Kids Books II [NOT 22/7/22]

Sentences, Paragraphs and Chapters

Metropolitan Museum of Art / Credit,_NYC.jpg
Metropolitan Museum of Art / Credit: /,_NYC.jpg

Chapter Books

A little while back I posted a NOT about picture books. So let’s follow up and talk chapter books.

After kids age out of picture books, but before they hit the heaviness of Young Adult Fiction, there’s a world of chapter books. What’s a memorable one for you, and why?


The distinction between these books and Young Adult Fiction is a bit blurry, of course. I think one difference is that protagonists of simpler chapter books are pretty clearly rooted in a world of more limited relationships before things like romance and jobs really start kicking in. If these things show up, they are viewed from the eyes of kids who don’t really get how they work.

Although heavy handed life lesson books are a subgenre with a long history, I never knew anyone who liked the ones that were supposed to teach you VERY IMPORTANT LESSONS. You know, the ones like Tommy Triumphs Over Tuberculosis, or maybe Daddy Still Loves You: Bobby’s Dad Has Amnesia.

Which is not to say that the good early chapter books were pure abstract fun, but they didn’t cram meaning right down your throat. For instance: From The Mixed Up Files Of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is a nutty book that lightly touches on going a bit obsessive. But in a fun way!

If you don’t know it, E.L. Konigsburg wrote about pre-teen Claudia, who is sick of life in the suburbs and cons her younger brother Jamie into running away with her to secretly live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. One bit of genius of the book is that Claudia is convinced of how completely and absolutely sensible she is, even as she carries out a plan that is absolutely crazy.

Books For Pre-teens

Wolf and Clown rowing a boat
Der Wolf und der Schiffer / Source: (No, no, Mr. Clown! That’s not a man with a bindle, that’s a wolf! And you’re in a German fable!)

So let’s say books that are really focused on younger kids, possibly touching on real life, although not always — animal stories, like A Cricket in Times Square are another staple, and there is young kid sci fi and fantasy too, like How To Train Your Dragon (even better than the movie).

What’s a book that stuck with you, and why? A central character you connected with? Funny jokes? A brilliant setting like Mixed Up Files? Was it something you read over and over, a book that you read to your kid, or something that got you through a long boring trip?

Was there something about the book that only clicked much later for you, such as the realization that hit me that the parents in Mixed Up Files must have completely freaked with worry and probably had the cops buzzing around. Or is there a book that you don’t care for once it came into focus later in life, like the Narnia books for me due to their intense Catholicism and snide attitude toward growing up.

Or maybe there’s a book you just plain didn’t understand the appeal of — something that you read because everyone read it, and but to this day seems like an obligation and accomplishment but somehow nothing more? Tell us about a chapter book you know well.



  1. I started reading really young and I don’t really remember chapter books. Like I know around first/second grade I liked Boxcar Children books, but I ran out of those.

    I also don’t recall there being books really available for preteens when I was that age, unless like you count Babysitter Club and stuff like that. But I didn’t like young kids even when I was a kid so the idea of club based on girls liking babysitting?? No thank you.

    I was reading John Grisham, Anne Rice, and Dean Koontz in fifth grade. Shrug. Always amazed me that I could walk across the street to Target and buy a clearly adult book that would be a rated R movie when I was like 12 but couldn’t buy a rated R movie there.

    • Oh! Preteen books! The American Girls books were preteen books I read. I remember there were the Felicity, Samantha, Kirsten, and Molly. They added Addy right around when I outgrew reading them, but I remember it was a big deal because she was a black girl whose story involved being a slave running away to freedom.

    • I loved the Boxcar children too. I built a lot of forts in the woods around our house growing up pretending that they were old railroad cars because of those books.

      • My son was into the Boxcar Kids early and all I remember was the first one was incredibly grim until the authors realized that would freak out readers and they dropped it.

        Otherwise Cousin Benny was always hungry. Which was probably sublimation of more serious psychological stuff. But kids books, so they just made it about liking french fries.

  2. My daughters were ravenous readers & I took them to the library every week.  My younger one read all the Harry Potter books in the 3rd grade.  We had to take books away from her to get her to go to bed.  It was crazy!  She definitely takes after her mom!

    • I’d never heard of Ruthanna Long until now, but after looking her up she sounds like one of those people involved in kids books like Tibor Gergely or Jerome Beatty Jr. who was talented and prolific but nonetheless had to keep working like a mad person to make a decent living.

    • Neil Gaiman authored a young adult graphic novel series call Books of Magic or something like that.

      Featured a young boy for the main character. Black hair. Glasses. Scar on forehead. Flew around on a broom. Had a pet owl.

      I always thought JK Rowling was a fucking hack who stole a lot of the character from those.

      • It was called Books of Magic, and yes, you’re not the only person who thought that Rowling stole from him.

        I personally disliked Harry Potter. The books all seemed the same to me. After the third I couldn’t be bothered to read any more.

        • I read the first book, and I’ve seen some of the movies.

          Never really was my thing. Most likely because I don’t like kids so a gazillion movies and books about a handful of kids having to save stuff over and over again…. doesn’t really hold my attention.

          • Problem is it’s almost literally the same plot each time. Harry has an awful summer with Muggle relatives. Harry starts school. There’s a suspicious new teacher. Various mysteries and skullduggery. Suspicious new teacher is actually okay. All mysteries solved. Time for summer with horrible relatives. School starts again … I noped out of that after three. And now that Rowling is a billionaire and started showing her true colors, I’m not interested in picking it back up.

