Brainy Parenting

Inside: Reading should be fun for kids! Here are the best chapter books for kids that will make your child learn to love reading, from ages 5 to teen.

This past summer, my 12-year-old read at least one chapter book every day. For the fourth summer in a row.

She’s positively voracious for chapter books, and my 7-year-old and 5-year-old are currently on track to follow in her footsteps. (Score!)

Because we’re a family of book nerds, my oldest and I end up talking a lot about books and reading: What are you reading right now? Did you enjoy it? Did anything confuse you, upset you, make you want to stop reading?

Through our talks, she’s opened my eyes about chapter books for kids. Specifically about one big reason why more kids might not be reading as much as she does.

Research shows that the percentage of 6- to 8-year-old kids who read for fun several times a week drops by 9 percent by the time they’re 9 to 11 years old. Then kids reading for fun drops another 11 percent among 12- to 14-year-olds. Overall, the percentage of kids who read for fun at ages 6-8 decreases a total of 24 percent by the time those kids turn 15.

How We’re Scaring Kids Away From Children’s Chapter Books

When it comes to chapter books for kids, we assume that just because we liked a certain book 30 or 40 years ago when we were kids, our kids will enjoy and be able to relate to the same book.

But your child might have a hard time getting into the dated language of Treasure Island. They might be extremely troubled by The Secret Garden when Mary makes racist comments. They might be scared by the graphic violence in Island of the Blue Dolphins. Even some adults feel that way when reading those classics.

That doesn’t automatically mean your child is a “reluctant” reader or that they won’t ever appreciate the “classics.” It just means they’re growing up in the 21st century, and you might need to read those books together so you can talk through the issues.

And yet, as parents, sometimes we still hand our kids the same ol’ kids’ chapter books that were given to us as kids and expect kids to read those books independently. Some teachers assign the same chapter books to the whole class that those teachers had to read when they were in school.

But those same books won’t necessarily resonate with every modern-day kid and turn them into a lifelong reader.

Chapter books for kids need to be fun and unputdownable

Forget All Those Lists of Children’s Chapter Books You “Should” Read

In our quest to get our kids to love reading, here’s something important we can sometimes lose sight of: Every person is different.

For example, some people like cake, some people like pie, and some people like to keep a case of Girl Scout cookies in their freezer to sustain them year-round. (Guilty!)

Similarly, some kids like to read only fantasy, some prefer mysteries, and some will gravitate to just graphic novels – and that’s perfectly fine and as it should be.

Still, we think it’s “good” for kids to read certain books, like the literary equivalent of eating your veggies. So parents might nag kids to read those “must-read” books, and teachers assign required reading of those “better” books to a whole classroom.

This means that right around the time kids are finally reading on their own, not only do we stop reading aloud to them for fun, but we also saddle them with books they didn’t choose that may be upsetting, frustrating, or just plain boring to them.

No wonder more and more kids aren’t reading for fun.

Related: Want to Raise Smart, Kind Kids? Science Says Do This Every Day

The #1 Priority When Choosing Chapter Books for Kids

If you want to raise a lifelong reader, your child needs to see that reading can be fun. If it isn’t fun, your child won’t choose to read.

Reading is like riding a bicycle, driving a car, or sewing: In order to get better at it, you must do it. And the more you read, the better you get at it. The past thirty years of reading research confirms this simple formula, regardless of gender, race, nationality, or socioeconomic background. Students who read the most also read the best, achieve the most, and stay in school the longest. Conversely, those who don’t read much cannot get better at it.

Why don’t students read more? Because…the large number of displeasure messages they received throughout their school years coupled with the lack of pleasure messages in the home nullify any attraction books might have. They avoid print the same way a cat avoids a hot stovetop. – The Read-Aloud Handbook

To put the fun back in reading for kids, we need to stop force-feeding them specific children’s chapter books because we know “best” and instead let each child choose the book that looks the most fun to them.

And if they choose to read a graphic novel? Or a series chapter book? Or a comic? Who. Cares. They’re reading! You won!

Kids who see reading as a chore won’t become lifelong readers. Our job as parents and teachers is to protect that little flame of joy that reading creates – not smother it with “must reads” or “classics” or “better” books – or by making kids feel like the book they chose isn’t “good enough.”

