Book Recommendations for Preschoolers through High Schoolers
If you have a child who is a reluctant reader during the school year, trying to encourage recreational reading during the summer might seem like a Herculean task. Many factors can contribute to a child or teen being a reluctant reader, and one of the most common reasons is a lack of interest in the books they have encountered thus far. It is sometimes difficult to balance the subject matter a child is interested in with appropriateness in terms of both reading level and content.
As an experienced youth services library assistant at the Lynchburg Public Library, I am here to help!
With consideration for both appeal and appropriateness, I am sharing my top three book (and book series) recommendations for children ages 3 to 18.
(to read to or with children ages 3 and up)
Elephant & Piggie books by Mo Willems—These adorable and hilarious books chronicle the many adventures of best friends Gerald and Piggie. Themes of friendship, sharing, and acceptance abound, as do unexpected endings, witty one-liners, and silly noises that will keep kids (and adults) in stitches! My favorites in this series are I Really Like Slop! and We Are in a Book!
Pete the Cat books by Eric Litwin—Pete is a cool blue cat who loves school, his brand-new white shoes, and his favorite shirt with its four groovy buttons; these are the three subjects at hand in Litwin’s original Pete the Cat series. These short and sweet books introduce and reinforce concepts like colors and numbers, and all three books have catchy accompanying songs that are available to download for free online. Be warned: these songs will be stuck in your head long after reading!
Love You books by Emma Dodd—Emma Dodd is an author and illustrator, and her picture books are so beautiful and sweet. She has written and illustrated many books, but my favorites are from her Love You series. Each of these books focuses on a different parent and child animal pair, describing their interactions with simple but profound sentences. Calming and reassuring, these are ideal bedtime stories.
(for children ages 4-5 who are learning to read independently)
Bob Books—The Bob Books series is widely considered the definitive “learning to read” phonics series. It is comprised of many levels that build on each other, and each level correlates to a box set containing several small books. In a sea of often confusing and conflicting leveled easy reader books, level one Bob Books are truly for readers at the very beginning of their reading journey; subsequent levels will help them gain literacy skills every step of the way.
Green Light Readers—Like Bob Books, Green Light Readers are leveled easy readers. Although these books are slightly more difficult than the advertised level indicates, they use repetitive phrases, some rhyming text, and picture clues to help beginning readers with fluency and comprehension. Some of the books even have a short reading comprehension quiz at the end that will encourage focused reading!
National Geographic Readers—In addition to fictional stories and illustrations, kids also love reading facts about and looking at pictures of the world around them. National Geographic Readers are leveled nonfiction easy readers that cover topics like penguins, planets, trains, and weather, as well as famous historical events and people.
(for ages 6-8)
Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne—The first Magic Tree House book was published in 1992, and new books are still being published to this day. Siblings Jack and Annie embark on myriad adventures and encounter many different animals, historical figures and historical events. This mix of adventure fiction and fact-based, educational nonfiction make this series a hit for kids and parents alike.
Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo—Mercy Watson is a sweet and sassy pig who acts like a person. Her funny adventures are recounted in these short and sweet chapter books. With large text and lots of full-color illustrations, these books are a perfect stepping stone between easy readers and other, more challenging chapter books.
The Princess in Black series by Shannon Hale—Princess Magnolia is not your typical princess; she unleashes her ninja moves on monsters and wears a black cape. These books are laugh-out-loud funny, empowering, and action-packed, and they are also on the easier end of the chapter book spectrum.
(for ages 9-10)
A Series of Unfortunate Events series by Lemony Snicket—With the recent release of a hugely popular new Netflix series starring Neil Patrick Harris, this book series is gaining renewed interest, but it was already widely recognized as a modern classic. Darkly humorous and sometimes absurd, these books are unlike any other children’s book series out there—in a good way.
Roald Dahl books—Roald Dahl remains one of the most prolific and popular children’s book authors of all time, and his books continue to delight readers of all ages. Most of his children’s books have been made into popular movies, but it is in the imaginations of their readers that his books truly come to beautiful, vivid, zany life. My favorites are Matilda and The BFG.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio – If I had to choose a single book to recommend to all young readers (and adult readers, for that matter), R.J. Palacio’s Wonder would be that book. It tells the story of August Pullman, a 10-year-old boy born with a facial deformity but also indomitable optimism. Expect to laugh and cry as August teaches his classmates, and us readers, unforgettable life lessons about true courage and acceptance.
(for ages 11-12)
Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling—Widely recognized as one of the best book series of all time, the Harry Potter books have instilled in countless children (and adults) a love of reading. Magical adventures and an epic battle between good and evil drive these novels forward, but themes of love, friendship, courage, and acceptance are what truly make them modern classics.
Rick Riordan books—Tweens who like mythology (Greek and/or Egyptian) will undoubtedly love Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson, Lost Hero, and Red Pyramid series, but even tweens who aren’t interested in mythology will likely love these action-packed, funny and relatable books. Riordan has a knack for writing authentic characters and dialogue.
A Wrinkle in Time series by Madeleine L’Engle—This series has been around for a while (the first book was written in 1962), but it is timeless and remains beloved to this day. Protagonist Meg, her little brother Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin travel to another dimension to rescue Meg and Charles Wallace’s father with the help of an unforgettable trio of supernatural beings, and their journey is surprising, moving and life-affirming.
Young Teen Reads
(for ages 13-15)
Jackaby series by William Ritter—Teens who like Sherlock Holmes, true crime stories, and/or forensics are likely to love Ritter’s Jackaby series. R.F. Jackaby is a brilliant and socially awkward but affable detective with a knack for solving supernatural crimes, and his reliable assistant Abigail Rook keeps him focused and grounded. These books are thrilling without being too scary.
The School for Good and Evil series by Soman Chainani—The premise of The School for Good and Evil series is so original and ingenious. Two children from a particular village are kidnapped by an unknown force every four years and sent to one of two schools of magic: The School for Good and The School for Evil. When best friends Sophie and Agatha are kidnapped, they are both certain of which school they will attend, but they are wrong. Hilarity and adventure ensue!
Earthsea Cycle series by Ursula K. Le Guin—Often considered a precursor to the Harry Potter series, the Earthsea Cycle series tells the coming-of-age tale of a boy wizard named Ged. These books lean more towards high fantasy than Rowling’s series (there are magic staffs rather than wands, and dragons play a more prominent role), and they have a magic all their own.
Older Teen Reads
(for ages 16-18)
Rainbow Rowell books—Rainbow Rowell has written three books for teens (Eleanor & Park, Fangirl, and Carry On) and I adore all of them. They are all love stories, but they are unconventional and profound rather than formulaic and superficial. Teens and adults alike will relate readily to Rowell’s quirky and endearing characters.
John Green books—John Green is one of the biggest names in young adult fiction, and it’s no surprise. He won the Printz Award in 2006, two of his popular teen books have been made into popular films, and he’s a YouTube sensation. Green’s witty, ironic, and often heartwrenching coming-of-age stories are beloved by readers of all ages but may prove especially meaningful to teenage boys.
The Raven Boys series by Maggie Stiefvater—For teens who prefer fantasy stories to realistic ones, The Raven Boys series is one of the best options. Magic, tarot cards, and an ancient legend bring together an eccentric girl and four friends from an all-male private school in this complex and dark fantasy series.
By Emily Hedrick