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The Vine: September 25, 2009

Submitted by on September 25, 2009 – 10:26 AM262 Comments

Inevitably there is backstory (which I have tried to keep short), but ultimately this is a request for book title suggestions.

My mom lives in rural Utah.She volunteers for a tiny and ill-funded (understandably; the town has fewer than five thousand residents) 501c3 that provides afterschool tutoring and snacks to about 20 kids, all ESL elementary and middle school students, most several grade levels behind for reading comprehension, very few have even one parent that is comfortable speaking English.

The kids are seriously fantastic.They are engaged, they are interested, they are nifty.They are also easily discouraged when it comes to reading.The reading material that's provided by the school is clearly remedial and involves lots of word lists, and they're not learning to read for fun.Reading is a chore, and it's worse, somehow, than even math, something I cannot imagine.

The stuff the program has is mostly picture books (although recently, there has been an onslaught of Twilight donations, and they do have Captain Underpants), but what they do have that's at a comfortable reading level, or even an easy-ish stretch, they have all read over and over or is dull subject matter for them, so their comprehension and confidence aren't increasing.

The reading levels seem to span from about 2nd grade through about 7th grade. My mom needs books for the kids.The kids need stuff to read that's fun and interesting, and, oh, please, not all about vampires.

I'm good with getting them books (hello, tax deduction!), but I don't know what titles to get.Kids aren't still reading Nesbit, are they?Those are the only children's chapter books I remember, before I started raiding my parent's bookshelves.

Can your readers give me suggestions? Books that y'all loved, elementary school through, say, 10th grade.Fiction, non-fiction, whatever made you want to read more.

And yeah, the library would seem like a natural resource for this, but parents have to sign off on library-card applications for minors, and — not so much most of these parents.The two kids reading above grade level have library cards.My mom checks out ten children's books every two weeks for the kids, the maximum allowed.

If you want more details on the program for whatever, I can give you that.

Thanks!

Annie

Dear Annie,

Perfect timing for your letter, for two reasons!First, once the contest page goes live, you and/or your mom can browse some of the reading-project requests and see what other teachers have asked for, to get ideas.I know I've added a few Captain Underpants requests to the list.

Second, I myself just finished plowing through the first three books in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.("PLOOPY."Manny kills me, you guys.)I don't know what formal grade level the books are, but I got wind of them from an 11-year-old young lady who found them hilarious, and there's a website. It also looks like the books come in Spanish, if that's the kids' first language; they could start out on the Spanish-language version, get psyched about the books, and be inspired to continue in English. Or at least be inspired to continue.

At that age, I had my nose buried in Stephen King, which I wouldn't advise but wouldn't exactly discourage, either (this is why I shouldn't have kids; heh) — but I also still liked re-reading the Newbery Award set my mom had gotten me: The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Island of the Blue Dolphins, and I think Johnny Tremain came as part of that set.(Please tell me someone else had a discussion with her best friend about Rab coming off as a smug dillweed.…Just me and Agent Weiss, then?Great.)

Readers?Any thoughts — on inspiring books for pleasure reading, or on wanting Rab to march off to war and shut it already?

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262 Comments »

  • Colleen says:

    You might try Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. The stories are engaging, and they're great for teaching kids new words because they introduce the vocabulary and then define it immediately, so kids aren't sent rushing to the dictionary all the time. Google says the reading level is grades 3-6, and I loved reading the books as an adult, so they'd probably work for most of the kids in the class. And there are 13 books, so if the kids like the first book or two, there are many more you can get them.

  • Katie says:

    Tamora Pierce, who writes fantastic fantasy series about kick ass girls. Absolutely wonderful, both on a story level and on giving girls fictional characters they can identify with.

    Dealings with Dragons (and sequels) by Patricia Wrede, which are fairy tales with funny twists.

    The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie. Semi-autobiographical book about a kid growing up on the Spokane Indian reservation.