Below, I’ve included a list of awesome chapter books that will make your child love reading. Books that will make your child feel known, heard, and understood. Pick up a few of these great books, and see what your kid gravitates to. There are no wrong answers. They’ll like what they like!

Then after the list of chapter books for kids, you’ll find a bonus tip for how to share new kids’ chapter books with your child in a way that will make them love reading even more.

48 Awesome Chapter Books for Kids That Your Child Will Devour

I’ve been curating this list of kids’ chapter books for twelve years and counting.

Out of all the hundreds of children’s novels that my three oldest kids have read (and that I’ve read aloud), these are the ones we’ve purchased to keep in our home. These are the ones we’ve read multiple times. These are the ones we gift to their friends for birthdays and “just because” gifts.

These books are inclusive, relevant in today’s world, and most important of all: fun. Some will make your child laugh, some will make them feel deep and powerful emotions, some will be so unputdownable your child will think about the story even when they’re not reading – some will do all three within the span of one chapter.

Even so, your child may not love everything on this list, but that’s okay. Your child has their own unique tastes and preferences, and that’s as it should be. Your job is simply to provide your child with a wide variety of books and let them choose what looks good.

And remember: Even if your child is old enough to read independently, reading aloud to your child is an experience that reinforces the pleasure of reading. Plus, it’s a fun way to connect with your child while enjoying a great story together.

The Best Chapter Books for Kids: Table of Contents

The sections below are organized by age. But keep in mind that as with anything when it comes to kids and suggested ages, your mileage may vary.

If you know of any other awesome novels for kids, please leave a comment at the end to share with other parents and teachers (and me!). Because you can never have too many books!

  • Beginner Chapter Books for Kids Ages 5-8
  • Chapter Books for Kids Ages 8-12
  • More Chapter Books for Kids Ages 8-12: For Kids Who Can Handle More
  • Middle Grade Books for Kids Ages 12+
  • Bonus Tip: How to Make Your Child Love Reading Even MORE

Note: indicates my family’s absolute top favorites on the list. These are the books my kids can’t get enough of!

Beginner Chapter Books for Kids Ages 5-8

If your child has mastered early reader books and is ready to progress to chapter books, this section is chock full of awesome early reader chapter books for you. Full disclosure: This is a tricky category because some beginner chapter books can be bland and predictable even for a young reader. But because this is your child’s first foray into chapter books, it’s important that even their first chapter books show your child how much fun reading can be. That’s why this list focuses on the beginner chapter books that will make your child smile, giggle, and guffaw.

Here are the best beginner chapter books for early readers:

Dodsworth in New York

1. Dodsworth in New York

Dodsworth is a mouse who wants to go on an adventure, so he sets out for New York City. But then a zany duck stows away in his trunk and turns Dodsworth’s adventure into a wild chase around the city. Young readers can’t help but giggle at the duck’s silly antics, and as a parent I could absolutely relate to the exasperation of the duck (i.e. my kids) thwarting all the mouse’s plans (i.e. my plans). This is the first book in a series of first chapter books. Next up: Dodsworth in Paris.

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Tip: Haven’t heard of Bookshop yet? It’s an online bookstore with a mission to support local, independent bookstores. As of January 2021, they’ve raised more than 11 million dollars for local bookstores! If you want to order books online while also supporting local bookstores, feel free to use the Bookshop buttons under each book recommendation in this post.

Rabbit and Robot: The Sleepover

2. Rabbit and Robot: The Sleepover

Rabbit is a planner, and he has his sleepover with Robot perfectly planned out. But when Robot throws a wrench in Rabbit’s plans, the silly hijinks will get your kid smiling and laughing. This series of early chapter books is perfect for kids who have grown out of early readers but aren’t yet ready for “official” chapter books, which can intimidate young readers. If your child loves this one, be sure to check out the follow-up, Rabbit and Robot and Ribbit.

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King and Kayla and the Case of the Missing Dog Treats

3. King and Kayla and the Case of the Missing Dog Treats

Three peanut butter treats are missing, and Kayla suspects her dog King, but King knows it wasn’t him. The treats were supposed to be for her friend’s new puppy, so the two set off to solve the mystery. This sweet little book is the perfect introduction to mysteries and how to use analytical thinking to solve the question of whodunit. This is the first book in a series. Next, check out King and Kayla and the Case of the Secret Code. And if your child loves this series, they can graduate to The Case of the Lost Boy, the first book in The Buddy Files series that also features the dog King.

