Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown: I love the illustrations and the story is hilarious as well. It’s about a bear who finds a boy in the woods; she brings him home and asks her mom if she can keep him.
The Magic School Bus on the Ocean Floor by Joanna Cole: Really, any of the original Magic School Bus books are great for this age group as well as the next one up. I have fond memories of them.
Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney: This is a wonderful book about making the world more beautiful in small ways. It would be great to read with kids in the spring before planting flowers in your yard.
Matilda by Roald Dahl: This classic story about a bookish girl who discovers she has magic powers and uses them to defeat her mean teacher is a great one for kids, especially bookish ones. It might be a bit over the heads of kids in first and second grade, at least for them to read alone, but I think they’d love to have it read aloud to them.
The Wildest Brother by Cornelia Funke: This is a great one for any wild kids. It’s charmingly accurate about crazy children and their imaginations.
My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett: This is a great first chapter book to read to kids about a boy who rescues a baby dragon. Lots of fantasy but nothing scary at all. If your kids like this, there are two others in the series! It’s a great read-aloud book too.
The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein: Part of me hates to recommend this book because I feel like it’s going to give kids ideas about growing up to be tightrope walkers between skyscrapers, but let’s be honest – they’re going to have those ideas anyway. And this is a fantastic true story.
Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall: There aren’t many books from Reading Rainbow that have stuck with me, but Ox-Cart Man is one of them. For kids who are interested in history, this is one to get them.
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman: For anyone who has ever wanted to do something out of the ordinary, there’s this story of an African-American girl named Grace who wants to be Peter Pan. I love Grace because she’s so feisty.
What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins: A book about all sorts of different things animals can do (i.e. lizards can grow their tails back, skunks squirt smelly stuff, etc.) with paper collage illustrations. Another great one for kids who love science and/or animals.
This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen: This is the most recent winner of the Caldecott Medal, and I really enjoyed reading it. It’s a great story told with few words (so it’s perfect for reluctant readers).
The Frog and Toad Collection by Arnold Lobel: I loved these books and am glad they’re still in print. Great stories about great friends.
Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin: The true story of a boy in Vermont who grows up to be the man who proves that no two snowflakes are the same. This would be great for any kid interested in science.
Zen Shorts by John J. Muth: Kids ask some of the toughest questions and they are certainly capable of having philosophical conversations. Zen Shorts brings philosophy down to meet the kids by having a panda who retells Buddhist folktales in hopes of helping the children to whom he’s speaking. This is a great book (along with its sequels) to spark discussion about deep things.
Pierre In Love by Sara Pennypacker: This is a sweet story about a fisherman who loves a ballet teacher, and his quest to tell her how he feels. The illustrations are great too. It’s an unusual story for kids and one that I think is important.
Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein: Between this book and A Light in the Attic kids will learn to adore poetry. And the poems are hilarious to everyone, even – and perhaps especially – parents.
Shaka, King of the Zulus by Diane Stanley and Peter Vennema: Full disclosure – Stanley and Vennema are married and their son was in my first- and second-grade classes. So I’m certainly partial to them. I would recommend any of Stanley’s books anyhow, though, as she is quite talented, particularly at creating historical picture books. Shaka is one of her best.
A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead: The best sick day. EVER. Kids who love animals and/or trips to the zoo will adore this book as both a read-aloud and something they can read themselves.
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig: This is another classic read-aloud for younger kids that translates well to having the child read to the adult. Steig writes really great books in general, including the original story of Shrek!
The Velveteen Rabbit: Or How Toys Become Real by Margery Williams: Usually kids can read this entirely on their own around age 8, but I think they’d be able to read it without much help at this age. And they’d certainly love to hear it read aloud.
Owl Moon by Jane Yolen: An enchanting story about a little girl and her father and their adventures in the wild outdoors looking for owls at night. This is a beautiful book.
Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky: This is not the Disney version; it’s much closer to the original fairy tale (which, like most of the fairy tales, is quite dark). But the illustrations are full of beauty and life and the Renaissance style that Zelinsky uses here is truly stunning.
Tree of Life: The World of the African Baobab (Tree Tales) by Barbara Bash: Basically, this is a year-in-the-life of a baobab tree in Africa. It follows the life cycle and looks at how the baobab affects the things around it. A good choice for kids who enjoy nature or science.
Flat Stanley: His Original Adventure! by Jeff Brown: Flat Stanley is a boy who was completely normal until his bulletin board fell on him in the night and made him flat. He solves mysteries and has lots of great adventures. There is good fun in this book along with the remainder of the books in the series.
Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea: The story of how a fifth-grade teacher changes the lives of seven of his students. My fourth-grade teacher changed my life, and I recommend that kids read this to look at how their teachers are changing theirs. A very engaging book told from various characters’ perspectives.
Frindle by Andrew Clements: We read this in my children’s literature class in college and I loved it. It’s a fun way for kids to learn about how marketing works in everyday life as well as about the impacts that small things can have. This is a good book for kids with entrepreneurial spirits.
The Tale of Despereaux and Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo: These are both winsome books. I don’t know that there’s any other way to put it. DiCamillo tells wonderful stories and I’m glad that I own both of these.
Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper: A powerful story about a girl with cerebral palsy who is finally able to communicate through the use of assistive technology. The main character, Melody, is a really great kid and a fabulous narrator.
Half Magic by Edward Eager: I adore Edward Eager’s books. This one is the first in a series but anything by him gets my highest accolades. They are fantastic stories about kids finding magic in everyday, ordinary things – just what every kid dreams of.
Mandy and The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Andrews Edwards: These were two of my favorite books growing up. Mandy is still my go-to read on days when I feel overwhelmed by the “grown-up-ness” of it all. These are completely different books – Mandy is realistic fiction and The Last… is pure fantasy – but they are well-written and fun. Kids who struggle with finding their place should appreciate both of these (although Mandy is definitely geared more to girls).
The Great Brain series by John D. Fitzgerald: This is a particularly good series for brainy and/or bookish kids. Lots of great mysteries to be solved, and very clever writing. I am pretty sure that the copy of The Great Brain Goes to the Academy that’s on my shelf is one that I stole from my fourth-grade classroom because I wasn’t finished reading it at the end of the school year. Sorry, Mr. V.
General Butterfingers by John Reynolds Gardiner: My copy of this is dogeared and very well-loved. Wonderful, spunky characters and just an all-around fun read about generations working together toward a common goal.
My Side of the Mountain trilogy by Jean Craighead George: Jean Craighead George is one of my favorite children’s authors because of her ability to write about nature and how it affects people. The My Side of the Mountain trilogy is no exception and I recommend it for all kids who have ever wanted to get away and start over.
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame: This is a classic but it translates well to today’s reader (which can be assumed based on the fact that it hasn’t been out of print since it was published in 1908). Lots of good illustrations to go along with the text.
Out Of The Dust by Karen Hesse: Out of the Dust is a novel in verse, and is a great introduction to a different form of writing. It’s about a family struggling to survive during the Dust Bowl, so it isn’t exactly a fun read, but it is interesting and draws the reader in quite nicely.
Redwall series by Brian Jacques: There are so many books in this series now that I am way behind. Jacques does have a formula for these books, for sure, but that’s fine with me because I think his formula is great. He is a wonderful storyteller and I recommend these to kids who enjoy animals, adventure, and fantasy.
The Secret of the Old Clock and the rest of the original Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene and The Tower Treasure and the rest of the original Hardy Boys series by Franklin W. Dixon: Basically anything by the Stratemeyer Syndicate in their early days is recommended (The Bobbsey Twins, The Dana Girls, Tom Swift). They are definitely formulaic but that doesn’t make them any less enjoyable. The more recent iterations of the series aren’t worth much at all so don’t bother. If you find a kid that likes Nancy Drew, you can also try the Cherry Ames and Trixie Belden series. I’ve only read a few of the original Hardy Boys and Tom Swift books but I have read every last one of the Nancy Drew books as well as most of The Bobbsey Twins, some of The Dana Girls, all of Cherry Ames and most of Trixie Belden. And I loved all of them. Another series along these lines is The Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warner; I recommend the original ones actually written by Warner herself. The later books are fine and all, but I guess I’m a Boxcar Children purist.
The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly: Alchemy, history, music, battles, intrigue – it’s all here in this book based on details from the history of Poland. This is one of my favorite Newbery Award winners.
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg: Every kid has this exact fantasy at some point – running away to live in a museum. So. Awesome.
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren: Who doesn’t love Pippi? I certainly do, not least because she is a spunky redhead.
Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan: Sarah, Plain and Tall is the beginning of a five-book series but it can definitely stand on its own. I have read this and the first sequel, Skylark, but haven’t picked up the other three yet. It’s a great story of how a family changes and grows following the loss of their mother and how they find healing with the addition of a new member.
Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne: I haven’t read these but have had them recommended to me multiple times by kids, which speaks volumes. They are well-researched and educational while still being loads of fun.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio: It’s about a boy with a facial deformity who finally gets to go to a mainstream school, and how he and his fellow students handle the transition. Out of 917 reviews currently on Amazon, all but 50 give it 4 or 5 stars, and the overwhelming majority give it 5 stars; in this case, everyone is right.
