Books for Young Readers
These readers want books divided into chapters, but don't want those chapters to go on forever. Also, illustrations are still important.
Like the age range before this, the difference among children here can be enormous. But if your child is having a real struggle with reading after age 8, it's time to see a professional. After diagnosis, school personnel will be fine when working with challenged students--but they need to know about learning problems.
Dogs of the Iditarod by Jeff Schultz.
The Alaskan sled race known as the Iditarod works because amazing dogs do their work in sometimes unreal weather conditions. This slim book, stuffed with wonderful pictures, pulls the reader into the world of these powerful dogs—-the most athletic canines in the world. They’re also some of the most appealing. This beautiful book delights and informs, and makes us want to know even more about sled dogs.
Most Loved In All The World by Tonya Cherie Hegamin, Ill. Cozbi Cabrera.
Written by a gifted African-American poet, this memorable story introduces readers to a young slave girl. Without knowing the significance of the work, the child watches her mother, part of the Underground Railroad, work on a quilt that will be used to guide other slaves to freedom. At the end, the mother sends her “most loved in all the world” daughter to join the others in their escape. Cabrera’s collage artwork of quilt patches and pastels adds even further depth and beauty, bringing a bygone era to life for thoughtful readers.
What Darwin Saw - text and illustrations by Rosalyn Schanzer.
I’m prejudiced about this book, as I know the talented Ms. Schanzer. She wanted to show kids the young Mr. Darwin, when he first set out to see what he could see and landed at the Galapagos islands. The result is a book that charms ALL ages. Based on solid research and designed with practiced skill, this enlightening glimpse of the man who made biological history is a fitting tribute to him in this 200th anniversary of his birth. An online reviewer terms it “exquisitely illustrated.” That would be Roz!
The Hoboken Chicken Emergency by Daniel Pinkwater, Ill. Jill Pinkwater.
Pinkwater’s hilarious story goes back to 1977, but is out in a new edition, illustrated by Jill Pinkwater. I always recommend Pinkwater’s books because kids always love them. In this story, Arthur Bobowicz is sent to the meat market to bring home the family’s turkey for Thanksgiving, but since his family doesn’t care for turkey, and Poppa’s turkey reservation was lost, Arthur ends up lugging home Henrietta, a 266-pound chicken. Henrietta is not just any chicken. And that’s just ONE reason this book has been in print so long, and so successfully.
Also read The Lunchroom of Doom which begins, “After the werewolf ate the whole fourth grade class and their teacher….”
Little Witch Goes to School by Deborah Hautziz, Ill. Sylvie Wickstrom.
(Level 3, Step Into Reading.)
Little Witch, star of several charming books, is back! We meet her this time as Mother Witch is making “spaghetti and mouseballs” for dinner. The problem for Little Witch in this story is that she doesn’t want to learn to be bad; instead she wants to go to school. Whether she can get her wish is doubtful, but all readers will be pulling for her! This series of books is very popular, and for many good reasons.
I love the humor, and the art.
Try also Little Witch's Big Night and Little Witch's Bad Dream .
Jurassic Poop: What Dinosaurs (and others) Left Behind by Jacob Berkowitz.
You can tell this is a winning book just by its title--two favorite kid topics in one place! Known scientifically as coprolite, fossilized poop really does have tales to tell and they are fascinating. Good writing and totally involving information make this factual book a big success.
Bunnicula Meets Edgar Allan Crow by James Howe.
So many kids enjoy animal fantasy that it's no wonder this well-written, hilarious series is such a hit. This is the 15th title in the series, and a perfect one for gently scaring the reader. Is the odd writer visiting the Monroe family planning to murder Bunnicula? The family animals have their suspicions and so will readers. The combination of humor and suspense is tought to beat!!
Henry and The Kite Dragon by Bruce Edward Hall, Ill. William Low.
Henry Chu and his neighbor, Grandfather Chin, live in New York's Chinatown in the late 1920's, where Mr. Chin builds spectacular kites. One day a gorgeous butterfly kite goes to close to some pigeons owned by boys from an Italian section of town, and the fights begin. How the fights between Henry and his friends against the Italian boys end is the crux of this satisfying, memorable book. Like so many children's books, this one has a message, but it's done so well that I can live with it. The art is enchanting!
Good Sports: Rhymes About Running, Jumping, Throwing and More by Jack Prelutsky, Ill. by Chris Raschka.
I'm not worth much when it comes to sports, but I try. That attitude describes several good-natured kids in this book, who enjoy a sport even though they're not very good at it. These poems make it clear that sports are games to enjoy. It's great to excel, but it's not the only reason to play sports. Because both author and illustrator have won major awards, you know that quality is foremost here. This book is a terrific gift for a child.
Goof-Off Goalie by Betty Hicks, Ill. Adam McCauley.
Even though Goose will do almost anything for a laugh, and he'd really rather stand still than run, he still believes he'll make a terrific soccer goalie. His friend Henry will train him, so what could be the problem? Well…the problem is that Goose is a goof-off, and if he's serious about wanting to be a goalie and if he and Henry are really friends, then Goose will have to shape up.
This great sports read for ages 7 to 10 or 11 is part of a series from Roaring Brook called "Gym Shorts." The books explore both friendship and sports. What a terrific idea!
Other Gym Shorts: Basketball Bats and Swimming with Sharks
Phonics Comics: Cave Dave, Level 1, by Carol McAdams Moore
Phonics Comics: The Fearless Four - Level 2 by by Lara Bergen
Phonics Comics: Hiro Dragon Warrior - Battle at Mount Kamado by Bobbi Weiss
If there's a reluctant reader at your house, try the Phonics Comics series. They're fresh, amusing, and targeted at our younger readers. They're also just right for boys, who tend to read later than girls and who are picky about reading topics. Boys like to read about other boys. [Sorry, but it's true.] Of course, girls will happily read these books. :>)
My Dog May Be a Genius, poems by witty Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by James Stevenson-two winners in this field. See the review in Ages 3 to 7. On second thought, I might review this book for every age!