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Warren and Dragon: 100 Friends

4. Warren and Dragon: 100 Friends

Warren is moving and starting at a new school, but the good news is he has his stuffed Dragon to help him through his fears and anxieties. But then his outgoing sister dares him to make 100 friends before she does, and Warren accepts even though he has no idea how to make a friend. Dragon coaches him through making friends, and Warren learns an important lesson about quality not quantity. The relationship between Warren and Dragon gives me strong Calvin and Hobbes vibes, and this whole series is just adorable and fun. After this one, check out Warren and Dragon: Weekend With Chewy.

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The Princess in Black

Monster and Boy

6. Monster and Boy

The monster who lives under the boy’s bed loves the boy, but the boy has no idea the monster exists. In fact, the boy’s mom tells him monsters don’t exist, period. But then one day, the boy and the monster come face-to-face, and their adventure together begins. This quirky little story actually made me laugh out loud too. A refreshingly different and silly read! This is the first in a planned series.

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Our Friend Hedgehog: The Story of Us

7. Our Friend Hedgehog: The Story of Us

This cozy animal friendship story is heartwarming without being saccharine. Hedgehog’s stuffed dog Mutty is his one and only friend, and they spend all their days together. But one day, a storm blows Mutty away. So Hedgehog sets out on an adventure to find him and along the way, he makes new friends. This text has a few words that will be a stretch for some kids at this level, but the character of Owl explains the meaning of those stretch words to help move readers forward. Plus, the gorgeous illustrations balance out the text perfectly. This is the first in a planned series.

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Piper Green and the Fairy Tree

8. Piper Green and the Fairy Tree

Sometimes the “spunky kid” trope can veer too far into over-the-top and unbelievable, but this early chapter book strikes a charming balance. Piper Green lives on a little Maine island, and it’s the first day of second grade. But it’s off to a rocky start because she’s missing her older brother terribly now that he’s going to high school on the mainland, and her new teacher may look like a fairy-tale princess but has no patience for nonsense. This is the first in a series. For more of Piper’s adventures, check out Too Much Good Luck.

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Skunk and Badger

9. Skunk and Badger

In this little gem, Badger lives alone and likes it that way. He’s lucky that Aunt Lula is letting him stay in her brownstone so he can focus on his important rock work as a geologist. But then one day, Skunk shows up and announces he’s Badger’s new roommate. What I love most about this quirky odd-couple story is that kids see powerful examples of what happens when friends do something they regret – and what it looks like to repair the damage. This is the first in a planned series.

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Lulu and the Duck in the Park

10. Lulu and the Duck in the Park

Lulu loves animals. She’s even famous for it. But her teacher Mrs. Holiday does not love animals, no matter how hard Lulu tries to win her over. So during a class field trip to the park when Lulu rescues an abandoned duck egg, she knows she has to hide it from her teacher in order to keep it safe. But when the egg starts hatching, Lulu discovers an unexpected ally. This sweet story is the first in a series. Next, pick up Lulu and the Dog from the Sea.

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Bad Kitty Gets a Bath

11. Bad Kitty Gets a Bath

In this chapter book follow-up to the picture book Bad Kitty, the narrator steps you through what to do when your kitty really and truly needs a bath. But unfortunately because cats hate baths, this is not a straightforward task. It might even be a bit dangerous. The tongue-in-cheek asides from the narrator make this book stand out from the pack, and kids get a kick out of the silliness. And if you happen to have a cat, your child will appreciate this book even more. This is the first in a series. The next is Happy Birthday, Bad Kitty.

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Mango and Bambang: The Not-a-Pig

12. Mango and Bambang: The Not-a-Pig

Mango’s father works a lot, so she tries to stay busy to distract herself from being lonely. Some of her favorite ways to stay busy are practicing karate, playing chess, and wiggling her ears while sucking on a lollipop. One day on her way home from karate class, she happens upon a tapir named Bambang in the middle of the road. He’s scared and blocking traffic, and Mango is the only one who takes the time to listen to him. The scene where Mango empathizes with the tapir’s anxiety warmed my heart right off the bat, and the quirky details make this story an utter delight. This is the first in a series. Next, pick up Mango and Bambang: Tapir All at Sea.

