Top 5 bilingual children’s books for English beginners

Reading is one of the most fun and effective ways to help your child improve her English language skills.  It can help to expand her vocabulary and expose her to different sentence structures, while still enjoying some wonderful stories.

Encouraging your child to read or listen to stories should help them learn a second language in a way that is not only fun, but memorable.  Unfortunately, sometimes it can be difficult for parents to choose a good book for their child? As parents are not language experts, how can you know that book is “just right” for your child’s reading level.

That’s why we have put together a list of the best 5 bilingual children’s books for you to use when you start introducing English to your child.  These books are written for beginners, so the language is simple and the lessons are very straightforward for children of all ages. They are not only fun and engaging, with a lot of pictures to help understand, but also teach good English grammar. 

These books are also short, so it won’t take you much time to finish.  are fast, easy, helpful, and made to be fun . You can read and re-read with your young English language learners to promote family literacy. 

Reasons why you should read a children’s book to your child

  • 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 can be very helpful when learning English. By having a connection in mind to 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 real situations are also much easier to remember.  Since the language in these books are quite simple, it is easy to figure out what’s going on.  Therefore, when your child comes across a word that she doesn’t know, she can often use the story’s situation and images to understand the word’s meaning.
  • Simple vocabulary and grammar.  Even though some of the children’s books have “advanced” vocabulary, they really aren’t too difficult.  They are just harder than the very basic words that are most common in children’s books. For example, your child  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.
  • They’re fun to read!  The stories are enjoyable and the pictures help your child make sense of the words.  They also deliver some great life lessons. Most children’s books teach our children how to grow up and be a good person.

Top 5 bilingual children’s books for English beginners 

1. The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle 

“The Very Hungry Caterpillar” talks about nature – a journey of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. Carle brings humor to the development of the caterpillar, one of the first science miracles a child learns. His artwork is unique and his stories are funny, yet very educational.

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, eating things 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 healthy 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, days of the week, colors, different types of food (and what it does to your body).  This book uses lots of great repetition throughout, which is very important for improving your child’s English

The Very Hungry Caterpillar” is considered as one of the most popular stories of all time. It has sold almost 50 million copies around the world, in more than 62 languages.  Today, according to the book’s publisher, Penguin Random House, a copy of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” is sold somewhere in the world every 30 seconds.

While reading this book, you can get your child say the next day of the week, guess what food the caterpillar might eat next and then describe the food being eaten. Perhaps they can put their finger or thread something through the hole in each food to learn how to count in English.

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2. Are you my mother? – P.D.Eastman

This beautifully illustrated story of a baby bird’s journey to find his mother is a timeless classic from author P.D.Eastman.

Both the illustrations and the words in “Are You My Mother?”! stay strictly focused on one thing: a baby bird’s search for his mother.  While a mother bird is away from her nest, the egg in the nest hatches. The baby bird’s first words are, “Where is my mother?”.

When a mother bird’s egg starts to jump, she hurries off to make sure she has something for her little one to eat.  But as soon as she’s gone, out pops the baby bird. He immediately sets off to find his mother, but not knowing what she looks like makes it a challenge.  The little hatchling is determined to find his mother, even after meeting a kitten, a hen, a dog… The timeless message of the bond between mother and child make P.D.Eastman’s “Are You My Mother?” a must for every beginning reader.

What makes this simple story so effective are the humorous illustrations and a tale that features lots of repetition.  The illustrations are done in a limited color palette: muted brown with touches of yellow and red. The cartoon-like illustrations focus on the baby bird and his search, with no extraneous details.

The brevity of the story, the controlled vocabulary, and simple sentence structure are at the right level for a beginning reader. Most of the pages in the 64-page book have just one to four brief sentences accompanying the illustrations. The repetition of words and phrases and the clues provided by the illustrations also support beginning readers.