The Everything Kids' Science Experiments Book:Boil Ice, Float Water, Measure Gravity-Challenge the World Around You by Tom Robinson.
What a useful title!. These experiments are very popular with kids and parents too, because most ingredients needed are found in the normal home. Kids give this book great reviews, but parents write the reviews for amazon.com. If you're considering buying this book, I'd recommend reading the uniformly positive reviews at the amazon site.
Fluffy and the Fire Fighters by Kate McMullan, Ill. Mavis Smith.
Good old Fluffy, the classroom guinea pig, makes a small error in believing that Martians have landed. They wear boots and lighted helmets, and they carry tanks on their backs. Assured by the class that these folks are firefighters, Fluffy recovers her good nature and even sits in the cab of the fire engine. Suddenly there's an emergency, which allows Fluffy to see firsthand the teamwork, skill, and bravery involved in putting out an actual fire. This is a "Hello Reader! Level 3" title for beginning readers. (Suggestions for parents appear at the beginning.) If this title is a hit, consider Fluffy Goes To School .
Harriet Tubman: Hero of the Underground Railroad by Lori Mortensen, Ill. Frances Moore.
Harriet Tubman was many things: a hero who led over 300 people as they fled from slavery to freedom in the north; a caretaker in the South for wounded soldiers during the Civil War; a soldier and sometimes spy during that war; a founder of a home for African-American children orphaned by the war; a founder of a school; and a crusader for women's right to vote. Born in 1820, she lived to be 93, and she is a legend in our country. Her biography is told simply and succinctly, which encourages the newer readers to keep going. It includes a glossary, a Did You Know section, and a brief bibliography.
A Hare-Raising Tale, A Fletcher Mystery by Elizabeth Levy.
Fletcher, the thoughtful basset hound whose spotted fur depicts the continents of the world, is our narrator. Although Fletcher had a rocky start in life--tossed out the back door of a pet store--he is now happily at home with Jill, who takes him to school for show and tell. Unfortunately, a nasty rabbit named Aniken comes up missing after the show, and Fletcher gets the blame! He must turn detetective and find the rotten rabbit. With his flea friend named Jasper, Fletcher leads Jill and her friend Gwen to the real bunny thief.
Humor flourishes here in art and text. A most enjoyable read. Also try The Principal's on the Roof: A Fletcher Mystery .
A Horn For Louis by Eric Kimmel.
This story mixes fact with fiction to showcase the life of one of our most beloved musicians--Louis Armstrong. As a boy, Louis worked for a Jewish family, and from them he receives his first horn. Because he is proud, Louis doesn't want to accept the gift, yet he and his benefactors make a deal so that he can pay off the debt. Louis begins playing immediately, because he was apparently born to play that cornet! The short chapters help new readers and the story (even with some fiction mixed in) is inspiring. Louis came from nothing--born in poverty in New Orleans--yet his determination and drive carried him to international musical fame.
Space Station Rat by Michael Daley.
I really enjoyed this fast-paced tale of Jeff, who lives on a space station with his parents, and who discovers a Modified lavender rat on board. She had escaped from a stateside laboratory, stowed away on the space station in error, and now she is starving. She follows him around, hoping for crumbs of food, then begins sending him e-mail messages…about food! Jeff is fascinated to find that his e-mail friend is actually a rat…who can write. Rat is especially happy to have food, but she is discovered by the adults, and then Jeff and Rat must work together to keep her safe. What a great, fun, exciting read!
Angela and The Baby Jesus by Frank McCourt, Ill. Raul Colon.
If you’ve read Angela's Ashes (1996 Pulitzer Winner) by this author, then you know he can write in a memorable, eloquent way. This touching story features 6 year-old Angela, who sees the crêche in front of St. Joseph’s church and takes home baby Jesus, who had no blanket to keep him warm. The cold blue illustrations of the December night stand in contrast to the warm, yellow-gold lights inside Angela’s home...where there are blankets, of course.
The Toymaker: Paper Toys That You Can Make Yourself by Marilyn Scott-Waters.
Any home with children will benefit from this lovely craft book. The colors of the items you create will delight your eyes and the results give real pleasure and a feeling of accomplishment. With this book you can create “Thaumatropes or Turning Wonders” that spin and create pictures as they move; a Sun Box to hold a small treasure; a Tooth Fairy Gazebo for offering up the baby teeth; a bus full of bears on their way to the beach; a puppet theatre with an elegant seafaring backdrop; well, you get the idea. Many of the creations form boxes that can hold small gifts or useful items on a desk. This book is a terrific present!
Books by Sid Fleischman: The Whipping Boy(Newbery Winner); By the Great Horn Spoon!; Jim Ugly; Escape!: The Story of the Great Houdini; McBroom Tells the Truth, et. al.
This author is one of the all-time best writers for children. Adults enjoy every one of his books, too—something that characterizes the best kids books.
Fleischman’s titles will be in most libraries, can be ordered on the internet, and make superb gifts for the children on your holiday or birthday lists. Each one is lit by Fleischman’s trademark humor.
Freddy In Peril by Deitlof Reiche, Ill. J. Cepeda.
These hilarious novels feature Freddy, a golden hamster, the star in the Golden Hamster saga. In this tale, Freddy Auratus, “hamster extraordinaire,” put his life story on the internet and was thus discovered by an “evil scientist” who plots to nab Freddy and take him to a hidden laboratory. Luckily, Freddy has friends—a pair of guinea pig pets, a wise tomcat, and a tribe of sewer rats.
Be sure to check out other titles in this imaginative, on-target series for young readers: I, Freddy; Freddy To The Rescue; The Haunting of Freddy; Freddy's Final Quest; and Freddy on the Loose.
