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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.



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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  • attica says:

    My mom was a junior high librarian and she always stocked Stephen King. She scoffed off the occasional pearl-clutching over profanity and sexual situations by noting that kids that age had already heard worse on the playgrounds. She knew that a kid who could read what she loved would be way more likely to love to read.

    As for me, I had a kidly weakness for kid-goes-blind-and-gets-a-guide-dog stories, like Beverly Butler's Light a Single Candle and James Garfield's Follow My Leader. That and the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators series, which may be dated now.

  • Jenny says:

    I adored "The Westing Game" by Ellen Raskin when I was in elementary school (I actually just found it again recently at Half Price Books and still loved it years later). I pretty much read my way through the Newbery list, so I'd recommend almost anything off of it.

  • Peach says:

    I second Island of the Blue Dolphins. I actually had to search to find it though, so when I did, I bought a copy for each of my nieces to give them when they hit the right age.

    My other faves (which also went to the nieces when appropriate) were The Trumpet of the Swan and The Rats of NIMH. Those were about grades 3-4. With one niece when she was about 6-8, the Junie B books were a huge hit.

    (In case you couldn't tell, I'm the "Aunt that Sends Books" every Christmas. But I send them along with a "toy" type gift as well as to not be the "BORING Aunt that Send Books.")

  • c8h10n4o2 says:

    The Wrinkle in Time Series comes to mind, and anything by Ellen Raskin I used to love. But then I was also reading Vonnegut around that time, so I needed the break from syphilis and cynicism.

  • Dee says:

    I think graphic novels might be ideal. The artwork is generally obvious enough so that even those who are struggling with reading would be able to follow the story, and, at the same time, there's usually enough actual writing for the stronger readers to practice their skills.

    I would recommend the Bone series (Jeff Smith), Coraline: The Graphic Novel, and/or Artemis Fowl:The Graphic Novel to begin. The great thing about Coraline and Artemis Fowl is that they are actual novels (Artemis Fowl is a series) as well, so if the children liked the graphic novels, they might be enticed into reading the original novels.

    Stronger readers could go on to the two Persepolis books (which were my introduction to the genre, based on Sars' recommendation) or even the Maus books (which are about the Holocaust, and, as such, are probably for more mature readers). There are lots of comic book and movie-based graphic novels which may intrigue the kids, too. My own son loves the Star Wars series.

    My only warning would be that some of the genre is very dark and pretty violent, so you may want to do a little research.

  • Katherine says:

    Off the top of my head: Mrs. Frisby and the rats of nimh; anne of green gables; a wrinkle in time series; harriet the spy.

    for older kids, you can sometimes find the freshman, sophomore reading lists assigned by various highschools online.

    Oh, the shel silverstein poetry books. Just gifted that to an 8 year old niece.

  • Veronica B. says:

    Following the Newbury list trend here, I'm a sci-fi/fantasy geek born and bred, so The Giver and Wrinkle in Time both rocked my world. However, I have a terrible feel for age-appropriateness as I was reading stuff like Catcher in the Rye at ten. (I read anything in the house not nailed down at that age. This included Breakfast of Champions which…oh my. Just because you can read the words doesn't mean you're old enough to read the BOOK.)

  • Hannah says:

    Heh, I'd suggest the "Bunnicula" series, which is about as far away from Twilight as you can get and still have the word "vampire" in the description.

    I remember loving "The Indian in the Cupboard" and "Where the Red Fern Grows," too.

    Heck, any of the E.B. White–"Trumpet of the Swan," "Charlotte's Web," "Stuart Little," etc.

    I also read "Watership Down" in middle school, though I'm not sure that's appropriate (especially with all the weird vocab; the kids'll start speaking lapine…)

  • amanda says:

    I loved all of the Roald Dahl books – I read them all the way through grade school and would even revisit them when I was in high school. Hell, I still reread them on occasion now.

  • Erin says:

    I loved Beverly Cleary. Still do. I just re-read Ramona and her Mother last week.

    And how about The Baby-Sitters Club series? There's not really too much in those books that makes them feel dated.

    Sweet Valley Kids/Twins/High?

    And maybe comics seem like not the right idea…but I honestly did learn a fair number of new words from Archie comics.