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Related: The Ultimate List of the Best Picture Books, Endorsed by Kids And Parents

Chapter Books for Kids Ages 8-12

You might notice a few widely recommended kids’ novels missing from this list, like Harry Potter, The Lightning Thief, and Wonder. Thanks to successful movie adaptations that had broad audiences, many kids are already familiar with the basic plot of each of these kids’ novels. For some kids, already knowing the plot decreases the chances they’ll get swept away by the experience of reading the book.

For that reason, I’ve left those three children’s chapter books off this particular list, but as always when it comes to reading, your mileage may vary. If your child happens to find it more enjoyable to read when they already have a general idea of what will happen, those books might be the right fit for your child.

These are the best chapter books for kids who are ready to graduate from beginner chapter books:

Because of Winn-Dixie

1. Because of Winn-Dixie

In this sweet chapter book, Opal has just moved to a small town with her dad, and her whole life changes when she crosses paths with a stray dog in the grocery store. I’ve read this aloud to my kids three times now, and the story captures their little hearts every time! If your child loves this book, they might also enjoy Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge, a sweet story about a plucky girl whose favorite book is Because of Winn Dixie. Vilonia becomes convinced that a dog will snap her mom out of the funk she’s been in since Vi’s grandmother died, and Vi sets off on a quest to adopt a puppy.

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Clean Getaway

2. Clean Getaway

Scoob has just been grounded by his dad for all of spring break when his grandmother throws him a lifeline: she invites him along on a road trip that she and his grandpa had planned but never completed. Scoob jumps at the chance to join his grandmother in her brand-new Winnebago, and we get to follow along on their heartwarming but powerful journey. Scoob’s grandmother is white and his grandpa was Black, so as he consults his grandmother’s old Green Book, he starts to realize what life was like for a mixed-race couple in the South during the 1960s. The humor and the relationship between Scoob and his grandmother make this a fantastic adventure story.

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Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow

3. Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow

Morrigan is cursed, and everyone blames her for everything that goes wrong. Because of her curse, she’s also doomed to die at midnight on her 11th birthday, but a mysterious person named Jupiter North shows up just in the nick of time. My daughter raved about this one so much that I had to pick it up myself, and I adored it, too! After Nevermoor, you’ll want to read the next in the series: Wundersmith.

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The Season of Styx Malone

4. The Season of Styx Malone

It’s summer break, but Caleb and his older brother Bobby Gene just got in trouble with their dad and stuck with morning chores for four long weeks. Their summer is looking bleak until the brothers meet cool kid Styx Malone. Together, they hatch a plan for an “escalator trade,” where the boys trade small objects for increasingly more valuable things, with the ultimate goal of trading up to a new moped. This tale of the boys’ summer adventure is full of heart and humor but also a powerful depth as it touches on Styx’s experience in the foster care system and explores the meaning of friendship.

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The Bookwanderers

5. The Bookwanderers

Tilly lost her dad at a young age and her mother disappeared, so her grandparents raised her in their cozy London bookstore. Then one day, Anne Shirley and Alice, her two favorite book characters, show up in the shop, and she learns the truth: Tilly comes from a family of bookwanderers, people who can travel inside books and bring the characters back to the real world. With the help of her bookish friends, Tilly sets off to solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance. Kids who love magic and books adore this story. In the sequel The Lost Fairy Tales, fairy tales start leaking magic into the real world, and Tilly sets off on a quest to find out who’s behind it.

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The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

6. The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

In this story, a family of seven finds out their landlord will be kicking them out of their beloved home right after Christmas. The five Vanderbeeker children are heartbroken, so they come up with a plan to save their home. This was such a heartwarming read! After you fall in love with this family, you’ll want to read the rest of the series, starting with the sequel The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden.

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The Dragon With a Chocolate Heart

7. The Dragon With a Chocolate Heart

In this fun fantasy, a young dragon gets tricked into drinking enchanted hot chocolate that turns her into a human. My daughter loved this so much that when she finished it, she immediately went back to the start and reread it. The next in this series is The Girl with the Dragon Heart.