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson: This is a sad book, to be sure, but it is a good introduction of tragedy for children. Paterson writes with tenderness and heart and if this isn’t required reading at every school, it should be.
Where the Red Fern Grows and Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls: I still distinctly remember throwing my copy of Where the Red Fern Grows across the room because I was so emotionally invested in it and became very upset at one point. (Those who have read it know the point to which I am referring.) Summer of the Monkeys is also a fantastic read. There is something nostalgic about both of these books that, as a child, I think I longed for without even knowing it.
The Knights of the Kitchen Table and the rest of the Time Warp Trio series by Jon Scieszka: I haven’t read these but would really like to, based on the synopses on Amazon. Plus Jon Scieszka can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned! I’m sure these are clever and well-researched.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick: This book is based on the life of acclaimed filmmaker Georges Méliès, and is chock-full of beautiful illustrations and text. It was groundbreaking in its innovative format when it came out, and Selznick followed it up with another book entitled Wonderstruck, which I also recommend.
Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool: I read this in 2011 when it was first published and thought it was wonderful. A young girl is sent to live with a family friend for the summer and ends up getting to investigate several mysteries about her new town. Great historical fiction about the 1930s.
The 39 Clues Series by various authors: I have only read the first two books in this series but found them interesting. I didn’t participate in any of the tie-in material (trading cards, online games, etc.) so I can’t speak to those, or to the final direction in which the series goes. But I did like what I have read so far and I think kids who enjoy adventures and mysteries would probably like these. The only thing is that with different authors writing each book, there are likely going to be volumes that a single reader loves and then other volumes that the same reader doesn’t like. If you’ve read all of these, I would be interested to hear thoughts on the effectiveness of having multiple authors write a single series.
Little House in the Big Woods and its sequels by Laura Ingalls Wilder: So many people I know have wished at some point or other to live in the Little House with Laura and her family. I feel like Laura’s memories are my own, as is evidenced by the fact that I feel like I can call her by her first name. I view her as a friend and enjoy this whole series.
Golem by David Wisniewski: The Golem story is one that fascinates me and Wisniewski’s retelling is a particularly nice one. It’s great for kids interested in folktales, Jewish history, or those who wish they had a secret weapon to combat the difficulties they are facing.
Little Women and its sequels by Louisa May Alcott: These books are about one of the most delightful families in all of literature. I love the Marches and want everyone else to as well.
The Indian in the Cupboard and its sequels by Lynne Reid Banks: A kid’s action figures come to life! Who hasn’t wanted that to happen, let’s be honest. I just reread The Indian in the Cupboard several weeks ago and it’s just as fun as I remember it being from years ago. This is a good series for reluctant readers.
The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins: I debated about putting this here or on the young adult list, but ended up putting it here because I know a lot of kids are reading it earlier since the movie came out. In any case, don’t be mean and just buy a kid the first book. Buy them all because I guarantee they’ll finish one and start the next one immediately. Great dystopian fantasy.
The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman: I am partial to this because there are midwives in it but I think most middle school girls would identify quite well with the main character, who is strong and independent while still being willing to grow and learn from others. Great for history buffs as well.
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: So good. Just so very, very good. Especially for kids who are having a hard time with grown-ups and with growing up. And for grown-ups who are having a hard time with grown-ups and with being a grown-up. Basically it’s perfect for everyone.
Remarkable by Elizabeth Foley: This is about a young girl named Jane Doe who is completely ordinary and lives in a town where everyone else can do, well, remarkable things. Recommended for kids who feel like the people around them are special and they, themselves, are really rather quite average.
Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns, and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: I debated whether to put these on this list or the young adult list; so I put them on both. In any case, I loved all four of these books. I felt like the characters were real people and missed them after finishing their stories.
The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy: Just reading the synopsis made me grin. “The four princes erroneously dubbed Prince Charming and rudely marginalized in their respective fairy tales form an unlikely team when a witch threatens the whole kingdom.” It’s a really fun book and the beginning of a promising series.
Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry: Henry’s books are definitely for horse lovers but really any kids who like animals would enjoy them. Their reading level may be a bit low to include on this list; nonetheless Misty of Chincoteague and all the rest of her catalog are worth reading.
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster: I don’t know how many times I’ve read this book, but it’s a lot. It was one of Maurice Sendak’s favorite chapter books, so if you don’t believe me, believe him – he really knows what he’s talking about. This is the best possible book to hand a kid who says that they are bored, because it begins with a main character who is bored and ends with lots of fabulous adventures.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly: This was my pick for the Newbery Award the year that When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead won. But no one asked me. (When You Reach Me is a decent book and I’d recommend it – it just wasn’t for me. Not like this book was.) The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate was one of my favorite books of 2009, hands down. It’s just a great historical fiction work and I adored all of the characters. Update: There’s a sequel! And it’s so good too.
