A friend recently emailed me and asked for book recommendations for her nine-year-old daughter who’s reading at a 6th grade level.
Most books written for kids her age are too easy—and sometimes even boring—for her, or she reads them so fast, she needs ten or 12 a day to stay in reading material. But the books written at her grade level assume a middle-school audience, and she’s not emotionally or developmentally there yet, so the content is often over her head or even inappropriate.
Stephanie isn’t the first friend who’s had this issue. I’ve written this list or one like it more times than I can count. This time, I’m wising up and turning it into a blog post.
Here then is my list of good books for 7-9-year-olds who read far above their grade level.
The Cobble Street Cousins by Cynthia Rylant
The six books in this series are best read in order. I honestly don’t know why these books work so well: there’s almost no conflict, and nothing really happens. And yet—Jane and I have read them together twice, and I will even enjoy a third reading.
Betsy-Tacy; Betsy, Tacy, and Tib; Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill; Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown by Maud Hart Lovelace.
For 9-year-olds I recommend skipping the first two books in which Betsy and Tacy are five and eight, respectively, and I’d hate for their young age to get in the way of a good read. In the second two books, Betsy and Tacy are 10 and 12, the perfect aspirational age for 9-year-olds.
For a younger girl, I recommend starting with Betsy-Tacy as a read-aloud and then letting her move on to Betsy, Tacy, and Tib on her own.
There are six more books in the series, but they’re about Betsy and Tacy when they’re in high school, and I hesitate to recommend them to girls this young. Parents may want to preview these latter books to decide if they’re appropriate. But I whole-heartedly recommend the first four books for children (and adults!) of all ages.
Catwings by Ursula K. LeGuin
The four books in this delightful series are best read in order. Cats who can fly are unusual even in the world of the books, so the four catwings siblings must remain hidden. LeGuin’s storytelling is masterful; her language, delicious.
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
The title of this Newbery Honor book is lame. The story is wonderful. Set in a fantasy world loosely resembling medieval Scandinavia, this coming-of-age novel is my favorite of Hale’s books.
No Talking by Andrew Clements
Girl vs. boy rivalry abounds in this fun story about a sixth grade class known for its talkativeness. When everyone in class stops talking—at all, to anyone, even their teachers, even their friends, even their parents—mishaps and mayhem result. Really fun.
Holes by Louis Sachar
Another Newbery winner, Holes is a masterpiece of tightly braided storylines, both past and present, woven together to create a seamless whole. As a writer, I am wowed by Sachar’s ability to weave all his plot threads together in a way that is so utterly satisfying. This is a brilliant book and a bloody fun read.
Ballet Shoes, Tennis Shoes, Circus Shoes, etc. by Noel Streatfeild
There are nine books in this “series” about girls, often orphans, who are plucked out of obscurity and discover they have great talent. Cinderella themes abound.
All-of-a-Kind Family (and sequels) by Sydney Taylor
More episodic than novelistic, this series about five sisters in New York City at the turn of the 20th century is delightful.
The Moffats (and sequels) by Eleanor Estes
Another episodic book, The Moffats chronicles the adventures of 8-year-old Jane and her brothers and sister. They get into all kinds of scrapes, and their haunted house adventure had us in stitches. Jack and Jane liked it so well they made me read that chapter out loud to our dinner guests.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hogsdon Burnett
Every child should have the privilege of reading this book many, many times. I think it’s one of my top ten kids’ books ever. And it’s that perfect blend of complex literary language and appropriate content for kids this age.
The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden
A fun read about a musical cricket and his two friends in a New York Subway station. There are sequels, but they’re only for die-hard fans of the first book.
The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
Another of my favorites, this book’s subtitle is “A Summer Tale about Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy.” And if that doesn’t pique your interest, I don’t know what will. Maybe that there’s a dog, too? Or that there is at least one MOPS and at least one MOOPS, and Rosalind is the OAP when the rabbits go missing. (The dog is involved in this mishap.)
There are two good sequels–The Penderwicks on Gardam Street and The Penderwicks at Point Mouette–though the first book is the best. Altogether there are supposed to be five; I’m eagerly awaiting book four.
A Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli
A lovely book set in medieval England about a boy named Robin who becomes crippled and overcomes his disability to save the lives of his people. Okay, that sounds cheesy, but the book isn’t. I promise.
A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
Tree-ear is an orphan who wants to make pottery. He gets himself apprenticed to a master potter and then sets forth on the journey of a lifetime. Set in 12th century Korea, this is a beautiful book about courage, persistence, faithfulness, and friendship. Also a Newbery winner.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
Another Newbery Honor book, this fantasy/folktale set in medieval China boasts evocative prose and beautiful full-color illustrations. Gorgeous.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
The first three books of the Harry Potter series are great for kids this age. Book Four starts to get pretty dark, so I haven’t let Jack read it yet, though I have many friends whose 9-year-olds have read the whole series. My son would not handle it well, so we’re waiting.
I know some people aren’t comfortable letting their kids read any of the Harry Potter books because they involve magic, witchcraft, and wizardry. While I disagree with that conclusion (I would argue that these books capture the battle of good against evil far better than many so-called Christian books), I respect the motivation behind it.
The Landmark Series books (mostly biographies) published in the 50’s and 60’s
We Were There historical novels published around the same time
The good thing is that there are a lot of books in these two series–plenty of print to put before hungry young eyes. The bad thing is that most libraries don’t carry them. I’ve found a number of them at used bookstores, all in hardcover, all for a few dollars a piece, and I’ve snatched them up. Jack loves them. He reads one a week, which is huge for my boy who’d rather be climbing a tree or stringing a bow than reading a book.
This is hardly a complete list, and no child is going to love all of these books. But I hope I’ve included enough options that every child will find at least a few books to love on this list.