The hobbit was my first Tolkien. I read it first when I was eight, but I had already listened to the excellent audio book about a million times – I got that for my fifth or sixth birthday. It introduced me to so many concepts.
There could be tongue-in-cheek humour hiding in plain sight! In a book! Foreshadowing was a thing! You could just include songs and poems, wow. All of these were a revelation to me at the time, and I still treasure the feeling of following Bilbo, and being terribly invested and at the same time being certain that I was missing something, that something went over my head. Naturally, I resolved to find out what it was. I remember asking adults around me for a lot of explanations for small oddities, especially around the behaviour of Bilbo and the dwarves – they are way more funny if you’re know about the cultural norms being broken, and Bilbo’s caricature of a proper English posh guy, and I had to pick up a lot of pieces to get there.
I’m pretty sure that unless you’re a die-hard fan of old epics, the Hobbit is vastly better than the Lord of the Rings. It’s not as drawn-out, the characters are more than stereotypes, there’s actual humour, and it’s just super rewarding to read.
The Hobbit is a decent start for reading The Fellowship of the Ring, I think, because you are already introduced to the world, you like the hobbits, and this investment will help you through stretches that will seem long and dry otherwise. Don’t go into the Silmarillion unless you like reading the bible, too.
The Neverending Story has a similar feeling of exploration of a wildly different fantastic world for me, but it has more thinly veiled lessons and morality. Stardust has the same British-but-not-British fantasy feeling.