If you missed Erica's list of absolute favorite books for younger children, you can find it here.
Hi again! I’m back with a list of some of my favorite chapter books. On this list, you are not going to find titles that have spent years on best-selling lists about a certain young wizard or teenaged demi-god. While I do indeed love them, those series do quite well on their own. Here I am including books you may have heard of, but not necessarily picked up yet, and even a couple you may remember from your own youth that have stood the test of time. There are plenty of other books that are also my favorites, but these are the ones that rose to the top of my brain first…so enjoy!
Mercy Watson to the Rescue by Kate DiCamillo is a great transition from books for early readers to chapter books. The whole series of six books is delightful. The text is large, the chapters short, the illustrations bright and colorful. And the books are about a pig who loves buttered toast. What’s not to love? These are also great fun to read aloud to kids who are building up stamina for listening to longer stories. Let me just also say that I love everything by Kate DiCamillo. There’s a reason she’s won the Newbery Medal twice (for The Tale of Desperaux and Flora and Ulysses) and received tons of acclaim for her other books. So starting chapters with this hilarious pig is a great way to go.
Emmaline and the Bunny by Katherine Hannigan is a delicious sweet of a book about a girl who wants a bunny. Unfortunately, she lives in the town of Neatasapin, where messes, disorganization and hopping are simply not allowed. How can Emmaline make her yard an inviting place for the wild bunny she knows is hiding just nearby? Lots of fun language play and lyrical imagery make this one a great read-aloud too!
Arabel’s Raven by Joan Aiken is one that I downloaded as an audiobook from the library, and my family has enjoyed on many car trips, at times nearly needing to pull over because we were laughing so hard. In three longish stories, we meet little Arabel, a precocious English preschooler, and her pet raven, Mortimer, who has a penchant for eating stairs (yes, stairs) and croaking “Nevermore” to express whatever it is he wishes to express. There’s mystery, drama and dry humor in abundance in this classic tale.
The BFG is one of my favorites by the amazing Roald Dahl. His ability to combine dark and sinister with humor and wit is unmatched. In this tale, the orphan Sophie unwittingly observes the Big Friendly Giant (“BFG”) on his secret nightly rounds. But of course, once she’s seen, he must kidnap her because his existence must remain secret. But when she and the BFG learn of the other giants’ plans to eat the Queen (oh my!), they cannot keep the secret any longer. Filled with Dahl's trademark dark humor and playful language, this is one that begs to be read aloud.
The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall had me at the title. Reminiscent of Little Women, Rosalind, Skye, Jane and Batty are as different, and yet as closely knit, as sisters can be. Their summer vacation in a cottage on the Arundel estate is made all the more wonderful when they meet Jeffrey Tifton, the fun-loving boy and talented musician who lives at the manor. The haughty and overbearing Mrs. Tifton, however, is less than thrilled with the influence of the four sisters. But, as long as they stay out of her way…Hm, that might be easier said than done. While the story is contemporary, it is also deliciously nostalgic, making for a perfect summer (or anytime) read-aloud or read-alone.
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery is the the book that made me a reader. Sure I read when I was a kid, but I liked short stories and folk tales. And then came Anne Shirley, the irrepressible, overly dramatic, simply lovable redhead. Her devotion was real, her friendships true, and her love knew no bounds. I inhaled the series, and then kept going. I can’t wait to introduce my daughter to her.
Schooled is a fine example of Gordon Korman’s gift for writing about the middle school experience from a variety of perspectives. Cap lives with his grandmother, the last two residents of a hippie commune. But when his grandmother is injured, Cap is sent for the very first time to school…public middle school. Sure, a lot of the humor comes from Cap trying to navigate a plugged-in, fast-paced society, but the heart of the story shines through it all.
Running Out of Time is one of Margaret Peterson Haddix’s stand-alone novels. She is well known for The Shadow Children and The Missing collections, but this one stands out for me. Jessie lives in a frontier town in 1840…or at least that’s what all the children in town believe. But when people start getting sick, Jessie is let in on the big secret: It’s actually 1996, and she’s been living in a living-history museum her whole life without ever knowing it. Now, her parents need her to leave the town (or rather, museum), and get help. And escaping the museum is only the first challenge. Granted, the book is a bit dated (There are pay phones…remember those?), but the premise and story are compelling enough to keep readers hooked.
Farwalker’s Quest by Joni Sensel paints a world that is part primitive, part post-apocalyptic, in which Ariel and her friend Zeke discover a telling dart, a form of communication that hasn’t been used in ages. But when two strangers come looking for that dart in their village, Ariel and Zeke are catapulted on an adventure to find the sender of the dart, as well as who they are meant become. There are many fabulous “discovering your true self” novels for middle-grade readers, and this is one of them.
Holes by Louis Sachar is an intricately woven puzzle, full of flashbacks, bitingly dark humor and unapologetic social commentary. Stanley Yelnats’ family has all the bad luck, so when Stanley is wrongly accused of a crime, he resignedly accepts his fate as he’s shipped off to Camp Green Lake. There’s no lake there, green or otherwise, and there’s not much that is camp-like about this juvenile detention facility. Boys are required to dig a hole five feet deep by five feet in diameter every day to “build character.” But through flashbacks and intertwined story lines, the reader learns some of the history of this remote part of Texas, and how Stanley’s destiny is tangled in it all.
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead is another remarkable puzzle of a book. It’s one of those that, once you finish and all is revealed, you want to read again right away to find all the clues. Miranda lives in NYC, and she and her friend Sal are suddenly growing apart for reasons she can’t explain. Meanwhile, she starts to receive mysterious notes that lead her to believe that the person writing them has a glimpse into the future, and that she alone holds the key to preventing a terrible accident. A thought-provoking story with mystery, a wee bit of fantasy, and coming-of-age tale all rolled into one.
The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud is the first of the Bartimaeus Trilogy, which was followed by a prequel that can be read before or after the trilogy. In an alternative-reality London run my magicians, Nathaniel is an ambitious apprentice who wishes to rise high and fast. When he suffers humiliation by a senior wizard, Nathaniel wants revenge, so he conjures a powerful djinn named Bartimaeus. The revenge plan backfires, but in so doing, uncovers a plot to overthrow those in power. What I love about these books is the style of storytelling, in which a subjective narrator relates Nathaniel’s story in some chapters, then alternates with Bartimaeus’ cutting first-person accounts of what is really going on. Mystery, intrigue, politics, social justice, and a healthy dose of laughs as well.
The Star of Kazan is a star among Eva Ibbotson’s wonderful books. Set in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it truly is a feast for the senses, as well as a fascinating, harrowing, charming, and all-around marvelous story. Our heroine is Annika, and while she leads a happy life with her adopted family (a cook, a housemaid, and three eccentric professors), she dreams of one day finding her parents. One day, her dream comes true in the form of an elegant, aristocratic woman. But Annika soon learns that there is much more to her mother’s, as well as her own, story than meets the eye.