A Wrinkle in Time and the rest of the Time Quintet by Madeleine L’Engle: I love, love, love these books. They have science, faith, time travel, a strong family, redheads, humor… everything a girl like me could want. Any kids who enjoy reading will likely enjoy this series.
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis: These classic stories about the battle between good and evil are wonderful to read aloud as well as to savor all alone. I think of these books a lot like the book in the movie The Princess Bride, in which Fred Savage thinks books are boring at the beginning but eventually doesn’t want to sleep until he finds out the end. Every kid will like these.
The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren: This is the most joyful sad book I’ve ever read. I’d recommend reading it yourself before giving it to a kid to read, and talking about it with them as they read it. It deals with the afterlife and what happens when people die, and how the love of two brothers can conquer everything.
Number the Stars and The Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry: If you know a middle schooler who isn’t reading these in middle school, please do them a favor and buy these for them. I know quite a few kids who were very excited to learn that The Giver had three sequels. I also know quite a few adults who were also very excited to learn that same information. These are wonderful, thought-provoking books.
The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald: Wonderful, wonderful fairytales in which the princess rescues the hero. These are great to read aloud and to read over and over.
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin: This has started working its way into required reading and it should certainly be there. It’s a very well-done mystery.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs: The illustrations for this book are all vintage photographs that are very cool and very creepy, much like the story itself. I really enjoyed this and read it in one sitting (it’s not a quick read…), and would recommend it to kids who like fantasy that is based in reality.
The Lightning Thief and the rest of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan: Percy Jackson finds out he is actually the son of a Greek god. I know, right? SO COOL. He meets up with a bunch of other kids who are related to mythological people and they save the world. Lots of times. These are wonderful adventure books that will likely spark kids’ minds to go read more about Greek and Roman mythology and history.
Jackie’s Nine: Jackie Robinson’s Values to Live By by Sharon Robinson: This is a series of vignettes about Jackie Robinson’s life philosophy. I think kids who are into history or sports would find it interesting. It’s probably not what they would consider a “fun” read but it’s engaging nonetheless.
Deadweather and Sunrise by Geoff Rodkey: Pirates! Mystery! Legends! This is the start of a new series called Chronicles of Egg, and it looks as though it will be very promising. Lots of swashbuckling and such!
Holes by Louis Sachar: This is a good book for reluctant readers (as is most of Sachar’s work) about a boy who is sent to live at a detention facility because of a curse on his family. Despite what I just said in that plot snippet, it is a very funny book.
Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village and Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz: Two fabulous period pieces, one during the Middle Ages and one during the Victorian era, that give tons of detail without overwhelming the characters. Kids who are into history should love these.
Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin: If kids have a terrible history teacher and therefore think history is boring, I’d recommend getting them this book. It is terrifically interesting and reads like a spy thriller, and it’s all true.
The Mysterious Benedict Society and its sequels by Trenton Lee Stewart: These precocious children solve mysteries and find out how their weaknesses can be used to their advantage. The series is very funny and incredibly well-written; Stewart’s characters really come to life on these pages.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and its sequels and prequel by Mildred D. Taylor: The Logan family lives in the Deep South in the 1930s, amidst long-standing racism and poverty. This series chronicles their journey to overcome segregation and bigotry, as told by one of their daughters. These aren’t easy things to read but they did happen and Taylor treats the time and her characters’ story with respect.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain: These classic stories of boyhood are hilarious and touching all at the same time. They deserve to be read and discussed by parents and their kids.
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and its sequels by Cathrynne M. Valente: This charming, odd book (and those that come after it) is reminiscent of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but I think it is more charming and less odd than Alice. The whimsy and cleverness abound in the text and characters, and once the illustrations are added in, the reader is left either to love it or hate it. I loved it and I think bookish fantasy lovers would enjoy this too.
Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen: I read this in my children’s literature class in college and loved it. The dual narration is a perfect technique for the story being told and it helps the reader get into the minds of both main characters. It’s a good romantic comedy for middle-grade readers.
The Mysterious Howling and the remainder of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series by Maryrose Wood: Three children are apparently raised by wolves – literally – and then taught by a young governess all the ways of civilized people. They simultaneously solve mysteries too. While this book stands on its own, it also really is just the introduction to the series and readers will almost certainly want to keep going.
Dealing with Dragons and the rest of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede: There are a lot of fantasy books on here because I am partial to them, myself. But Patricia Wrede’s stories are exceptional. This series is the reason I still sort of wish that I had a pet dragon. Seriously.
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