Let’s talk about awesome literature for elementary school-aged kids

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By: Indi SamarajivaCC BY 2.0

Calling all book nerds: reader Annie recently sent us this question:

My nephews will be turning eight in just a few short weeks, and they’ve been asking for chapter books for their birthday. Since I haven’t been eight in a while my brain is a little fuzzy — does anyone have suggestions for interesting books for the age range? Book series get bonus points!

You guys loooove talking about books around here — what are your faves for grade school-aged kiddos?

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Comments on Let’s talk about awesome literature for elementary school-aged kids

  1. The Boxcar Children series was my favourite as a kid. I picked up “The Lighthouse Mystery” (which was #8… good job, self) when I was eight or so because I loved lighthouses at the time (I was a weird kid). A couple years and 50+ books later, and .. yeah. They’re short mystery chapter books, and the kids live (at one point) in a boxcar of a train. What’s not to love?

  2. A lot of what a kid would like will depend on their reading level, their areas on interest, and what their parents/guardians permit them to read. I was a voracious reader at eight; my brother, not quite so much. I’d skim through whatever book you get them, or run it by their parents just to make sure.

    * The Guardians of Childhood series, but you might want to double check with parents concerning their opinions on Santa/the Tooth Fairy/the Easter Bunny. You don’t want to be known as The Aunt Who Blew It. (also, it’s not like the movie. good way to teach them early about adaptations)
    * Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book is a good read, too.
    * Kipling’s The Jungle Book (which sort of inspired Gaiman’s) is a children’s classic.
    * I personally loved Roald Dahl. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was the first chapter book I read all by myself.
    * Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (Fudge) series was hilarious to me as an elder sibling.
    * Check out the Illustrated Abridged Classics (my brother and I devoured those as kids). It’s a good way to introduce classic lit to a child.
    * Peruse the Newberry Award section of the bookstore.

    And for when they get a little bit older (unless their reading level is higher, of course) Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Artemis Fowl are three good book series with both strong male and female characters. Diana Wynne Jones’ Chrestomanci series is sort of surreal at times, so you may want to sit on that one until they get a little bit older — or read it yourself.

    I am sure I will think of a MILLION more, too.

    • Yes yes yes to Roald Dahl! I have yet to meet a third grader who didn’t love each of his books I’ve shared with them (Charlie, The Witches, Matilda – and The Giraffe, The Pelly and Me is a good shorter chapter book of his).

    • Oh, heck yes to the Great Illustrated Classics! Great, kid-appropriate versions of dozens of literary must-haves. We devoured all the Jules Verne books through those abridgements.

      Also, is Wishbone still on PBS? A collection of the episodes & the books they riff on would be a great way to connect classic stories to everyday life.

    • Ah, I thought of another great series. Gerald Morris’ The Squire’s Tale series. Retellings of Arthurian legends from minor character’s points of view — Sir Gawain’s squire for most of the series, but my particular favorite is Sir Dinadan (from Tristan and Isoulde). It’s ten kid-appropriate sized books and doesn’t pull that many punches when it comes to the myths — it’s heartbreaking and uplifting in stages, and the series ends the same tragic way the myth does. I first read it in a college children’s lit class and it’s still one of my feel-good favorites to read.

      Ella Enchanted is also a really great book, but I get the feeling a niece might appreciate it a bit more than a nephew.

      City of Ember is a very good series for an older/more advanced reader, too. The Hunger Games is a phenomenal series that they should read when they’re (much) older, but make sure they know that it will chew them up and spit them out when they’re through with it.

      • Ella Enchanted is also one of my all-time favorites…but definitely geared more towards girls. That not to say, however, that a boy WON’T like it.

  3. I hope there are 1000 comments on this post!

    I am currently loving everything by Gary D. Schmidt, my favorite being Okay For Now.

    I also could not recommend Rebecca Stead enough as an author – she has a real talent for blending realistic fiction with fantastic elements. My favorite of hers was When You Reach Me, but for a boy reader I might start with Liar & Spy.

    Plus you can never go wrong with Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing/

  4. This is the age where I really fell in love with reading! Some suggestions:

    Stuart Little, The Trumpet of the Swan, and Charlotte’s Web (all by E.B. White)
    The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
    Matilda, James and The Giant Peach, and The B.F.G. (all by Roald Dahl)
    Avi also has an incredible body of work for early readers through young adults. My personal favorites were True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and Blue Heron.

    • Ahh! I forgot AVI on my own list! Definitely love The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle!
      That reminds of of another series: Bloody Jack, by L.A. Meyer! The first couple of books are appropriate for elementary school readers of the right maturity, but later on there are some “adult” moments that might be more appropriate for teens (unless the kid is like me. My middle-school librarian would hold new books aside for me to read if she thought there was questionable material in them, and I’d tell her whether or not it was OK for my peers, or if the book should go to the high school. I distinctly remember being in 7th grade, reading a graphic rape scene where the aggressor wiped his “seed” off of his victim’s thighs afterwards…I told the librarian to send that one to the high school.)

