Best Old Fashioned Chapter Books for Kids
This list is for my new Mom Friend, Liz, that lives in my town but we met through a mutual friend from business school on the other side of the country who figured out that we are neighbors and should meet. And lo and behold, we did meet at our magic coffee shop, L’Aroma Cafe, a vortex that seems to bring in all people we mutually know. Not only did we discover the myriad of mutual friends, but some walked in the door that very day so it was a fun time. She asked for a list of old fashioned books for her daughter, a fourth grader. I was thrilled that someone actually reads my esoteric lists!
I do love those old fashioned chapter books; you know, the ones where no one fights with their families at all EVER. Siblings get along beautifully, parents never get divorced, and there’s always a happy ending. In fact, there is so little conflict, there isn’t much plot. It’s more like a series of short vignettes of what life was like back then. Was life that simple and conflict free back then? I doubt it, but I do love reading about “back in the day” with my kids.
Anther new friend from KidLitCon 2010, Here in the Bonny Glen, is an author and mom of 6 kids who also home schools — yes, she is a rockstar. She says home schoolers love the old fashioned books about a bygone era. She herself writes the Laura Ingalls Wilder popular prequal series, The Martha Years about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s grandmother.
She is obsessed with the Betsy Tacy series — in fact, she blogged about it so much that the publisher asked her to write the forward when they went back into print. I left a tad early from KidLitCon to catch my early flight. She stayed an extra day to check out Deep Valley, home of Betsy Tacy and author Margaret Hart Lovelace’s house.
I was impressed that one blogger revive a beloved but out-of-print chapter book series so I recruited her for my pet project which is get the All-of-a-Kind Family series back into print. Right now, only the first book is available so there are 5 others that are exorbitant on Amazon and available only through the library (by reserving!). Here’s hoping. We all have our mission in life, right?!
p.s. If you like this post, you might like Top 10: Best Old Fashioned Children’s Books, Top 10: Classic Children’s Books Not Beloved Now, Top 10: Classic Picture Books (from Little One Books).
Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater
Thankfully, the book is nothing like the movie. I just finished this book with my middle daughter and she loved it. Her older sister also loved it and it made a great read aloud book at school (3rd grade?).
Cricket in Times Square by George Selden
My middle daughter also loved this chapter book immensely. It became the book that all other books were measured against. We tried the other books in the series (yes, it is a series!) but theywere not nearly as good. I think the reason why is that the news stand family isn’t featured in the other books like Cricket in Times Square. Our advice, ignore the other books in the series and treat as a standalone book.
The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright [chapter book, ages 9-12] My oldest daughter and I both loved The Saturdays, which is part of a quartet of old fashioned books. The most charming praise for Elizabeth Enright was from The New York Times and really nailed the appeal of this series, “Elizabeth Enright has a quick eye for the unexpected, the amusing, and the beautiful in what might just be ordinary experiences.” It’s a story about another old fashioned family with a father who is a professor with four children and a deceased mother (reminds you of: The Penderwicks!!!). Exception to similarity to The Penderwicks: They live in New York City, the children are not all girls (The Melendy children are two boys and two girls who get along exceptionally well AND do chores around the house without complaining) — is this a fantasy book? No? Just for parents, I suppose). Bored on a rainy Saturday, the kids come up with a plan to pool their allowances to allow one sibling at a time an exceptional Saturday experience. Their series of adventures comes full circle in the end and each adventure is a marvelous short story in and of itself. I read this as a child and liked it, and my 11-year-old daughter also enjoyed it. It would make a nice summer read, especially for bored children!
The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner I just found an old copy of The Boxcar Children that I bought at a yard sale. I never realized that it went to a mystery chapter book series … I think that was after my time but I just re-read it and loved it all over again and my oldest had read it as well and really liked it. [chapter book, ages 8-12]
Thank you to jengod for these book recommendations. I actually remember Mama’s Bank Account — she had a fictitious bank account she told the kids about so that they wouldn’t worry about becoming homeless and when the kids were grown and found up, they set up a real bank account for her. I remember they would count out their money each week and figure out their expenses (someone needed their shoes re-shod so they all held their breath in case they would run short of money). I do love that book so much but wasn’t able to recall the title. Thank you for bringing back this memory!!!
