Do your girls need some fresh reads? How about a list of wholesome chapter books to get them started?
“I just don’t have time to pre-read all their library books. How can I keep good books available for my growing bookworms?”
Nothing gets me excited like brainstorming a list of quality literature. As a busy mom, I easily identify with the mothers who don’t have hours and hours to pre-read their children’s library picks. And as a voracious reader, I love sharing about quality titles that have sparked my imagination, drawn me in, and made me feel right along with the characters.
Some of the following titles have been favorites since I was a young girl, others have just recently joined my lists of recommendations. But all of them are ones I’m excited to share, in hopes that they’ll provide a few hours of delight and inspiration, expanding their horizons and perspectives. (And perhaps the busy moms can also sneak in a few chapters here and there, because these are truly enjoyable reads!)
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Chapter Books for Younger Girls
(These could even be enjoyed as read-alouds to your youngest children.)
Laura’s Album compiled by William Anderson
This charming biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder pairs a succinct summary of her life with photos and other memorabilia. Browsing the photos of various family members brings to mind many of Laura’s stories, although the serious faces in the photographs often seem so different from the fun-loving and kind characters we know. While Pa Ingalls looks a bit scary, it is fascinating to remember Laura’s depiction of her adventurous and hardworking pa. Newspaper articles, letters from Ma Ingalls or Laura’s publishers, and drawings from the first printing of the Little House books all add to the unique story told in these pages.
Family Grandstand by Carol Ryrie Brink
Susan, George, and Dumpling live with their professor father and author mother just down the road from the university stadium. Susan babysits the terrible Torrence twins, creatively using storytelling to encourage the boys to stop their terrorizing ways and move on to maturity. The children idealize Tommy, their football hero, and rally around him when his low grades in chemistry threaten his sports career. (Warning: The children decorate their house with ghosts for Halloween. They are not trying to scare anyone, just entering into the Homecoming decoration contest.)
The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill
Teachers came but never stayed long in this tiny Alaskan village. Then Miss Agnes arrived, and “everything was very different from any time we’d come to school before.” This endearing story of a town that is changed through the enthusiasm and dedication of a teacher was inspiring to me as a teacher and is engaging for children too.
In Grandma’s Attic by Arleta Richardson
I must have read this book multiple times because a glance at the chapter titles brings many of the escapades instantly to mind. These stories from Arleta Richardson’s grandmother’s growing up years are marvelous tales, vastly entertaining and yet full of wisdom. Just a few of the stories I have thoroughly enjoyed are the story of Grandma’s ma, who kept covering her dirty apron with a clean one throughout a busy day, as well as the cake that was flavored with liniment instead of vanilla.
Old Town in the Green Groves by Cynthia Rylant
Written to fill in the gap between On the Banks of Plum Creek and By the Shores of Silver Lake, this sweet book reads similarly to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. While the basics of the story are founded in facts, Cynthia Rylant has done a great job filling in the unknown in a way that is believable to those who love Laura. This book made me fetch my copy of Laura’s Album (see review above) to double-check some facts, and I found myself wishing once again that Laura Ingalls Wilder had written a few more books about the other years of her life. (This book does talk about Laura’s brother Charles Ingalls, who dies as a baby, which could be concerning to young children.)
The Boxcar Children #1 by Gertrude Chandler Warner
The adventures of Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny were ones my siblings and friends frequently re-enacted. The Boxcar Children’s life as they hide from an unknown, but apparently grumpy, grandfather are just made to be repeated! Their escape from the baker and his wife and discovery of an abandoned boxcar near an old dump (complete with hardly cracked dishes) are rather providential, as is Henry’s finding work for a kindly doctor. When Violet gets extremely sick, Dr. Moore takes the children in, and creatively connects them with their grandfather, who after all is not a grumpy old man.
Books for Girls
(Recommended for ages 10 and up. Most of these deal with some kind of injury or other tragedy, but in an appropriate way for young readers. I would encourage parental discussion on topics such as foster care, cancer, the death of a loved one, and war when applicable.)
What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge
The adventures of Katy and her five younger siblings run the gamut of school rivalries, boisterous games, and unique friends. Then when Katy is injured in a fall from a swing she learns hard lessons of contentedness and patience during her long convalescence. (This is a slightly slower-paced read, but still excellent.)
Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech
Dallas and Florida have been in foster care their whole life, and nothing ever seems to work out very well for them. When they are sent to stay with Tiller and Sairy Morey, the 13-year-old twins are quite suspicious of the old couple. But the Moreys are wise, kind, and creative and Dallas and Florida learn to love Ruby Holler. Unfortunately, Mr. Trepid, who runs the orphanage where Dallas and Floria lived previously, hears about some hidden money in Ruby Holler. The twins try to thwart Mr. Trepid’s plans to steal the money.
These Are My People by Mildred Howard
Gladys Aylward was one of my earliest heroines, but it wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I discovered this biography. Somehow it was like returning to an old friend, as the stories throughout this book were familiar to me. From Gladys’ trip across war-torn Russia to dragging mules into the courtyard of the Inn of the Eight Happinesses, Gladys is one who never shies from danger. This true missionary story is a sweet testimony to what God can do when others think it is impossible.
My Father’s Words by Patricia MacLachlan
After Fiona and Finn’s father is killed in a car accident, they find healing in unique ways. A patient of their father’s calls Fiona every week to pass on her father’s wisdom. Jenny and Emma, dogs at a nearby shelter, help pull Fiona and Finn out of their shells too. As Finn reads to Emma he watches her begin to take an interest in life again, even as he also opens up more to the world around him. And Fiona’s walks with Jenny are a time for her to grieve and process.