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Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library

8. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library

Twelve seventh-graders win a chance to spend a night in their town’s brand new public library, built by billionaire game-maker Luigi Lemoncello. Mr. Lemoncello then issues them a challenge: Solve the puzzles and riddles he’s left in the library using only what’s in the library, and they’ll be the new spokesperson for Mr. Lemoncello’s company. This is kind of like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory set in modern times and inside a library. Kids love solving the puzzles as they read, and reluctant readers will identify with the main character Kyle who isn’t super into books. When we lend this fun series to friends and neighbors, they gobble it right up. Next, pick up Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics.

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The Next Great Paulie Fink

9. The Next Great Paulie Fink

Caitlyn has started at a new middle school, but nothing is like her old school. Not only is her grade responsible for mentoring the kindergarteners and feeding the school goats, but Caitlyn feels like the odd one out in the tight-knit group of eccentric seventh graders who call themselves The Originals. But when the most legendary of The Originals Paulie Fink doesn’t return to school, they decide to hold a contest to find the next great Paulie Fink. Rule-following Caitlyn serves as the contest’s organizer, judge, and jury, and along the way she discovers something important about her own past and about the school’s future. This novel is laugh out loud funny but also full of heart!

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The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell

10. The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell

On their 12th birthday, twins Alex and Conner get a book of fairy tales from their grandmother. But then the book comes to life, and they fall into The Land of Stories. There, they run into fairy tale characters like Goldilocks, Cinderella, and Snow White, who help them on their quest to get back home. If your child loves this first book, be prepared for them to devour the rest of the series. Next, pick up The Enchantress Returns.

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Ways to Make Sunshine

11. Ways to Make Sunshine

After Ryan’s dad loses his job, the family has to move to a smaller house and sell their car. But Ryan does her best to face whatever challenges come her way, whether preparing for the school talent show or getting teased at school about having a “boy’s name.” I dare you not to fall in love with her fierce optimism! This story is full of warmth and familial love. If your child loves this book, they’ll be happy to hear it’s the first in a planned series. Next, check out Ways to Grow Love.

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The Candymakers

12. The Candymakers

Four 12-year-olds compete in a candy-making contest, and soon it becomes clear there’s a spy in their midst. Kids love unpacking the secrets and the mystery of this story, plus all the talk of candy and yummy treats is awfully fun too. For kids who love this one, hand them the sequel next: The Candymakers and the Great Chocolate Chase.

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More Chapter Books for Kids Ages 8-12: For Kids Who Can Handle More

One of my kiddos feels extreme empathy for the characters in books, so she can be sensitive to reading about any person or animal getting hurt – or even the threat of being hurt. This is not uncommon for this age range. So the previous section of books for ages 8-12 included only children’s chapter books that will work for most kids, including the sensitive ones.

If your child can handle more tension and higher stakes in the books they read, here are a few more awesome kids’ novels:

The One and Only Ivan

1. The One and Only Ivan

Ivan is a silverback gorilla who lives at Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, a run-down circus-themed roadside attraction. For years, Ivan is bored but content in this bizarre flavor of captivity for a wild animal. But when he meets a baby elephant named Ruby, he makes an important decision that will change everything. This story is sad in parts but very much worth the read. Such a deeply moving story! If your child loves this book, hand them The One and Only Bob next, which is a follow-up featuring the stray dog named Bob in the first book.

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The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane

2. The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane

Maybelle Lane has never met her dad. So when she finds out he’s a radio DJ and will be judging a singing contest in Nashville, she doesn’t have to think twice before signing up. Her mom is on a month-long work trip, so Maybelle is staying with her stern neighbor Mrs. Boggs. All Maybelle has to do is ditch Mrs. Boggs and get from Louisiana to Nashville. But her plan doesn’t work out, and Mrs. Boggs ends up coming with her. Then unknown to both of them, a not-very-nice neighbor kid named Tommy stows away too. This adventure story is full of charm and heart!

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Harbor Me

3. Harbor Me

If you want your child to develop a deep compassion for their fellow humans, you need to hand them this book. A teacher rounds up six struggling students for a weekly talk with no adults allowed. At first, the kids are skeptical, but then they start to open up. As they let each other into their lives, friendship blossoms and their weekly talks become a safe space. This is a powerful story that touches on serious issues many kids have to deal with, without ever being preachy about it. By the way, if your child enjoys audiobooks, this book is great in audio because it’s a full-cast recording.

