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What Next? Books for beginner readers

Ruth Ennis chooses ten wonderful books for beginner readers

Ruth Ennis

This is such an exciting stage in a young reader’s life. They’re growing more confident in their reading skills, they’re engaging with books more independently, and they’re starting to establish a preference for the types of books they read. Sometimes they can read and reread a favourite book or series for weeks on end—and this is a good thing! It’s always worth letting them find comfort in familiar stories, all reading is good reading. If and when they are ready to move on from the old favourites, these are some excellent alternatives that I highly recommend you introduce to them. 

Bear and Bird: The Picnic and Other Stories, by Jarvis

Bear and Bird: The Picnic and Other Stories by Jarvis (Walker) has quickly become one of my go-to recommendations for newly independent readers. Bear and Bird are best friends and do lots of nice and cosy activities together. This collection of short stories includes tales of troubles with flowers, picnics, painting together, and a very cosy blanket.

We get to understand the breadth of their companionship, including instances of envy and feeling ignored, but all of which can be overcome with the unbreakable friendship they share. Jarvis’ illustrations are incredibly sweet and charming, a perfect match for the tone of the book. The first of a two-part series so far, this is a beautiful book that will be cherished. 

Two Sides, by Polly Ho-Yen, illustrated by Binny Talib

Keeping on the theme of friendship, Two Sides written by Polly Ho-Yen and illustrated by Binny Talib (Little Tiger) was a recent discovery and quick favourite of mine. Lula and Lenka are best friends and are total opposites to each other. Lula is outgoing, energetic, and always late. Lenka is quiet, artistic, and always on time. When Lula borrows Lenka’s pencil case and accidently forgets to return it in time for an art competition, there is a rift in their relationship.

This book does a wonderful job in exploring the two sides to every story and navigates what can be a tricky stage in a young person’s life when in conflict with someone they are close to. Heartwarming, thoughtful, and sweet, this is the perfect book to have on hand for any young reader who needs it. 

Bumble and Snug and the Excited Unicorn by Mark Bradley

If you are on the lookout for another dynamic duo, look no further than Bumble and Snug and the Excited Unicorn by Mark Bradley (Hodder Children’s Books). Introducing the city of Bugbopolis, home to adorable monsters called bugbops (most of whom are massive hat-enthusiasts). Here live Bumble and Snug, best friends who are always getting caught up in hijinks. In this case, they befriend a very giddy unicorn with superpowers, so of course they decide to become superheroes—that is until things start spinning out of control.

The second of a three-part series (and a fourth addition on the way) this duo are endlessly entertaining. Chaotic, colourful, and just the right amount of silly, this book never fails to catch the attention of any young reader I introduce it to. 

A Sea of Stories by Sylvia Bishop, illustrated by Paddy Donnelly

A change of pace can be found in A Sea of Stories written by Sylvia Bishop and illustrated by Paddy Donnelly (Little Tiger). Roo is staying with her grandpa for a few days, and loves listening to his stories and memories, set by the sea. She is eager to go down to the cove to see where these stories took place, but grandpa isn’t able to walk down the cliffs anymore. She enlists the help of the villagers and friends—who grandpa has helped over the years—to build safe steps for grandpa to walk down to the cove once more.

What starts out as a fun collection of adventures, this lovely book concludes on an incredibly touching note about the importance of family and community. Donnelly’s illustrations, particularly the landscape spreads, are simply stunning. A gem of a book, an especially great read to share with grandparents.

Agent Moose, by Mo O’Hara, illustrated by Jess Bradley

Looking for a new series for your avid Dogman reader? Agent Moose written by Mo O’Hara and illustrated by Jess Bradley (Scholastic) is the book for you. Passionate and a touch dramatic, Agent Moose is a secret agent, always on a case. With the support of his wise and cautious sidekick Owlfred, they are determined to solve their 100th case involving a missing turtle.

