We don’t cover very much on the site when it comes to children’s literature, which is a shame considering that I have eight-year-old twins. Getting kids to read, as every parent well knows, can be a challenge. Below we proudly present 5 fictional books of varying lengths and styles that your picky 3rd grader will enjoy. How do I know? Because these are titles that my kids willingly put the video game controllers down for and actually enjoyed reading.
1. Love That Dog by Sharon Creech
Wait. I’m starting the list with a book that’s essentially 128 pages of free-verse poetry? Yes, yes I am. I was as skeptical as you are right now, but trust me, this fun little volume is full of heart and moves along at a quick clip. At first young Jack doesn’t take to kindly to the writing assignments of his teacher Ms. Stretchberry, but over time he begins to open up as he and discovers the beauty and power of words. Inspired by a Walter Dean Myers poem, Jack is finally able to share with the world the tragic story of what happened to his beloved pet Sky. This isn’t a picture book or a chapter book, and what makes it so special is Creech’s unique storytelling style and the tale’s unusual structure.
2. There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom by Louis Sachar
With the exception of his toy animals, 5th grader Bradley Chalkers (last row, last seat, Mrs. Ebbel’s class) doesn’t have a lot of people in his life that he considers friends. All that will change however with the arrival of both a new student named Jeff and the school’s first guidance counselor. Yeah, as the title suggests there’s also a bit about the girl’s bathroom as well, but this one is mostly a realistic, heartfelt tale about what it feels like to be an outsider and the difference that developing self-confidence can make in a young child. Bonus: it’s got some of the best story-within-a-story moments ever when Bradley is assigned a book report on the hilarious (and sadly, not real) kids’ book My Parents Didn’t Steal an Elephant.
3. Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman
Newbury medalist Neil Gaiman (American Gods) started writing children’s books because he was having a hard time explaining to his young daughter what he does for a living. Fortunately for us, Fortunately, the Milk is a delightful tale about a dad who runs to the store to grab some milk for breakfast and returns to tell his children a fantastical tale about the dangers he faced on his journey home, including coming face-to-face with aliens and pirates, and riding in a time-travelling hot air balloon with a stegosaurus. Gaiman’s prose is as charming as ever here and Skottie Young’s playful illustrations help make this whimsical adventure leap right off the page.
4. Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan
Not surprisingly, I personally love McSwigan’s 1942 novel Snow Treasure because of its foreign setting. It takes place in Norway during the Nazi occupation of World War II and tells the tale of some Norwegian children who use their sleds to sneak gold past German soldiers in an attempt to help get it safely out of the country. It’s loosely based on what appears to be a true story, though as is usually the case with such things, many of the actual facts were changed to enhance the overall excitement. The book was turned into a movie by Irving Jacoby in the late 1960’s, but you’ll want to read this one with your kids first so you can play a game of spot the differences with the inferior visual adaption together later. That is, if you can even track down a copy of the film. Good luck!
5. Escape from Mr. Lemonchello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
This one is like an interactive version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, updated for a whole new generation. A billionaire board game designer creates a new library full of not just boring old books, but cutting edge technology including an IMAX theater, holograms, and hovering ladders. Twelve middle-schoolers win a chance to stay locked up overnight in the complex for the most awesome game-filled experience of a lifetime, but when the next morning arrives there doesn’t seem to be a way to leave. The kids will have to follow a series of puzzle, riddles, and clues to find an exit if they want to escape and claim the most wondrous prize ever. It’s hard not to love this one. Your kids will enjoy solving the mysteries, while you’ll love spotting the hidden literary references that are sprinkled throughout.
What books do your young children enjoy? Have they read any of the titles on our list?