    Scott Westerfeld's books might skew a little advanced but certainly no more so than Twilight, and seem universally liked. The series starting with "Uglies" is his most popular, but I really liked his Midnighters series as well.

  • Susie says:

    I'll second Follow My Leader — I loved that book. I was also a sucker for "kids on their own" books, like My Side of the Mountain, and the Boxcar Children series. Those might seem a little old-fashioned to today's kids, I'm not sure.

    Maniac Magee by Jeffrey Spinelli is a great book: fun to read, totally memorable, a good message, entertaining as all get-out. My mom used to teach middle-school English and I recommended that one to her, and her kids loved it. It won a Newbery award.

    I also remember digging YA novels that had some science or historical bent, like Dolphin Island by Arthur C. Clarke, and King Tut's Game Board by Leona Ellerby. Both of those were re-read over and over.

  • Lisa says:

    I'm not too proud to admit that I loved those "Choose Your Own Adventure" books when I was younger. Admittedly it isn't great literature, but maybe kids who aren't so into reading might like the interactive side of those?

  • Liz says:

    I have two boys (8 and 9) who are avid readers, and here is what they've had their noses buried in recently:

    Captain Underpants
    Diary of a Wimpy Kid
    Fablehaven series
    Percy Jackson series (Lightning Thief, etc.)
    39 Clues series
    Series of Unfortunate Events series
    The Great Brain books
    American / Michigan Chillers series
    Encyclopedia Brown

  • Nicole says:

    I was a reader and was taking on some Dickens and Poe at about 8. Also, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Piers Anthony. My friends correctly labeled me as weird. Anyway, I read anything I could get my hands on and some of my favorites were – Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden (of course), Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, anything by Judy Blume. The Westing Game got read by me so many times it fell apart. Some of those might be dated now of course. The Piers Anthony Xanth series was a fun sci-fi series and some of the kids might appreciate something more in that vein, as opposed to all Twilight all the time. Older kids anyway. I bet the Lois Duncan and R.L. Stine books would be enjoyed. I loved all the James Herriott series too. They probably aren't the most well-written books, but they are fun and have lots of cute animal stories. And the Sweet Valley High series. Good laugh material now, but when I was about 12 I wanted to be a Wakefield desperately. Or Deenie, even with the brace.

    Some of the classics might be liked too by the older kids – Jane Eyre, Little Women, that kind of thing. Laura Ingalls Wilder books.

    I tend to agree with the idea that getting kids to love reading means giving them something they will read, even if that means SVH.

  • Katie says:

    I've recently read "The Hunger Games" and its just-published sequel, "Catching Fire," by Suzanne Collins and I loved them both–they do dystopia very well. I enjoyed the Narnia books, the Little House on the Prairie books, and the Boxcar Kids series as a kid. I also remember going through a huge biography kick in late Elementary school–I don't have any specific recommendations there, but I remember that I loved reading about real peoples' lives.

  • Melanie says:

    What about the Little House series? I read them over and over when I was kid. The nice thing about that is it's the continuing story of Laura and her family, so the kids, if they like it after the first book, can find out what happens next.

    I, too, loved The Westing Game, and The Secret Garden.

    And what about the Amelia Bedelia books? They are for 4-8 year olds, but some of the kids with lower grade-level ability might enjoy them. They might also help them with context and other skills, since, as I remember, Amelia is quite literal.

  • Lauren says:

    Gordon Korman's books would be perfect for this sort of thing. My favourites from back in the day were "I Want To Go Home" and the MacDonald Hall series. I know he has written a billion more since I was that age, but I always found his books to be clever, hilarious, and easy to read.

  • Sally says:

    A few years ago when I was substitute teaching, I picked up one of the Junie B. Jones books–there are many of them–and I thought it was hilarious. I also taught in a class where the teacher was reading "Where the Red Fern Grows" aloud and the kids just loved it (and oh, the tears).

