Recommended Books for Year 1 take account of children’s abilities to read more words independently, and many encourage joining in. Our selection includes books for differing levels of reading attainment and interests. Rhyming continues to be important for this age group, but they are longer than those recommended for early years. Illustrations are likely to be more complex, with plenty of details that enhance the narrative. Our lists are updated regularly. They include new titles as well as well-established classics. Our choices include high-interest themes for this age group to encourage reading for pleasure.
Most of the books in this list have full reviews that you can read for more detailed information and our evaluation.
Individual books and special easy-purchase collections are available from our bookselling partner Best Books for Schools.
The book selection for our recommended reading lists is overseen by Just Imagine Director Nikki Gamble, a former teacher and university lecturer, co-author of Guiding Readers and author of Exploring Children’s Literature. The views of our review panel inform our choices. The panel is convened and reviews are edited by Jo Bowers, a former teacher and university lecturer specialising in literacy and children’s literature.
Our top picks from recent titles
Gustavo the Shy Ghost
By Flavia Z Drago. Illustrated by Flavia Z Drago. Published by Walker Books.
This delightful ghost story for younger readers isn’t too scary for year 1 readers who are a little robust. AThere are lots of details to spot in the illustration that will be as entertaining for adults as they are for children. Flavia Drago won the Klaus Flugge Award for this exquisite book.
How to be Cooler than Cool
By Sean Taylor. Illustrated by Jean Jullien. Published by Walker Books.
A humorous picture book about the magic of wearing a cool pair of shades and the mayhem that ensues. A brilliant book for storytime, a repetitive narrative structure will have children predicting what comes next, and there are plenty of opportunities for discussion about what it means to be ‘cool’.
The Blue-Footed Booby
By Rob Biddulph. Illustrated by Rob Biddulph. Published by HarperCollins.
Red-Footed Boobies are fabulous bakers. But when Desmond’s frangipane tart goes missing amidst a flurry of footprints, the Blue-Footed Booby becomes the chief suspect. But all is not as it seems. A fabulous rhyming picturebook from Rob Biddulph, with lots to be discovered on multiple readings of the book.
By Joyce Dunbar. Illustrated by Petr Horacek. Published by Walker Books.
Mischievous Mister Boo loves to give everyone he meets a surprise. He shocks the baby birds, the baby rabbits and the baby owls. BOO! But one day, he wakes up without his usual energy, and no one seems to take any notice of him. This thoughtful book will prompt conversations about the changes we all experience in life. It encourages empathy and acknowledges the mutual benefits of intergenerational relationships
Who Will Kiss the Crocodile?
By Suzy Senior. Illustrated by Claire Powell.
This is a fun retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. When Princess Liss is cursed on her first birthday and turned into a crocodile, only a kiss can awaken her and reverse the transformation. But who will kiss a crocodile? As you can imagine, this doesn’t have a traditional ending. Children in year 1 who know the most common fairy tales will enjoy the humour in this story.
The Kindest Red
By Ibtihaj Muhammad andS. K. Ali. Illustrated by Hatem Aly. Published by Andersen Press.
Faizah has wanted to wear her special red dress for ages, but when it comes to the end of the school day, she notices how the other children in her class look like their older siblings. Faizah’s friends rally round and find a solution. A gentle, inclusive story about love, kindness and family.
What Feelings Do When No One's Looking
By Tina Oziewicz. Illustrated by Aleksandra Zajac. Published by Pushkin Children;s Books.
A stunning, charming and brilliantly inventive picturebook about the feelings that live inside us, sure to provoke many fascinating conversations. It includes common emotions and some that may be less well known to year 1 children enabling them to expand their emotional language. The book can be dipped into, and each page will prompt worthwhile conversations between children and adults. A book that could be read by any age.
By Ross Montgomery. Illustrated by Sarah Warburton. Published by Walker Books.
The penguin pack play all day long. And when the sun goes down, and the night grows cold and dark…”PENGUIN HUDDLE!” The penguins squeeze and squish together to stay warm and cosy. But one night, there is a freezing gale. And the next morning … the penguins are stuck! How will they become unstuck? They will try anything, and it will get them into hilarious scrapes. Hugely enjoyable situation comedy.
Lizzy and the Cloud
By Eric Fan, Terry Fan. Illustrated by Eric Fan, Terry Fan.
