Children seem to have fun doing just about anything… even reading!
But they probably love books so much because children’s books are simply so entertaining (fun) to read.
Lucky for you, children’s books are also perfect for English learners.
And that’s why we have put together a list of 10 classic children’s books for you.
- Why Learn English with Children’s Books?
- 10 Classic Children’s Books for English Learners
- 1. “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown
- 2. “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle
- 3. “If You Give a Moose a Muffin” by Laura Numeroff
- 4. “Curious George” by H.A. Rey and Margret Rey
- 5. “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein
- 6. “Corduroy” by Don Freeman
- 7. “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak
- 8. “The Story of Ferdinand” by Munro Leaf
- 9. “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss
- 10. “The Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss
Why Learn English with Children’s Books?
- Memorable images. Many children’s books use pictures to illustrate what is written. They do this so that kids can understand the story better. These illustrations (pictures) can be a huge help to you when learning English. By associating (connecting in your mind) a new vocabulary word or phrase with a picture or an object, it is much easier to remember.
- Words in context. Similarly, words used in a real situation (in context) are also much easier to remember. Since the language in these books is quite simple, it is easy to know what is going on. Therefore, when you come across a word that you don’t know, you can often use the story’s situation and images to understand the word’s meaning (without using a dictionary).
- Simple vocabulary and grammar. Even though I will say below that some of the books have “advanced” vocabulary, they really are not too difficult. They are just harder than the very basic words that are most common in children’s books. For example, you might already know the word “smart,” but one of these books might say “clever.” It has almost the same meaning, but it is a higher level vocabulary word.
- Great life lessons. Most children’s books teach children how to grow up and be a good person. However, even as teenagers and adults, these lessons are still true and important. Children might not fully understand or appreciate (value) the meaning behind the stories. However, as adults, these stories can have new meanings to us.
- Reading them is fun! The stories are enjoyable and the pictures help you make sense of the words (besides being nice to look at).
English learners can get frustrated when they choose books that go above their English reading levels. By focusing on children’s books first, you should have a very positive and successful learning experience.
If you enjoy this type of entertaining language learning, you can get a similar experience with FluentU. FluentU offers authentic English videos, like movie trailers, music videos, inspiring talks and more, that’ve been transformed into a language learning experience.
Each video comes with interactive captions, so you can instantly get definitions for any unfamiliar words. There are also flashcards and exercises to help you remember them. So when you’re taking a break from one of the great books below, check out the FluentU free trial to keep learning while having fun!
10 Classic Children’s Books for English Learners
These books are ordered from easiest to more difficult.
1. “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown
“Goodnight Moon” doesn’t really have much of a story. The book is just a description of certain things like kittens, a mouse and a quiet old lady. There are also mittens, a toy house and even a cow. The author introduces everything in the beginning and then says goodnight each of them at the end.
“Goodnight Moon” uses repetition of the same sentence structures with different vocabulary, which is great for English learners. For example, one line in the book reads, “Goodnight room. Goodnight moon. Goodnight cow jumping over the moon.” This is really helpful for learning a lot of new words.
Most of the story is made of short two- and three-word sentences, which is why I have listed it as the easiest book here.
2. “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle
“The Very Hungry Caterpillar” is about a caterpillar who eats more and more food during a week. The book starts with a little caterpillar who comes out of its egg and starts searching for food. He does this every day.
In the beginning, the caterpillar eats healthily, such as fruit and vegetables. Later, the caterpillar begins to eat junk food more and more, until its stomach hurts. Because of this, the caterpillar decides to eat something good again and it feels better. In the end, the caterpillar wraps up into a cocoon and soon becomes a butterfly.
This children’s book is great for learning essential English words, such as numbers, foods and days of the week. Once again, repetition is very important for improving your English, and this book has lots of great repetition.
3. “If You Give a Moose a Muffin” by Laura Numeroff
“If You Give a Moose a Muffin” is about a moose who always wants something more in his life. First, he wants a muffin. Then he wants some jam to go with it. When he’s finished eating, he wants some more until they’re all gone. Then, he asks you to make more, and more…
This book is one of the shortest on the list, and its language uses a lot of future tense. This means most of the sentences have the verb “will” in them. For example, “If you give a moose a muffin he’ll want some jam to go with it.” This book is especially helpful for learning future tense and its contractions (he’ll, you’ll, etc.).
If you like this book, you’ll probably also like “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” written by the same author.
4. “Curious George” by H.A. Rey and Margret Rey
“Curious George” is very famous series about a monkey named Curious George. The word “curious” means to be interested in knowing more about something. Curious George is a little too curious, which causes humans to catch him and bring him to their big city.
There, the monkey creates all sorts of problems. He calls the fire department, ends up in prison (jail), escapes from prison, is carried into the sky by balloons and eventually, he arrives safely in the zoo.
