From board books they’ll point to again and again to chapter books they won’t be able to put down, these fiction books for kids will inspire them to keep on reading
What makes a good fiction book versus a mediocre one? While it’s a matter of personal taste, there are a few components that seem to reach across all true fiction gems: inviting kids into a believable world where the fantastical or surprising happens; vivid characters with relatable traits (Alice, Tristan Strong); and a storyline that paces by offering big action up front. Bonus points for books that make them laugh.
How do you know you’ve hit the jackpot? They ask you to read it again and again with them, or they don’t want to stop reading it on their own. Get started with this list of some of the best fiction books for kids that should help inspire a life-long love of reading.
Fiction Board Books for Babies & Toddlers
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
The Eric Carle classic has it all: an engaging plot line, counting, science, die-cut pages, and one slice of cherry pie. The little caterpillar is one they’ll see out in the real world, too, along with beautiful butterflies, so while it’s a fictional story (because caterpillars don’t eat cheese, pizza, sausages, etc.), it’s grounded in the natural world.
Buy it here, $7
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Carly Gledhill
There’s a version of this book for nearly every age and stage, not to mention a few famous film versions. In this board book version, Alice’s adventures are paired down for a young audience, but just appropriately vivid and whimsical.
Buy it here, $8
Homer’s The Odyssey by Jennifer Adams, illustrated by Alison Oliver
The classic epic is told as a counting book with monsters because if you’re going to introduce Homer to a baby, it’s important to know your audience. A fun book to read on repeat that also gives them a base foundation for the story. For millennials, it was Duck Tales; for the new generation, it’s BabyLit's version.
Buy it here, $9
Fiction Picture Books for Young Kids
A Very Dinosaur Birthday
From Adam Wallace, the author of the popular How to Catch book series comes a fun read about what "might" happen at a dinosaur's birthday. Follow along as the prehistoric animals play wild games, splash in the pool, and eat birthday snacks. There's even a section with birthday party ideas for parents to use as inspiration!
Buy it here, $12
The Lost Library by Jess McGeachin
Little Oliver loves to read, and he loves his local library. One day he finds an errant book behind a secret door in his bedroom. Oliver doesn’t recognize the book, but its tag instructs the reader to bring it back to The Lost Library. As they slide the book into the returns slot, Oliver and Rosie are whisked away to a new land. This adorable picture book plays with the intersection of reality and imagination that books bring us, and the library can be seen faintly in the background as the two make their way through seas and forests alike.
Buy it here, $17
The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
It’s hard to pick just one book to start them on their Dr. Seuss journey, but The Lorax is a timeless cautionary tale against greed that offers an engaging storyline, a relatable message, and beautiful illustrations. Speak for the trees!
Buy it here, $7
What the Bread Says by Vanessa Garcia, illustrated by Tim Palin
Storytelling comes in many forms, and for young Vanessa, the story of her family is told through the beautiful act of baking bread with her grandfather. As they knead, stretch, and wait for the dough to rise, Papan tells of adventures from the Pyrenees Mountains to Cuba to Miami. A fictionalized retelling of Cuban-American author and playwright Vanessa Garcia's family history, What the Bread Says shows children the importance of celebrating our unique origin stories and can inspire them to write a story based on their family history. Check Cardinal Rule Press’s website for bonus materials like coloring pages and a preview video.
Buy it here, $12
Beauty Woke by NoNieqa Ramos, illustrated by Paola Escobar
A spin on the Sleeping Beauty story, Beauty Woke is a rhythmic, bilingual tale about Beauty, born in Puerto Rico—a proud Boricua of Taíno and African descent—beloved and celebrated by her family and community. But as Beauty grows older, she discovers a world hostile toward people who look like her. Beauty is discouraged and hurt by the insults hurled toward her community but soon awakens to the truth behind what beauty really means. The rich illustrations by Paola Escobar are utterly sublime and add to the powerful reminder for kids to celebrate the self, our differences, and the real meaning of being beautiful.