A dreamy, surrealistic story. This story bears the hallmark of the Fan brothers’ superb storytelling. The illustrations have a timeless quality, with many details in the street scenes and important themes to discuss. Look out for references to other books in the Fan Brothers’ repertoire. This book works well with a wide age-range
The Pirate Mums
By Jodie Lancet-Grant . Illustrated by Lydia Corry. Published by Oxford University Press.
Billy’s family is not what you’d call ordinary. His mums won’t listen to NORMAL music. They love to sing sea shanties and dance jigs in the lounge. Their clothes are highly unusual, they have a rude parrot for a pet, and their taste in house design is, well . . .FISHY. A romp of an adventure with appealing illustrations that children will enjoy.
Can Bears Ski?
By Raymond Antrobus. Illustrated by Polly Dunbar. Published by Walker Books.
Dad doesn’t understand why Bear seems to be so dreamy and inattentive. But when a trip to an audiologist reveals that Bear has hearing difficulties and needs hearing aids, a new understanding emerges, though the hearing aid doesn’t fix everything. Raymond Antrobus and Polly Dunbar have personal experiences with deafness, which is reflected in the story. Antrobus’s poetic text draws a contrast between noise and silence, which is amplified by Polly Dunbar’s use of space.
Kitsy Bitsy's Noisy Neighbours
By Polly Faber. Illustrated by Melissa Crowton. Published by Nosy Crow.
What do you do when you have noisy neighbours? Polly Faber is fast becoming a Just Imagine favourite with relatable stories. Melissa Crowton’s illustrations add a Scarry-esque flavour with lots of details that will be discovered on rereading this delightful story. The rhyme carries the story along with opportunities for prediction on the turn of the page. It’s a bonus to have a story set in a high-rise block of flats – more of these are needed to reflect the lives of all children.
By Broni May Smith. Illustrated by Briony May Smith. Published by Walker Books.
Margaret’s whole world changes when her family moves to a cottage by the sea and Margaret finds a baby unicorn. A delightful story about friendship set against a richly rendered landscape. This is a wonderful story for thinking about the needs of others and developing empathy.
Dimple and the Boo
By Pip Jones. Illustrated by Paula Bowles. Published by Barrington Stoke.
Dimple and the Boo is an attractive book with high production values. Pip Jones is familiar with the vocabulary of KS1 classrooms, so children will recognise parts of chapter 8 which tackle tricky words. The illustrations are delightful – brightly coloured, lively and engaging. Sharing this tale by reading aloud could lead to some interesting discussion about feelings, misunderstandings and remembering to talk about worries. The idea of the Boo being a metaphor for Dimple’s anxiety may also be explored if appropriate.
By Matt Carr. Illustrated by Matt Carr. Published by HarperCollins.
All children deserve a bit of anarchic silliness and Captain Looroll fits the bill. When the upstairs is threatened by the villain ToileTroll, the gallant hero of the downstairs toilet leaps into action. Energetic with super-bright illustration, this is a story children can enjoy without for it’s own sake – no morals or worthy themes here.
Classic and established favourites
Not Now Bernard
By David McKee. Illustrated by David McKee. Published by Andersen Press.
David McKee’s classic story has an ironic tone which is often lost on younger children, but readers from year 1 upwards may well interpret Bernard and his parents’ actions in various ways. This is a great story to share and allows space for children to express their thoughts. Should Bernard feel cross with his parents? Why are Bernard’s parents always so busy? Is Bernard right to keep asking for their attention? Where did the monster come from? There are, of course, no correct answers to these questions
By Alexis Deacon. Illustrated by Alexis Deacon. Published by Puffin.
Alexis Deacon’s Beegu is one of the most beloved picture books, and with good reason. When a young alien creature lands on Earth, she finds it bewildering, and everyone is too preoccupied to help her except a group of schoolchildren. Beegu’s family find and rescue her, but Beegu will remember the kindness shown to her by the children. A book to provoke discussion about outsiders, belonging, family and home – themes that transcend the story and connect with children’s lives in many ways.
By Quentin Blake. Illustrated by Quentin Blake. Published by Penguin Random House.
Mr Magnolia has only one boot. He has an old trumpet that goes rooty-toot -And two lovely sisters who play on the flute -But Mr Magnolia has only one boot. A highly memorable rhyming story will have children requesting repeated readings and joining in with the refrain ‘But Mr Magnolia has only one boot’. An exhuberant celebration of eccentricity.
By Allan Ahlberg. Illustrated by Janet Ahlberg. Published by Penguin Random House.