With plenty of red herrings and a twist reveal at the end, this makes for an engaging reading for any young mystery fans. But above all else, this book is a laugh a minute, with excellent comedic timing and delightful illustrated gags throughout. A fantastic book, the first in a three-part series, I can’t recommend it enough.  

Marv and the Dino Attack, by Alex Falase-Koya illustrated by Paula Bowles

Of course, no book list is complete without a superhero story. Introducing Marv and the Dino Attack written by Alex Falase-Koya and illustrated by Paula Bowles (Oxford University Press). Marvin is just a regular kid with a secret superhero identity as Marv, with a cool super-suit and trusty robot sidekick. While on a school tour to the Natural History Museum, the supervillain Rex makes all the dinosaur skeletons come alive and wreak havoc in the museum. Always keeping his wits about him, Marv manages to save the day while never forgetting what’s most important to him: keeping his friends safe.

A quick-paced, action-packed story with all the high stakes you need in a superhero story, this is the first book in a six-part series that will keep your reader gripped from beginning to end. 

Jasper and Scruff: Take a Bow by Nicola Colton

I’m a big fan of chalk-and-cheese duos, and Jasper and Scruff: Take a Bow by Nicola Colton (Little Tiger) ticks this box nicely. Meet Jasper, a very serious and theatre-loving cat, and his beloved friend Scruff, a dog who is pandemonium personified. They enter a talent show with a magic act, but things quickly go wrong when it’s clear all the acts are being sabotaged.

This is a quick and easy read with lots of cosy and colourful illustrations. Written with a healthy dose of mystery to keep you guessing and hugely entertaining banter between these two characters, this is a thoroughly enjoyable read. There are four books in this series for a young reader to delve into. 

Wigglesbottom Primary: The Toilet Ghost by Becka Moor, illustrated by Pamela Butchart

Another short-story collection is the excellent Wigglesbottom Primary: The Toilet Ghost written by Becka Moor and illustrated by Pamela Butchart (Nosy Crow). Here you can read three stories about the titular toilet ghost, a stinky shoe that tells you the future, and a cursed itchy carpet. These stories are hilarious and full of whimsy, with stories reminiscent of many school experiences, past and present. The students are often prone to dramatics, jumping to conclusions, and getting into bizarre situations.

This would make an especially good book to read with a class, with its vibrant illustrations and creative typography. This is the first of a nine-part series (soon to be ten), there is no shortage of whacky scenarios for readers to enjoy. 

Kitty and the Runaway Train, by Paula Harrison, illustrated by Jenny Løvlie

For fans of Isadora MoonKitty and the Runaway Train written by Paula Harrison and illustrated by Jenny Løvlie (Oxford University Press) is a must-read. Kitty has cat-inspired superpowers and goes on adventures with her sidekick pet kitten, Pumpkin. Kitty is secretly on board a famous steam train in the middle of the night, when the train suddenly starts rolling away and it’s up to her to save the day. Kitty is a daring and spunky superhero and is always sure to look out for her cat friends.

This is a real page-turner with lots of fast-paced action. The black, white, and orange illustrations are beautifully drawn and full of life. I’ve no doubt this would be a big hit with any cat lover. This is the twelfth book in a (soon to be) fourteen-part series. 

Pablo and Splash by Sheena Dempsey

A fabulous, brand-new publication, Pablo and Splash by Sheena Dempsey (Bloomsbury) is an absolute delight. Penguins Pablo and Splash decide to take a break from the cold and go on holiday. In an attempt to source transport, they find themselves in a scientist’s lab and accidently board a time machine that brings them to the age of the dinosaurs.

This is a brilliant new comic book with expert panel work and vibrant illustrations, you’ll not want to put it down. The two penguins are hysterically funny, particularly Splash who is a great instigator for adventures and is a source of some of the funniest lines of dialogue I’ve read in a long time (the scene down the hole in the ice being a favourite example of this). A complete joy to read, I look forward to seeing more adventures with this duo in the future. 

Armed with ten book recommendations (as well as the potential of many other books across their series), I hope this list can help beginner readers find the perfect story so they can continue their bookish journey.