What a diverse list of excellent children’s books are available. It becomes incredibly difficult to select top ten or even top twenty lists. Chapter books for kids cover a wide age group, from 7-year-olds to 12- or 13-year-olds. This my list of top-ranked chapter books for the older group.
Because of Winn Dixie, Kate DiCamillo: A very lonely girl named Opal and her dad arrive in Naomi, Florida. She meets a stray dog in a Winn Dixie supermarket and names him after the store. As the goofy dog attracts notice, Opal begins to get to know an offbeat set of characters in the town and develops friendships. Opal’s transparent honesty and country charm will win readers’ hearts.
Hatchet, Gary Paulsen: A boy named Brian is the only survivor of a Cessna plane crash in the wilderness of Canada. He has almost no possessions besides a hatchet his mother had given him as a gift. It is a captivating story of how this boy learns to think instead of panicking and survives for almost two months in his wild surroundings. A captivating story that grabs the attention and won’t let go.
Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Montgomery: Marilla Cuthbert’s brother, Matthew, is supposed to bring home a foster boy to their household but, instead, returns home to Green Gables with a chatty redheaded orphan girl named Anne. At first, Marilla disapproves heartily but gradually Anne begins to win both their hearts. She bumbles in and out of trouble but soon the reader is cheering wholeheartedly for her. A terrific classic that deserves all the praise it has received.
Westing Game, Ellen Raskin: Sam Westing is murdered on Halloween, presumably by one of his nieces or nephews. In his will, Westing promises his millions to whoever discovers the murderer. Raskin introduces us to a rash of characters and a shadow is cast on a number of them as the reader tries to figure out who the culprit could possibly be. Most readers didn’t mind a large number of characters and enjoy the challenge of a surprisingly complex who-done-it.
Bud, not Buddy, Christopher Curtis: An African-American orphan named Bud gets sick of lousy foster homes and decides to find his father, Herman Calloway, based on the flimsiest of evidence. He escapes various perils to find his way to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where Calloway, a jazz musician, is none too happy to be told he may have a son. It is then the members of his band who begin to take the boy under their wings and offer him the semblance of a family. A moving story is written in perfect lingo.
A Long Way from Chicago, Richard Peck: Brother and sister, Joey and Mary Alice leave the windy city each year for an annual visit to their huge Grandma Dowdel and a town the kids claim is smaller than she. Eccentric grandma has a unique sense of justice and she finds clever ways of bringing justice to various offenders, including a teenaged vandal, a drunken sheriff, and a well-to-do banker. A unique story with heart and humor.
James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl: James is stuck living with his irascible aunts. But one day he’s given magic crystals by a sympathetic wizard. By accident, he drops them underneath a peach tree outside his home. One lone peach on the tree quickly grows to the size of a house. Inside, James discovers enormous insects who promise to set him free from his aunts. Soon the giant peach is rolling downhill, bound for the Atlantic Ocean and beyond on a fabulous adventure that will take James and his new friends a long, long way from those nasty aunts.
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Barbara Robinson: The Herdman kids are the worst kids in history-the kind of kids you love to hate-and this year they want to be in the church Christmas pageant. But very gradually some changes begin to occur in the lives of these terrors and that wonderful change brings a special joy to everyone around.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis: Susan, Edmund, Lucy, and Peter stay in an old professor’s massive old estate to escape the air raids during the war. They accidentally discover a new world after getting lost in a wardrobe. The world features a wicked White Witch who has cursed the land with eternal winter, that is, until the majestic lion, Aslan, arrives to right the wrongs and make friends with the children.
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt: Winnie Foster comes upon a stream in the forest from which a boy is drinking. The boy is a member of the Tuck family and this family “kidnaps” Winnie. The stream is apparently a magic spring that dispenses immortality. The Tucks try to explain to Winnie why everlasting life on this earth as it is may not be the most desirable thing. Meanwhile, the villain, a man in a yellow suit tries to gain control of the stream to sell eternal life for vast profits must be stopped. A quirky book that holds readers like a magnet.
Top honorable mentions are The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Banks, and Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. Also, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell-like Hatchet, a survival story, but one that is unique in a number of ways. Readers will love both books in different ways and for different reasons.
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