Do Not Disturb: The Mysteries of Animal Hibernation and Sleep by Marjorie Facklam.
Marjorie Facklam—both scientist and writer—is one of my favorite writers for kids. In this book, elegant pencil drawings by Pamela Johnson add to the experience. Readers interested in animals—or maybe just waiting to be intrigued by them—will enjoy this book about hibernation, estivation (summer sleeping), and sleep in birds, animals, and fish. I remember just itching to know whether whales or fish slept when I was a kid. If they slept, how soundly? How much weight did the mother bear lose as she hibernated, gave birth, and nursed her young? Facklam explains all unfamiliar terms and offers a fine index as a research aid.
Mythology (an OLOGIES title from Candlewick Press) by Lady Hestia Evans, Dugald Steer, and various others.
Most young people like mythology, and some are fascinated by it. One of our own children who liked nothing but factual material for years, became deeply interested in mythology. Inside this book are all the wonders that have made myths so fascinating along with the modern wonders of an imaginative publisher: letters inside envelopes to remove and read, flaps to lift, gems and fabrics to touch, elaborate maps, and so on. As a child, I would have happily trampled another kid to grab the last copy of this book off the bookstore shelves.
Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, Ill. Marla Frazee.
Winner of the Sid Fleishchman award for humor, this funny, funny book about a 3rd grader appeals to all readers, even boys! Why? Because “Spectacularful ideas are always sproinging up in my brain,” as Clementine says. This true-to-life picture of a bright, imaginative (and how!) child trying to pay attention in school will hit home with its young audience and all parents. (Clementine’s parents are nicely normal, thank goodness.) Check out the sequels: The Talented Clementine and Clementine's Letter, plus more to come—yeeha!
The Doll People by Ann Martin and Laura Godwin
This book is a winner—dozens of awards, starred reviews, Best Books lists, etc. In the story, porcelain dolls who live in Kate’s 100 year-old dollhouse have real lives whenever the humans are away or asleep. Annabelle Doll is the main character, along with her mother, father, uncle, brother, and baby sister, Nanny. Once, Annabelle’s aunt lived there, too, but she disappeared 45 years before the story opens. Deciding that she can act like Nancy Drew, whom Kate and her friends talk about, Annabelle goes hunting for her missing Auntie Sarah in the vast house where Kate lives. Well illustrated with black and white drawings, this book is another nostalgic trip to the past, and it’s been a popular one.
The sequel is The Meanest Doll in the World.
Animal Ark (series) Just in case you haven’t found this English series, I urge you to find them, as they’re perfect for this age group. In all the books, Mandy Hope helps her folks treat animals of all shapes and sizes. Her best friend is an appealing guy named James Hunter. The various books are set at home, in school, in her parents’ clinic, etc., and will delight animal lovers. Set in Yorkshire, they’re reminiscent of the James Herriot books. Try starting with Owl in the Office (Animal Ark Series #11), because it’s a great page-turner, and at Christmas read
Hamster in the Holly (Animal Ark Series #35).
Made You Look from Klutz publications.
For ages 4 to 9, this activity book offers a variety of visual puzzles to keep kids occupied while traveling or waiting in an office. There are 53 pages of fun, with answers at the back of the book. Younger readers can find one special object in a mass of similar things, while older brothers solve more complex puzzles. In this mom’s opinion, you can’t have too many good activity books on hand!
Curious George and Me! A Memory Book You Write and Draw Yourself, from Houghton Mifflin publishers.
More reflective, “quieter” kids will love this book. Even though they’ve outgrown George himself, they never outgrow their curiosity about their birth, their families—every smidgen of information about themselves. This journal encourages them to find out and record it and draw it. The child involved in this self-awareness journey will ask you question after question, leading to some unparalleled discussions. Super idea here!
Wagon Wheels by Barbara Brenner, Ill. by Don Bolognese.
Originally published in 1978, this story of an African-American family seeking land of their own still speaks to today’s children, which is probably why it has been republished. The Muldie family are the stars here—Mother, Father, and three boys—who leave Kentucky and finally reach Kansas after a terrible trip during which the mother dies. The male Muldies spend a difficult winter in a dugout in Nicodemos, a town founded by freed slaves, and survive largely due to help from a few Osage Indians. Spring comes and the father leaves, seeking the land they need. That summer, the three boys travel to meet him. This is a stirring story, told in simple language, and based on truth. An audiocassette comes with the book. Highly recommended.
Funny Frank by Dick King-Smith.
Of course this is a great book—it’s by Dick King-Smith. He’s always a wonderful, whimsical, witty storyteller, count on it. In this book, Frank wants to be a duck, only he is actually a chicken. “Being a duck isn’t all it’s quacked up to be,” he hears, but his human friends make him a custom-fit, ducky wetsuit. Hoo boy, such fun.
Also, a newer one by King-Smith is Titus Rules! about a Corgi pup who is part of Queen Elizabeth II’s herd of Pembrokeshire Corgis. Adults will enjoy the satire on the royal family, the kids will love Titus’s story, and everyone will appreciate the illustrations by talented John Eastwood.
While a Tree Was Growing by Jane Bosveld.
For the millions of kids who love factual literature, and even for those who think they don’t, this true story of a giant Sequoia is an excellent choice. Called “moguchi” by the Wukchumni Indians, some of these “ancient ones” have survived three thousand years—yes, 3,000 years! This book shows all that took place while this tree was growing, surviving hundreds of forest fires in that time. I think that anyone who reads this book will view trees in a new, enlightened way.
Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson.
Everyone should know this 1944 classic. Little Georgie and his rabbit family live on The Hill, which is buzzing with talk of a new family coming to the “Big House” nearby. All the animals are concerned, because after the “good Folks” had moved long ago, their successors had been “mean, shiftless, inconsiderate.” The animals have heard that the new humans are “planting folks,” which would mean seeds in the toolhouse, and so on. Readers get a strong sense of how all wild creatures who live near humans are powerfully affected by the humans’ manner of living.
