Monday, September 5, 2011

The Smart Reader's Kids

I often get requests for book recommendations for children; nowadays it's so difficult to find books for kids that have literary merit.  Another issue is the fact that one doesn't want one's children picking up, say, bad language from the books he/she is reading.  It's also hard to pinpoint which books reflect the values one is trying to inculcate in one's family.

Although this may sound like a pain in the neck, I pre-read nearly every book my children take out from the library.  This isn't really as hard as it sounds, because I spent most of my childhood reading every book in existence; it only remains for me to read the newer ones.  Also, I read faster than the average person (practice makes perfect! Read Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers if you don't believe me).

In this post, I offer a short list of recommended reading for emerging readers and onward.  If you are looking for good books in a particular genre for your child, you can request those in the comments and I'll do another post later this month.

Emerging readers:  These are the children who are just beginning to read on their own and are moving beyond read-aloud; there is usually a special section in the library for these readers.  Unfortunately, each publisher has its own leveling system, so it takes some time to figure out what is what, but you can't go wrong with:

  • Dr. Seuss; Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham are perfect for young independent readers.
  • Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad series
  • David Adler's Young Cam Jansen, and when they are ready they can move on to the regular Cam Jansen series.
  • I was very fond of Amelia Bedelia when I was very young; I've noticed, however, that today's children often don't grasp the double meanings of the words the way we used to.  A lot of those words are not in common use today, and it just doesn't seem as funny.  Take them out anyway; it's worth a little bit of explanation.
Intermediate readers:  These are children who read well on their own, and can deal with real chapter books that have lots of words.  The subject matter is usually straightforward and the plot is generally uncomplicated.  Vocabulary is on or slightly above level.

  • I don't really like series books, but this one is actually not bad (although it's a tad commercial for my taste).  The American Girl books, with each series focusing on a child growing up during a particular era in American history, are nicely done, well-written, and comfortingly predictable.  The values are quite nice, and each book features an appendix that tells the reader more about the period in history.  If you can restrain yourself from purchasing any of the merchandise, you should be fine.  The authors vary.  These are usually most suitable for ages 7-10.
  • A good author for children ages 8-11 is Eleanor Estes; her Moffat family series is charming and funny.  Other good authors for these ages are Elizabeth Enright, whose '50's era books are all now being reprinted, and Edward Eager.  Eager is an E.Nesbit wannabe, and for those of you who have never heard of Nesbit, she was an English children's author who was very well known and is still widely read.  I would recommend her books to older children, though, because the language is quite British, if you get my meaning.
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder's books are a good place to start for a girl who is ready for a book that is a bit longer.  The series officially begins with Little House in the Big Woods, and moves onward.  The last two might not be appropriate to children younger than 11 or 12; the last book is actually a bit tragic.
  • Andrew Clements skyrocketed to fame with his bestseller, Frindle, and seems to have been consistently churning out entertaining novels since then.  I particularly enjoyed A Week in the Woods, as well as Room One.  Parents should be aware, however, that Clements also published several Young Adult books that are not targeted to this age level.
  • Of course, it's impossible to look for books for intermediate readers without mentioning Beverly Cleary.  One thing (out of many) that is appealing about her books is how they are so suited both to boys and girls.  Ramona is a character girls love and boys find hilarious.  Ralph S. Mouse has universal appeal.  
  • Noel Streatfeild was a great favorite of mine growing up.  Her "Shoe" books (Ballet Shoes, Dancing Shoes, Theater Shoes) are endearing and beautifully written.
Older and advanced readers:  Children aged 11 and over are often looking for books with more complex plots, abstract themes, that don't unfold predictably.  However, this age and level is difficult because much of the fiction marketed to this group depicts values and behaviors parents don't want their children immersed in.  Here I offer a short list of some suitable reading material, but it is very important here to know what your child can handle, and what you do/do not want him/her exposed to.
  • Zilpha Keatley Snyder:  One of my favorite books, even now, is Snyder's Velvet Room.  One of her several books set against the backdrop of the Great Depression, Snyder's story carries a lesson but does it so gently that the reader delights in learning it.  I didn't love all her books, but she's definitely an author to acquaint yourself with.
  • L.M. Montgomery was the creator of Anne of Green Gables and published oodles of similar books.  There's no real middle ground with Montgomery -- either you love her or she sickens you.
  • Newbery Medal books:  Click on this link to get a full listing of all the Newbery winners I have read and reviewed.
If you post your requests in the comments section for this post, I will take up this thread in my next post as well.  For example, if you have a child who likes fantasy, or mysteries, I would be happy to publish a separate post for that genre.  Be sure to check out my quasi-kid post on this page.


  1. Do you have any recommendations for boys who are very interested in everything but aren't big on independent reading?

    Great post.

  2. My son loved all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, especially Farmer Boy, but even the books about Laura. Her adventures, challenges, and triumphs are appealing to both genders in my home, and most of the tragic parts went right over their heads when they were young.
    Also, if your child isn't big on reading but loves adventures, find time to read to your child aloud. The investment you make will pay off in quality time and bonding, plus your child will at least grow to love books, and probably will end up an avid reader.
    I recommend for the very young (and for parents!) any book by the author Mo Willems. The Elephant and Piggie early reader books are favorites of my 5 year old. The Knuffle Bunny and Pigeon books are loved by all!

  3. Wonderful topic. My current challenge is my almost 12 year old daughter who reads anything she can get her hands on. She outgrew kids books quite some time ago but isn't QUITE ready for adult books. She is reading some of the classics (Oliver Twist and Robin Hood are two recent reads) but they're just a bit too challenging for her. Would love to hear specific recommendations for her.

  4. For my boys, I find that nonfiction is terrific. Our local library has a great selection, and I often randomly pick books on topics I know they enjoy. Interestingly enough, once they are in the house, these books are often picked up by my other children as well.
    Rivki, I have the same issue with my 13 year old, who has lately resorted to reading the encyclopedia in sheer desperation. I've introduced her to Agatha Christie (Murder on the Orient Express), and I'm currently combing the adult section to see what else I can safely introduce her to at this point. Classics are a good idea; my daughter is now beginning Lord of the Rings, and I am trying to get her to attempt Jane Eyre as well. I'll try to post more on this.