Readers, 1965). $8.99.
Amazon / IndieBound / Powell's.

From the moment my mom ripped out the mail-in coupon from Highlights magazine, I loved receiving my monthly mailing from the "Dr. Seuss Beginning Readers" book club. Of all the books I received, I Wish That I Had Duck Feet was my favorite. Written by Theo. LeSieg (Geisel backwards — a charming pen name Dr. Seuss used when he did not illustrate a title), this funny book is a charmer. Now I grin from ear to ear when my first-grader reads it to me. 72 pages.

— Danielle Marshall and the Kids' Team at Powells.com

The Little House

The Little House

The Little House, by Virginia Lee Burton
Sandpiper (1978), $7.99
Amazon / IndieBound / Powell's

Virginia Lee Burton is one of my all-time favorites. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel is just one of her many fantastic books, which feature themes such as how to treat others and believe in yourself. The Little House is modestly told and illustrated. What happens when the world changes around you? An early commentary on urbanization. Winner of the 1943 Caldecott Medal. 40 pages.

— Danielle Marshall and the Kids' Team at Powell's.com


Danielle Marshall is a former longtime bookseller, most notably for Powell's Books in Portland, Ore.

The Little Prince

The Little Prince

The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Harcourt (1943), $8
Amazon / IndieBound / Powell's

This beautiful children's classic really isn't for kids. It looks like a picture book, with its size, brevity, and delicate watercolor illustrations, but its thoughtfulness and nostalgia for childhood appeal more to teens and adults. Nevertheless, curled up with the right adult, kids with the patience will find their introduction to The Little Prince's kindly philosophy one of their most vivid childhood moments. 96 pages.

Common Sense Media

Mr. Popper's Penguins

Mr. Popper's Penguins

Mr. Popper's Penguins, by Richard and Florence Atwater, illustrated by Robert Lawson
Little, Brown and Company (2007), $6.99
Amazon / IndieBound / Powell's

Mr. Popper's Penguins is one of those classic childhood books kids always remember — it ranks up there with Charlotte's Web and James and the Giant Peach. The chapter book's witty (albeit dated) dialogue, clever characters, and ethical predicament make it as enjoyable today as it was in the 1930s (it was a 1939 Newbery Honor Book winner). In fact, many teachers use it as part of their language arts curriculum. A good fit for most first- and second-grade readers, Mr. Popper's Penguins can also be read aloud to kindergartners. 139 pages.

Common Sense Media

The Stories Julian Tells

The Stories Julian Tells

The Stories Julian Tells, by Ann Cameron
Random House (1989), $4.99
Amazon / IndieBound / Powell's

Julian loves to tell tall tales and make his little brother, Huey, believe them. Each chapter in this wonderful early-reader's chapter book is an individual story and makes for a great introduction to the concept of short stories in general. The tales are imaginative, fun, and a great depiction of a loving family in everyday situations. The bite-size length of the chapters keeps the book from feeling overwhelming for a young reader. 80 pages.

— Danielle Marshall and the Kids' Team at Powell's.com


Danielle Marshall is a former longtime bookseller, most notably for Powell's Books in Portland, Ore.