Mama’s Bank Account by Kathryn Forbes
Belles on Their Toes by Frank Gilbreth Jr.
Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression by Mildred Armstrong Kalish
Caddie Woodlawn (and others) by Carol Ryrie Brink I have only read Caddie Woodlawn and now that I’ve discovered that she has written many, many more books, I find that many are out of print. There is sequel to Caddie Woodlawn called Magical Melons. If we all ask nicely, maybe the publisher will bring it back!
10. All-of-a-Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor A really wonderful series depicting a Jewish family living in the lower east side of New York at the turn of the century. Both my girls loved this series. It reads like a series of short stories within each book so it’s great for newly independent readers to reach with help. The American Girl doll, Rebecca, is based on this series. [chapter books, ages 7-11]
9. The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sydney I loved this book when I grew up and it’s similar to the All-of-a-Kind Family though slightly more advanced to read. [chapter book, ages 8-11]
8. Betsy-Tacy series by Margaret Hart Lovelace I remember this series from my childhood. The early books about three young friends — Betsy, Tacy, and Tib — are perfect for newly independent readers but the books when the girls are in high school are more suited for an older audience. I think this jump in age appropriateness is one the key reasons why this great series isn’t translating for a new audience. I’d recommend starting out with the books when the girls are younger and then waiting for the high school years to see if your child is still interested. Chances are they will not be. YA(Young Adult) will be calling to them and this is definitely not YA.. Hence, I think the younger books translate a little better. [chapter books, ages 6-9 and then 11-15]
7. The Cobble Street Cousins series by Cynthia Rylant I discovered this series from my neighbor for my oldest just as she started to read independently in 1st grade. There are pictures on every page which makes it perfect for new readers just starting out on real chapter books. Both my girls loved this series as well as their book clubs. [chapter book, ages 6-9]
6. One Morning In Maine by Robert McCloskey My kids think this book is boring but I love, love, love it. Maybe it is because we actually live in the Northeast whereas I grew up in California so clam digging seemed exotic to me?! This is an advanced picture book. I wish I could live this morning in Maine; it sounds like an idyllic day for a child! [picture book, ages 6-9]
5. Cheaper by the Dozen series by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. I hope that the movie with Steve Martin doesn’t turn you off of this book. The movie is nothing like the book, I assure you. This is one book that I have vivid memories of from childhood. It’s a biography of a real family but told in interesting little stories that are still fascinating. Interesting note: none of the 12 children had more than 2 kids themselves! [chapter book, ages 9-12]
4. The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall This is one of my favorite authors and I just discovered as I pulled up these images that the newest book is now available as a pre-order. I will now pre-order it for myself and my girls! The books are that good! [chapter book, ages 9-12]
3. Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder & The Martha Years by Melissa Wiley I loved the Little House series as a child but my girls think that they are boring. I just found out about The Martha Years but I wish they were around when I was a kid. This is still a great series for the patient reader! [chapter books, ages 9-12]
2. Homer Price and Centerburg Tales: More Tales of Homer Price by Robert McCloskey This is small town hi jinks at its best but told in the sweetest way. These books are like an animated Norman Rockwell painting come to life as a children’s chapter book. Sadly, I don’t think my kids tried either of them yet. I need to change that! [chapter book, ages 9-12]
1. The Great Brain series by John D. Fitzgerald The Great Brain is the middle brother with a smart mind and a money loving heart AND the family is Catholic but living in Salt Lake City during the late 1880’s. I loved this series as a kid and it’s still funny now. The font is a little small, or the books would be appropriate for younger readers of the reluctant nature. I picked this series as the number 1 because a little conflict makes for a more exciting read. [chapter book, ages 9-12]
To view any book on Amazon, please click on the image of the book.
To see all the books in the series, please see my PragmaticMom store, under Top 10: Best Old Fashioned Families.