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The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl

4. The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl

Ever since she survived being hit by lightning, Lucy has been a math genius, but she also lives with OCD. If she can’t complete her rituals revolving around the number three, she can’t concentrate on anything – at least not until she recites the numbers of pi to the 314th decimal place. She’s been homeschooled by her grandmother since she was eight and she’s technically ready for college, but Nana insists she first go to middle school for one year, make one new friend, and join one activity. Lucy is authentic and funny, and any child who’s experienced middle school firsthand will immediately relate to her struggles.

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Book Scavenger

5. Book Scavenger

Emily has moved 8 times in 12 years. But this time she’s actually excited to move because she’ll be in San Francisco, which is home to her idol Garrison Griswold, book publisher and the creator of Emily’s favorite puzzle game called Book Scavenger. But just when Emily arrives and right before Griswold is to announce the details of his latest and greatest game, he’s attacked and left in critical condition. Together with her new friend James, a fellow puzzle-lover who lives in her building, Emily has to solve the mystery before the people who attacked Griswold catch up to Emily and James too. If your child loves solving puzzles and codes, press this book into their hands, along with the rest of the series. The sequel is The Unbreakable Code.

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The Parker Inheritance

6. The Parker Inheritance

Candice’s parents are getting divorced, so she and her mom are moving from Atlanta to a small town in South Carolina for the summer. Candice is having just about the worst summer ever until she finds an old letter addressed to her by her grandmother before she passed. And inside that letter, she finds a puzzle. Her grandmother had tried (and failed) to solve the puzzle, but Candice befriends Brandon, the shy boy next door, and the two of them set off to solve what her grandmother could not. This mystery with a dash of historical fiction will keep your child hooked until the last page!

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The Wild Robot

7. The Wild Robot

This is a heartwarming story of a shipwrecked robot named Roz who has to learn how to survive in the wilderness. Our whole family fell in love with Roz! While there are some tense scenes, Roz rises above it all to demonstrate the power of kindness and community. After your child finishes this one, expect them to be anxious for the sequel right away: The Wild Robot Escapes.

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Front Desk

8. Front Desk

Mia lives in a motel where her parents work. While her parents clean rooms, Mia decides to manage the front desk and do her part to make the guests’ stays enjoyable. This is a powerful story of what it means to treat others with kindness and respect and of doing what’s right even when it’s hard. My oldest was super excited to hear there’s a sequel to this one: Three Keys.

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The Mysterious Benedict Society

Pax

10. Pax

Peter’s raised his pet fox Pax since he was a kit, and they’re inseparable. But Peter’s dad has to serve in the military and Peter will have to go live with grandfather, so his dad tells Peter he has to set Pax free in the forest first. Peter does what he’s told but then realizes he’s made a terrible mistake, and Peter and Pax set out to find each other. This adventure story set in a war-torn dystopian world will break your heart but then heal it back stronger again.

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The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

11. The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise

Ever since she lost her mom and her sisters in a car crash five years ago, Coyote and her dad have been aimlessly traveling the country in a converted school bus. But when Coyote finds out the park in their old neighborhood – the one where she, her mom, and her sisters buried a memory box together – is about to be demolished, she comes up with a plan to get her dad to drive more than 3,000 miles back to their old town so she can retrieve the box. This road trip story is full of heart and a powerful experience that will help your child learn to see the world through others’ eyes.

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From the Desk of Zoe Washington

12. From the Desk of Zoe Washington

Zoe is an aspiring chef who dreams of auditioning for the Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge, when one day out of the blue she gets a letter from her dad Marcus, whom she’s never met. Her dad went to prison right before she was born, and this is the first contact she’s had with him because her mom doesn’t want him in the picture. As Zoe and Marcus write back and forth, he encourages her baking aspirations and their bond grows. But when Marcus tells Zoe he’s innocent, she doesn’t know what to think. How could an innocent person be sent to prison? With the help of her grandmother and her friend Trevor, Zoe sets out to investigate what really happened. Along the way, she learns a powerful lesson about inequality in the criminal justice system. This sweet, hopeful story is a must read.

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Middle Grade Books for Kids Ages 12+

When your child approaches the middle grade milestone, you may find that they want to read books about kids their age or older. But that can land you in the category of “young adult” books, and some kids might not be ready for some of the themes and issues covered in YA fiction. For example, one 12-year-old I know feels like many middle grade books are too “babyish,” but they also told their parents they’re absolutely not interested in books with any kissing or romance.

