Several friends recently asked me for book recommendations for their children. Not picture books, but chapter books for reasonably precocious readers. Making book recommendations is a chancy thing, as everyone has their tastes and variations of morality. However, the following are, in my opinion, excellent books with nothing objectionable. These are all books that I either own in physical copy or need to purchase for my family’s library. Good books, after all, bear up under repeated reading and are well worth owning.
If you’re a parent, you’re probably painfully aware that navigating through modern books for young readers is a minefield these days. There’s a lot of garbage out there. Some of it is just poorly written. A lot of it, however, is dreary, nihilistic, violent and sexualized. Lacking in hope, really. Every parent has to make their own choice, but I feel that children need to be children while they’re still children.
Anyway, feel free to pass this along if you have young readers in your family or acquaintances. Some of these books might be more suitable for girls, some for boys. Or maybe not. That all depends on the individual child. If you have any books you think should be included, please let me know. Good luck and happy reading!
Joan Aiken: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Black Hearts in Battersea, Nightbirds on Nantucket (she wrote a lot more, but these are a good start to see if they click)
Lloyd Alexander: the Prydain Chronicles–The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer, The High King. Also: The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian, The Cat Who Wished to be a Man.
Marguerite de Angeli: The Black Fox of Lorne, The Door in the Wall
Richard & Florence Atwater: Mr. Popper’s Penguins
Lynne Reid Banks: The Indian in the Cupboard
L. Frank Baum: the Oz books
Walter R. Brooks: Freddy the Detective (and all the other Freddy the Pig books…there are tons)
Eleanor Cameron: The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, etc (and subsequent books in the series)
Beverly Cleary: The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Runaway Ralph
Susan Cooper: (the Dark is Rising series–rather suspenseful but excellent weaving of Arthurian legend with modern times) Over Sea Under Stone, The Dark is Rising, Greenwitch, The Grey King, Silver on a Tree. By the way, I think Fox Pictures tried a movie adaptation of The Dark is Rising several years back. Don’t waste your time; it’s dreadful.
Helen Cresswell: (the Bagthorpe Saga) starting with Ordinary Jack, Absolute Zero, Bagthorpes Unlimited, etc.
Roald Dahl: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG, Danny the Champion of the World, James and the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr. Fox, George’s Marvelous Medicine…all his children’s books (but not his adult books!)
Mary Mapes Dodge: The Silver Skates
Eleanor Estes: Ginger Pye, The Hundred Dresses, The Moffats (and other books)
John D. Fitzgerald: The Great Brain, More Adventures of the Great Brain, Me and My Little Brain, The Great Brain at the Academy, The Great Brain is Back, The Return of the Great Brain, The Great Brain Reforms (these are marvelous, fabulous books, illustrated by Mercer Mayer; they should be in every family’s library).
Louise Fitzhugh: Harriet the Spy, Sport
Sid Fleischman: Chancy and the Grand Rascal, By the Great Horn Spoon, Jingo Django, The Ghost in the Noonday Sun, etc.
John Gordon: The Giant Under the Snow (genuine urban fantasy, minus the vampires and zombies and werewolves, before the genre even existed–this is a wonderful book)
Elizabeth Janet Gray: Adam of the Road
Rosemary Harris: The Moon in the Cloud, The Shadow on the Sun. These books seem to be out of print. Odd, as they are superbly written. There’s a Rosemary Harris who writes crime novels, but she’s not the same Harris as this one.
Marguerite Henry: Justin Morgan Had a Horse, King of the Wind, Brighty of the Grand Canyon, etc.
Norton Juster: The Phantom Tollbooth
Carol Kendall: The Gammage Cup, The Whisper of Glocken
E. L. Konigsburg: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Robert Lawson: Ben and Me, Smeller Martin, Captain Kidd’s Cat, I Discover Columbus, Rabbit Hill (and other books)
Madeleine L’Engle: A Wrinkle in Time. While Wrinkle is an excellent book, as are the next few ones in the series, be careful with her later books, as not all of them are appropriate for children.
Ursula K. Le Guin (fairly serious fantasy, but well written and engrossing) A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore
Lois Lenski: Strawberry Girl (and other books)
C. Day Lewis: The Otterbury Incident
C. S. Lewis: The Narnia Chronicles
Astrid Lindgren: the Pippi books, Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, Karlson on the Roof
Hugh Lofting: the Doctor Doolittle books
George MacDonald: The Princess and the Goblin, The Princess and Curdie, The Light Princess, At the Back of the North Wind (very sad but brilliant)
L. M. Montgomery: the Anne of Green Gables books, Emily of New Moon, Jane of Lantern Hill
Andre Norton: Steel Magic (Norton was a prolific writer, penning mostly books for older readers; be careful with her other titles, as most of them are not suitable for children)
Mary Norton: The Borrowers, The Borrowers Aloft, The Borrowers Afield, The Borrowers Afloat.
Robert C. O’Brien: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
William Pene Du Bois: The Twenty-One Balloons, Call Me Bandicoot, The Three Policemen, The Great Geppy, Peter Graves
Andrew Petersen: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, North or Be Eaten, The Monster in the Hallows, The Warden and the Wolf King.
Daniel Pinkwater: (very unusual writer, some kids find him hilarious, some not) try Fatmen from Space (as an experiment).
Ellen Raskin: The Westing Game
Keith Robertson: the Henry Reed books
George Selden: The Cricket in Times Square, Tucker’s Countryside, Harry Cat’s Pet Puppy
Kate Seredy: The Singing Tree, The White Stag, and other books
Donald J. Sobol: the Encylopedia Brown series
Elizabeth George Speare: The Bronze Bow, The Witch of Blackbird Pond (many of her books are good)
Rosemary Sutcliff (historical fiction): The Eagle of the Ninth, the Silver Branch, The Lantern Bearers, Sword at Sunset, etc. Also: Knight’s Fee, The Mark of the Horse Lord, The Witch’s Brat (and many other excellent books).
J. R. R. Tolkien: The Hobbit (and then, if suitably hooked, The Lord of the Rings)
Gertrude Chandler Warner: the Boxcar Children books
E. B. White: Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little
Laura Ingalls Wilder: the Little House on the Prairie books
Geoffrey Willans & Ronald Searle: Down With Skool! (this is a rather subversive and hilarious look at the British school system, out of print but well-worth hunting down; I do not recommend any of their other books without careful investigation)
Jay Williams: the Danny Dunn books