My son is a voracious reader. I don’t say that to boast, because we have to remember that kids, like everyone else, have different interests and personalities. I wouldn’t want any child to be made to feel “not enough” just because he hasn’t got his nose in a book all the time, any more than I would want my son to feel bad that he doesn’t know how to ride a bike yet. (Ugh, I claim the blame for that! I don’t know how either, so I haven’t exactly been the greatest example.) Like me, my son happens to like stories, so he reads daily, and now that he’s run out of new books, he’s always rereading his favorites.
It’s because my son needs new books that I thought of writing this post. I’d been thinking of asking friends with kids for recommendations and I remembered that I’d already done that before, with fantastic results. In fact, the very first series my son got into, the Hardy Boys Clue Book, was recommended to me by a friend who has a son just a bit younger than mine. Another friend recommended Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, for which I felt my son was probably not old enough — my friend agreed and, incidentally, so did Rick Riordan — but which he will probably love once he starts reading them in a couple of years.
(By the way, if anyone out there knows a retelling of the Greek myths that is appropriate for lower elementary kids, please let me know in the comments!)
Anyway, I thought I would make my own list of book recommendations for fellow parents out there who are either looking for books that would develop their kids’ love for reading or whose kids are already prodigious readers and are looking for the next books to get into. The post title specifically mentions boys, for the simple reason that, as a girl, I adored books like the Nancy Drew series and I wasn’t sure if my son would eventually develop an equal appreciation for similar books — I’m glad he did! But these books are great for boys and girls; in fact, most of them have a girl as one of the lead characters.
And for those parents who have already tried — unsuccessfully — encouraging their kids to read, don’t lose heart! My son wasn’t always such a reader, either. Even now, he doesn’t get into all the books that I give him. Again, different kids have different interests — don’t force it, or they might come to think of reading as something they have to do instead of something they love to do.
What you could try is to read at least one or two chapters to your child to try and get them interested and invested in the story. I do that with my son — also as a way of trying to get a feel for the book and see if there might be age-inappropriate themes — and the list below only contains books of which I’ve personally read at least a couple of chapters. And again, if that doesn’t work, don’t worry about it too much.
On to the list!
1. Dr. Seuss Books
Common Sense Media age recommendation: 4+
One of my son’s very first books was a compilation of three Dr. Seuss stories — including the eternal crowd favorite Oh, the Places You’ll Go — gifted to him by my sister. He learned to read on the pages of that book and when the Big Bad Wolf book fair came to town, we had the chance to add some more Dr. Seuss titles to our collection.
What I love about the Dr. Seuss books: the rhymes that roll off the tongue, the way you can’t recite them out loud without smiling, the thread of quirk and whimsy that runs throughout, the timeless lessons planted without being preachy. (I asked my son what he liked about them and he said, “They’re funny and nice” — which is basically what I said, said better.) Our mutual favorite is Fox in Socks, which we love to read aloud together, sometimes alternating pages, sometimes racing each other on who can finish first without stumbling helplessly over the words. Other favorites include:
- Dr. Seuss’ ABC – perfect for kids learning their letters
- Green Eggs and Ham – with deeper lessons but also helpful for kids who are literally picky eaters
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas – thought-provoking, a perfect springboard for discussions on materialism and grit and pulling through together in the face of adversity
2. Zoey and Sassafras (Series) by Asia Citro
Common Sense Media age recommendation: 5+
I discovered this one while browsing through Amazon, who sure know how to write a persuasive blurb: “Each story in the Zoey and Sassafras series features a new magical animal with a problem that must be solved using science. There isn’t a set formula for each book; Zoey sometimes needs to run experiments, while other times she needs to investigate a mystery, and yet other times she needs to do research. Zoey models how to keep a science journal through her handwritten entries in each story. Each story is complete with a glossary of the kid-friendly definitions for scientific terms used. The series highlights child-led inquiry science and the topics covered align with both Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards.”
On the strength of that introduction, I got the books, and my son blew through the series. I read the first few chapters of Book 1 to him, gave him the book, opened my phone to get in some reading of my own, and the next thing I knew, he had finished the first three books! He read all the books in the series within 24 hours, which meant I was quickly back to the drawing board in my search for books…but, yeah, it’s a good problem to have.
