BtB Recommends: Great Books for Elementary Readers


Following our Summer Reading List for Early Readers, we’ve rounded up a list of recommendations for elementary grade readers. We know how challenging it can be to help students at varying stages in their reading development to find that “just right” book. One that is engaging and doesn’t simplify content for accessible writing.

We have worked with these nine books because in their pages we found diversity, vibrant art, vivid, accessible text, poetry, great spring boards for discussions about topical issues and great ideas for writing and art projects; because their authors have the knack for reaching and inspiring young readers…

…And because our students love them.

Happy Reading!

Drumbeat In Our Feet by Patricia A. Keeler

“Come along as we explore the fascinating origins of African dance, as rich and diverse as the continent itself. Discover unique rituals, colorful costumes, and rhythmic instruments. Learn about dances that have been passed from generation to generation through the ages. See those very same dances come alive with a new generation of dancers. In captivating detail Drumbeat In Our Feet captures the beauty, history, and energy of African dance.”

This book is a great way to introduce African culture through the fun concept of dance.

Fireboat by Maira Kalman

“The John J. Harvey fireboat was the largest, fastest, shiniest fireboatof its time, but by 1995, the city didn’t need old fireboats anymore. So the Harvey retired, until a group of friends decided to save it from the scrap heap. Then, one sunny September day in 2001, something so horrible happened that the whole world shook. And a call came from the fire department, asking if the Harvey could battle the roaring flames. In this inspiring true story, Maira Kalman brings a New York City icon to life and proves that old heroes never die.”

Fireboat is a terrific true story that raises a significant time in New York history in a way that makes it easy for children to comprehend.

DeShawn Days by Tony Medina

“Based on the author’s own experiences as a child growing up in the projects, a delightful picture book follows DeShawn Williams, who wants to be a rap star and who is terrified that the graffiti in his neighborhood will come alive.”

DeShawn Days is a memoir that brings DeShawn’s block to life through a series of moving, vibrant poems. This book is a great building block to begin a discussion about family, environment and circumstance with your child. It’s fun and fast-paced and children love the rap-rhythms they find in these pages.

My Chinatown: One Year in Poems by Kam Mak

“Kam Mak grew up in a place of two cultures, one existing within the other. Using extraordinarily beautiful paintings and moving poems, he shares a year of growing up in this small city within a city, which is called Chinatown.”

This book explores ideas of community and culture that exist within all cities. Children will identify similarities to their own community while learning more about Chinese culture. Readers can also explore and experiment by writing poems of their own.

A Song for Bijou  by Josh Farrar

“Life for Alex Schrader has never involved girls. He goes to an all-boys prep school and spends most of his time goofing around with his friends. But all that changes the first time he meets Bijou Doucet, a Haitian girl recently relocated to Brooklyn after the earthquake. And he is determined to win her heart. For Bijou, change is the only constant, and she’s surprised every day by how different life is in America, especially when a boy asks her out. Alex quickly learns that there are rules when it comes to girls-both in Haitian culture and with his own friends. And Bijou soon learns that she doesn’t have to let go of her roots to find joy in her new life.”

This heartwarming story of first love is a great introduction for middle readers to start talking about feelings and relationships. It also incorporates references to Haitian culture and to the potential social consequences of natural disaster.

Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Shane Evans

“Finally, Amira is twelve. Old enough to wear a toob, old enough for new responsibilities. And maybe old enough to go to school in Nyala – Amira’s one true dream. But life in her peaceful Sudanese village is shattered when the Janjaweed arrive. The terrifying attackers ravage the town and unleash unspeakable horrors. After she loses nearly everything, Amira needs to dig deep within herself to find the strength to make the long journey on foot to safety at a refugee camp. Her days are tough at the camp, until the gift of a simple red pencil opens her mind – and all kinds of possibilities.”

The Red Pencil provides middle readers with a fantastic literary hero in Amira. While learning about Sudanese culture, children can also begin to comprehend the struggles that people, in particular women, face in different cultures. The story celebrates education and its sparse verse provided a great inspiration for our students to write.

Urban Roosts: Where Birds Nest in the City by Barbara Bash

“This book describes the birds that make their homes in the heart of the city and examines how they have adjusted to such a harsh urban environment.”

Urban Roosts gives a factual account of the lives of birds in city environments and allows children to ask questions like ‘Where do birds build nests?’ and ‘Where do birds find their food?’. This book will give children insight into environmental issues as well as an understanding of how the environment adapts in an urban areas.

Diego Rivera: His World and Ours by Duncan Tonatiuh

“This charming book introduces one of the most popular artists of the twentieth century, Diego Rivera, to young readers. It tells the story of Diego as a young, mischievous boy who demonstrated a clear passion for art and then went on to become one of the most famous painters in the world.”

This biography of the artist, Diego Riviera, introduces children to his famous artwork while also providing inspiration for children to pursue their own creative aspirations. Tonatiuh’s unique modern take on the ancient art of the Mixtex Codex makes a great summertime art project and a great inspiration for a visit to an art museum!

Detective Blue by Steve Metzger

Miss Muffet is missing . . . and Detective Blue is on the case! Little Boy Blue is all grown up, and he’s a detective working to find Miss Muffet. Detective Blue tries to crack the case with the help of his nursery rhyme friends. Join Detective Blue as he interrogates grown-up nursery rhyme characters in order to solve the Missing Muffet Mystery.


Some of our youngest students had a lot of fun with this book this year and you will too, as you solve the mystery of the Missing Miss Muffet together. Then go back through the pages again to find all your favorite nursery rhyme characters referenced in the book.

We hope you’ll share these titles with your young readers – and share your favorites with us!

Contributed By Louise Yardley