Best book series for 4th graders — ever
by: Lincoln Peirce - (HarperCollins, 2015) 224 pages.
The hook: Big Nate knows he’s destined for greatness at his middle school. But this 11-year-old usually just manages to get into trouble, like when he nabs the record for most detentions in a single day. But a little bad luck isn’t enough to keep this irrepressible sixth grader down. Based on a comic strip, this eight-book series appeals to kids who like The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. While Big Nate takes a milder approach to the same adolescent themes as the Wimpy Kid series, there’s still plenty of slapstick antics hilariously captured in comic illustrations to keep potty-humor lovers gleefully entertained.
Perfect for: Fans of comic books and relatable mishaps.
The Books of Elsewhere
by: Jacqueline West, illustrated by: Poly Bernatene - (Puffin Books, 2011) 272 pages.
The hook: When her mathematician parents move 11-year-old Olive to a crumbling mansion on Linden Street, they have no idea what the house has in store for her. With the help of an old pair of glasses, Olive is transported to Elsewhere, the world inside the antique paintings hanging on the walls. But along with talking cats and a new ghost friend, Morten, the house brings the threat of dark magic and evil witches that could put Olive and her family in peril. Wonderfully imaginative, this five-book series has all the elements of your favorite ghost story. But there is some scary stuff here, so sensitive, younger readers may want to start this series with caution.
Perfect for: Kids who love supernatural thrills.
by: Mary Norton, illustrated by: Beth and Joe Krush - (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1953) 192 pages.
The hook: Young teen Arietty Clock and her parents are tiny people called borrowers. They live under the floorboards in a house inhabited by giant “human beans,” surviving by sneaking up into the house for scraps of food and other tiny leavings. When Arietty is spotted by a human boy and the two strike up a forbidden friendship, Arietty’s father is horrified. But then the cook starts to notice that food is disappearing, and the Clock family may need the boy’s help to escape being discovered. This imaginative tale and its four sequels have sparked a love of fantasy in countless children since it was first published in 1952.
Want to see the movie? Check out the 1998 live-action version starring John Goodman, or the beautifully animated Japanese version, The Secret World of Arietty, released in 2012.
Perfect for: Kids with big imaginations.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid series
by: Jeff Kinney - (Amulet Books, 2007) 224 pages.
The hook: At his mother’s insistence, an adolescent boy records his life, in all its banal and painful detail — from being forced to wrestle in P.E. to having his house TP’d by high-school bullies. A simple, yet artfully conceived graphic novel. (Skip the movie, it doesn’t stand a fighting chance.)
Perfect for: Older elementary schoolers and tweens who appreciate the dark humor of middle school trauma.
by: Jeanne Birdsall - (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005)
The hook: At the beginning of this sweet but never saccharine series about family, loss, and love, the Penderwick girls — Rosalind, 12, Skye, 11, Jane, 10, and Batty, 4 — are in the car with their father and their dog, Hound, on the way to spend three weeks at a summer cottage by the sea. Much like Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, the four sisters have radically distinct personalities but together form a team. Together the girls experience small, hilarious adventures all set against the heartrending loss of their mother. Never sappy or stupid, the books manage to chart a path to family fun and joy against the backdrop of real life.
Perfect for: Girls who’ve always wondered what it might be like to have a sister — or three.
Find our favorites at your local library: The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street.
by: R.L. Stine - (Scholastic, 2005) 144 pages.
The hook: This series of 62 phenomenally popular horror novels have made R.L. Stine the best-selling children’s author in history. For a reason: Every tale is a spine-chilling thriller, but certainly not for the faint of heart.
Perfect for: Older elementary schoolers who want to be scared out of their wits!
Harry Potter series, books 1-3
by: J.K. Rowling - (A.A. Levine Books, 1998)
The hook: In the first three books of this iconic seven-book series, we meet Harry Potter, who discovers that he is a wizard on his 11th birthday. That day, he happily departs his horrible aunt and uncle’s house in the London suburbs for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. As he settles in to boarding school and the world of magic, Harry learns secrets about his past and hints about his future destiny in the company of his best friends, Ron and Hermione, professors of a variety of magical subjects, school ghosts, and Headmaster Albus Dumbledore. As Harry ages, the books’ themes and language get more complex, making this a great series for kids to grow with. We recommend the first three books (and their corresponding movies) starting in fourth grade — and waiting till sixth grade to tackle books (and movies) four through seven.
Want to see the movie? Check out the first three movies, which, like the books, get progressively scarier and more complex.
Perfect for: Kids who want to believe in magic.
The Hero’s Guide series
by: Christopher Healy, illustrated by: Todd Harris - (Walden Pond Press, 2013) 480 pages.
The hook: Don’t expect brainless princes or weak-willed princesses — gender and fairy-tale stereotypes are turned on their heads in this silly and satirical take on traditional stories. Princes Frederic, Gustav, Liam, and Duncan (you may know them collectively as “Prince Charming”) have banded together to become the real heroes they know they can be as they set off on a series of thrilling adventures. Evil henchman are turned into bacon, princesses turn into freedom fighters, and dragons are always ready to turn a hero into a tasty snack in this adventure trilogy. Some knowledge of classic fairy-tale plots will make for richer reading, but it won’t keep young readers from devouring this series, which appeals to adults looking for a read-aloud pick the whole family can enjoy.
Perfect for: Anyone who likes smart characters who rule.
