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.
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.
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!
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:
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.
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:
12. The Candymakers
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:
3. Harbor Me
8. Front Desk
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:
7. City Spies
11. The False Prince
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!
Before you go, get my FREE cheat sheet: 75 Positive Phrases Every Child Needs to Hear
What are your favorite chapter books for kids? Share in a comment below!