With lots of dialogue, excellent characterization, and fine suspense, this animal fantasy is just as relevant and appealing as ever.
Dragonology: Tracking and Taming Dragons, Book and Model, Volume 1, European Dragonby Dr. Ernest Drake.
This is the first of a series on the different dragons introduced in the earlier book, Dragonology. In this set is a realistic, hanging model (that the reader assembles) of “Draco occidentalis magnus,” the European dragon, here with a 23” wingspan—wings that move! What fun.
Artfully designed book-projects like this one allow children to combine curiosity, fantasy, history, craft skills,and creativity. Highly recommended.
Seven Spiders Spinning by Gregory Maguire.
Frozen Siberian snow spiders come to life and to the little Vermont town that is the setting for this hilarious series from Maguire (author of Wicked, an adult title and Broadway musical). The human characters in the series include a group of girls in the Tattletale Club versus the boys in the Copycat Club, plus their teacher Miss Earth, and a cool girl named Pearl Hotchkiss, who hates clubs. The humor is very broad AND very subtle…also wry…and punny…and gross. And all of it funny. These books would be terrific read-alouds, and are best for older readers nine or ten and up.
Emma Dilemma and the New Nanny by Patricia Hermes.
As one of five children, Emma wants to prove herself a responsible kid so she can join the traveling soccer team. Still, problems crop up, such as when she forgets to return her pet ferret to his cage and the family dog goes on the chase. When a new nanny named Annie is hired to care for the children, Emma’s sure she’ll be the answer to the family’s…and her.. needs. But then there’s a small fire, and Annie’s passport burns. Problems, problems. A great read for this age group. Enjoy! (P.S. The author raised five children herself.)
Top Secret by John Reynolds Gardiner.
Terrific writer here, with a super read for this age group, or any age, actually! Allen Brewster, 9 years old, has a dynamite idea for his school science project: human photosynthesis. He needs a great project for his demanding teacher, mean Miss Green, who wants to be named Science Teacher of the Year. Of course, Allen’s project is a trifle far-fetched—humans’ getting their energy from the sun, like plants—but this is a fantasy-mystery-school story, so it is pure fun.
200 Amazing Things to Make, Do, and Play by Kate Lively.
How wonderful to know about this book with summer on its way. Even if a child is not interested in magic, he might enjoy growing something in his own garden. If a girl doesn’t enjoy sewing, she might like making jewelry. Many of the projects occupy many days or weeks.
Ship by David Macaulay.
Of course, Macaulay’s books are classics, but some kids are so interested in the topic that having this book in a home library is appealing. Macaulay shows how various ships are constructed, what crews they need, etc. Readers see the inner details of ships and learn the purpose of various parts of the construction. Other titles by Macaulay are well worth investigating, checking out from the library, or giving as special gifts. E.g., Unbuilding , Cathedral; Building Big; Mosque; and of course, The New Way Things Work.
The Light at Tern Rock by Julia Sauer.
Another oldie-but-goodie here, a Newbery Honor book from 1951 by the author of Fog Magic, also a Newbery Honor book. In this story, Ronnie and his aunt are taking care of a lighthouse over the December holidays. Ronnie loves the sound of the surf, and life on Tern Rock, but when the lightkeeper fails to return so he and his aunt can go home, everyone worries. While his aunt, once married to the lightkeeper on Tern Rock, understands how to live out in the middle of the ocean, Ronnie’s ready to home to his family! A beautifully written, timeless story.
Welcome To The Bed and Biscuit by Joan Carris.
Stand by your book, I always say. This time I set my story at a pet boarding facility out in the country, where Grampa Adam Bender—a semi-retired veterinarian—lives with Gabby, an old mynah bird; Ernest, a three year-old mini-pig; and Milly, a young pussycat. In comes a tiny stranger, who unwittingly causes no end of trouble.
School Library Journal said, “This is a small, remarkably sweet beginning chapter book with more than its fair share of amusing illustrations and gentle humor. Animal lovers are bound to lap it up.” And Kirkus Reviews, bless their hearts, ended with “Kids will welcome sequels.” (In fact, all the reviews have been highly favorable. Phew!)
Of course, I’m prejudiced, but this honestly IS a warm, funny, and loving book, perfect to read alone or read aloud. Also, it is just stuffed with Noah Jones’s enchanting artwork. The completed book surpassed my wildest hopes, thanks to the editors at Candlewick Press.
101 Facts about Predators (series) from Gareth Stevens.
In particular, let’s consider a recent volume in this series: 101 Facts About Polar Bears by Julia Barnes.
The text is only one sentence or two at a time, accompanied by color photographs, many of them action shots of polar bears jumping, fighting, and swimming. For example, near the beginning, “The polar bear is the biggest four-legged carnivore on Earth.” Facts are logically grouped but can be absorbed one at a time this way, which will be ideal for many youngsters.
Clever Ali by Nancy Farmer.
This fantasy is based on a true story about a 12th century Egyptian ruler. In this tale, seven year-old Ali helps his father, who cares for the pigeons that belong to the cruel Sultan of Cairo. Ali gets a pigeon of his own to train, but he spoils his pigeon, creating a greedy bird who steals the Sultan’s special cherries at a feast. Raging, the Sultan threatens to throw Ali’s father into his oubliette, a dungeon-like hole inhabited by a huge, yellow-eyed demon. Ali can only save his father by giving the Sultan 600 cherries within three days. The elaborate and exquisite illustrations trace back to ancient Islamic designs and Cairo’s traditional art in mosques. Like all of Farmer’s work, the writing is as good as it gets.
Night Boat to Freedom by Margot Theis Raven, Ill. E.B. Lewis.
