Teachers have a knack for knowing how to connect with kids, and they’re skilled at drawing out kids to talk about the characters and ideas in a story. So wouldn’t it be fun to step inside a teacher’s home library to see what’s on their shelves, what books they read to or put in the hands of their own kids? Among the scads of books they’re familiar with and stock in their classrooms, which are the gems they treasure for their loved ones?
We reached out to teachers to discover what they read to their own kids and why. From classics like Charlotte’s Web to recent hits like The Book with No Pictures, these 10 books are among teachers’ top picks for kids age 5 to 10.
The Book with No Pictures. This book by actor/screenwriter B. J. Novak from The Office might not have illustrations, but it asks you to say all sorts of silly things to prove that a book with only words can be fun.
Why teachers love it: “I love it because it’s perhaps the first time kids have to trust what they hear vs. what they see for the information. And it’s so much silly fun.” — Laura Meith, day care teacher, Alameda, California
What to talk about: What do you think about a narrator speaking directly to you, the reader? Does that help make the story funnier?
Locomotive. Brian Floca’s picture book offers lots of facts about steam trains while threading a fictional story of a family traveling from Omaha, Nebraska, to Sacramento, California, in the 1800s.
Why teachers love it: “Exquisitely detailed illustrations, wonderfully researched, delightful to read aloud.” — Linnea Rich, Mill Valley, California, former preschool teacher and K-8 outdoor educator
What to talk about: How is train travel different today from what it was like the late 1800s? How has the West changed?
Mercy Watson. Kate DiCamillo’s hilarious chapter book recounts the misadventures of a family’s beloved pig and her unrelenting quest for hot buttered toast.
Why teachers love it: “Mercy Watson caught the attention of all my kids (3-year-old twins and a 7-year-old). Fun-to-read porcine adventures, gentle silliness, policemen, firefighters, and a great deal of butter. We love the audiobooks as well as the books. Short chapters, big fun!” — Linnea Rich, Mill Valley, California, former preschool teacher and outdoor educator
What to talk about: What do you think about how the family treats Mercy like a child? Does your family or a neighbor treat dogs and cats that way?
Charlotte’s Web. E. B. White’s classic barnyard tale explores the friendship that blossoms between a lonely young pig and a wise, caring spider.
Why teachers love it: “I enjoyed sharing this book I loved so much with my girls. The focus on empathy was important to me.” — April Holland, middle school principal, Daly City, California
What to talk about: Charlotte obviously gives a lot in her relationship with Wilbur — what does she get in return? How does Fern and Wilbur’s relationship change?
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: Chronicles of Narnia, Book 1. Four English siblings discover a wardrobe in an old country house is a portal to the magical land of Narnia. There they find animals that talk, an evil queen, and a self-sacrificing lion lord. They also fight serious battles and learn about betrayal, faith, and forgiveness.
Why teachers love it: “I like the series because it’s easily accessible for kids (I read it to my oldest when he was in third grade) but a very deep storyline, one that we keep coming back to in family discussions even now (he’s currently in 10th grade).” — Natalie Pemintel Conrow, fifth-grade teacher, Snohomish, Washington
What to talk about: What do you think the book says about the nature of good and evil? How are the plot and characters like stories and people in the Bible?
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Orphaned 11-year-old Harry discovers he has magical powers and is admitted to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. There he makes friends, meets enemies, and learns secrets about the magical parents he never knew.
Why teachers love it: “Before we had kids, my husband and I read it out loud to each other and enjoyed it so much, I wanted to share that joy with my kids. I also was really trying to instill a love of reading in my kids and read the first in several series to them in an attempt to suggest they read the rest of each series on their own.” — Natalie Pemintel Conrow, fifth-grade teacher, Snohomish, Washington
What to talk about: Why do you think the Harry Potter books and movies are so popular? Have you seen the movie version of this book? How does it compare with the book?
The One and Only Ivan. Katherine Applegate’s Newbery Medal winner is a fictional tale inspired by the true story of a gorilla who, after 27 years confined to a cage at a shopping mall tourist trap, now lives happily in a fine habitat at Zoo Atlanta and is renowned for his art.
Why teachers love it: “It’s very well written and has a great message that my kids related to.” — Beth Seabreeze, high school teacher, Kensington, Maryland
What to talk about: What do think about the author’s choice to tell the story through Ivan’s eyes rather than a human’s?
The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread. Kate DiCamillo’s Newbery Medal-winning tale tracks the thrilling adventures of a brave, giant-eared mouse who talks to humans and is in love with a human princess.
Why teachers love it: “Sure-fire story, short chapters (cliffhanger-esque), good-vs.-evil thread (fairy tale-esque), and lots to think about. Meaty questions like ‘Do you believe in happily ever after?'” — Susan Faust, retired teacher-librarian, San Francisco, California
What to talk about: What other stories of brave misfits can you think of? Why are underdog stories so popular?
Wonder. R. J. Palacio’s story follows a boy with a genetic facial difference who, after being homeschooled, enters school for the first time in fifth grade and has to cope with reactions to his unusual appearance, as well as typical middle school drama. (Wonder has been adapted for a movie, coming out Nov. 17.)
Why teachers love it: “My girls continued to think about it long after they finished reading it, and it made them empathize more with students in their school that were different.” — Beth Seabreeze, high school teacher, Kensington, Maryland
What to talk about: What do you think of the author’s choice to write the book in different voices: Auggie’s, his friends’, and his sister’s? Does it help you understand their feelings better?
Smile. Raina Telgemeir’s graphic novel is based on her own experience of having her teeth knocked out and suffering though the orthodontic work that followed during her early teen years. It’s full of humor and middle school drama, and it has strong messages about bullying and self-acceptance.
Why teachers love it: “Both my boys loved Smile and her graphic novel Drama. My younger son adores graphic novels, including Roller Girl and the Baby Sitters Club graphic novels.” — Kelly Hartlaub, high school teacher and librarian, Alameda, California
What to talk about: Raina’s experiences with her teeth make her feel like a misfit. Have you ever gone through something that made you feel like you couldn’t relate to your friends?