    I loved all of the Beverly Cleary books and I'm pretty sure I read each of the Ramona ones at least 10 times. I also loved Judy Blume when I was that age. Another thing that was quite the rage back in the day (at least in my neck of the woods) were the Kathryn Tucker Windham ghost books. They are all southern ghost stories–13 Alabama Ghosts, 13 Tennessee Ghosts, 13 Mississippi Ghosts–but every little boy I knew LOVED them. OH! And the Little House on the Prairie books and the Anne of Green Gables books. LOVED them.

  • Georgia says:

    I review children's books for a living, so here are a bunch of authors whose work I'd recommend in general, and some specific titles:

    Lynne Jonelle (fun, young-ish fantasy)
    Matt Christopher (for the sports fans)
    Suzanne Selfors (her younger stuff, for some reason her older stuff seems quite bad)
    Betty Hicks (more sports)
    Susan Patron
    Joey Fly: Private Eye by Aaron Reynolds (hilarious noir-ish graphic novel for kids)
    Linda Sue Park
    Jeanne Birdsall
    The Robe of Skulls by Vivian French (hilarious young fantasy with talking animals)
    Saxby Smart: Private Detective by Simon Cheshire (fun, Encyclopedia Brown-style mysteries)
    Avi (this guy is ridiculously prolific, and some stuff is better than others, but you can usually count on him for good books)
    Eoin Colfer
    Jon Scieszka (he has a lot of picture books, but has also written hilarious novels and a memoir)
    Middle School is Worse than Meatloaf by Jennifer L. Holm (this is an incredible book where the story is told through the ephemera of a girl's life–receipts, homework assignments, etc.)
    Polly Horvath
    Graham Salisbury
    Carl Hiaasen (the kid's books, obviously, not the adult stuff)
    The Serial Garden by Joan Aiken (wonderful, wonderful short story collection)
    Ellen Potter
    Daniel Pinkwater

    And I heartily second both the Wimpy Kid series and The Westing Game

  • LisaJunior says:

    Louis Sachar's Holes, Robert Lipsyte's The Contender, Katherine Patterson's The Great Gilly Hopkins, Thomas Rockwell's How to Eat Fried Worms, Edward Bloor's Tangerine, Eva Ibbotson's Island of the Aunts, Katherine Patterson's Flip Flop Girl, Gary Schmidt's Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boys, and Lisa Graff's The Thing about Georgie all come highly recommended by my cousins and I.

    Pam Munoz Ryan has written several books for young readers about Mexican-American girls.

    The Witch of Blackbird Pond is still one of my favorites and I wish Elizabeth George Speare's estate would sell the movie right.

  • Lucrezia says:

    I loved the Wrinkle in Time series when I was young, though that might be a bit difficult starting out. Harry Potter, of course. Some classic or retold fairytales maybe? Sweet Valley High for the girls (they have younger versions of the books too I think, when the twins were still really young). There's so many good books for kids out there.

  • Shannon says:

    Try "Gregor the Overlander" series and "The Lightning Thief" series, they're both really popular with kids right now, probably age 10 and up. Little House on the Prairie was one of my favorite series as a kid. And of, course, Harry Potter! For slightly younger kids, Magic Tree House series was pretty good too.

  • Kivrin says:

    Edward Eager's books are clearly E. Nesbit-inspired, but due to a more modern setting are more accessible for kids who are less comfortable reading.

    The Amelia Bedelia books could be great, and particularly helpful for kids in ESL because they explain a lot of English-language idioms.

    Robin McKinley's Beauty and The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword.

    Laura Ingalls Wilder.

    Anything by Katherine Patterson.

    Don't rule out really formulaic stuff like Nancy Drew – it's not great literature, but the simple vocabulary and the forward motion of a mystery plot can do a lot to hook kids.

  • cv says:

    For that age range, a complete set of Harry Potter. Honestly, I'm not sure they've earned all their hype, as much as I love them. However, they are *excellent* for getting you sucked in and making you excited to keep reading, and it sounds like that's what these kids need.