Two brave figures star in this short story of slaves escaping to freedom. Granny Judith quilts part of the story, but the grandson she raised, Christmas John—born on Christmas day—rows the escapees away from slavery.
An eloquent book in many ways, the colors of the night in which Christmas John and the slaves escape contrast with the elegant colors in Granny Judith’s dyed quilts. On these pages, the art and the words blend perfectly, which is why it comes so highly recommended. This is one of those books that I call a “picture book for all ages.”
The Bake Shop Ghost by Jacqueline Ogburn, Ill. by Marjorie Priceman.
Once, the bakeshop was owned by Cora Lee Merriweather, a terrific baker, who is now a ghost, haunting her own shop. “Her sponge cake was so light the angels kept hoping it would float up to heaven.” Cora Lee had a reputation to protect!
Although bakers come to work in her shop, she’s a most frightening host, so that one after another, the bakers leave. Along comes another terrific baker, a young woman who devises the recipe that wins over the ghost. Such fun here—and you can try the author’s favorite cake recipe, included in the book.
OTHER RECOMMENDED BOOKS
Adventures of Marco Polo by Russell Freedman.
Newbery-winning Freedman has done it again! Using known facts, historic questions, excellent scholarship, and benefitting from illustrations by Bagram Ibatouilline, he has taken readers back in history to Marco Polo’s Venice. Polo leaves home to find China and the Kublai Khan, a 24-year journey covering 6,500 miles. But did he really get to the court of Khan? Freedman uses Polo’s own accounts—told to a man he met in prison—as basis for much of this book, which is another amazing blend of art and words. This book appeals to the better readers in this age group and to all older readers…again, like me.
Pirates by John Matthews
Yes! Pirates galore. Their clothes. Their food. How they behave on board. An actual advertisement recruiting pirates. Biographies of the well-known pirates. Any reader of any age can simply wallow in pirate lore. Learn pirate slang. Learn about weapons via a special pull-out section. This is an interactive book with little bits of paper and notes here and there. What fun! And the cover is as good as it gets.
Go Figure! A Totally Cool Book About Numbers by Johnny Ball.
How I could have used this book many decades ago!! If you suspect your child is becoming a math-hater, head that trend off at the pass! Several recent books show how much fun can be had with arithmetic and logic. When an author is as excited about his subject as Ball is, good things happen for learners. This title offers puzzles, different activities involving numbers, and even magic tricks to make math sparkle.
Anyone Can Eat Squid by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
“What Sarah Simpson wanted more than anything else in the world was to be special somehow….” I’ll bet all kids can identify with that sentiment. And they’ll like Sarah, who is a believable, appealing heroine. When Sarah’s energetic attempts to be special don’t work, she turns to helping a classmate’s father’s restaurant succeed. And when her plans work, lo and behold, Sarah has found out how to be special: helping a friend. This book is many things: enjoyable and readable and addictive: the reader will want another Naylor book!
Young Thomas Edison written and illustrated by Michael Dooling
Here’s a treasure for readers who love “real stuff.” This biography shows young Al, as he’s called, in trouble in school, mainly because he was hard of hearing. (He went deaf later.) His mother homeschooled him and by age 9 he had set up his first laboratory in his home basement. Later on, when he was a worker on trains, he did experiments in the baggage car. A born scientist, he kept trying to find answers to puzzling things. This is a special biography, enhanced by Dooling’s eloquent oil-on-linen paintings.
Almost Gone: The World’s Rarest Animals (Let’s-Read-And-Find-Out Science 2) by Steve Jenkins
Set against stark white backgrounds, cut-paper collage creates the stunning images of the animals in this book. Each one has a paragraph detailing its range, diet, and behavior. Readers learn why the animal is endangered or threatened. (Specific science terms for animals whose numbers are dwindling.)
A middle section memorializes animals gone forever, extinct. A third section discusses a few animals making a comeback because humans are protecting their habitat. These are facts we all need to know, lest we someday lose the last tiger, the last elephant, the last whale
Skywater, by Melinda Popham.
This is a quest story featuring a coyote family in a fascinating setting, the Sonoran desert. Although it’s out of print, it has come so highly recommended that I’m going to search for it. The tale of the coyotes’ search for fresh water is told from the coyotes’ viewpoint by an author who has apparently done her homework, according to all the rave reports. Since I believe in learning to put yourself in another’s shoes (er…paws), I am betting this book will be an eyeopener. If you read it, let me know!
A Room With A Zoo, by Jules Feiffer. Feiffer’s art enlivens this tale of Julie, who wants her very own Chihuahua. Instead, she gets cats, turtles, hamsters—all troublemakers. This is a funny book, with appealing characters, situations, and artwork.
The Gator Girls; Rockin' Reptiles; and Get Well, Gators! by Stephanie Calmenson, Ill. Lynn Munsinger. The Gator Girls are best friends Allie and Amy, starring in stories for kids beginning to read on their own. Each book evokes laughter in even the most hesitant reader. Munsinger’s art is terrific, and so is this successful series.
One More Elephant, by Richard Sobol.
Our biggest land mammal, elephants are eternally popular with kids and adults. It’s encouraging to read of efforts to preserve them and their habitat. This book is about elephants at the Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda, a place nearly ruined in a lengthy civil war. At the end of that war, only 180 of an original 3,000 elephants had survived. Two brothers, Peter and Wilhelm Moeller, made it their business to save the remaining elephants and “grow “ the herd, which had swelled to 400 by the mid ‘90s.
A more recent book by Sobol is An Elephant in the Backyard, about an Asian elephant in Thailand who plays soccer with her human friends.
Beany and The Meany by Susan Wojciechowski. This is the 5th title in the Beany series, and just as much fun as all the others. Here, Beany has to conquer her fear of Kevin, the meanest kid she’s ever known, when she is paired with him for a science project. The Beany books are great for kids beginning to read “chapter books,” and reading one usually leads to reading all the others. Yeeha!