  5. I loved the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. I think I read them the summer between 4th and 5th grade (though Scholastic rates them at a 6th grade reading level). They’re fantasy/adventure. Some of you may have seen Disney’s the Black Cauldron which is EXTEREMELY loosely based on the 2nd book in the series.

    Bunnicula is also pretty great about a vampire rabbit that drains all the color for vegetables. Told from the perspective of the other household pets.

  6. The 7-year-old I nanny loves these series: Bailey School Kids, Junie B. Jones, Ramona Quimby, The Magic Treehouse, and the first three Harry Potter books (we haven’t read the rest because we deemed them “too scary”). I remember reading Bailey School Kids and Magic Treehouse all by myself when I was about nine; they were some of my very first chapter books read independently. The My Father’s Dragon series is great for beginning chapter books too. If the kid likes fantasy (think scary fairies), I LOVE the Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi; they’re illustrated chapter books.

    When I was about 10 I loved chapter books by Bruce Coville (he has multiple series, including a hilarious one about aliens, and another about a magic shop that sells dragon eggs, enchanted toads, and Skulls of Truth), Avi, Willow Davis Roberts (mysteries!), Ruth Chew, and Sharon Creech.

  7. At that age, I LOVED LOVED LOVED the “Chronicles of Narnia” series by C.S. Lewis, and “A Wrinkle in Time” and its sequels-ish (it’s the Time Trilogy, but there’s four books?) by Madeleine L’Engle. The first is epic fantasy, the second is heart-warming science fiction. The “Redwall” series by Brian Jacques is another fantasy series; it’s not as good, literature-wise, I think, but full of very vivid descriptions of the food, scenery, etc — you could see a difference in my brother’s and my creative writing after reading several of those. =)

    Many of Roald Dahl’s children’s books — “The Witches,” “Matilda,” “James & the Giant Peach,” “The BFG,” “Charlie & the Chocolate Factory,” “George’s Marvelous Medicine” — would be great at that age. They’re imaginative, fun, and just a little bit scary, and very kid-empowering.

    Similarly, my brother and I really enjoyed both the classic Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mystery series (specifically the classic ones, more modern ones have wussied them up). From the early- and mid-20th century, some of the societal depictions are outdated, but these stories with kick-butt 18-year-olds who used their smarts and savvy to solve mysteries definitely colored our pretend-play as well — very kid-empowering! The “Encyclopedia Brown” series is another mystery series featuring a younger protagonist, very clever and well-done.

    If the kids in question are likely to be interested in tales of kids surviving out on their own without grown-ups (another inspiring jumping-off place for imaginative play!) my brother and I also really liked “The Black Stallion” by Tim Farley, “My Side of the Mountain” + sequels by Jean Craighead George, “Julie of the Wolves” ( + sequels, but I think the sequels are better a little bit older), also by Jean Craighead George, and “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen (it has a more traumatic opening than the rest — prop plane crashes in the wilderness, killing the pilot and leaving the pre-teen protagonist on his own — it was abstract enough not to bother us, but could be unsettling for some kids).

    Perhaps less interesting to boys than to girls, at that age I also loved the “Little House on the Prairie” series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and “Anne of Green Gables” (+ sequels) by Lucy Maud Montgomery. In a similar vein, though more contemporary, “Tea Shop Girls” by Laura Schaefer is a cute story (and written by a friend of mine!). “Misty of Chincoteague” by Marguerite Henry and “Black Beauty” by Anna Sewell were also favorites — while not specifically gendered, they would probably be more interesting to girls, or any kid going through a horse phase.

    So, can you tell that my brother and I were total bookworms? =) This is such a good question! Good on you for being the auntie who gives books. =)

  8. Yes to all the aforementioned books! Also, lets throw in: Origami Yoda (and associated books); Goosebumps books; Encyclopedia Brown and/or Cam Jensen for those that like to solve mysteries (though the Cam books might be a bit lower level, I can’t quite remember); the Dear America series (the original version was aimed at females, but there are some that are for guys, too); Where The Red Ferns Grow and Bridge to Terabithia (may have some content that could be too much for some kids, you’d have to check based upon the kid); the Ramona books; the Wayside School books; Barbara Robinson’s books (including My Brother Lewis Measures Worms and the Herdman family books, a group about a family of crazy children and their shenanigans, including a rather memorable Christmas pageant).

    Yeahhhh, I’m a bit of a bookworm and I just tried to wrack my 8-year old me’s bookshelf. For girls, Babysitter’s Club books are great but often fall flat for boys!

  9. At about that age my daughter became obsessed with the Warriors series by Erin Hunter. It’s gigantic and includes some manga, which were actually my girl’s introduction to reading “real books” on her own. I’m not crazy about them, but anything that gets the kids reading is a win for me. Since they’re about talking cats, they’re also a good introduction to more literary stuff like Redwall and Watership Down.

    I’m a huge fan of Diana Wynn Jones’ Chrestomanci books. They are really wonderful.

    • Oooh, Diana Wynne Jones! Awesome. I really enjoyed (and still enjoy) the Chrestomanci books as well as the Dalemark Quartet (although that series might be a bit more difficult – not much though).

  10. i have to chime in because L. Frank Baum’s Oz series has not been mentioned! there are 14 by him, and some after that by others he passed the torch to. there is SO MUCH more to Oz than the movie!!

