As children grow and become more confident readers, the choice of books can become bewildering. Children’s publishing is luckily in a vibrant and exciting place at the moment with plenty of fantastic new books being released each month, but it can be difficult to find the right book to inspire and engage young readers as the choice is so vast. In my day job as a teacher of 8-9 year olds, I know the importance of helping children to find the right book, and I scour thrift stores and jumble sales looking for good books for our class library. Local libraries are great for book advice too, as well as good bookshops.
To help point you in the right direction when choosing books for your young readers, the GeekMoms have come up with these books as being great for independent readers, up to around grade 5 (or year 6 in the UK). They would also be wonderful read aloud at bedtime to younger children, who can’t yet manage to read them on their own.
Tales don’t come much taller than Fortunately, The Milk by the wonderful Neil Gaiman. I’m slightly biased having heard him read an extract from this last August, but it’s a very funny story of what happens to Dad when he takes a long time to come back from the shops with the milk needed for his children’s cereal. Time travel, ancient gods, aliens, pirates, and dinosaurs are just some of the things that the harried father has do deal with while trying to provide his children with their breakfast. Older children will be able to read this adventure independently, but it also made a fantastic bedtime story for our 4-year-old. I haven’t seen the US edition, which is illustrated by Skottie Young, but the UK edition has lovely illustrations by Chris Riddell. — Helen Barker
Older children with a sense of adventure will love Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver. This is the first of the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series about Torak, a boy who lives in a hunter-gatherer society 6,000 years ago. When tragedy strikes in the opening pages, Torak has to find out where he fits in the clan society while bonding with a wolf cub. The author researched wolf behavior and New Stone Age culture and technology, and this research is clearly seen in the attention to detail in the story. The real strength however is in the exciting storytelling and rich language. As well as buying the book, you can also listen to an audio book version for free, read by the great Sir Ian McKellen, no less. — Helen Barker
More adventure awaits in Oliver and the Seawigs, by Philip Reeve and illustrator Sarah McIntyre. For younger readers than Reeve’s Predator Cities/Mortal Engines series, it describes the adventure of Oliver as he tries to rescue his explorer parents from wandering isles, despotic teenagers, and sea monkeys. Yes, sea monkeys. The story is jaunty and the characters endearing, and the whole thing is set off beautifully by the lovely nautical illustrations. I bought this for my daughter for Christmas and she made us read it to her at bedtime three times in a row! — Helen Barker
A girl called September is our heroine in The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente. It’s a fantastical tale of library wyverns, fairies, and other magical creatures experienced by September, who is thrilled to have been pulled from her boring home life into the magical world. However, as expected, things are not what they seem, and soon it is time for September to make difficult decisions. — Helen Barker
My class of 8-year-olds loved Fizzlebert Stump: The Boy Who Ran Away From the Circus (and joined the library) by poet A.F. Harrold. Fizzlebert longs for normalcy away from the circus, and when the opportunity arises to join the library, he takes it. Unfortunately this starts a chain of events that leave him in a dangerous position, with possibly no way to return to the circus. Children will enjoy this madcap adventure, with a cast of circus characters and some rather creepy pensioners. — Helen Barker
David Almond has a book to suit almost every reader. For older children, the tale of Skellig is full of mystery and wonder. Younger children will enjoy The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas or My Dad’s a Birdman, both of which are fun, but don’t pull their emotional punches. Almond’s work walks a fine line between fantasy and truth, and there are so many layers that older children will be able to read between the lines and get even more out of the stories. — Helen Barker
An unusual mother/daughter writing team known as Zizou Corder came up with the trilogy of books that start with Lionboy. Set in the near future, when Charlie’s parents are kidnapped he must use all of his skills, including the ability to talk to cats, to track them down. Charlie embarks on a great adventure, bonding with a group of circus lions and attempting to find his parents. — Helen Barker
The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd is a great book for older independent readers. It centers around Ted, a boy with Asperger Syndrome, who has a mystery to solve when his cousin disappears while riding on the London Eye. Ted is such a great character, and his Asperger Syndrome is handled in the narrative in a sensitive way. — Helen Barker
Got a Phineas and Ferb fan in the house? I know what they’re doing today! The Book of Doof, with comics written by Scott Peterson, features the hapless villain in a variety of hilarious stories, comics, and tips for finding an arch-nemesis. Kids who are fans of the strangely lovable Heinz Doofenschmirtz will find a lot to love in this fun book. — Kelly Knox
If this has whetted your appetite for brilliant books, you can find more recommendations in our 2013 Caldecott Books, Seven Books British Kids Love, 10 Picture Books to Inspire Imagination, and 17 Picture Book Picks for National Reading Month posts.
GeekMom received some of the books on this list for review purposes.