A Visual Introduction to Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises by Bernard Stonehouse.
This is my favorite book on these cetaceans, and I recommend it for every reader in elementary school and above. Stonehouse is an accomplished writer, who always whets my appetite for even more information. Because of the uniformly superb illustrations, I can clearly recall several page layouts that begged to be examined in depth. Drawings in the appendix show the distinct water spouts that various whales create—one way scientists can know who’s down below, even before a critter surfaces. This book belongs in all libraries and we consult it frequently at our house.
The Stone Fox, by J. R. Gardiner.
The spare prose in this classic story of a boy hero matches well with the starkness of the drama itself. In order to save his family’s farm, a boy and his dog must win a dogsled race. Yet the Indian named Stone Fox is his opponent, and Stone Fox has never lost a race. This is a taut, beautiful story that I think all children (and adults) should know.now.
To Space and Back by Sally Ride.
Teachers, parent, and kids all like this informative and interesting book that shows what it’s like to go into space and return, as its author did. The over-size format shows off the many photos to their best advantage. A great read-aloud, thanks to the zest Ride brings to this book.
The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes.
Here’s a classic Newbery Honor book that has never lost its punch. It’s a school story, of girls who are perhaps focusing too much on their clothes. Wanda, who comes to school regularly in a worn and faded dress, claims to have one hundred dresses. She is teased a great deal, and eventually appears no more in class. The girls are abashed when they learn why. I’m not a fan of most “moralistic books” but I really like this one.
Schoolyard Rhymes: Kids’ Own Rhymes for Rope Skipping, Hand Clapping, Ball Bouncing, and Just Plain Fun, by Judy Sierra & Melissa Sweet.
The title really says it best. A great collection, and a great gift idea, too.
Into The Ice: The Story of Arctic Exploration, by Lynn Curlee.
Super factual lit, with outstanding paintings by the author, who is also a fine storyteller. Readers learn how the Inuit maneuvered their kayaks into dangerous waters, ages ago, forging their way through miles of ice. This is exciting, living history, including the journeys of more recent explorers such as Peary and Henson.son.son.son.
Buildings In Disguise: Architecture That Looks Like Animals, Food, and Other Things, by J. M. Arbogast.
Enjoyable browsing here through the excellent photographs and stories behind mimetic architecture, buildings constructed to mimic actual objects. Among others, you can see a teapot building, a pagoda shaped structure, teepees, and a 65-foot-tall elephant, the famous Lucy, in Margate,New Jersey, constructed of nearly a million pieces of wood. These buildings blossomed in the first half of the 19th century, when travel by car became popular. (IRA Children’s Book Award)
Dragon Slayers’ Academy (Series) by Kate McMullan.
These books feature Wiglaf, who isn’t really brave, but who is attending the Dragon Slayers’ Academy anyway, in the hope of becoming braver as time goes by. I just read Book 2, Revenge of the Dragon Lady, and now I have to give it away, to my older granddaughter. But it’s okay, because I still have more books to read in this lively, humorous medieval series.
Ace, The Very Important Pig, by Dick King-Smith, Ill. Lynette Hemmant.
Great-grandson of Babe: The Gallant Pig (Babe), Ace has his family’s spunk and intelligence. He can understand human speech, and so, after he figures a way into the house and into the farmer’s comfortable chair, he really enjoys television now and then. His farm friends, a cat and a charming Welsh Corgi, round out the cast of one more winning, tongue-in-cheek animal satire from King-Smith.
Martin’s Mice, by Dick King-Smith.
I can heartily recommend anything by this talented British author, including Ace: The Very Important Pig, Ace the Very Important Pig; A Great Dog; The Fox Busters; Harry's Mad; and, of course, Babe: The Gallant Pig (Babe). All of King-Smith’s books depict animals that think and talk to each, yet they are still true to their animal natures. He blends reality with fantasy in a most appealing way for young readers—and me. I love all of his books. In the story of Martin and Drusilla, the mouse mother who bullies Martin the cat, Martin finds he would rather care for the baby mice than eat them. Talk about fantasy! A fine read for animal lovers.
A Dolphin Named Bob, by Twig George.
Daughter of Jean Craighead George, Twig George has followed in her mother’s footsteps, writing factual books about the natural world and its creatures. This title is an enlightening and fast-paced story about a female dolphin who stranded, yet was rescued in time to deliver a calf, whom the rescuers called Bob. Although not expected to live, Bob survived and went on to become the star of an aquarium. His mother, Aster, lived too. Sometimes, biologists can bring us the most heartwarming tales in the world. (Read this to younger kids who are interested in dolphins.)
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, by Judy Blume.
Herein we meet the younger brother Fudge, who goes on to star in his own book, Superfudge. Peter Warren Hatcher tells this story of how he and his family live in New York city, in an apartment, and somehow survive two year-old Fudge. It’s all great fun—believable, if a bit exaggerated, and a perfect example of the kind of book that turns kids into readers. Lots of dialogue, rapid pacing, and “real” characters make this a page-turner. Blume is deservedly famous. (This title is 33 years old now, and still a favorite.)
The Real Thief, by William Steig.
As a totally honorable goose, Gawain is appalled to be accused of theft. He would NEVER steal rubies or gold or famous diamonds from the Royal Treasury. What to do when one is wrongly accused? Gawain's story will keep readers hooked in this tale that isn't just about a goose, but about all of us. Good chances to discuss friendship, pride, guilt, and trust after reading this one!
Runny Babbit, A Billy Sook, by Shel Silverstein.
It really is a silly book, and thank goodness! We need them. Kids laugh out loud at these spoonerisms, and enjoy the change from plain old English. Also, no one can resist the vague, lovable, marshmallow bunny who's the hero of this book. I wish I'd had it when I was a kid!!