    Mary Rodgers – Freaky Friday, Summer Switch, A Billion For Boris

    Choose Your Own Adventures

    The new Nancy Drew & Hardy Boys

  • Scarlettb says:

    Not to be too obvious, but…Harry Potter. There's a reason they're a worldwide phenomenon, and there are LOTS of kids who went from reluctant to voracious readers through them. And, like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, they all come in Spanish, too, so they could do that same start-in-Spanish-finish-in-English thing.

    Other than that…I read a lot of mysteries, a la Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, etc. The excitement of finding out whodunit can keep them pushing through.

  • mo pie says:

    I teach English, and right now one of my classes is writing papers about their experience with reading. Multiple boys wrote papers about how much they hated reading until they read "Holes" by Louis Sachar. I also highly recommend Daniel Pinkwater's books, such as "The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death." And Harry Potter, of course!

  • Dsayko says:

    Some books I loved at those ages are:

    The War with Grandpa – Robert Kimmel Smith
    Streams to the River, River to the Sea – Scott O'Dell
    The Polk Street School Series – Patricia Reilly Giff and Blanche Sims
    Encyclopedia Brown books – Donald J. Sobol
    Cam Jansen books – David A. Adler and Susanna Natti
    Ramona books – Beverly Cleary
    Bunnicula books – James Howe
    Amelia Bedelia books – Peggy Parish
    Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books – Betty Macdonald
    Number the Stars – Lois Lowry
    Hatchet – Gary Paulsen
    My Side of the Mountain – Jean Craighead George
    Glass Slippers Give You Blisters – Mary Jane Auch

  • LB says:

    I greatly enjoyed a series of books by Gordon Korman: This Can't Be Happening At McDonald Hall etc. Scheming schoolboys, flustered authority figures, slapstick humour – I just hope they're as funny as I remember.
    Korman has written many more titles since then – you can find details and excerpts at

  • jen says:

    Not as highbrow, but I wonder how Beverly Cleary holds up? Man I loved those. Also, Little House. For slightly more contemporary, Lemony Snicket is an awesome series. Younger kids might like Frog and Toad, plus the Little Bear – those were first chapter books for me. Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little?

    Definitely Johnny Tremain. Loved that book. Julie of the Wolves.

    I could go on and on and on.

  • Katherine says:

    Almost anything by the wonderful Zylpha Keatley Snider would definitely not go amiss; I adored her books during elementary school. Lloyd Alexander and Patricia Wrede each have great fantasy series (The Prydain Chronicles and The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, respectively.) I'm also a new convert to the Gilda Joyce, Psychic Eye series, which is a worthy heir to _Harriet the Spy_.

    Also, Bruce Brooks is a fantastic author for kids who don't want genre reading.

  • Jennifer says:

    Any and all Madeline L'Engle. Those books resonated with me from the time I was about 9 until… well, hell, they still resonate with me, 26 years later. Seriously, they do not get old.

  • Susan says:

    I, too, was an early graduate to the "grown up" section of the library, but I read a decent amount of children's fiction too. Keep im mind I'm a lilly-white girl from the Midwest, and so my reading might not have been the most….culturall diverse…but here are some of my favorites:

    Beverly Cleary's "Ramona" books are still favorites (and I still re-read them.) Cleary's work in general is smart and fun.

    Judy Blume's "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing" and "Superfudge." (I think there is a another in this series too.) Again most of Blume's work is awesome, but avoid the more adult title masquerading as teen lit.

    The Little House on the Prairie series.

    The Anne of Green Gables series

    Harry Potter, naturally.

    A friend who is a youth librarian really liked Clive Barker's Arabat (sp?) though I've not read it myself.

    I heartily second "The Witch of Blackbird Pond."

  • Cathy says:

    Junie B Jones is a huge hit with the elementry scene now. I was a HUGE fan of Beverly Cleary those Ramona books rocked! Judy Blume is good too. The superfudge series should appeal to the young boys. Also Harry Potter most kids love that and it's excellent for group reads.

  • mctwin says:

    My recommendations could go on for PAGES, so I'll share my favorites of Madelyn L'Engle and Lloyd Alexander, but I've attached the link to my alma mater's school reading lists. These books are recommended for summer reading by teachers and students and there is a list for each grade 5-7. Good luck!

  • Sarah says:

    Utah has an anual book award that the schoolkids vote on.

    If this is like the award in my state, the nominees are all very solid and something that kids like to read. Kids themselves vote on the winners. You might want to check out other states as well.

    Illinois has the Rebecca Caudill (grades 4-8)

    and the Monarch award (k-3)

    You Mom also might want to try the Reading A-Z site.

