Christmas is over. Hanukkah ends tonight. The kids have unwrapped all the presents and played video games until you can’t stand to see them in front of the TV anymore. Unless you’ve still got travel planned, you may be settling in to the long stretch of the kids’ winter break where they start bouncing off the walls and breaking things. Now’s the time to tell them to go pick up a book and read!
My sons, ages 6, 8 and 10 obviously have different reading levels, but I’ve also discovered that despite their many similarities, they have different tastes and interests in books. My oldest is a voracious reader with a preference for fantasy but a willingness to read classics or other books I tell him will be good for him. My second son likes silly books and adventure, but doesn’t like to be too scared. My youngest still likes picture books and children’s poetry. He can read early chapter books and loves to be read to from more complex, longer stories.
Here are some of our favorites in roughly age-appropriate order, from younger to older.
D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, by Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaires. First published in 1961, this book is beautifully illustrated with lithographs by the husband and wife team. These stories have captivated my children’s imaginations just as they did for me as a child and sparked an interest in mythology that has carried over into the many fantasy books for older children rooted in these myths.
A Light in the Attic, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Everything On It, by Shel Silverstein. The silliness of these poems and illustrations delight children and are so short that even an early reader will be tempted to read them to himself just for fun. My youngest son keeps all three next to his bed in case he wakes up early in the morning when everyone else is still asleep.
Elephant and Piggie series and others, by Mo Willems. These are a modern day Dr. Seuss. Silly and short with goofy pictures, they make reading irresitable.
George and Martha and the Fox, by James Marshall. These are wonderful beginning reader books with simple short sentences but stories and illustrations that are fun and witty.
Frog and Toad and others, by Arnold Lobel. Lobel had an incredible gift for crafting real stories and characters from a few simple sentences. These early reader books are still a pleasure to read for children and adults.
Mathilda, The BFG, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl. We’ve read all Dahl’s children’s books. Some are better than others, but each of my kids has been through a Dahl phase where they felt compelled to read them all. In his books, children triumph over grown-ups who are petty, stupid and mean, a plot which never gets old for the young and disempowered.
Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren. Another classic series with great adventure, a winning main character who is stronger than the adults and free to do as she pleases.
The Toy Brother, Amos and Boris, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Dominc and Abel’s Island, by William Steig. Steig’s books for children, beautifully illustrated, are often full of big words even the adults might not know. His stories are full of strong emotions and existential quests and yet they are fun enough to keep children engaged even through language that may be over their heads.
The Great Brain series, by John D. Fitzgerald. This series of books about a boy growing up in turn of the century small-town Utah, a Catholic among Mormons is packed with adventure and kids engaged in high jinks unimaginable in today’s world of helicopter parenting.
The Pushcart War, by Jean Merrill. This was my middle son’s top choice to include on this list. He loved this 1964 novel about New York City pushcart peddlers fighting against large trucking companies plotting to destroy their small businesses.
The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster. This is a novel about puns and word play. The protagonist must rescue the princesses, Rhyme and Reason and on the way encounters many literal manifestations of idioms we take for granted.
Paddle-to-the-Sea, Seabird and Tree in the Trail, by Holling C. Holling. These books, written in the 1940s, introduce children to facets of American history by wrapping a story around them. They are beautifully illustrated and informative, although they do contain some outdated language about race.
Percy Jackson series, by Rick Riordan, like J.K. Rowling, a favorite who doesn’t need inclusion on a list of books you might not know, Riordan is a book-writing machine. Besides the Percy Jackson books, based on a modern day resurgence of the Greek gods, Riordan is also cranking out books based on Egyptian mythology, called the Kane Chronicles.
The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman, by Meg Wolitzer. This is a new book about a boy with bad luck all around who discovers a strange ability to “read” using only his fingertips. A competitive Scrabble player realizes this could be a game-changer and Duncan is drawn in to service. My most competitive child loved this book.
The Dark is Rising series, by Susan Cooper. This fantasy series, a predecessor to the Harry Potter books, weaves British folklore into a story about a boy who discovers that he is the last of the immortals whose job is to save the world from the “Dark” forces plotting to take over.
His Dark Materials trilogy, by Phillip Pullman, set in Oxford, England but using magic, science and theology, this is a serious fantasy for older readers.
Hoot, Flush, Scat and others, by Carl Hiassen. These realistic fiction books by Hiassen have environmentalist themes like global warming, endangered species and pollution.
The Mysterious Benedict Society series, by Trenton Lee Stewart. This is an action series with brainteasers and a classic good vs. evil plot.
Hopefully, you’ll find something new here that appeals to the young readers in your house.