3. Hardy Boys Clue Book (Series)
Audience age range per Barnes and Noble: 6-9 years old
As I mentioned above, this was the first series — as opposed to individual books — that my son really sank his teeth into. As a Nancy Drew fan when I was younger, I naturally thought of introducing him to the male equivalent, the Hardy Boys. However, Frank and Joe were 18 and 17, respectively, in the original series. I wasn’t sure if my son could relate to them, especially as, besides the age gap, he would also have to contend with a generation gap, the books being set decades ago. Fortunately, as I was crowdsourcing book recommendations, a friend of mine mentioned that the Hardy Boys actually have a recent spinoff series aimed specifically at much younger readers.
In Clue Book, Joe and Frank are eight and nine and belong to a baseball team called the Bayport Bandits. Their old friend Chet Morton appears in the books, but many of the other characters are new and more representative of diverse contemporary society. The eponymous clue book is where they list down the who-what-when-where-why-how of the mysteries that come their way. This method of organizing what they know and identifying what they don’t know helps them solve the mystery — and sets a good example for their readers! My son carried around a makeshift clue book for weeks after reading this series.
4. The A to Z Mysteries (Series) by Ron Roy
Common Sense Media age recommendation: 6+
Once my son got into the kid detective genre, it was easy to start him on a similar series. The A to Z Mysteries feature three friends — two boys and a girl — who solve mysteries, from The Absent Author (#1) all the way to The Zombie Zone (#26), and all the letters of the alphabet in between. It’s a widely loved series that’s always included in book recommendation lists for kids.
I asked my son what he liked about the books and he said, “Because I might become a detective someday.” Hmmm. At any rate, he has read and reread all 26 stories and that’s recommendation enough.
5. Magic Tree House (Series) by Mary Pope Osborne
Common Sense Media age recommendation: 6+
These are the books that I’m always gushing about to everyone from friends to fellow parents to my son’s third grade teacher. If you’ve seen the old Superbook and Flying House cartoons, the concept is similar, except that siblings Jack, 8, and Annie, 7, are taken to different times and places by a tree house that they discovered in the woods in their Pennsylvania hometown. The avid traveller in me is, of course, attracted to the idea of being transported, even just vicariously, to places like Venice, Greenland, and ancient Baghdad. But what I really love about Magic Tree House is that the books are a great springboard for discussions with my son about non-fictional topics such as the 1925 serum run that took diphtheria antitoxin across Alaska, led by sled dogs like Balto and Togo.
Because of Magic Tree House, my son’s ears now perk up when I mention Shakespeare or Mozart, because they appear in the stories. I could never get him interested in art before but now, because Leonardo da Vinci was a character in one of the books, his laptop wallpaper is the Mona Lisa, and the place he wants to visit first once the COVID-19 crisis is over is Paris — even though we’ve been — because this time, he wants to go to the Louvre and see the famous painting in real life. And one time, the topic for my son’s journal writing (part of their school work) was: if they could ask God one question, what would it be? My son answered, “I would ask Him, ‘why did the Civil War happen?’” Naturally, I was like, “You would waste your one question on that?” Because, come on, it isn’t even our Civil War. But it’s a testament to the interests that the Magic Tree House series is able to plant and nurture in its readers.
6. The Questioneers (Series) by Andrea Beaty
Common Sense Media age recommendation: 6+
What I love about this series is that the kids are unapologetically smart! We’re used to kids’ books in school settings where there are cool kids and bullies and wallflowers and all the usual tropes, but the children in this series — scientist Ada, engineer Rosie, architect Iggy — are nicknamed the Questioneers because they’re always asking questions. It’s not even an issue that that’s how they are like.
There are several titles in the series and we’ve only read three: Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters, Ada Twist and the Perilous Pants, and Iggy Peck and the Mysterious Mansion. I wholeheartedly recommend these books, particularly if you think your child will be able to relate to any of the main characters, but also as a way of alerting your child to the reality that different kids have different personalities and everyone should be appreciated for who they are.
7. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Common Sense Media age recommendation: 8+
Well, this one needs no introduction, does it? So far, my son has only read this first book in the Harry Potter series, and if you’re wondering which books are appropriate for what ages, Common Sense Media can guide you through that.
If you’ve tried getting your child interested in Harry Potter before and found them all meh about the idea, you’re not alone! My son was the same. What eventually got his attention was the audio book — Audible made quite a lot of kids’ books available for free during the pandemic, including HP1, and that got the ball rolling.
What books do your kids like?
If you have your own recommendations, I would love to hear them! Type them in the comments section below this post, and if you have the time, please tell me why you like or recommend them.
Don’t forget to share this post, too — Christmas is coming up and if your kids’ godparents are like me, I’m sure they’d love suggestions for gifts that your child would treasure!