Best Transitional Books 2023 | SLJ Best Books

In these 16 early readers and chapter books, children who are learning to read will see themselves reflected on the pages and feel a sense of accomplishment as they embark on their reading journeys.


Bailey, Jenn. Henry, Like Always. illus. by Mika Song. Chronicle. ISBN 9781797213897.
Gr 1-4–Bailey and Song have created a goes-his-own-way hero in Henry, resistant to conventional paths to learning and participating, possibly neurodivergent, and perfectly creative in his own right. Classroom scenes and spare writing give emerging readers a glimpse of inclusion that truly makes room for everyone.

Cordell, Matthew. Evergreen. Feiwel & Friends. ISBN 9781250317179.
K-Gr 2–In a remarkable chapter book that teaches problem-solving skills, a kind squirrel faces her fears. Cordell’s art is detailed, emotional, and action-packed; the heroine is brave; and the storytelling is outstanding. Delightful.

David, Arihhonni. Who Will Win? Holiday House. ISBN 9780823449484.
PreS-Gr 1–A story based on a Native American tale about a bear and a turtle racing across a stretch of ice. Written and illustrated by David (Mohawk), this should find a place in all collections, especially given the lack of Indigenous voices and representation in early readers.

Fang, Vicky. A Pie for Us!: An Acorn Book. illus. by Luisa Leal. Scholastic. ISBN 9781338865585.
PreS-Gr 1–A dog and cat explore their world with laugh-out-loud results. Text is simple, following a pattern; beginning readers will confidently read high-frequency words and learn new vocabulary. Cartoon illustrations vibrantly showcase the story. This engaging early reader stands out for all the right reasons.

Faruqi, Saadia. Ali the Great and the Market Mishap. illus. by Debby Rahmalia. Capstone/Picture Window. ISBN 9781484681138.
Gr 1-3–This delightful early chapter book features Pakistani American second grader Ali Tahir and his family. Ali, his Dada, and little brother head to the market, where mishaps ensue. The sweet family dynamic, pitch-perfect text, and appealing illustrations will resonate with those not yet ready for longer chapter books.

Greenwald, Tommy & Charlie Greenwald. The Rescues Finding Home. illus. by Shiho Pate. Red Comet. ISBN 9781636550763.
K-Gr 2–This heartwarming transitional book follows Moose, who has one eye, and Bear, who has three legs, two shelter dogs who befriend each other while waiting for a new home. With cozy illustrations, this tale will charm readers and show them all about acceptance and seeing differences as strengths.

Hale, Shannon & Dean Hale. The Princess in Black and the Prince in Pink. illus. by Leuyen Pham. Candlewick. ISBN 9781536209785.
Gr 2-4–Princess Magnolia/The Princess in Black is back, and this time she’s aided by the mysterious Prince in Pink/Prince Valerian in saving their party from a rampant giant emu. As ever, the series’ signature themes of identity, friendship, and teamwork ring true. Candy-colored art makes this irresistible to burgeoning readers.

Lerner, Jarrett. Nat the Cat Takes a Bath. S. & S./Spotlight. ISBN 9781665918930.
K-Gr 2–Nat the Cat doesn’t like baths and will do whatever it takes to delay them. Straightforward, repetitive phrases enhance confidence as children begin reading on their own. This funny, heartwarming, accessible book will encourage and entertain fledgling readers as they improve their independent reading skills.

LaRochelle, David. See the Ghost: Three Stories About Things You Cannot See. illus. by Mike Wohnoutka. Candlewick. ISBN 9781536219821.
PreS-Gr 3–With spare text, ample white space, speech bubbles, and simple illustrations that put emphasis on the words, these three humorous stories about a ghost, the wind, and a fairy are reminiscent of Mo Willems’s “Elephant and Piggie” titles. This collection also works as a fun read-aloud.

Medina, Juana. Elena Rides. Candlewick. ISBN 9781536216356.
PreS-Gr 1–Elena the elephant is riding a bike, but her confidence falters after some falls. Still, she won’t give up. Elena’s persistence offers an important message in spare, engaging prose to anyone attempting to master a new skill—including learning to read.

Mora, Julissa. Baking with Mi Abuelita. Random. ISBN 9780593651971.
Gr 1-3–For Papi’s birthday, a girl is excited to help Abuelita make his favorite tres leches cake. It’s fun to spend time with family, continuing traditions. The English narrative contains Spanish words. A fabulous example of Rudine Sims Bishop’s mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors metaphor, this sweet work has bright art and digestible text.

Platt, Christine. Frankie and Friends: Breaking News. illus. by Alea Marley. Candlewick/Walker. ISBN 9781536222098.
Gr 1-5–Frankie is a young reporter inspired by her journalist mom. While her mother is away chasing a story, Frankie makes her own news crew and reconnects with her sister. This adorable series debut has STEM elements and a wonderful depiction of family relationships. Fun illustrations add to its charm.

Quigley, Dawn. Jo Jo Makoons: Snow Day. illus. by Tara Audibert. HarperCollins/Heartdrum. ISBN 9780063015432.
K-Gr 3–Lovable, guileless Jo Jo returns in this snow day adventure that centers kindness and community. Jo Jo and friends create winter Olympics on her Ojibwe reservation. This chapter book includes engaging material about Ojibwe culture, delightful illustrations, and a spunky heroine kids will embrace.

Ransom, Candice. Graduation Day! illus. by Ashley Evans. Random. ISBN 9780593643655.
PreS-K–A young brown boy attends his last day of kindergarten—graduation day. Kids beginning to read will feel the excitement in this rhyming, easy-to-read book that features a diverse classroom. Whether at home or the library, this tale will resonate with emerging readers.

Rubinstein, Elana. The Royal Recipe: A Purim Story. illus. by Jennifer Naalchigar. Apples & Honey. ISBN 9781681156071.
Gr 3-6–Saralee, a 10-year-old with a “super-nose,” uses her gift to save her family from biblical villain Haman, whom she has accidentally conjured up from the ancient past. The theme of Purim will enhance multicultural literature collections of early reader chapter books.

Trinh, Linda. The Mystery of the Painted Fan.­ illus. by Clayton Nguyen. Annick. ISBN 9781773217710.
Gr 1-4–Jacob wants to have a pink hockey helmet, join the girls’ fan dance, and paint his nails, but he is teased and discouraged. With family support and Grandma’s fan, Jay is embraced for who he is. This book deftly depicts resisting gender norms and the richness of Vietnamese culture.

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