    It has levelled paper books to download so the kids can take home some books that belong to them. It's a pya site, but it is relatively inexpensive and you can go in on it as a school or individual.

  • Alana says:

    Anything by Madeleine L'Engle, really, but mostly The Time Quartet.

  • Cathy says:

    Ooooo though of another series Encyclopedia Brown, it's a myster series.

  • Amy says:

    Annie, check with your local children's librarian. Our library has TONS of reading lists along the lines of "If you like the Little House series, you'll also like…."

    To start, though, try:

    *Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osbourne
    *anything in the Ramona or Henry Huggins series by Beverly Cleary
    *the DK reference series is AWESOME – start with dinosaurs, space exploration, vehicles, and move on from there
    *the aforementioned Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
    *the All of a Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor

    Also, fairies are really popular right now with the elementary set, so you might want to check out the fairy series available (off-hand, I can think of three or four series). Good luck! And sorry; I just can't get the Amazon links to work right today!

  • rab01 says:

    My second (now third) grader adored the Dragon Slayers' Academy series and likes Encyclopedia Brown.

  • Janna says:

    I don't know if the kids would be interested in a series, but when I was 9 my grandparents gave me a copy of "Anne of Green Gables" and I then proceeded to collect the whole series.

    That same source started me on Nancy Drew, the old ones that used to belong to my aunt, and then I collected the updated (at that time) version, where Nancy drives a convertible and wears miniskirts and whatnot.

    More embarrassing yet, I also collected the Sweet Valley High series, which I started reading when I was about 10 or 11. This one, thankfully, I think has been updated within the last 5 years or so, so no one has to explain about how the clothes were stylish when the books were written.

    After that I started reading Stephen King and Agatha Christie, but others have mentioned that kind of thing already.

  • Obliquered says:

    YES on "The Westing Game". I would also add "From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" and everything else by EL Konigsburg.

    Avi's "Romeo and Juliet: Together (and Alive!) at Last".

    "The Pushcart War."

    My reading tastes might be a tad Anglo-centric and old fashioned, but I loved the Little House books, the Noel Streatfield books (all about children who had careers as ballet dancers and figure skaters and actresses and the like, in Britain in the early-mid 20th century; I adored them), LM Montgomery books, Narnia, and the like.

    I also devoured the kid mystery serieses – Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys/ Bobbsey Twins / Trixie Belden.

  • Cij says:

    Hee! I have the Westing Game on my list too. Also, I hated Rab. A lot. You were not alone Sars.

    A list of books that stand the test of time and are fun.

    The Westing Game- Ellen Raskin
    Trumpet of the Swan- EB White
    The mouse the motor cycle- Beverly Cleary
    The goosebump series (kids seem to adore them)
    Mr. Revere and I- Robert Lawson
    The Blue Sword- Robin McKinley
    Encyclopedia Brown- Donald J Sobol (short with a mystery to solve!)

    Rab was one of my least favorite characters in Johnny Tremain. I didn't like him at all.

  • Mary says:

    I lurved the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary. Ramona was misunderstood, just like me!

  • Emily says:

    I loved The Boxcar Children series, The Baby-Sitters Club books, anything Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, and Choose Your Own Adventure books. I also adored (and re-read quite often) anything by Madeleine L'Engle.

  • rlb14 says:

    English is the second language for my son and he is barely reading at grade level in 3rd grade, so we have a lot of support and learning to read books. I'd be really happy to send along some of his stage 1 & 2 reading books that he has outgrown. These level identified ("I can Read" "All-aboard Reading" "DK Readers") books are often released to close to movie releases, so there are many that are of high interest to the kids (Batman, Transformers, Spiderman, Pirates – my knowledge is all boy based). Sampling of Batman books from Amazon: %2Cn%3A%211000%2Ck%3Abatman %2Cn%3A4%2Cn%3A3315&bbn=4&keywords= batman&ie=UTF8&qid=1253891575&rnid=4 These would be at the low-end of the reading level you need.

    Magic Tree House series (and many similar, Time Warp Trio, something about Droon), The Goosebumps series, American Girl series, Junie B. Jones series, Stink series, Beverly Cleary books – are a level up from those early readers. They are chapter books, a few pictures, 2-4 graders we know generally like them. Also, the Captain Underpants author has another series called Ricky Ricotta that is great also.

    Harry Potter series, Little House seriess, His Dark Materials series – that is what I have ready for the next stage up.

