Recommended Books for Year 2: Year 2 is a transitional year when many children start reading books independently. It is crucial to have plenty of books available that children will be able to tackle on their own as well as books with longer, more complex stories that will be read aloud to them at home and school. Picture books and visual literacy continue to be important, but the stories will be increasingly sophisticated, and illustrations can be more complex too. Children with a good repertoire of traditional stories will understand the humour in fractured fairy tales. Episodic stories and collections of short stories are excellent as they help readers develop an implicit understanding of story structure without having to retain a complex narrative from one reading session to the next. The layout is important, too – well-designed pages with plenty of white space and illustrations are supportive. Poetry may have a wider range of forms and reflects children’s everyday experiences, with nature and people being popular themes. Inclusivity is an important consideration for all of our selections.
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
Milo Imagine the World
By Matt de la Pena. Illustrated by Christian Robinson. Published by Macmillan.
An exceptional book about not judging by appearance. Milo has challenges in his life, a parent in prison. Verbal communication isn’t easy, but drawing helps Milo to make sense of the world. This is an important book which will benefit from adult-guided discussion.
Aron Slater Illustrator
By Andrea Beaty. Illustrated by David Roberts. Published by Abrams.
Am excellent addition to The Questioneers series. Aaron has difficulties with reading, but when it comes to visual expression, he wows his teacher and classmates. Illustrator David Roberts has drawn on his dyslexic experience to bring something very special to this book. Look closely at the ways children communicate in this story. A lovely warm depiction of a blended family too.
The Bear and the Wildcat
By Kazumi Yumoto. Illustrated by Komako Sakai. Published by Gecko Press.
A profound elegiac book about love, loss and bereavement told in a gentle way through muted illustration and lyrical text. Children can cope with life’s big questions when approached in the right way and it’s difficult to imagine a more perfect book for broaching a discussion about the circle of life. One for quiet reflection.
The Woman Who Turned Children Into Birds
By David Almond. Illustrated by Laura Carlin. Published by Walker Books.
A poetic, philosophical book about the wisdom of children and the desire for creative freedom. Every reader will have a different interpretation of the story and what it means to them, so allow the children’s thoughts to fly like the birds in this fable, which works for all ages..
The Three Billy Goats Gruff
By Mac Barnett. Illustrated by Jon Klassen. Published by Scholastic.
This traditional story, retold by Mac Barnett with illustrations by Jon Klassen, works well for children who already know the traditional story. Told from the troll’s point of view, this is an entertaining read with plenty of gross humour. it also offers opportunities for some rich discussion and comparison with other versions of the story.
By Anete Melece. Illustrated by Anete Melece. Published by Gecko Press.
The kiosk is Olga’s life until an unexpected happening, which sets Olga on a journey of discovery and freedom. Our reviews editor, Jo Bowers writes, ‘It offers great opportunities to ask questions, develop imaginative thinking, promote rich discussion and follow-on creative writing and art.’
By David Wiesner. Illustrated by David Wiesner. Published by Andersen Press.
An almost wordless book from the master of visually-rendered storytelling, David Wiesner. There’s a lot of humour in this story about a robot family and their new arrival. Detailed pictures which children who love anything mechanical will enjoy poring over. Older children will enjoy this one too.
By Tom Percival. Illustrated by Tom Percival. Published by Simon and Schuster.
The young protagonist in this story has a hard life. it’s evident that her family do not have much money, but in spite of this, she finds a way to bring joy and make a difference in her community. A good choice to talk with children about the positive differences they can make in society. If the message of this book is to be summed up in a few short words it is – make a connection be part of the change.
Kate on the Case
By Hannah Peck. Illustrated by Hannah Peck. Published by Piccadilly Press.
The third title in a two-colour chapter-book series about a bold young detective and a colourful cast of suspects. We have included the first book in our Reading Gladiators book club. It was shortlisted for The Aligator’s Mouth Award and the V & A Illustration Award. It’s a lovely read-aloud for Year 2 or a reading book for a confident reader. It reads as a standalone but you may want to read the first two books before this one.
Adventure Mice: Otter Chaos
By Philip Reeve. Illustrated by Sarah McIntyre. Published by David Fickling Books.
It was love at first sight when this book, the first in a new series from Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre arrived in our review mailing. A cast of endearing characters, great humour and gorgeous artwork. A perfect package for year 2 readers. If reading aloud to a class, you will definitely want to use a visualiser to share the images.
The Cat and the King
By Nick Sharratt. Illustrated by Nick Sharratt. Published by Scholastic.
The Cat and the King tells the story of a gentle, unworldly King and his very clever cat, Nick Sharratt has a distinctive witty voice, which makes this a joy to read aloud. It’s illustrated in two colours throughout. We selected this book for our Reading Gladiators Book Club.
Bad Panda: The Cake Escape
By Swapna Haddow. Illustrated by Sheena Dempsey. Published by Faber.
The second book in Swapna Haddow and Sheena Dempsey’s Bad Panda Series. Our reviewer Prue Goodwin writes, ‘I love this book for so many reasons. Obviously, the slapstick wit (including poo jokes) running through the text but also: six pages of amazing lyrics to a popular panda song (so we can all join in); the delightful pictures and other graphic elements of the storytelling; the insightful characterisation of leadership,’ A fabulous read-aloud experience which will have you laughing together with your class.
An Alien in the Jam Factory
By Chrissie Sains. Illustrated by Jenny Taylor. Published by Walker Books.