This title works for ages 8 to 12, too. Enjoy!
I Hate Camping, by P.J. Petersen.
I love Pete Petersen's books. I grin from page one until the end at the believable kids in the stories, the warmth and humanity of it all, and the delicious humor. In this story, Dan has been dragged to Baker Lake--"buggy, muddy, freezing Baker Lake." Worse yet, Dan and his mom are camping with his mom's boyfriend and HIS two kids. Hoo, trouble. Lots of action in this fast-paced, funny book.
The House Above The Trees and The Wind Boy, both by Ethel C. Eliot. These books are here thanks to recommendations from one of our reading families. Her boys wanted me to champion these two books for all our readers online. Their mom writes: "The latter [House Above The Trees] has been declared 'the best book ever' by my 7 and 9 year-olds."
Goodness! So I went to amazon and read many customer reviews and they all agree. So here are two titles for those who love the whole idea behind "what if?" Let yourself be transported to somewhere else.
Mummy Math : An Adventure in Geometry by Cindy Neuschwander. Ill by Bryan Langdo.
I guess if you're trapped in an Egyptian tomb and want to get out, you need a little geometry so you can use the clues in the hieroglyphs. At least, that's what happens here, and all readers will discover they know a lot more about solid geometry at the end of the story than they did at the beginning.
Stunning visually and intriguing mentally. Something a mite challenging for summer.
How the Amazon Queen Fought the Prince of Egypt.,By Tamara Bower.
Bower takes a little-known tale and brings it to dramatic life in this treat for budding Egyptologists. Historians commend this book for its accuracy and you'll applaud it for its beauty. The hieroglyphs are really, really NEAT! So is the story of the dynamic Queen Serpot who takes on Prince Pedikhons in battle. I think everyone in the family will be interested in this story of the successful Amazon nation of warrior women, and the outcome of this battle. Yes, it ends up being a romance, but a squeaky-clean one here.
Helen Keller, A Determined Life by Elizabeth MacLeod
Here’s my current favorite biography of the indomitable woman named Helen Keller and her lifelong learning companion, Anne Sullivan. Her victory over blindness and deafness never grows old, and it comes to new life in this picture-laden 8x11 paperback. Thanks to Helen Keller, Braille became a worldwide system of writing and reading for the blind, but her accomplishments fill many inspiring pages. Outstanding factual literature for young readers.
Other biographies in this same series from Kids Can Press include: Alexander Graham Bell, Albert Einstein, Lucy Maud Montgomery, and The Wright Brothers.
The Alligator In The Closet, by David L. Harrison. Ill. by Jane Kendall
More David Harrison, this time some witty poetry. It’s real stuff—missing socks, a mouse sleeping in a box of tissue, that spooky creak in the stair—all the things around your house and mine that make it special. I remember one poem in particular. Read “Death of a Wasp” to your child if you dare to feel empathy for one of our “least creatures.” 7 to 10.
Owen Foote, Frontiersman, by Stephanie Greene.
Daniel Boone said, “When the forest calls, I have to go.” Owen Foote, second-grader, agrees. With his best friend, Joseph, he builds a tree fort in the woods, and it’s all very DanielBoony and perfect until some older kids come along and take over. But Owen is resourceful, just like his real-life hero. He and Joseph figure out a way to reclaim what is theirs.
Greene's understanding of second-grade psyches and her sense of humor make this and the other Owen Foote books real treats for kids.
If You Traveled West In a Covered Wagon, by Ellen Levine.
This title is part of a factual literature series that illuminates other times and places and different occupations. In this story, a family moves west as part of a wagon train to the Oregon Territory. You can follow the map to trace their travels…and travails, because this trip was tough. The book tells who went west in this way, how they crossed rivers with no bridges, how they cooked, what they wore and ate and did. Books in the series include If You Were A Ballet Dancer and If You Were A Writer, among others. My 8 year-old granddaughter loves these books!!
The Quiltmaker's Gift, by Jeff Brumbeau.
Although it's a story book with lots of pictures, I am suggesting this book for readers 5 or 6 and up. Lots of text here, lots of art to appreciate--all on many levels of understanding. This is the story of a quiltmaker who has magic in her fingers, who makes amazing quilts and then gives them away, illustrating how giving works in life. A king already surrounded by treasures asks for a quilt, hoping that this possession will make him happy at last. Of course, the wise quiltmaker makes him an offer…with a catch.
The Sword in the Tree , by Clyde Robert Bulla.
First published fifty years ago, this tale of a boy's quest to reclaim his family's castle appeals just as strongly to today's readers as it did to those back when. Young Shan travels as far as Camelot, into King Arthur's court, showing readers the joys of historical fiction. [And all the time he thought he was just trying to get help to reclaim the family's castle.] Bulla is well known for his on-target books for readers 7 to 10 years old. Try Shoeshine Girl; Daniel's Duck; The Secret Valley ; A Lion to Guard Us; and Pirate's Promise.
The Boy Who Didn't Believe in Spring, by Lucille Clifton
Two inner city boys are not sure they'll find spring in their neighborhood. Yet there it is in an empty lot. When spring tiptoes into your part of the world, go outdoors with your kids to search for signs of the new season. Clifton's prose and memorable poetry are justly famous.
The Stories Julian Tells, by Ann Cameron.
Nice short chapters for kids learning to read on their own, full of the family details that describe our lives--food, a loose tooth, pets, and friends. These two African-American boys and their parents seem like the family next door. This title begins a popular series of Julian books, including Julian, Secret Agent(1988).
Witcracks: Jokes and Jests from American Folklore, collected by Alvin Schwartz, Ill. by Glen Rounds (available used, online)
Another oldie-but-goodie, this title appeals to all kids who love corny jokes, shaggy dog tales, puns, and even Tom Swifties. "I'll have another hot dog," Bill said frank-ly." This kind of verbal play does wonders for mental nimbleness and appreciation of language. Also…we all benefit from laughing!