  • Jas says:

    Here's what I was reading:

    If any of them are into fantasy, get The Dark Is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper. It's a five book series.

    My Side of the Mountain, and it's sequels The Far Side of the Mountain and Frightful's Mountain by Jean Craighead George.

    The Indian In The Cupboard and it's sequels by Lynne Reid Banks

    Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit

    Bridge to Terebithia

    Madeleine L'Engle: A Wrinkle In Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters

    There are many others, this was off the top of my head. If I come up with more, I'll post again. Good luck!

  • J says:

    When my brother got a bad grade in 5th grade, he had his tv privileges taken away. When I got a bad grade, my parents took my books away.

    Some of my favorites which kept me reading instead of studying throughout elementary school (in no particular order, but something for lots of ages here)…

    1. Anything Judy Bloom – from the Fudge books through Tiger Eye and Deenie.
    2. The Great Brain books by John D Fitzgerald – set in Utah too.
    3. Harriet the Spy – much better than the movie!
    4. Mrs. Piggie Wiggle books by Betty MacDonald
    5. Amelia Bedilia books (great for explaining odd turns of phrase in English, like the dressing the turkey for Thanksgiving)
    6. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
    7. Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, and Dragon Drums by Anne McCaffrey
    8. A Wrinkle in Time
    9. Where the Red Fern Grows (though give boxes of tissues with this one!)
    10. Where the Sidewalk Ends/A Light in the Attic – Shel Silverstein
    11. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
    12. The Chronicles of Narnia
    13. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
    14. Bridge to Terabithia
    15. The Borrowerers
    16. The Black Cauldron and other books by Lloyd Alexander

    And I can't second The Witch of Blackbird Pond or The Westing Game enough. I still read them straight through when I need a good bit of escapism.

  • girlonthepark says:

    I read a lot of YA lit since I hope to get into the field and I have a lot of friends who teach middle school so here are some good titles for the older end of the spectrum:
    The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins
    Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
    King Dork by Frank Portman
    Holes by Louis Sachar
    Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Series by Anne Brashares
    Beige by Cecil Castellucci (she also does a graphic novel series called The Plain Janes which is great)
    I Love You Beth Cooper by Larry Doyle
    The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
    A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libby Bray (this is part of a three book series)
    The Death by . . . series by Linda Gerber
    Fat Kid Rules The World by K. Gong
    Tempo Change by Barbara Hall
    King of the Screwups by K.L. Going
    I Want To Go Home by Gordon Korman
    The Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan
    Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
    Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
    Speak by Laurie Anderson
    Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen
    If I Stay by Gayle Forman
    The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King
    I Want to Be Your Joey Ramone by Stephanie Kuehnert
    Hope this helps!

  • Lauren says:

    Just off the top of my head, I thoght of the Wayside School books by Louis Sachar and Adam McCauley. Ther are at least 2 or 3 books in the set. The books tell stories about the students on the 30th story of an elementary school (It was supposed to be 30 rooms all on one floor, but the builder messed up and build the school as a high-rise.) I loved these books when I was about 9 years old.

    I also loved From the Mixed of Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by EL Konisburg. The kids ran away and lived in the museum – how much fun would that be?! Finally, A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. Poetry, so the kids don't have to commit to reading a whole book, and most of the poems are so sweet and funny.

  • Hellcat13 says:

    Beverly Cleary: The Ralph S. Mouse and Ramona books
    Judy Blume: ANYTHING! (plus the Fudge books for younger kids)
    Encyclopedia Brown (Dated?)

  • jennie says:

    I have a bunch of suggestions for the older end of the range, though I'm not sure how much of this stuff is still in print… if the Ramona Quimby (Beverly Cleary) series is still in print, those are great. Madeline L'Engle is good, too, and I know the Time Quintet was recently re-released as a box set. I loved Judy Blume and Lois Lowry and Robert Cormier as a middle-schooler, but Cormier and Blume in particular can stir up controversy your mom might not need.

    Susan Cooper wrote a lot of great middle-grade fantasy (The Dark Is Rising series, and others) which I still really love. Do they have old standbys like The Little Princess, The Secret Garden, Little Women, Heidi? Oh, and Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth! What about Nancy Drew, or the Hardy Boys? I also remember my brother reading tons of books in a series about boys playing sports – I think the author's name was Matt Christopher, and I don't know if those are still around, but my brother really loved them. We also had a box set of E.B. White stories – Charlotte's Web, Trumpet of the Swan, and another I can't remember anymore. Sorry about the gender skew here. I also had a great book of Australian short stories called The Dream Time, edited by Toss Gascone, which may not be in print anymore, and another called The Wrestling Princess and Other Stories. Shel Silverstein might be a big hit, too. And! Anne of Green Gables, and the billion other books L. M. Montgomery wrote. I started reading Agatha Christie when I was about 11 or so, though it's quite likely that wasn't really age-appropriate.

