Children's Books: Top Ten Chapter Books (Ages 7-9)

Unlike picture books for younger readers, a chapter book tells the story more by use of prose than just illustrations. Unlike books for older readers, chapter books usually contain a varied number of pictures but also more words than a standard picture book. The name refers to the fact that the stories are often divided into brief chapters. This offers children opportunity to stop and then continue reading if there's an interruption or their attention span is not long enough to finish the book in one sitting. Chapter books are usually works of fiction but also extend to non-fiction. Page numbers vary but are lengthier than the typical 32-page picture book.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, EL Konigsburg: Claudia lives a typical life in the suburbs, but she despises it. She doesn't feel that her parents truly appreciate her for who she is or could be. She dreams of departing to somewhere breath-taking and elegant. She finally chooses the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and drags along her younger brother, Jamie. Living in the museum they get wrapped up in a mystery surrounding a statue that was conceivably created by Michelangelo. In their quest to discover more about the sculpture, Claudia meets the unbelievable Basil E. Frankweiler -the woman who first gave the statue to the museum. Through this experience, Claudia discovers more about the statue, but, much more important, she learns more about herself.

The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster: One day, a listless young boy named Milo is given a magic tollbooth, through which he decides to drive in his toy car. The tollbooth then transports him to the Kingdom of Wisdom, where he experiences many fantastical adventures, including a quest to rescue two princesses, Princess Rhyme and Princess Reason. The author includes loads of puns, and curious idioms (ie Milo literally jumps to the Island of Conclusions) that add a double layer of entertainment for readers.

Sarah, Plain and Tall, Patricia MacLachlan: A quiet, widowed farmer with two children – Anna and Caleb – advertises for a wife. When Sarah arrives she is homesick for Maine. The children fear that she will not stay, and when she goes off to town alone, young Caleb – whose mother died during childbirth – is fearful that she's gone for good. But she returns with colored pencils to illustrate for them the beauty of Maine, and to explain that, though she misses her home, she would miss them more. The tale gently explores themes of abandonment, loss and love.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl: Charlie lives in the poorer part of town with his mother and both sets of grandparents. Their town is the kind in which you're always caught wondering why it hasn't collapsed already. Willy Wonka's mysterious Chocolate Factory rises high above the village. It appears to have absolutely no personnel running it, yet it is still churning out scads of the most tempting chocolate candy. One day there is an announcement that buried in several chocolate bars there will be a golden ticket. This ticket will allow the fortunate recipient entry into Wonka's factory. Inside the factory one finds the weirdest cast of characters and wacky inventions every witnessed by modern man. This is a top favorite.

Holes, Louis Sachar: Stanley Yelnats great-great grandfather was cursed, so his grandson, Stanley, has the worst luck imaginable. After being accused wrongfully of a crime, he is sent to Camp Green Lake, a correctional facility. At this sick facility, under the watch of a brutal warden, the boys are forced to dig holes in the dirt under the raging sun all day. Eventually the boys catch on to the fact that the warden is searching for something specific. As the plot develops, three different sub-plots intertwine as Stanley tries to figure out what the warden is searching for so desperately and why she wants it so badly.

Maniac Magee, Jerry Spinolli: The parents of Jeffery Magee die in a trolley when a drunk driver collides with them. At only three years of age, Jeffery is trundled off to live with his strict Aunt Dot and Uncle Dan, who it seems are always arguing over something, even over the boy. When Jeffery is old enough, he runs away. Eventually he finds himself about two hundred miles away in a town that is divided based on race and color. It is here that he earns the nickname Maniac and you will soon find out why. His physical feats become legendary and he has not built ugly racial boundaries.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Jeff Kinney: Greg is suddenly introduced to the perils of middle school, where undersized weaklings share the hallways with kids who are taller, nastier, and already shaving. His mom makes him start keeping a diary, and he does it in spite of misgivings.

Greg is a soul in conflict: he wants to do right, but the budding drive for status and girls seem to tempt him unduly. He wants to be a winner in the popularity race (where he thinks he's ranked 52nd or 53rd), but there is always an obstacle that trips him up. Readers cheer Greg on because he is vulnerable and they identify with his struggles, even though he is oblivious to his gaping weaknesses.

Boxcar Children, Gertrude Warner: This book was written decades ago, but they story has stood the test of time. It's amazing how many, now adults, tell how this book made them into avid readers. And they have passed the series on to their own children. The tale is of four children who travel in an empty boxcar without parental supervision, a captivating storyline for children constantly reined in and directed by adults. Somehow the children find ways to survive through happenstance or ingenuity.

Frindle, Andrew Clements: Nick Allen once again gets his teacher upset and she assigns him to do an extra report on how new words are added to the dictionary. Suddenly this triggers the best idea ever for Nick. He coins his own new word "frindle." His new word annoys his teacher mightily. The war of words escalates – resulting in after-school detention, a home visit from the principal, national publicity, even money-making for local entrepreneurs, and, finally, the addition of frindle in the dictionary. Amazing!

Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Paterson: Jess Aarons dreams of being the fastest runner in fifth grade. He practices all summer running out in the country fields. Then a tomboy named Leslie Burke moves into the farmhouse next door and she can run. After getting over of being beaten by a girl, Jess begins to think Leslie might be okay. The two create a secret kingdom in the woods named Terabithia, where the only way to get into the castle is by swinging out over a gully on an enchanted rope. Here they are king and queen, fighting off imaginary giants and the walking dead, sharing dreams, and planning revenge on nasty kids. Jess and Leslie find solace in the sanctuary of Terabithia until a tragedy strikes and the two are separated forever. An important book about loss.

Matilda by Dahl and Stone Fox by Gardiner also come highly recommended.

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