    I like Sars' suggestion of looking through the Donors Choose projects – a lot of those teachers have found books that appeal to kids from poor and/or immigrant backgrounds – things that they can relate to that I might not have loved as an upper-middle class white suburban kid.

  • Betsy says:

    From my hungrily-reading past with a decided lean towards the fantastical:

    Lloyd Alexander's The Chronicles of Prydain; five books which include Newberry-winning The Black Cauldron. Funny and thoughtful sword-and-scroll tales based on Welsh mythology. Maybe 6th grade.

    Joan Aiken's The Wolves of Willoughby Chase series; six books in a slightly alternate past, full of satisfyingly evil governesses and royal doubles and adventures at sea and off-kilter humor. Includes a spoof of Moby Dick (a pink whale!) that I didn't recognize as such until college. 6th grade-ish.

    The whole Newberry series, natch.

    Susan Cooper, the Dark is Rising series. Arthurian legend in a modern setting, with Narnia- or Oz-like world creation. 6th or 7th grade.

    Diane Wynn Jones. Hell, anything of hers. But especially The Dark Lord of Derkholm and The Year of the Griffin (which, I discover now, apparently has mondo class study guides available online, too). Howl's Moving Castle, too. Really quirky, unpredictable storytelling with wonderfully individual characters. 4-7th grade, depending on the kid and the book.

  • K. says:

    I could do this all day! My grandmother was a children's librarian and I was (am) a bookworm, so she put tons of stuff in my hands growing up. Some favorite authors of mine were Jerry Spinelli ("Maniac Magee," "Who Put that Hair in My Toothbrush?"), Lois Duncan ("Summer of Fear," "Killing Mr. Griffin," "Stranger With My Face," "Down a Dark Hall," "Locked in Time," "Daughters of Eve"), Mildred Taylor ("Song of the Trees," "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry," "Let the Circle Be Unbroken"), Lois Lowry (the Anastasia books, "The Giver," "A Summer to Die," "Gathering Blue"), R.L. Stine (the Fear Street series, and he also has a series called Mostly Ghostly that skews a little younger), Robert Cormier, Paula Danziger, Paul Zindel, and of course Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary. I think these authors are a mix of dark and lighter, even within authors (Lois Lowry's Anastasia books are light and funny, and something like "A Summer to Die" is heavier). I went through a long Stephen King phase myself, but all these other authors preceded it. Good luck!

  • Alicia says:

    For the 2nd grade to probably 3rd graders, I know I loved all of the Beverly Cleary and Bunnicula books when I was that age.

  • Lon says:

    Oooh! I had that Newberry set, too! You can't go wrong with Newberry award winners!

    I'd also suggest winners of the Golden Duck Award for Excellence in Children's Science Fiction (lesser-known and a whole lot less prestegious than the Newberry Medal, lol), the list of the last mumble year's winners is here:
    http://www.goldenduck.org/winners.html
    and a list of more good SF books by age range is here:
    http://www.goldenduck.org/goodbooks.html

    I'm trying to think what my son (almost 16 now, and always maxed out reading tests, so we were in the opposite boat!) what he liked at those levels. I think Diana Wyn Jones was generally a hit. He's resolutely keeping his Jan Brett picture books to this day. The "Little Polar Bear" books by Hans de Beer.

    The original "Raggedy Ann Stories" and "Raggedy Andy Stories" by Johnny Gruelle (free at gutenberg.org) would probably be called chapter books today, and are ones I re-read, as well as Kipling's "Jungle Book", "Second Jungle Book", "Just So Stories", and oh, honestly, any of his prose. Look for non-bowdlerized versions, IMO. Albert Payson Terhune's dog books – not the bowdlerized picture books – "Lad, A Dog", "The Further Adventures of Lad", and "Bruce".

    I suspect a lot of things that were older classics when we were kids, like Edith Nesbit, are still going to be good choices today – Laura Ingalls Wilder, Lucy Maud Montgomery, etc.