    I'm less good at stuff for really young readers – Robert McClusky wrote a bunch of really good books (Make Way for Ducklings, Blueberries for Sal), Eric Carle's one about the caterpillar, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. We loved Richard Scarry, too, and Madeline. And Eloise.

    I'm not sure how much any of this will resonate with this particular group of kids, though, but these are the kinds of things that made me love to read, and I hate to think of these kids feeling like it's a chore. Library Thing might be a good place to try to get some suggestions, either by searching yourself through tags or by asking in the forums – look for a group related to kid/YA lit.

  • avis says:

    The Chronicles of Narnia
    The Boxcar Children
    Mrs. Piggle Wiggle
    All are fairly simple reads (some easier than others) but look more like chapter books.

  • Lis says:

    You can come by Babysitters Club, and Christopher Pike books pretty darn cheap now on Amazon and they're the type of really easy, popcorn for your brain, junk food books that I devoured from ages 10 and on through… ok I still read them sometimes! I'd imagine they may be dated now (like 'Why don't they just use their cell phone?!' types of situations) but they're totally cheesy fun… Hmm. What about Judy Blume? Shoot, if you post the address I'll send a box of all the paperbacks I have clogging up my attic! I generally donate them all to my local library but I think they're getting sick of me! (I'm not kidding… I think I may have literally every CP and BSC club book ever written up there…)

  • Margaret in CO says:

    Annie, could your mama get up on Donor's Choose and ask for funding? Because the awesome TN would love to bury your mama in books, I'm sure!

    There is the one Stephen King kid's book – "The Eyes of the Dragon" that is soooo gooood. Two brothers, one popular, one not, spying & intrigue & twists & turns & some moral lessons. I've given that book to umpteen kids.
    There's the Goosebump series by R.L.Stine.
    And Harry Potter certainly hooks you into the series. I couldn't put them down. (I know. I KNOW.)
    Huge by James Fuerst might be good for a seventh-grader :-)
    The classics: Treasure Island, Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm, Chronicles of Narnia, Charlotte's Web, Wind in the Willows, Harriett the Spy…

    Best of luck!

  • Jennifer says:

    I also loved The Westing Game. I read every Nancy Drew book from the original series starting at age 8, and I loved them. I adored The Genie of Sutton Place by George Selden, also. I can also fully recommend any of Neil Gaiman's children's novels, like Coraline or The Graveyard Book.

  • Alex says:

    My very favorite book when I was younger (and possibly still) was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. It's another Newbery book and is pretty terrific.

    I'd also recommend the Little House books and the Cam Jansen mystery series.

  • Alicia says:

    I loved historical fiction as a kid (especially books with awesome female characters), so here are my suggestions along those lines. I loved True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi, the American Girls series, and anything written by Ann Rinaldi. I also liked more classical children's literature, such as A Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and books by Louisa May Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder.

  • Jess says:

    I have actually been cruising used bookstores and stoop sales lately and picking up children's books that I remember from my youth. I'm not sure why except that I must be planning to have kids of my own someday and I want to make sure they have a well-stocked library.

    As a tween (well before the word "tween" was invented!) I was sneaking peeks at more "adult" authors, but I'm not going to pretend it was Nabokov or Chaucer that fueled my reading jones at age 10. There were a few favorite children's authors that I devoured long past the time smart kids were supposed to do so. Not always necessarily high intellect or Newbery caliber, but interesting and funny and easy reads. A few of the greats:

    Jamie Gilson – "13 Ways to Sink a Sub," "Hello, My Name is Scrambled Eggs," etc. I don't know how dated these books would be now – I think they all took place in the late 70s or early 80s – but they were full of really real-seeming kids, ages about 10 to 13. In "Scrambled Eggs" one of the main characters is a 12-year-old Vietnamese immigrant learning English, which may be easy for ESL kids to relate to. I think I read every single book she wrote up to about 1993.

