Easy Reading for ESL Beginners: Start with These!

Do you need easy reading for ESL Beginners? Even if you're new to English, reading is a great way to practice it. It's important to find reading materials that you can understand. You don't want to stop too often to look up words. That interrupts you and makes it hard to follow the story. Success with easy reading will make you want more!

Bins of children's books that are easy reading for ESL beginners. Text: 'Ideas for starting to read in English: suggestions for children's books... or adult materials...'

If you're just beginning to read English, don't start with long articles or books. Some of the best simple English reading is on the Internet. Check out Online Reading.  (Several of these also offer audio versions, so you can listen as you read.) 

If you want easy books you can carry with you, try children’s stories. Most are very well-written and interesting to adults as well as children. (They need to be because adults buy them and often read them with their kids.) Many are short, and illustrations make them easier to understand.

At a library, you can borrow books for a few weeks at no cost. (I worked at a library for several years and have used libraries all my life. I can assure you that most librarians will be happy to answer your questions and to help you find what you want.) 

A librarian (or bookstore clerk) can recommend books to match your reading level and interests. Besides stories, there are children’s non-fiction (factual) books on many subjects. Many are simple English reading-- great for beginners!

“I Can Reads” and "Easy Readers"

The easiest books are “I Can Read” books, or easy readers. After that, there are short chapter books and picture books that may also be easy enough for you to enjoy.

Dr. Seuss wrote some of the first beginning readers. See The Cat in the Hat series and Green Eggs and Ham. There are many child detective easy readers. See also animal stories, like Little Bear by Else Minarik and Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel.

For adults, I recommend the Amelia Bedelia books by Peggy Parish.

Amelia Bedelia is a maid who is easily confused by English idioms. She tries her best to follow instructions for cleaning the house, but she makes lots of mistakes. (Her boss asks her to dust the furniture, so she sprinkles powder on it, instead of using a cloth to remove the dust.) Children find these stories very funny. So do adults. You may have found some of these expressions confusing, just as Amelia Bedelia did! 

The Easy Reader Classics series has simple-to-read books adapted from these favorite children’s stories:

  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, about an ingenious boy on the American frontier in the 1840s or 50s.
  • The Jungle Book, famous talking animal stories set in India,
  • The Story of Dr. Doolittle, a vet who talks to his animal patients,
  • Treasure Island, the classic pirate adventure story
  • and The Wind in the Willows, a story of friendship among animals on an English riverbank.

If you want to read these classics in English someday, here is your chance to “taste” them. (It will be easier to read the real story later.)

Try your library if you have one close by. You can also order them online from Amazon.com or another bookstore. (Notice that Amazon often has less expensive offers below their main one.) 

Almost as easy is the Encyclopedia Brown detective series. Encyclopedia Brown is a very smart kid. He helps other children outsmart bullies-- and helps his father (a police chief) solve crimes. Each is a collection of very short mysteries. If you enjoy finding clues and solving puzzles, they're a lot of fun. Click here for more information and a link to a sample.

Picture Books for ESL Beginners

a wagon train

When you are ready for a little harder reading, consider children’s picture books. Take a look at the Caldecott Award winners. (Each won a prize as the best picture book published in the U.S. that year.)

In picture books, the illustrations help make the words clear, so you don’t need to look up so many. Any library or bookstore in the U.S. will have many of these, or you can order them online.

My special recommendations for adult ESL Beginners:

  • Ox-Cart Man, by Donald Hall, illustrated by Barbara Cooney: a picture of early American life.
  • It Could Always Be Worse, by Margot Zemach: an old folktale.
  • Stone Soup by Marcia Brown: another old tale about attitudes and sharing.
  • McElligot's Pool by Dr. Seuss, (or any of his): crazy, funny stories.
  • Abraham Lincoln by Ingri & Edgar Parin d'Aulaire: a picture book biography

Adult Easy Reading for ESL Beginners

When you are ready for some adult reading, you might enjoy short articles. Try the Reader’s Digest or another magazine in a (non-academic) field that interests you. These will be harder to read, but short.

Try to guess the meaning from context so you won’t need to look up so many words. (See Improve Reading Skills.)

The Online Reading page has some useful suggestions for beginners. See its sources for simple news in English.

Later, westerns and romance novels are longer but often not difficult. They usually have a plot that is easy to follow and limited vocabulary.  See Finding English Reading Materials for some ideas.

Most importantly, find what you enjoy reading, and read a little every day!

That's one of the best ways to “graduate” from the Easy Reading ESL Beginners class to Intermediate-- and beyond.

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