    More modern, Robin McKinley's Damar books – "The Blue Sword" and "The Hero and the Crown" might be within the reach of the top-end kids. So might Anne McCaffrey's Harper Hall books – "Dragonsong", "Dragonsinger", and "Dragon Drums".

    Kinda rambling, hope that helps!

  • RC says:

    Have they read anything from Roald Dahl? I LOVED his stuff as a kid. Especially Matilda. She made being smart cool. Also maybe the Wayside School series (I think there are three or four books) by Louis Sachar. Definitely an easy read, at least for me as a probably 5th grader (it's been awhile), so that might be something good for you.

    Also this is probably totally mainstream but… have you considered the Harry Potter series? Granted it's been awhile since I've read the first ones, but IIRC they start out at a more basic reading level and then by books 5, 6, and 7 you're reading your way through an enormous 700-page saga. It seems like that would be great for building confidence, though I can't attest to having read them personally as a kid. And of course not everyone will get into it, but might be worth a shot and there will definitely be no problem finding copies!

    At least in California, Witch of Blackbird Pond and Island of the Blue Dolphins are required reading (I think in 6th or 7th grade, and then probably 4th grade). Nothing against those books, it's just hard to enjoy WoBP when you've had to spend your ENTIRE WINTER BREAK writing stupid pointless dialectical journals about it… I don't know about UT, but that could be another issue to take into account. Meaning, if they read the books before they *have* to read the books, they might like them more and get more out of them in a classroom setting, too.

  • Heqit says:

    For the younger reading levels, Roald Dahl! The BFG, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Witches, James and the Giant Peach — all good stuff. I've never known a kid who didn't enjoy a touch of fantasy in their reading.

    Tamora Pierce has some great, fun books written at the middle-school reading level.

    Let's see…Shel Silverstein's stuff (Where the Sidewalk Ends, etc.) is easy and fun, Charlotte's Web and E.B. White's other kids' books for about 5th-grade level, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel (by Virginia Lee Burton) for anyone reading picture books, the Inkspell books are pretty good, too, for maybe 5th-6th grade level readers, and I loved Robert Lawson's Ben and Me and Mr. Revere and I as a kid.

  • Kathryn T. says:

    The Xanth books, by Piers Anthony. As an adult reader, they're hideous, and they have serious problems re: sympathetic portrayals of women, but the language is quite simple and the hideous puns come as a delightful revelation to kids who are just gaining familiarity with reading. My brother's best friend was diagnosed with a learning disability when he was ten, and after getting fed up and discouraged with all the material that was given him to help him learn to read, chewed through the whole Xanth series in a summer.

    Also, try Little House on the Prairie, or the Narnia books, or the Swallows and Amazons books by Arthur Ransome. Or what about Encyclopedia Brown?

  • Jenno says:

    I'm all about the DK readers for my son. They're $4 a pop at my local Borders (look for the spinning rack), and they come in three reading levels. There are lots of titles that tie in to TV shows and movies, plus science, nature, history, etc. Even the level-1 books include glossaries and indexes, which provide good practice for HOW to use books.

  • liz says:

    Oooh, I loved the 3 Investigators, too! Some of my favorites (and which wouldn't be too taxing, I think):
    ANYTHING by Zilpha Keatley Snyder – especially the Egypt Game, the Velvet Room, Black & Blue Magic
    Most anything by Judy Blume
    Most anything by Lois Duncan
    the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series

    But then again, I'm 36, so maybe all these are as dated as the 3 Investigators.

  • Jenn says:

    Definitely "The Westing Game." And I always loved "Number the Stars" by Lois Lowry.

  • Kate says:

    I just re-plowed through all of Lois Duncan's books this spring (after a mention on the Vine, actually). There are even some that aren't supernatural, if that's a problem for the audience. Oh! Encyclopedia Brown, if they aren't too totally dated (which they might be, actually, I don't know.)