    Gordon Korman – He writes for a pretty big span of age groups, young tweens up through high school. He can be more intellectual (one of my favorites of his is a high-school restaging of "The Great Gatsby") but he's also very funny and astute and takes a lot of care to subvert a lot of the classic YA tropes that can make reading a chore for kids who are forced to. (He has one called "No More Dead Dogs" that's pretty awesome.) Definitely get "No Coins, Please" if you can. Sublimely absurd. (I just learned he was only 21 when it came out and am shocked.)

    Lois Lowry – PLEASE tell me these kids have the Anastasia books! Obvs, others will suggest "The Giver" and "Number the Stars" but Anastasia is the character who's really stuck with me over the years. I've found three of the books recently and they hold up really well.

  • Wehaf says:

    I think children do still read Nesbit; I hope my children will.

    I second Jenny's suggestion for Newbery Award winners, and will add the Dell Yearling series of books.

    You may also want to look at what Scholastic is shilling to kids through their in-school sales system.

    Roald Dahl books are great, and will span second through seventh grades.

    John Gardner's collections of modern fairy tales are awesome. "Gudgekin, the Thistle Girl, and Other Tales" is one; I can't remember the titles of the others, but they are all good.

    Bridge to Terabithia, Two Tickets to Freedom, The Perilous Gard, Harry Potter (also available in Spanish), The Thirteen Clocks, The Spiderwick Chronicles, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Julie of the Wolves, Island of the Blue Dolphin, Holes, Monster, Lloyd Alexander books, Hatchet, My Side of the Mountain, Judy Blume books, Number the Stars, Howl's Moving Castle, The His Dark Materials series, the Wrinkle in Time series, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Encyclopedia Brown, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, the Dinotopia books, the Black Stallion books, Onion John, the Magic Schoolbus series, The Trumpet of the Swan…

    I could go on (I used to work in a library) but I'd better not.

  • Wehaf says:

    Oh, and The House on Mango Street, and When I Was a Puerto Rican are both Hispanic-centered books. The might be more for junior high and high school kids, though.

    Don't forget books of poetry, like Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky.

  • Patricia says:

    Oldies but goodies are the Fudge books by Judy Blume and anything by Beverly Cleary. Loved those at about 4th grade or so. Maybe Goosebumps books? I tore through Sweet Valley Twins/Sweet Valley High books when I was about 11. There was this whole semi-illict book trading ring in the girls of my 5th grade class for those things. Maybe Choose Your Own Adventure books for boys (and girls) who may not be psyched about Jessica and Elizabeth's fought-over tuxedo shirt?

    Another of my favorites is From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsberg (sp?). Also, Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little- anything by E.B. White, really. Laura Ingalls Wilder might appeal if these kids come from a farming background.

    Ooo, one series I read the heck out of at about 12 was Piers Anthony's Xanth books. I don't remember the reading level on those.

    On the lower/younger end, what about some of the longer Dr. Seuss? Not Cat in the Hat, but The Lorax, The Sleep Book, If I Ran the Circus, If I Ran the Zoo, McElligot's Pool, On Beyond Zebra, books like those? I re-read those until I was like 9 or 10, I think, and I still enjoy them today.

    Some of this isn't necessarily great literature, but I didn't get the sense you're trying to introduce them to great literature, exactly. I'd love to hear back from you to see what you'll end up choosing for the kids!

  • Patricia says:

    Also the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books were good ones. I think I remember liking series-type books (clearly) because it was good to revisit the same characters.

    Anything Roald Dahl is excellent.

    I'll stop now.

  • Renee says:

    My daughter is five and we've been reading books at the 2nd to 7th grade level so I have first-hand knowledge, and my own shakey recollections from when I was that young. (Why yes, I did get tired of reading picture books last year, why do you ask?)

    (I can't figure out how to make things italicized, so I'm sorry for that)

    The Indian in the Cupboard
    Bridge to Terabithia
    The Wizard of Oz (it's way better than the movie)
    Anything by Roald Dahl
    Maniac Magee
    Lois Lowery

    The first three books, my daughter LOVED, the others were met with mixed success, but that's just my expierence.
    I know there's more, but that's all I can think of off the top of my head. I hope this helps.

  • Duckie says:

    Huge ditto on The Westing Game.

    Newberry and Caldecott award winners are a great place to start (my mom made me do a separate summer reading program from the library's featuring these). And the good thing about them is that they have new winners every year, so you don't have to worry about being current!

    In junior high, I found Agatha Christie, which was quite in my range (though I was always an accelerated reader), and those should be quite easy to find in cheap paperback editions.

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