This book uses a lot of short, simple sentences, which makes it very easy to read for English learners. For example, “One day George saw a man. He had on a large yellow straw hat. The man saw George too.” As you can tell, the sentences are very short and choppy, which is what makes “Curious George” a great read for both children and English learners.
5. “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein
In this story, a boy loves to play in an apple tree, and the apple tree loves when the boy plays with her. The boy gets older, though, and doesn’t play in the tree anymore. Later in life, he comes back to the tree to ask her for help in life. The tree helps the boy because she loves him. In the end, the boy comes back to the tree one final time as an old man, and uses the tree’s stump (the short part that’s left after a tree is cut down) to sit, making the tree happy.
This book has such a deep meaning, and it is fun to read at the same time. This book uses its simple words to create one clear idea, making it an easy read.
6. “Corduroy” by Don Freeman
“Corduroy” is the story of a little bear who is for sale in a toy shop. He has lost one of his buttons, so no one wants to buy him. This makes him very sad because he wants to be taken home by a child. Corduroy decides he needs to find a new button if someone is going to buy him.
So one night, he leaves the toy shop and goes out into the big store to find a button for himself. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to find a button, but you’ll have to read the story to see what happens next.
“Corduroy” uses a lot of advanced vocabulary, such as “overalls” (the item of clothing in these pictures) and “escalator” (stairs that move). Therefore, it could be helpful to use a dictionary while you read this book. You can also learn many house-related words, like “sofa” and “furniture.”
7. “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak
“Where the Wild Things Are” is about a boy named Max who misbehaves in front of his parents. His mother sends him to his room without eating dinner. While in his room, a forest magically grows and Max meets huge monsters called Wild Things. The Wild Things try to scare him, but Max tames the them with a magic trick.
The Wild Things become scared of Max, so they call him the most wild thing of all. Eventually, Max says he must go home and he returns to his room on his private boat. When Max finally gets home again, his mother has left dinner for him, still hot.
This is one of the most classic children’s books in English literature, and is also one of the most well known. In fact, it was made into a very popular movie. Despite being a children’s book, “Where the Wild Things Are” uses some advanced vocabulary, so it is great for learning higher level words and grammar.
8. “The Story of Ferdinand” by Munro Leaf
Ever since he was a kid, Ferdinand, a bull (a male cow), loved to smell the flowers in the pasture (area of grass) where he lives. But the other bulls liked to play and butt heads. When Ferdinand grows up, he becomes the biggest and the strongest of the bulls—but he still likes to sit and smell the flowers.
One day five men come to pick a bull from the pasture for the bull fights. Ferdinand does not want to be chosen, but a bee stings him. The bee sting causes Ferdinand to jump around crazily, so the five men pick Ferdinand for the bull fights. In Ferdinand’s first fight, he lies down to smell the flowers in the arena (the place where they have the fights) instead of fighting. Because of this he is sent back to the pasture.
This is the first story on this list that has more normal language and flow instead of using poetry, rhyming or lacking a real story. It has everything that makes a children’s book great for English learners: simple and advanced vocabulary, as well as simple and advanced grammar concepts.
9. “Green Eggs and Ham” by Dr. Seuss
In this book, a cat named Sam really likes green eggs and ham. So he offers it to a friend, but the friends does not want to eat green eggs and ham.
They go on a train, inside a tunnel and even in the lake, but Sam’s friend still does not want to eat green eggs and ham. After Sam asks his friend many times, his friend finally tries the green eggs and ham. You’ll have to read the book to see if he liked the meal or not.
This book is a long and very entertaining poem. It uses repetition like “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” does. Despite having mostly simple vocabulary, the words are used in a way that feels smart. There is a lot of rhyming and use of similar words, which is what makes this book so clever and fun to read.
10. “The Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss
Written by the same author as “Green Eggs and Ham,” this famous book begins with two siblings. They have to stay inside one day because it is cold and rainy outside. They don’t know what to do to have fun, and their parents are not home.
Suddenly, a cat in a hat knocks on their door and invites himself in. The cat makes a mess while having fun and playing around. The cat leaves and returns with Thing 1 and Thing 2 inside, making a bigger mess. Will the siblings be able to clean up before their parents return? You will have to read the book to find out.
“The Cat in the Hat” is the longest of the children’s books on this list, but it is one of the best ones. The Cat in the Hat character is one of Dr. Seuss’s most popular stories. This book is excellent for English learners because of the simple language and diverse vocabulary. I recommend this book for people who want a larger knowledge of English vocabulary in particular. For example, a couple of fun words used in this story include “thump” and “bump.”
There are so many great ways to learn from children’s books as you improve your English.
But don’t forget to also work on your other skills besides reading! The good thing is that even with one book, you can work on different skills at the same time. For example, you can read aloud to practice your English speaking.
Whatever the format, children’s stories are great because they have important life lessons, memorable scenes, useful context for remembering new words, and simple vocabulary and grammar.
The next time you aren’t sure what to do to improve your English, try out children’s stories!