These children’s chapter books are the perfect fit for kids ages 12 and up because they straddle the line between middle grade books and YA:

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster

1. Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster

Nan Sparrow is one of the best “climbing boys” in Victorian London, orphans who do the dangerous work of cleaning chimney flues to protect homes from fire. But she also happens to be a girl. Then one day, she gets caught in a chimney fire. This is a powerful story that touches on some heavy topics, but it’s also infused with an undercurrent of hope that a better life is possible for Nan and her climbing friends. This story will give your child a lot to chew on, plus it’s a fascinating history lesson.

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Ungifted

2. Ungifted

Donovan is a prankster whose classmates have voted him “Most Likely to Wind Up in Jail.” But one day, he goes one prank too far and ends up getting sent to a special school for gifted and talented students. Can he fool his new classmates and teachers into thinking he belongs there, or will he get found out? This is a funny book with a heartwarming ending, and sometimes it can be hard to find both of those qualities in middle grade books at the same time. After your child finishes this one, grab a copy of Supergifted next.

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Keeper of the Lost Cities

3. Keeper of the Lost Cities

Sophie has been telepathic for as long as she can remember, but she’s always kept it hidden from her family because they’re very much not in possession of any supernatural powers. Then one day, she meets a boy who reveals the truth about who she is, and she realizes staying with her family will put them in danger. This series has just about everything: fantasy, mystery, suspense, friendship, school dilemmas, and more. And with eight books, this series of middle grade books will keep your child busy for a long while! Next, pick up Exile.

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Ghost

4. Ghost

Castle “Ghost” Crenshaw has a talent for running, but unfortunately he also has a talent for losing his temper getting into fights. Then one day, a track coach sees Ghost run and offers him a deal. If Ghost can stop getting in fights, he can join a track team that could qualify for the Junior Olympics. But one more fight, and he’ll be kicked off the team. This realistic, quick read is unputdownable, and your child will be anxious to get their hands on the next in the series: Patina.

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When You Reach Me

5. When You Reach Me

Miranda and her lifelong best friend Sal live in the same apartment building in New York City, and they do everything together. But one day, another kid punches Sal and after that, he barely acknowledges Miranda. Then the notes start. Miranda keeps finding anonymous, cryptic notes that give her the creeps because whoever wrote them seems to know everything about her life. This book is like a jigsaw puzzle for your brain! The mystery will turn your child into a detective, piecing together clues and celebrating that eureka moment when it all comes together. So good!

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Greenglass House

6. Greenglass House

It’s the first day of Christmas break, and Milo is looking forward to spending his vacation with his adoptive parents at home. But home happens to be an inn that his parents own, and five unusual guests show up on the first day of vacation to dash Milo’s plans. Then strange things start happening, and Milo recruits Meddy, the cook’s daughter, to help solve the mystery. This story is creepy and clever and so well done! After your child polishes off this one, hand them the rest of the series starting with Ghosts of Greenglass House.

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City Spies

7. City Spies

At the age of 12, Sara Martinez hacks into the city’s computers to prove that her foster parents are breaking the law. But instead of setting things right, Sara’s actions put her in front of a judge, facing years in a juvenile detention facility. So when a mysterious man steps in as her attorney and offers Sara a chance to join his team of young spies, Sara goes for it. Now, it’s up to Sara and her elite spy team to stop a planned attack at a youth environmental summit in Paris. This spy novel is great fun, and it’s the first in this series of middle grade books. Next, keep an eye out for Golden Gate.

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Last Day on Mars

8. Last Day on Mars

The sun has turned into a supernova earlier than anyone predicted, destroying Earth and forcing humans to relocate to Mars. But now Mars is in danger too, and everyone living on Mars needs to evacuate to a distant planet. Liam and Phoebe are the last kids left on Mars, but they can’t evacuate until their parents finish essential terraforming work they’ll need for their new home planet. As Liam and Phoebe spend their last day on Mars waiting to leave, they stumble upon a secret research lab and they discover humans are in grave danger unless they act fast. This adventure story is fast-paced and thrilling, and your child can read more in the rest of the trilogy starting with The Oceans Between Stars. (Note: This book is not the same story as the movie The Last Days on Mars.)