    • The Hobbit is great for a kid that age, but I would think an eight year old would quickly get bored with The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It can be rather slow moving at times. It took me a while to get through it as a college student, and I know some adults who love fantasy but have never gotten through the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

    • It depends on which series. I think “The Circle” universe is (mostly) aimed at younger readers, whereas the “Tortall” universe is middle-school and up. Her books are amazing, and among my favourites.

      • And in terms of books “for girls,” boys may find they really like the Tamora Pierce books if they give them a chance. Those books can be a good gateway for boys into reading books with female protagonists. Books with female protagonists that boys may also enjoy include the Dealing with Dragons series (fairly lighthearted fantasy) and the His Dark Materials series (more intense, for middle schoolers and up).

  11. There are so many classics mentioned already so I’ll throw out a different direction. Google to see if there is a local/state book association that has listings of local authors, especially with books with a regional bend. There are a lot of great books for every age that have a local flair that can be especially good for kids to have characters that relate to their background. The might not all be home runs but you will be supporting small publishers, local authors, and giving them something they are very unlikely to have already read!

  12. The Clementine books (kind of a new version of Ramona and Beezus) are hysterical. Junie B. Jones might be a little on the younger end, but those are pretty popular too. Both a little more “girlish” but I think with wide appeal. My nephew loved the Diary Of A Wimpy Kid series at 8. Lowis Lowry also has a lot of great stuff, some of it sad, but I remember reading her stuff starting around that age too.

  13. Yay book suggestions!! Eight is the PERfect age to utterly devour books. I second so mnay of the above suggestions: Raold Dahl, Frank L. Baum, Bruce Coville, the Hobbit, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Judy Blume, Narnia, Neil Gaiman, omg.

    I would add:
    – Maniac Magee, by Jerry Spinelli (and everything else by Jerry Spinelli, for that matter)
    – Harry Potter!!
    – The Giver, by Lois Lowry http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3636.The_Giver)
    – Eragon, by Christopher Paolini (written when he was 15! A great inspiration for younger readers) http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/113436.Eragon
    – There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom, by Louis Sachar (and Holes and Sideways Stories from Wayside School) http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/236056.There_s_a_Boy_in_the_Girls_Bathroom
    – Caddie Woodlawn, by Carol Rylie Brink http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/205821.Caddie_Woodlawn
    – Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/24178.Charlotte_s_Web
    – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/24220.Alice_s_Adventures_in_Wonderland_Through_the_Looking_Glass_and_What_Alice_Found_There
    – The Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. LeGuin http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13642.A_Wizard_of_Earthsea?ac=1
    – The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17162.The_Chocolate_War
    – A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle (and every other book by her) http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18131.A_Wrinkle_in_Time
    – Ramona, by Beverly Cleary http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/91244.Beezus_and_Ramona
    – My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/41667.My_Side_of_the_Mountain

    Ok, enough for now. Seriously though, eight was an awesome time for reading.

  14. As a kid, I always loved going to the bookstore (my parents have probably donated thousands of dollars worth of books because of it). Would it be feasible to give them a book or so you picked but, as an added bonus birthday present, take them to the bookstore and let them pick out one for themselves? Get them in their general age range area and they’ll probably run rampant…

  15. I don’t have any specific books to add to this list, because all of the ones I can think of (Harry Potter, Tolkien, Roald Dahl, Madeliene L’Engle, Series of Unfortunate Events, etc.) BUT if you haven’t checked out Good Reads yet, you should! Good Reads is a site where you can keep track of all of the books you own, have read, want to read, etc., and will give you recommendations based on those books. Plus, they have a section of lists of all kinds that people make from “100 Best Children’s Literature” to “Books about Giraffes.” You could even use it to keep track of the books that you have bought for your nephews so you don’t double up! (If you couldn’t tell, I am HUGE Good Reads fangirl.)

  16. I’d say anything by Cornelia Funke. The books of hers that I’ve read were all so good that I’d rec her whole work. The originals are in German, but quite a few are available in English by now.

    One better known series of hers is the Inkheart Trilogy (about the power of stories/storytelling) though I’ve only read the first of those. I’d put the target audience at a little bit older than 8 too (maybe 11? but really that depends entirely on the kid).

    I loved Dragon Rider.

    Igraine The Brave is awesome! And why shouldn’t a boy be reading about a girl who wants to be a knight (her little brother is much better at the magic thing, like their parents, but that just isn’t working for her).

    The Thief Lord is another award winning one, though again, maybe hold off on that one a few years.

    While we’re all here reccing our childhoof favoutites, it’s also worth it to look at what new stuff is out there! Ask in a bookstore or a library!
    And you could always offer to take him on the bookstore for a birthday present and let him pick. (Birthday books at our house are usually a mix of pre-self-selected and surprise.)

  17. If your nephews are interested in graphic novels, I just read the Terra Tempo series (two books so far) about three time-traveling kids. They’re packed full of facts about geologic time periods, and include some exciting encounters with dinosaurs in the cretaceous period, and wooly mammoths in the Ice Age!

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