Kidlit: Favorite Chapter Books for Children

I mentioned last week that we just finished reading the first book in the Harry Potter series with Hudson. It’s been very exciting to start reading chapter books together; it evokes those scenes in movies when the hero or heroine steps into the enormous library for the first time, eyes wide open with possibility. The skills that come with it—focused attention, patient listening—reach beyond bedtime reading, in fact, to more podcasts and audible options in the car and on flights. His appetite is immense right now!

Mostly, we’re in the honeymoon stage wherein Aron and I debate who gets the pleasure of exposing him to some new exciting character or place—we both have fond memories of being read aloud The Little House series, and I’ve definitely got dibbs on The Witches. For Harry Potter, I read and Aron would come in each night and listen.

But as we go through more of our favorites, the challenge becomes picking the right book. It’s a commitment, now.

Here are some of our picks for best read-aloud chapter books so far. What are yours? 

So far…

Magic Tree House series, by Mary Pope Osborne. Jack and Annie are whisked back in time to the Age of Dinosaurs, a medieval castle, ancient pyramids, and treasure-seeking pirates through a magic tree house in their backyard. Each visit is an adventure and a history lesson. These were a gift from Hudson’s cousins when he was four, and he was too young to really be interested in them at the time. We pulled them out again last week, and I’m afraid we may have missed our window. Now the chapters feel a bit too short, the narrative too young. Still, this is a much beloved series and would be a great first foray into the category for a preschooler or kindergartner.

Roald Dahl books. This is really where we began, when Hudson was five. We used to read The Enormous Crocodile when Hudson was in preschool, and I could tell he was going to be a fan of Dahl’s slightly irreverent humor from the start. He loved The BFG and James and the Giant Peach. We’ve also read Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Twits, Matilda, and Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. We’ve been holding out for The Witches, but he’s going to love it. Also, George’s Marvelous Medicine, Danny the Champion of the World, and Boy. There are boxed sets available, from 4 to 15 books, and I’d highly recommend any of them.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum. Though we have an old edition of this, we listened to the audio book on our drive to Palm Springs last fall. We chose the version read by Anne Hathaway, and she did an incredible job of coming up with different voices for all the characters. If you’ve mostly watched the movie, you will be surprised by some of the differences in the 100-year-old story. Spoiler: The slippers are not Ruby!

Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling. We’ve only read the first book together so far (Book 1, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone elsewhere). I wrote more about that in a previous post.

The Little House series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Hudson and I began reading Little House on the Prairie just over a year ago, and for some reason stopped. Now, he and Aron are starting up again with Little House in the Big Woods, which I’d forgotten is actually the first book in the series. Aron’s mentioned that it has been a bit hard to come off Harry Potter to this, but Hudson is enjoying it and I imagine we’ll read all of the books in the next couple of years.

The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. This is another one that Hudson and I started. We had just began and got derailed when Christmas came and brought Harry Potter with it. But I’m really looking forward to getting back to it. Orphaned Mary is moved to the Yorkshire Moors to live with an uncle she’s never met. It’s a lonely house, but she befriends a high-spirited boy named Dickon and discovers a secret garden. Some of the attitudes about race and class, and the treatment of children, at the opening of the book really took me by surprise and I found myself doing a little editing. But I also found myself doing a lot of discussing and explaining. It felt like it stirred some good conversation.

Winnie the Pooh, by A.A. Milne. Loveable characters, beautiful language—a classic since 1926 when Milne wrote this book for his son, Christopher Robin.

Dogman, the crime-fighting canine from the same author as Captain Underpants, was Hudson’s first pick from his school book fair and I’m fairly certain it was what got reading by himself to finally click! I’ve heard many other parents share similar anecdotes. Nothing like a little potty humor (in comic-strip style) to get them reading on their own!

We’re looking forward to (& Others have recommended)… 

Beezus and Ramona. I read everything I could about pesty Ramona Quimby when I was little. I can’t wait to read these with the kids. Beverly Cleary is wonderful! Has anyone read her The Mouse and the Motorcycle series?

Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren. The kids have had some introduction to the irrepressible red-haired, freckle-faced free spirit—we picked up a picture book in Sweden—but I’m sure they’d love to hear more.

Babe the Gallant Pig. The pig who wants to be a sheepherder made it to the big screen, but the chapter book is supposed to be even better!

Mercy Watson series. The School Library Journal recommends it for Kindergarten-Grade 2: “Mercy Watson, a disarmingly charming pig adopted by a loving human family, makes her debut in this new series of chapter books for beginning readers.” I’m thinking we might get the audio books for car rides, so that Skyler and Hudson can listen to them together.

The Chocolate Touch. A fun twist on the Midas story, this may actually have been a favorite from my childhood—it sounds very familiar. I’ll have to read it again and find out!

Charlotte’s Web, as well as E.B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan. We’ve watched the cartoon together, but haven’t yet read the book. I’m a little nervous to sob through the ending.

My Father’s Dragon trilogy. This three-book-series came up over and over in the comment section of a Friday Links post that touched on chapter books. I’d never heard of it, but it’s clearly a favorite starting place in many homes.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins, by Richard Atwater. “A classic of American humor, the adventures of a house painter and his brood of high-stepping penguins have delighted children for generations. “Here is a book to read aloud in groups of all ages. There is not an extra or misplaced word in the whole story.”–The Horn Book. Newbery Honor Book.

Anna Hibiscus. A reader recommendation that intrigues me: “The title character is a young girl who lives in modern day ‘Africa. Amazing Africa.’ Her adventures and experiences show compassion, diversity, and great strength of character. Both my daughter (age 5) and son (age 7) are devouring them, and learning so much. They are hard to find outside of Amazon, but I can’t recommend them highly enough!”

The Giggler Treatment by Roddy Doyle. A reader, Sue, wrote that her five-year-old loves this one: “It’s about a grown-up stepping in dog poop, it has lots of pictures, and some of the chapters are only a page long.” Sounds like another good starting point!

The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame. Another 100-year-old classic, this one is about Mole, Mr. Toad, Badger, and Ratty, four friends who go on adventures and have comic encounters along the River Thames.

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle. A story of adventures in space and time that’s soon to be a big summer movie release. It seems geared toward older kids, but I know some friends who are trying to read it before Oprah hits the screen.

What favorites would you add? 

P.S. Favorite picture books for preschoolers, and more Kidlit.

[Photo by Pat Crowe]

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