With simple words and illustrations that give clues to their meaning, this classic illustrated children’s book is ideal for reluctant readers and children just beginning to read on their own.
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3. “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” – Laura Numeroff

“If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” is a children’s book written by Laura Numeroff and illustrated by Felicia Bond, first published in 1985.  It is a book about a mouse who always wants something more in his life.  First, he wants a cookie. Then he wants a glass of milk to go with it. He then requests a straw (to drink the milk), a mirror (to avoid a milk mustache), nail scissors (to trim his hair in the mirror), and a broom (to sweep up his hair trimmings). 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” or “going to” in them. For example, “If you give a mouse a cookie, he is going to ask for a glass of milk.”  This book is especially helpful for learning future tense and contractions (he’ll, you’ll, etc.). Elicit the endings to the “If you… the mouse…, he will…” sentences, probably using the pictures to help.  Students can then make a similar story with the same situation, different situations (“If you give a mouse your roller skates” for example), or different animals (“If you give a lion…”).

Beyond language lessons, parents can even help kids understand the importance of personal responsibility with this fun story.  Have fun finding the cause and the effect for each request as you read “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” with your child. You might also ask:

  • If you were the boy, would you give the mouse each of the things he asks for?
  • Do you think the mouse was polite or used good manners?
  • How do you think the boy is feeling at the end of the story?
  • Can you think of another example of cause and effect?

With its spare, rhythmic text and circular tale, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie has fans of all ages from all over the world,  First Lady Michelle Obama read this book on the White House lawn during the 2009 Easter Egg Roll. It is definitely a perfect book for beginning readers and story time!

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4. Where is the Green Sheep?

There are red sheep and blue sheep, bath sheep and bed sheep, but where is the green sheep?  The search is on in this cozy, sheep-filled story from acclaimed author Mem Fox and popular Australian cartoonist Judy Horacek.

Mem Fox – the writer of the book, who is also a professor of Literacy Studies in Australia – introduce children to a host of other whimsical woolly ones, all of which are described in pithy, vocabulary-building terms.  There is only one sentence per page. The story is basic, a search for “the green sheep,” who doesn’t turn up until the last page. Meanwhile, there is a joyous romp through the lives of sheep of various colors and occupations – sheep bathing and juggling, doing cartwheels, dancing, traveling, fixing cars, skiing down slides, parachuting, traveling through space and still somehow always being sheep.  Children are taught concepts such as up and down, scared and brave and near and far, as well as colours and shapes, along with various other concepts.

Parents can provide questions such as, “Do sheep really go swimming?”.  So there are lots of ways to extend the children’s language as you read through.

Complete with lovely sheep rhymes, fun repetition and bright illustrations, this book is sure to delight children of all ages, from the very young to those just beginning to read.

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5. The Cat in the Hat – Dr.Seuss

A child who is learning to read is learning to connect the sounds that go with letters, so that she can then put them together to make words … which then become sentences.  Repeating sounds frequently, helps a child master this skill. Dr. Seuss – the world’s best selling children’s author – is the master of repetitive sounds and engaging stories, while using limited vocabulary – this is an ideal combination for a beginning reader. “The Cat in the Hat” is a great example!

The storyline embodies naughtiness and excitement beyond any child’s wildest imagination, and to this day could send any protective parent into a tailspin, not to mention an adventurous child.  There were two kids, Sally and Sam, whose mother was out. They were having a very dreary day, and then were graced with a surprise visit from a stranger, the Cat. He comes in, assures them their mom won’t mind, and makes a very big mess.  Before the Cat leaves, he cleans up his mess, and when Sam and Sally’s mother returns home, nothing is amiss.

This book is a long and very entertaining poem.  The galloping verse in “The Cat in the Hat” is seriously fun to read and listen to.  With wonderful rhymes and bouncing text, the story is also extremely useful for helping children learn to read.  The rhymes and repetition help children to match certain letters with certain sounds, improving their phonics and reading skills.  Despite having mostly simple vocabulary, the words are used in a way that feels smart.

The book also uses repetition like “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” does.  With its reliance on memorable rhyming pairs and word families, “The Cat in the Hat,” accentuates for early readers how sound and symbols correspond.

Parting words…

There are so many great ways to learn from bilingual children’s books that you can use to help your child build Vietnamese – English reading comprehension skills.  No matter what books your child wants to choose, try to make sure they have memorable images, important life lessons, useful context for remembering new words, and simple vocabulary/grammar.  The next time you aren’t sure what to do to improve your child’s reading level, try reading to her one of these children’s books!

These books are now all available at Everest Education library, take your child to visit us to check them out for free, you might be able to find them at other libraries around the city as well. For those living in Ho Chi Minh city, explore more interesting libraries at


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