Word After Word After Word by Patricia MacLachlan
An author comes to help a class of 4th graders see how words can change your life. This group of 4th graders have real-life problems: Lucy’s mother has cancer, Russell’s dog died, Evie’s parents have split up, and May’s mother is going to adopt a baby brother. As each child begins to articulate their life events, they are able to process and grow. And even Henry, whose life seems perfect, grows through the writing experience.
The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy
Jancsi and Kate’s life on the farm and interactions with the villagers is a beautiful depiction of life in prewar Hungaria. They love and admire Uncle Moses, who runs the store while gently guiding the whole village, just as his father and grandfather did before him. The children happily participate in the many traditions surrounding a wedding, never guessing that they would be instrumental in a solution for the newly wedded couple’s troubles in the years to come. Then the Great War disrupts their lives, and Father departs to do his duty, leaving Jancsi to run the farm. Before long the family has welcomed six Russian prisoners, and all is running fairly smoothly until the weeks pass without word from Father. (Although a sequel to The Good Master, this book can easily be enjoyed on its own.)
Cherry Ames, Student Nurse by Helen Wells
When Cherry Ames enters nursing school, she not only learns how to give bed baths and encourage the grumpiest of patients but also discovers a mysterious room with an unexplained patient. But despite a tough doctor and an escapade involving stealing the classroom doll “patient,” Cherry does well during her months as a student nurse.
Books for Older Girls
(Recommended for ages 12 or 14 and up. Please be aware that each of these titles references or deal with harder topics. I recommend the brief article “The Danger of Safe Reading” as you contemplate a discussion of a book’s difficult themes with your children.)
Island Treasures: Growing up in Cuba by Alma Flor Ada
This collection paints a beautiful photo of Alma Flor Ada’s childhood, as she recounts the tales she heard of her ancestors and snippets of growing up in a household of adults who deeply loved her. Somehow this book weaves humor throughout but also touches on sadder and more difficult parts of life. I read all of Island Treasures in one sitting because it’s just that kind of book! Alma Flor Ada is the author of many picture books including With Love, Little Red Hen, and Yours Truly, Goldilocks.
(Several stories in this collection could be troubling to young readers: Alma’s uncle was killed in a plane crash and she references being the first on the scene to see him smashed against the instrument board; a hired man loses the use of his arm through a wood-cutting accident; and Alma’s dancing teacher dies from cancer.)
Mimosa by Amy Carmichael
The true story of Mimosa, a lady who chose to follow Christ based solely on a brief encounter with missionary Amy Carmichael. Despite not being able to read and having no interaction with other Christians, Mimosa clung to the Lord throughout incredible hardships.
(There is reference to Hinduism and the terrible things done by those who worship in that way, but no specifics are given.)
The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis
Daily life is hard for Parvana and her family, as they struggled to survive in Afghanistan. But when her father is imprisoned and the family is left without a male leader, Parvana must step up and provide for her mother and siblings. She masquerades as a boy in order to pay the family’s bills, seeing horrific things in this war-torn country. But despite struggles beyond anything I’ve ever experienced, Parvana and her family manage to pull together and hope for a better future.
(Warning: this book does speak of bombs destroying houses, people being killed outside their own homes, and young children digging up graveyards to sell the bones. While providing what seems to be an accurate glimpse into “normal” life for many, this book could be troubling.)
Linnets & Valerians by Elizabeth Goudge
Nan, Robert, Timothy, and Betsy run away from Grandmama’s proper household and end up in their Uncle Ambrose’s care. The mystery of Lady Alicia’s missing family along with the other eclectic people whom they meet in Uncle Ambrose’s village promise that their days will be full of adventure.
(The witch Emma and her cohorts fight against the “good guys” with the use of spells, etc. It’s a fun story, but due to the spells used by the witch I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone younger than 14.)
Listen to the Moon by Michael Morpurgo
It’s 1915, Merry’s soldier father is convalescing in an English hospital, and she and her mother cross the Atlantic to join him. Unfortunately, their ship is torpedoed, leaving Merry alone, with no memory and the inability to speak. A fisherman’s family kindly takes Merry (who they’ve dubbed “Lucy”) into their home and care, despite repercussions from fellow islanders who believe Lucy is one of the enemies. Through the long weeks that follow, Alfie and his family do all they can to encourage Lucy to take an interest in life, to try to remember, and to try to speak.
Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley
Helen, in an act of defiance toward her author brother, buys a peddler wagon and proceeds to drive about the countryside selling books. But before the previous owner makes his way to Brooklyn, they share several adventures together, and Helen’s plans for a meandering journey of book sales are suddenly changed.
My Father’s World by Michael Phillips and Judith Pella
Alone in the world, after their mother dies, Corrie and her siblings have made it out west to find their uncle Nick, but creating a home with him is complicated and filled with surprises. Corrie’s quest to discover what growing up actually means is mixed up with the day to day practicalities of life dependent on a gold mine.
Other titles spring to mind as I wrap up this list, begging to be included. Books such as Moo: A Novel by Sharon Creech, Stones in Water by Donna Jo Napoli, and the lighter read Zack and the Turkey Attack! by Phyllis Naylor are others I would recommend to those seeking quality literature for their bookworms.
Originally from Oregon, Jennifer Church relocated to North Carolina with her husband Tyler to serve with Trans World Radio. Previously Jennifer taught missionary kids with Africa Inland Mission in Uganda, Kenya, Mozambique, and Chad. These days Jennifer is loving life as a stay at home wife and mother to Natalie, Seth, and Noah. She enjoys reading, gardening, and sewing when she has a spare moment. Follow Jennifer on Goodreads.
Here at Club31Women, we recognize that not everyone has the same taste or point of view on books, music, or movies, but we offer these short reviews for your consideration. Our hope is that you will find something new and wonderful on this list of recommended resources!
~ Lisa Jacobson, Club31Women