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Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

9. Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

Aven was born without arms due to a rare genetic condition, but she’s never let that stop her from doing what she wants to. She has friends, she’s a prankster, and she even plays on the soccer team. But then her dad gets a job at a Wild West theme park, and the family has to move. Aven struggles in her new school until she meets two new friends. Together, they uncover clues about the theme park’s past and set off to solve the mystery. Such a funny and heartwarming story! Kids who fall in love with this one can keep going with the sequel, Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus.

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Lockwood and Co: The Screaming Staircase

10. Lockwood and Co: The Screaming Staircase

Deliciously creepy! The world is under attack by deadly ghosts called Visitors. The only people who can sense the ghosts are children who have a psychic talent. Working for the ghost-hunting agency called Lockwood Co, teenage Lucy and two other young ghost-hunters get assigned to one of England’s most haunted houses: an ancient building famous for its Screaming Staircase. If your child likes spooky middle grade books, they’ll be clamoring for the next installment of this 5-book series, The Whispering Skull.

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The False Prince

11. The False Prince

In the medieval kingdom of Carthya, the entire royal family has been poisoned, and the kingdom is on the verge of civil war. A nobleman named Conner decides the only way to stave off war is to recruit four orphans to train as royalty and then pick one to pose as the youngest prince and restore order in the kingdom. Sage is one of the orphans chosen to train, and he’s delightfully snarky, stubborn, and rebellious. This fast-paced story is perfect for kids not yet ready for The Hunger Games. After this installment, check out the next in the series, The Runaway King.

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Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation

12. Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation

12-year-old Charlotte Thorne is a supergenius who goes by Charlie, and she’s been recruited by the CIA to solve a powerful equation developed by Einstein. The equation is the key to solving the world’s energy crisis, but evil world leaders and criminals want to use it instead to create a horrible weapon. It’s a race to see who can solve the equation first, and Charlie traverses the globe in her quest to unlock the world-changing secrets. This thriller will definitely get your adrenaline pumping! Be sure to check out the sequel next, Charlie Thorne and the Lost City.

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Bonus Tip: How to Make Your Child Love Reading Even MORE

When my oldest was starting to read children’s chapter books independently, I stumbled on a simple trick that works like magic for making your child love books and reading. I discovered it just because I’m a book nerd and can never get enough books, but later I did some research on the brain science behind why it works so well. (See if you can guess the trick from these quotes!)

“If we’re surprised with something positive, we’ll feel more intense feelings of happiness or joy than we normally would.” – The Takeaway from Public Radio International

And: “Research shows that surprise intensifies our emotions by about 400 percent.” – Splinter

And here’s one more little clue: Research shows that for every book you add to your home library, you boost your child’s academic performance. Every single book!

So did you guess the best trick for feeding that flame of reading joy? Spread chapter books all around your home as unexpected surprises for your child.

This works like magic because finding a new book where you weren’t expecting one amplifies the pleasure of reading that book. But also, you never know which book is going to catch your child’s eye. So by placing books all around the house, you increase the chances that a book will grab them when they’re bored.

Here’s How It Works

Every week, I check out a variety of chapter books for kids from the library, then scatter them in every place I can think of:

  • On a library cart we keep filled with books in our living room (it’s this cute cart from Crate Barrel)
  • On my kids’ nightstands
  • In every bathroom
  • In a basket at the breakfast table or dinner table
  • Next to (or sometimes on top of) our family’s iPad
  • In the back seat of the car
  • Next to the bathtub
  • In the basket where we keep the TV remote

You don’t need to announce what you’ve done, and you don’t need to nag your kid to read the books. If they don’t pick any up, that’s fine.

Keep trying. Mix in some graphic novels, comic books, and magazines. Your kid might prefer nonfiction over fiction, or they might even like a book of funny poems like If I Were in Charge of the World and Other Worries.

I’m always excited to see which books my kids end up choosing, and my toddler will sit on the couch and calmly flip through a chapter book (with no pictures) for 10 minutes at a time. And anything that gets my kids to sit still for 10+ minutes, I’m on board with!

Kelly Holmes, author and Certified Parent Educator

I'm a mom of four, a Certified Parent Educator, and the author of Happy You, Happy Family. I believe if you want a loving parent-child relationship that will last into the teenage years and beyond, the time for nurturing that kind of relationship is now. The good news? All you need is 10 minutes a day. Start here »



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