Scooter McLay’s cerebral palsy affects how quickly he can move his body, but his hyper-creative brain is a constant fizz of brilliant ideas. He spends every day inventing top secret recipes and machines for his family’s jam factory. This book has been a hugely popular choice in our Reading Gladiators Book Club and works very well as a class read-aloud. There are sequels for fans to enjoy.
Bumble and Snug and the Angry Pirates
By Mark Bradley. Illustrated by Mark Bradley. Published by Hachette.
This is the first title in the Bumble and Snug series, a full-colour graphic novel suitable for readers from age 5 upwards. Bumble and Snug are a lovable comedy duo – the strong contrast in colour and shape works very well and the narrative is well-pitched for this age group. A good choice for independent reading. Children will enjoy sharing in pairs.
Narwhal Unicorn of the Sea
By Ben Clanton. Illustrated by Ben Clanton. Published by HarperCollins.
Ben Clanton’s Narwhal and Jelly series is a delight. An accessible first graphic novel series that will bring smiles to readers’ faces. Our two underwater, waffle-loving heroes are utterly charming and children will likely be clamouring for other books in the series once they have read this one.
Classic and established favourites
By Martin Waddell. Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. Published by Walker Books.
This animal fable about the rewards of hard work and cooperation – and the perils of greed and laziness has much to offer year 2 readers. It’s a story that lends itself to enactment. Children will enjoy shouting the farmer’s refrain, ‘How goes the work’ and plotting to evict the farmer unceremoniously from his bed and farm (try communicating using only animal voices). This is one of the books in our Take One Book resource for schools.
The Green Ship
By Quentin Blake. Illustrated by Quentin Blake. Published by Penguin Random House.
Two young adventurers stray into a neighbour’s garden, discover a ship made from trees, and meet an old lady who wants the children to climb aboard and sail across the seven seas. But summer passes, and storms are on the horizon. While change is inevitable, memories persist, and stories are passed on. Allow time for children to respond to the things they see in this story and the personal meanings they attach to it. Multi-layered as the best stories are.
The Day The Crayons Quit
By Drew Daywalt. Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. Published by HarperCollins.
You will never look at your pencil case in quite the same way after reading this witty story. A pack of disgruntled crayons write letters explaining their grievances. After reading, enjoy making up your stories starring the crayons; you might even make them into storybooks. A beautifully designed book bursting with verbal and visual creativity.
By Jeanne Willis. Illustrated by Tony Ross. Published by Andersen Press.
This class favourite is hilarious but best understood by children who know about lifecycles. Older children may better appreciate the irony, so this one works with a wide age range from about 7 years upwards.
Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Book
By Lauren Child. Illustrated by Lauren Child. Published by Hachette.
A fabulous fractured fairy tale for children already familiar with standard versions. Wonderfully playful, this book was groundbreaking in its use of typography and found materials. This book is included in our Take One Book scheme,
Jim and the Beanstalk
By Raymond Briggs. Illustrated by Raymond Briggs. Published by Penguin Random House.
A wonderful version of the traditional story which celebrates friendship, kindness and problem-solving. A super book to compare with standard versions of the story,
The Secret of Black Rock
By Joe Todd-Stanton. Illustrated by Joe Todd-Stanton. Published by Flying Eye.
A modern story with all the hall marks of a traditional tale. This longer picture book with graphic novel features works well for children in year 2, either for independent reading or as a class book.
The Man Who Wore All His clothes
By Allan Ahlberg. Illustrated by Katherine McEwen. Published by Walker Books.
This farcical story is a masterpiece by Allan Ahlberg. It’s fast-paced and can be read in a few sessions. It works as a class read but most year 2 will be able to read it independently, so a good one for the class reading corner.
Traction Man is Here
By Mini Grey. Illustrated by Mini Grey. Published by Penguin Random House.
A popular classroom choice, Mini Grey’s multi-layered picture books work best with readers from around age 7 upwards who will appreciate the witty wordplay. The message about self-worth may generate class discussion, but it is the playfulness of the story that will attract most readers.
The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark
By Jull Murphy. Illustrated by Paul Howard.
This episodic story about a little owl that meets lots of creatures that reassure him about the beauty of the night has long been a classroom favourite and still appeals to children today.
Clever Polly and the Stupid Wolf
By Catherine Storr. Published by Penguin Random House.
These episodic stories about a little girl who outwits the wolf who is determined to have her for dinner works well as a class read aloud, The short stories are particularly good for younger children as they do not need to retain the details of a longer more complex narrative.
Mrs Pepperpot Stories
By Alf Proysen. Published by Penguin Random House.
This collection of classic stories about the woman who shrinks to the size of a pepperpot are great for reading aloud to children in year 2.
Arabel and Mortimer
By Joan Aiken. Illustrated by Quenton Blake. Published by Penguin Random House.
The six hilarious stories in this collection about Arabel and her accident-prone raven, Mortimer are a perfect choice for reading aloud to year 2.
The Night Gardener
By The Fan Brothers. Illustrated by The Fan Brothers. Published by Frances Lincoln Children's Books.
The fan brothers’ dreamy illustrations are intriguing and spark lively conversations about the themes in this story, which we have selected for our Take One Book
The Bear and the Piano
By David Litchfield. Illustrated by David Litchfield. Published by Frances Lincoln Children's Books.
The first book in the best-selling, award-winning ‘Bear and the Piano’. A superbly illustrated story that tugs at the heartstrings. There are plenty of opportunities to discuss the themes of exploration, belonging and friendship.