  • Meredith B. says:

    I remember reading so many things at those ages:

    Happy Hollisters
    Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys
    the Ramona books
    Babysitters' Club
    some Judy Blume books (mostly for the older kids)
    Little House on the Prairie (I re-read these recently and they're a lower reading level than I had remembered!)
    The Little Gymnast
    Encyclopedia Brown
    Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
    The Chalk Box Kid
    A Wrinkle in Time
    Anything by Roald Dahl
    Anne of Green Gables

    …yeah, I still read fiction like crazy.

    I also found this: http://www.teachersfirst.com/100books.cfm

    …and now I need to go find and read all these books again. :)

  • Alyssa says:

    Roald Dahl! All of his titles are tons of fun to read. He was far and away my favorite author when I was in grade school. I wore out my copy of "Matilda."

  • Meg says:

    Man, I haven't thought about Follow My Leader (sorry about the lack of italics for book titles; I'm HTML-retarded) in years, but I loved that book as a kid.

    Admittedly I was also reading anything I could grab off my parents' shelves from about 8 (to their credit they never tried to restrict me, though I think my mom's eyebrows disappeared up into her hairline when she saw me carting around Auel's The Plains of Passage before I'd even hit seventh grade), but I loved the YA books, too.

    There's always Bridge to Terabithia, any of the Lois Duncan books (she's delightfully creepy and excellent with suspense), the Wizard of Oz series, the Judy Blume books, and the Black Stallion series, to start with.

    I'll keep thinking.

  • Velitari says:

    My now 11 year old read and enjoyed The Magic Treehouse series, the Secrets of Droon series, and Laura Ingalls Wilder through the elementary years. She's currently into Erin Hunter's Warrior series about cats.

    I read The Black Stallion series back then, and towards 7th grade had moved into Anne McCaffrey's Dragons of Pern and Piers Anthony's Xanth series.

  • KTB says:

    While I also graduated to adult books (mostly the Dragonriders of Pern series) in middle school, I still adored "From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler," anything by Lois Lowry–especially "A Summer to Die," "The Ghost in the Garden" by Carol Behrman, anything by Beverly Cleary, and the Anne of Green Gables series.

    I also read and re-read a book my parents brought back from Greece about Greek myths so many times that the binding fell apart, so that's an idea as well. I would also recommend the Tintin books, since the pictures and comic book style may entice the kids to keep reading.

  • didi says:

    Mo Willems writes the funniest books for elementary kids.

  • Liz says:

    In terms of literary value, the Newbery Award books are going to be a great choice. A lot of kids in that age range also enjoy those endless series — I read a lot of Baby-Sitters' Club and Sweet Valley books, and Goosebumps, and all of those I think there are basically an infinite number of choices available.

    I don't remember anyone named Rab, but I can tell you about 80% of my fifth-grade class glued our thumbs to our hands and claimed we couldn't possibly do any work the day after we finished Johnny Tremain.

  • Ash says:

    Probably stating the obvious here but the Harry Potter series immediately springs to mind, along with Neil Gaiman's stuff ("Coraline", "The Graveyard Book" etc) and the Lemony Snicket series.

    I am not sure the things I read would still be what kids read today. Except for "The Hobbit" and "The Chronicles of Narnia". At least I know they are still current! Off the top of my head I read all the mystery books-you know, Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys. And then there was the 'girly' stuff I got into in lieu of the romance stuff (things like "Sweet Valley High" which I truly could not stomach) such as Judy Blume and Paula Danziger. Stephen King and Lois Duncan for the creeps.

    Oh, and things like the "Heidi" books by Joanne Spryi, the "Katy" books by Susan Coolidge, the "Wrinkle in Time" series by Madeleine L'Enge and EVERYTHING by L.M Montgomery.

    As I said, just off the top of my head before I go to bed. Hope it helps inspiration wise :) I think what your Mum is doing is wonderful.