‘On a dark dark hill there was a dark dark town. In the dark dark town there was a dark dark street.’ So begins this classic story. The skeletons in this story are lovable rather than scary – the perfect comedy duo, with the dog as the supporting act. The patterned text supports children who are learning to read independently. And for Funnybones fans, there are more stories for children to enjoy.
Where the Wild Things Are
By Maurice Sendak. Illustrated by Maurice Sendak. Published by Penguin Random House.
This breakthrough picture book first published in 1963, has inspired and influenced many picture book creators. A perfect emotionally authentic story that acknowledges children’s feelings without judgement. It also celebrates the unconditional love between most parents and their children. The cadences of this poetic text make it highly memorable, like the ebb and flow of the ocean on which Max’s boat floats to the island of the Wild Things.
Lily Takes a Walk
By Satoshi Kitamura. Illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura. Published by Scallywag Press.
When Lily takes a walk with her dog, Nicky, she notices many lovely things. But poor Nicky only sees monsters lurking at every turn. Children love spotting what Lily does not see, but there’s a final twist, and the last laugh may be at Lily’s expense. A reminder for us all to take notice of our surroundings without being preachy.
The Storm Whale
By Benji Davies. Illustrated by Benji Davies. Published by Simon & Schuster.
The Storm Whale series is one of the favourites from our Take One Book resource and training. Noi’s need for company and his connection with the little whale tugs at the heartstrings, but perhaps it is the reconnection with his Dad that has the biggest emotional pull. Humans’ relationship with the natural world is another theme that will generate discussion in the year 1 class.
By Mary Hoffman. Illustrated by Caroline Binch. Published by Frances Lincoln.
A groundbreaking book when it was first published, it reminds us how far we have come. But there is no place for complacency. Hopefully, this book will one day become a historical document rather than reflecting any reality in our diverse society.
By Helen Cooper. Illustrated by Helen Cooper. Published by Penguin Random House.
The warm autumnal tones and appealing characters make this a cosy read. Cat, squirrel and rabbit are good friends, but sharing isn’t always easy. And when you are growing up you strive for independence and some responsibility and sometimes that can cause problems too, The trio find their way through the difficulties – for the time-being at least. A beautifully observed story that speaks to adults and children.
The Lighthouse Keeper's Lunch
By Ronda Armitage. Illustrated by David Armitage. Published by Scholastic.
Once there was a lighthouse keeper called Mr Grinling… Mr Grinling LOVES his food… especially his lunch. This story has sparked many a class project over the years with opportunities for investigating pulleys, creating delicious packed lunches, learning about lighthouses – and enjoying the story, of course.
By Julia Donaldson. Illustrated by Axel Scheffler. Published by Macmillan.
Every recommended book list for year 1 needs a Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler book. We’ve chosen Stick Man which has that frisson of danger tempered by the reassuring rhyme. Poor Stick Man is subject to the whims of humans and animals who have their own ideas about his use. And just when it looks as though he has met his end, he is saved in the nick of time.
Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy
By Lynley Dodd. Illustrated by Lynley Dodd. Published by Penguin Random House.
This highly memorable story about Hairy Maclary and his doggy friends has a jaunty, repetitive refrain which will have all the children joining in together. Everyone has their favourite dog. Mine is ‘Muffin Maclay like a bundle of hay’. Lynley Dodd’s other books featuring the neighbourhood dogs and cats are equally good choices for a class read aloud.
Katie Morag Island Stories
By Mairi Hedderwick. Illustrated by Mairi Hedderwick. Published by Penguin Random House.
The Katie Morag stories are gentle depictions of family life on the island of Struay. In the classroom, they can be read as a starting point for comparing life on Katie Morag’s island with the area local to the school. The everyday situations may spark children’s stories about their own families and friends.
By Allan Ahlberg. Illustrated by Janet Ahlberg. Published by Penguin Random House.
The story of the burglar who steals a baby, finds love, and learns the error of his ways is highly entertaining. Stories about ‘naughty’ characters help children to feel good about themselves, and they are quick to share their understanding of right and wrong. You might like to have an open discussion with the children about the reasons they think Bill might be stealing things and why he decides to stop.
The Velveteen Rabbit
By Margery Williams. Illustrated by Sarah Massini. Published by Nosy Crow.
This new edition of a much-loved classic story brings it to life for a new generation of children. It’s a longer read than the standard picture book and a good choice to read aloud to the class. It works well alongside other stories about toys, such as Shirley Hughes, Dogger, or David Lucas Lost in the Toy Museum.