Where The Sidewalk Ends:Poems and Drawings, and A Light in the Attic, by Shel Silverstein. Few books of poetry delight young readers as much as this pair. My own sixth-grade son asked for them for Christmas, which says more than I can about their appeal. They're warm, funny, and right on target for their readers.
Second-Grade Ape, by Daniel Pinkwater. Targeted at young readers in grades 2 to 3, this book really works. Readers can't help but giggle at Flash Fleetwood, who finds an animal behind his house, just sitting quietly in the bushes. Flash thinks at first that it is a cat, and readers are convulsed. THEY can see that it's an extremely large ape. Illustrations by Jill Pinkwater are a critical part of this book's success, as is the well-known Pinkwater humor.
The Very First Christmas, told by P.L. Maier, with illustrations by Francisco Ordoz.
A mother tells her son about the first Christmas, answering his questions that reflect ones children have always asked. Why Bethlehem? Why was the inn full? It's extremely well written by a Biblical historian, and exquisitely illustrated. Readers LOVE this book, and I'll bet you will, too.
'Twas The Night Before Christmas by C. C. Moore.
Christian Birmingham's classic-style illustrations give this version JUST the right feel…and as a bonus, this is a low-cost book from Running Press. Once you own a copy, reading it every Christmas Eve can become a tradition at your house as it is at ours.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson.
When the horrible Herdman children take over the Christmas pageant, amazing things begin to happen, all of them hilarious. We re-read this story at my house every year, too! And sometimes in between. Everything Barbara Robinson writes is worth owning.
Science Verse, by Jon Scieszka, Ill. by Lane Smith.
All of Scieszka's and Smith's books are beloved by kids…and usually adults, although kids are often better at giggling in appreciation of the wacko humor and offbeat art. I love and respect anything by this talented pair, as there is ALWAYS more than meets the eye and the ear in their books. Science Verse is wacky, yes, but also stuffed with facts. This book comes with a CD, so you can hear the author and illustrator reading such gems as "Astronaut Stopping by A Planet on a Snowy Evening."
Everybody in the family will enjoy Scieszka's books.
Read also: The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, by A. Wolf; The Stinky Cheeseman and Other Fairly Stupid Tales (Caldecott Honor Book) and The Frog Prince Continued .
Tales of Oliver Pig by Arnold Lobel. Lobel is a favorite with beginning readers…and everybody else. The laugh-aloud, warm-hearted pictures illustrate stories about Oliver and his animal friends, who are amazingly similar to children. Read also the Frog and Toad Books -classics in the young reader field.
The Drinking Gourd, by F. N. Monjo.
How can Tommy Fuller hide the runaway slave family and keep them safe? Here's another classic--an all-too-realistic story of the Underground Railroad, reminding us how lucky we are today, and what a struggle we went through to get here. This is an appropriate book for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Days of the Knights, by C. Maynard.
Superb pictures show the knights' armor, bows and arrows, battlements, drawbridges--everything about a knight's life in medieval days. Everyone in the family will enjoy this factual book.
Hannah, by Gloria Whelan.
Hannah says, "Just because I can't see, strangers think I can't hear either. Or they believe I am stupid." Here's a warm, lovable heroine who triumphed over blindness.
How To Eat Fried Worms, by Thomas Rockwell
The title refers to a bet the hero makes with his best friend--a bet that says Billy will eat a worm a day for 15 days. Funny, funny book, just 4 chapters long. Another tale of worms is P.R. Giff's The Winter Worm Business
I Was a Third Grade Spy; I Was a Third Grade Science Grade Project; and I Was a Third Grade Bodyguard, by M.J. Auch
More wonderful humor in a realistic third grade setting, with believable characters. These books appeal to many ages, not just the younger readers. Excellent illustrations, too.
The Kids of the Polk Street School series, by P.R. Giff
These are classic books in this genre, because of the realistic settings and amusing characters. Dialogue is a strong point, and the humor is irresistible. Titles include: The Candy Corn Contest, The Beast in Ms. Rooney's Room , Pickle Puss , et al.
Dracula is A Pain In The Neck, by Elizabeth Levy
When weird things start happening at Camp Hunter Creek, Robert fears his own Dracula toy is the cause. But is Dracula real?? This is a funny and fast-paced book by another wonderful author for younger readers.
Bunnicula: A Rabbit Tale of Mystery, by Deborah and James Howe
When the celery and carrots go pale in the refrigerator's crisper, it's clear that the family has a problem. Who is sucking the juice out of their vegetables? Could it be that bunny rabbit? The other house pets become detectives to solve the problem. Read also: Bunnicula Strikes Again!, The Celery Stalks at Midnight and Howliday Inn : A Bunnicula Book, starring the same hilarious cast of characters.
The Ghost of Windy Hill, by C. R. Bulla
Lorna and her brother Jamie think that someone is spying on them. Is it a ghost? Do ghosts exist? Maybe someone's just pretending. Bulla knows what his readers like. Other titles for this age include: Chalk Box Kid , (Stepping Stone ppbk), Three Dollar Mule, The Sword in the Tree (Trophy Chapter Book), and Secret Valley
A Job for Jenny Archer and Diary of a Monster's Son, by Ellen Conford
Conford's books are guaranteed to be fun. The Jenny Archer series features a wholly believable heroine, whose spirit conquers all, even if there are goofs along the way.
In Diary, we meet a kid who wants to be a monster, just like Dad -- except that's not as easy as it sounds.
Enjoy, enjoy! It's wonderful to curl up with a great book on a grey day or when it's time to settle down. For bedtime, reading's the best prescription.
Parents' Note: Often it is smarter to read a child part way into a book and then turn it over to him or her. Adults realize that a book that starts slowly is apt to get better, but kids don't know that yet. We have to show them.