  • kamandar says:

    I think anything by Lois Lowry would be appropriate – she spans a large group of grade levels and I still love all the Anastasia books. In the late elementary/middle school age I was very into the overly dramatic, weepy style Katherine Patterson books. Roald Dahl, Madeleine L'Engle, Robert Smith, Louis Sachar- also all favorites. And I second (or third) the Newbery Award winners.

  • Heather C. says:

    For the older kids – Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH; The Pushcart War (my FAVE in 6th grade); anything by Jerry Spinelli; and actually, Sherlock Holmes short stories. That last one may be harder and more appropriate for kids reading closer to their age level.

    Also love the Anastasia Krupnick books and the Ramona Quimby books. They were so funny!

    These, of course, were my faves in the '80s, and many were written well before that, but a good story is a good story, whenever it was written.

    Ooo! I remember the Three Investigators series! I had several books, and I always thought I was the only person who ever read them, for realz.

  • Tisha_ says:

    I am the type who didn't read for fun when I was little, with just a few exceptions. I was weird in that I always WANTED to enjoy reading, but never did until I hit about 20 years old.

    Here are some books that managed to keep my attention when I was a kid. It might not help, as I'm sure a couple of them didn't age well over the past 20+ years, but it's a start at least.

    In no particular age order:

    The Outsiders
    The Boxcar Children
    Say Goodnight, Gracie (http://tinyurl.com/yadwtbx)
    Charlotte's Web
    Where the Red Fern Grows
    Diary of Anne Frank
    Mrs. Frisbee and the Rats of NIHM
    Six Months to Live (http://tinyurl.com/yetztw5)
    Go Ask Alice
    The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
    Sweet Valley High (any and all of them – I love those books in Jr High)

  • Laura says:

    I learned to read on The Babysitters Club, which is out of print now but there are plenty of cheap copies to be found on half.com, etc. It's a little goody-two-shoes but nice because you can ease in at about a 3rd grade reading level with the Babysitters Little Sister books, and then move on to the stories about the older girls.

    Girls might also like the Alice books, which also range in reading level over time, and which have some sexual coming-of-age moralizing which got them banned from several reading lists, so that's fun!

    Edward Eager's Half-Magic and other Magic books are somewhat archaic but, I think, slightly simpler and funnier than the Nesbit books.

    Swallows and Amazons books by Arthur Ransome are also good for kids who like older books, nice sailing/camping books from the 1910s. For kids who like the survival type books, I also loved My Side of the Mountain by (I think) Elizabeth Craighead George.

    Has no one mentioned Harry Potter?

    The Ramona books by Beverly Clearly have variable reading levels, from about 2nd grade on up; she also wrote some good dating books for older girls, notably Fifteen.

    The Narnia books and Lloyd Alexander books were my favorite fantasies growing up, and are widely available new and used.

    My younger cousins have liked the Junie B. Jones books.

    Sideways Stories from Wayside School and other comedies by Louis Sachar were favorites in my elementary school class.

  • ADS says:

    I devoured the Roald Dahl books at that age. The Witches and James and the Giant Peach were two of my favorites.

    The Narnia books, The Little House on the Prairie books, and the Anne of Green Gables books would be good for some of the kids on the older side of that spectrum.

    Also, don't discount the possibility of graphic novels. I funded a request for Persepolis by a teacher through Donors Choose (through the TN contest? I can't remember) and her kids loved it, to judge by the pictures I got from the students. The Sandman series, Maus, Persepolis; things like that may also be useful to these students. Persepolis and Maus also deal directly and indirectly with immigrant situations, which they may be able to relate to.

    Other immigrant books in the right age range: In The Year Of The Boar And Jackie Robinson, and the All-Of-A-Kind Family series.

  • Laura says:

    Point of clarification, the Alice books I was talking about are the series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.

    But older kids might also like the Alice in Wonderland books.

  • Sophie says:

    I always loved anything by Judy Blume ("Superfudge," "Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great," "Are You There God, It's Me Margaret") and for younger kids, Beverly Cleary (the Ramona books, the Henry and Ribsy books). Also, the non-sci-fi Madeline L'Engle books about the Austins.