The Baby-Sitters Club
by: Ann M. Martin - (Scholastic, 1986)
The hook: A close-knit group of middle-school girls from the fictional town of Stoneyville, Connecticut start their own babysitting business. Their trials and tribulations — many ordinary, some more trying (like Stacey’s diabetes) — are made easier thanks to their strong friendships. While some of the books in this mammoth series (78 total, written between 1986 and 2000), feel a little dated, for the most part the portrayal of adolescent girls’ growing pains ring emotionally true.
Perfect for: Girls 10 and up starting to become obsessed with boys and clothes.
by: Cornelia Funke - (Scholastic Paperbacks, 2005)
The hook: This magical epic advances through three books with characters appearing and disappearing from the pages of books. Meggie’s father has a magical power — he can read creatures into the real world. But this power has a price. Soon Meggie finds herself being chased by sinister beings and uncovering how her father’s magic led to the most devastating loss of her life. The instability of the clashing worlds allows author Cornelia Funke to explore the child’s experience of hope and despair, life and death – and in the end, the power of communication itself.
Perfect for avid readers attracted to fantasy, magic and the power of books.
by: Laura Ingalls Wilder - (Harper & Bros., 1953) 352 pages.
The hook: An American classic, this nine-book series has been the first history class for many an American girl (long before the American Girls historical book series was born). The “through-a-white-girl’s-eyes” perspective has its critics; Ingalls Wilder’s depiction of savage Native Americans has some old-school racist chestnuts. But the children’s canon offers nary a replacement for the closely-observed, tedious and at times grueling daily life of a frontier family. In short, it’s one of those series that will teach your child a lot while she gets sucked into the story.
Perfect for: Girls and boys (ages 7 and up) curious about simpler, albeit tougher, times.
by: James Patterson - (Little, Brown and Company, 2005)
The hook: Fourteen-year-old scrappy and sarcastic Max leads a band of flying, gifted, and genetically-altered friends in page-turning adventures. Bred as mostly human and part bird, the teen heroes battle wicked predators called Erasers in their attempt to save the world.
Perfect for: Older kids (6th grade and up) with a taste for high-octane sci-fi.
by: Eleanor Estes, illustrated by: Louis Slobodkin - (Harcourt, 2001) 210 pages.
The hook: Growing up with their dressmaker mother, the Moffat kids (Sylvie, Joey, Janey, and Rufus) have no trouble finding adventure in their small Connecticut town. Set during World War I (and mostly written during World War II), this classic series explores what it was like to grow up in a simpler time, albeit one shadowed by war. Kids may find some of the details of this gentle four-book series old-fashioned, but that’s also part of its charm. Talk of war rations and scarlet fever will feel novel after reading countless stories about dystopian futures or witchcraft and wizards.
Perfect for: Kids who like old-fashioned stories.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians
by: Rick Riordan - (Disney-Hyperion, 2006) 416 pages.
The hook: Percy Jackson thinks his hot temper and dyslexia are just bad luck, but after his math teacher turns into a monster and tries to kill him, he learns his quirky characteristics are really a sign of his true identity. A demigod — meaning he’s half mortal, half Greek god — Percy must use his newfound heritage to save the world from mythological monsters. Middle readers struggling to connect with Greek myths in class will get a kick out of the modern updates to classic heroes and villains and might just be inspired to learn a little more. Readers who can’t get enough should also check out the spin-off series, Heroes of Olympus.
Perfect for: Kids who secretly wish they were superheroes.
by: Beverly Cleary - (William Morrow and Company, 1955)
The hook: Rambunctious Ramona Quimby causes her parents no end of headaches, but in this longtime classic and Newberry Honor Book, Cleary’s series brims with psychological nuance. We follow Ramona and her family as they navigate the challenging world of (slightly retro 1970s) real-life — her father’s unemployment, her sister’s adolescent turmoil, her mother’s lapses in self-confidence, and Ramona’s own struggle to become more than a well-meaning troublemaker.
Perfect for: Elementary-aged girls (and boys) with equal parts mischief and earnestness.
A Series of Unfortunate Events
by: Lemony Snicket - (HarperCollins Publishers, 2009) 188 pages.
The hook: No child has ever endured more bad luck than the three Baudelaire waifs. Over the course of the 13-book series, they endure relentless misfortune at the hands of their vile uncle, the malevolent Count Olaf. At times, it makes for almost unbearable reading, but Snicket’s tangy sense of humor and masterful command of three-dollar words keep you wanting more. Find A Series of Unfortunate Events at your local library.
Want to see the movie? Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events starring Jim Carrey comprises the first three books in the series.
Perfect for: Older kids who appreciate humor in evil adults, miserable orphans, and extravagant vocabularies.
The Wednesday Tales series
by: Jon Berkeley - (Harper Collins, 2007) 464 pages.
Miles Wednesday is an orphan. Little is a tiny girl with silver hair and wings, held captive by the weirdly wicked Circus Oscuro. Colorful characters with big hearts help Miles and Little escape the circus’ clutches and discover the secrets of Miles’ lost family.
Perfect for: Kids who love language and appreciate the quirky.
Wings of Fire series
by: Tui T. Sutherland - (Scholastic, 2012) 336 pages.
Five dragonets are raised in a cave to fulfil a prophecy — to end a long and terrible war. So begins this series about a battle between seven dragon tribes. With lots of action (and some gory fighting), this book has lots of characterful details that make the dragons resonate with readers. What will happen when the dragonets resist their destiny?
Perfect for: Kids who wished Erin Hunter’s Warriors series had been about dragons.