Buy it here, $13
All from a Walnut by Ammi-Joan Paquette, illustrated by Felicita Sala
I’m not crying…you’re crying. This beautiful story will tug at your heartstrings while demonstrating the value of family stories and multigenerational reverence. Inspired by author Ammi-Joan Paquette’s own family immigration story, the characters follow the life cycle of a walnut tree from fruit to seedling to tree, to fruit again, serving as a template for life, death, and rebirth. The story begins with Emilia’s grandfather, who took a walnut from his native country and grew it into a tree, which in turn gives Emilia’s mother a walnut, which she plants and nurtures. And from her mother’s tree, Emilia gets a walnut. Readers follow Grandpa’s aging process and death and delight in the legacy living on through the tree.
Buy it here, $9
Edison: The Mystery of the Missing Mouse by Torben Kuhlmann
Every once in a while, a picture book comes along with a story so unforgettable and illustrations so mesmerizing it becomes the book we want all children to be lost in. This is just that kind of book. A young mouse seeks the help of his professor at Mouse University to find a lost treasure, and the two take up the task of building a submarine (mouse-sized, of course). The book is rich in art but there are also lots of words, making it a longer picture book, a great segway for those seeking more challenge in reading but still craving the pictures. The author has other books, too, including Armstrong and Lindbergh.
Buy it here, $14
Fiction Chapter Books
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
Although these chapter books can likely be read independently by eager readers around age 8 and up, you can relieve the stories together by reading them as bedtime tales or cozy afternoons. The first book (The Magician’s Nephew) paces a little slow, but the action picks up by chapter three, and the second book in the series is the beloved The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.
Get the entire set here, $29
Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks
Jason Reynolds is a master of temporal space: the defined area of a story where everything really happens. His ability to hold an audience within that space shows just why he’s one of the most inventive authors writing for kids today. His Newbury Honor book Long Way Down takes place in an elevator. A National Book Award finalist among many other accolades, Look Both Ways captures the world of a kid after the school bell rings, walking ten blocks home. It’s funny, engaging, and relatable. It also reminds kids their perspective is the most valuable tool they have in storytelling.
Ages: 10 and up
Buy it here, $9
Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series by Rick Riordan
There’s a reason this series by Rick Riordan launched an entire genre and its own imprint! It’s funny, extremely well-written, action-packed, and kid vs. bad guys at its finest. The series involves Percy Jackson, who is sent to a special camp one summer only to learn he is the son of Poseidon, the Sea God of Greek Mythology. Percy is launched into epic journey after epic journey battling dangerous Greek Gods, the Fates, and more.
Buy the boxed set here, $22
Pages & Co.: The Bookwanderers by Anna James with illustrations by Paola Escobar
Now a five-book series, the story begins with 11-year-old Tilly Pages, whose mother has gone missing, seeking comfort from the bookshelves of her grandparent's bookstore. It’s not long into the book when we learn that Tilly is a Bookwander: someone who has the ability to wander into any book she chooses as if it is real life. And while this fantastical virtue sounds like fun, Tilly discovers it’s not without its challenges—and dangers. A wonderful story for book lovers and reluctant readers alike about the power of fiction!
Get the first book here, $9
The Tristan Strong Trilogy by Kwame Mbalia
Author Kwame Mbalia’s trilogy has proved so popular that he’s now heading up a new imprint, Freedom Fire, for Disney-Hyperion. According to Publisher’s Weekly, this new imprint will “feature stories of Black resilience and Black joy, written by Black creators” and will begin debuting books in 2024. The Tristan Strong series does for African mythology and folk tales what Riordan has done for Greek mythology. The trilogy begins with our hero, Tristan Strong, not feeling very strong after the death of his best friend, Eddie. That summer, Eddie’s journal (which is precious to Tristan) is stolen by a strange creature. Tristan chases after it, and “accidentally” punches a hole into a land rich with monsters, haunted ships, and boiling seas. Mbalia weaves black American folk heroes like John Henry and Brer Rabbit with African gods and mythos.
Get the first book here, $11
Aru Shah Pandava Series by Roshani Chokshi
If author Roshani Chokshi doesn’t have her own imprint soon, we’ll be surprised. In this gorgeously written five-book series (part of the Rick Riordan presents line), the heroine is a fierce 14-year-old girl named Aru Shah. Follow her on her adventures to the Otherworld, based on characters and landscapes from the epic Hindu poem, the Mahabharata. The richness of author Roshani Chokshi’s voice and humor is present throughout.
Buy book one here, $9