    These books are great, too, because I think kids like reading about the same characters in several books. Reading a series tends to engage kids more. To keep them reading classics instead of "Twilight," there are also the amazing Dr. Dolittle books by Hugh Lofting and the "Little House" books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

    And, speaking of the awesome contest, might Annie's mom consider submitting a project to get books donated to her students? I'm good for a set of Ramona books, for sure…

  • Meri says:

    I'll second "The Westing Game", and mention The Dark is Rising series and The Pyridian Chronicles, both of which thrilled my fantasy-loving self. Also, anything by Edward Eager, Diana Wynne Jones, or Zilpha Keatly Snyder. Ooo, and Terry Pratchett- I loved The Bromeliad ("Truckers", "Diggers", and "Wings") and "Nation" has gotten some great reviews.

    (attica, thanks for mentioning the Three Investigators, since I was beginning to think I was the only one who'd ever read those books.)

  • bristlesage says:

    Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a really good choice; there are drawings to help things along.

    I've recently really enjoyed Percy Jackson and the Olympians, which is a series of five books; there are similarities to the HP books for sure, but they're shorter and more plot-driven, so they could be a better choice for these kids. If you also provide a basic book of Greek mythology, that'd help even more.

    I think E.B. White must be mentioned, especially Stuart Little (I think it's the most fun of his books, though Trumpet of the Swan will always be my favorite). Roald Dahl's The Witches, The BFG, Matilda, and James and the Giant Peach are justifiably classics.

    Jenny's right about The Westing Game and the Newbery list in general. (You can find it here.) There's also the Belpré award which honors books that deal with the Latino experience in America, which could help connect them to the books.

    Early Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys books could be fun, too, if some of them like a whodunit.

    If they want to marvel at pioneer life, I think there's still a lot of value in the Little House books, but I think they're somewhat out of fashion due to their depictions of Native Americans.

  • Ash says:

    Oh gees-how could I forget this man, Roald Dahl. Saves the lives of both girls and boys reading wise!

  • Aubrey says:

    I loved Baby-sitter's Club (dated but I loved it) and A Series of Unfortunate Events is awesome.

  • panistapsa says:

    Have you ever heard of BookMooch.com? It is a service where you list books you want to give away and can then earn points to order other books from the members, but they also have a charity section.

    The charity section is where you can sign up as a charity and people who use the bookmooch service can donate their points for you to order books. I’m not sure how that part works but here is the link – http://bookmooch.com/m/charity

  • Stephanie says:

    Okay, second grade reading level. Depending on how close their actual age is to their reading level, I'm pretty sure I found Amelia Bedelia and Morris the Moose *hilarious* at that age. Plus it might be even funnier / more enlightening for kids whose first language is something other than English. I read my way through a stack of those thin Berenstein Bears books. The whole If You Give a Mouse a Cookie series of books can be fun.

  • rayvyn2k says:

    I loved the "Black Stallion" series, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Bobbsey Twins, the "Misty of Chincoteague" series, the "Little House" series, Little Woman…all series starring young people doing things. :) I got into the Stephen King books a bit later, myself.

  • Rachel says:

    I don't have any suggestions off the top of my head (at age 11, I was reading Vonnegut and Gone With The Wind, so…. NERDY), but if you have a Borders or other Large Bookstore nearby, you can wander through the kids' sections there. If you're lucky, there will be someone working there who can suggest things and point you in the right direction (not that I read the entirety of the Junie B Jones series on my breaks… no siree). If you have a local independent bookstore handy SO MUCH THE BETTER because those people tend to be the most rabid lovers of all things book. Plus, most bookstores get reading lists from the local schools so they can be sure to have those 85 copies of _Tess of the d'Urbervilles_ (GAAAAAAH 17 years later and I STILL HATE IT) handy.

    Google things like '5th-grade reading list' or similar search terms and you will more than likely come up with a list of websites with resources and

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