  3. I liked Judy Blume novels. Tales of 4th Grade Nothing.  Like the protagonist of that book, I was not a fan of Fudge, the pain in the ass brat of a brother.

    Also read a bunch of novels by Gordon Korman about varying adventures of preteen scoundrels.

    The Great Brain series by JD Fitzgerald.

    Lucky Starr And … Series by Issac Asimov

  4. I read anything and everything I could get my hands on. I loved fairy tales but didn’t read the Tasha Tudor. My school library had the Andrew Lang Colour Fairy Tale books, I read them all more than once. I also really liked Carl Sandburg’s Rootabaga Stories, mythology, and the legends of King Arthur.  Anything about animals, like The Mouse and the Motorcycle. My favorite thing about school was the Scholastic Book Club.

    My family didn’t have a lot of money but we were allowed to get one book each every month. My sisters and I would pore over the order form and agonize over which books to get that we’d all want to read. To get the most bang for our buck. As the youngest, I usually had to pick books that were more advanced, so they’d enjoy them too. But I was precocious anyway and it didn’t matter. I remember one in particular called Spook, about a shy, timid boy who finds a puppy that belonged to a witch and he has to fight to keep him. I loved that book so much.

    • At the time those Scholastic Book Club books seemed like a miracle — an entire book for 5o cents or a buck fifty or whatever… How could that be?

      Now, when you think about the cost of photocopying 60 pages and few low quality photos, it doesn’t seem so impressive. I’m sure Scholastic had super low overhead and did just fine shipping out Beverly Cleary books or books about the top 10 NFL quarterbacks. But for a kid, it was amazing that your parents could put a couple of bucks in an envelope and eight weeks later you’d get a couple of books.

      • Funny you should mention Beverly Cleary. I was coming here to mention her.

        My favorite of hers was the Ralph Mouse series (The Mouse on the Motorcycle, Runaway Ralph, and Ralph S. Mouse).

        I also loved The Ghosts Who Went to School by Judith Spearing. And the sequel, The Museum House Ghosts.

        Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, obvs. Alfred Hitchcock presents the Three Investigators, and all those sequels. I presume Hitchcock had nothing to do with them except lending his name, and I actually realized that as a child. Freckled and Fourteen. The Wicked, Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House. Encyclopedia Brown.

        I too got books from Scholastic (they actually have a warehouse here in Central Florida that you can shop at, BTW). Honestly, I read hundreds. My elementary school teachers would buy the paperbacks and create little “lending libraries” in their classroom. I still remember Miss Bedient grilling me because she didn’t believe I could finish a book in an hour (I could). My parents would buy a few for me, but they couldn’t afford much.

        Once I hit junior high, I found science fiction and fantasy. Lord of the Rings. Anything by Heinlein (eye-opening for a kid). Narnia. Moved into Stephen King and horror a bit later.

  5. would it hugely surprise you

    ive never read a kids book… nor been read one that wasnt the bible?

    fairy tales were not a big part of my life

    you know……side from the bible

    • The Bible is a really poor example of fairy tales. Literally every other mythology is WAY more interesting. Greek, Norse, Hindu, Shinto, Buddhism, Mesopotamian tales — everybody tells better stories than the Judeo-Christians.

  6. Hey question for folks who garden!

    Earlier this year I complained about not realizing Baker Creek is sketchy as fuck until after I bought seeds from them.

    You smart people made some recommendations for other seed companies.

    Is this the one folks said is awesome?

    Sorry I forgot to write it down before which company/companies were legit and not white nationalists.

  7. I was a voracious reader from the time I was a little kid.

    The *first* non-picture books i read (SOBBING, because I was sure I couldn’t read them because “There are tooooo many words on the page!” were either the Beatrix Potter books, or Thornton Burgess‘ books.

    I can’t remember exactly whose I read first (as a 1st grader, because mom decided I was plowing through picture books WAY too fast, and we only went to the town with the library once a week or so!😉)… but the meltdown over “too many words!” on the page, was definitely when she tried to get me to chose one book off the Burgess shelf in the “big kids” section of the library’s kids room😆😂🤣

    Of course, once I started to read the words on the first page of that book, I realized I *could* read the chapter books, too, annnnnd then the world was full of books for me to read😉😁💝

    My faves were Cricket in Times Square, Mouse & the Motorcycle, O’Dell’s Island of The Blue Dolphins & Zia, Encyclopedia Brown, which led to the Choose the Your Own Adventure series, that led me to the adored Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators series.

    And as a formerly Catholic kid, I also adored the Narnian Chronicles– particularly The Last Battle, because it helped me to understand that someone’s religion can be totally different than yours, but that you can still have 100% similar values and that *neither* of you are “wrong.” In fact you may have more in common, than you do with people of your “own faith” (Emeth’s story in The Last Battle)…

    It really didn’t help me to stay Catholic, that I discovered the Narnia books in 6th-7th grade… the same era when I was going through Confirmation classes, and being told by our local (woman-loathing!) priest that 1. The things we were previously taught in our religion classes was wrong, that God DIDN’T love everyone & that we were all HORRIBLE sinners, who were basically unworthy of redemption, and 2. That we now “knew enough” to make our OWN decisions about God & The Church–because *we* were now adults in the eyes of God & The Church…

    So I basically threw out the “God HARES YOU & You’re all SINNERS unworthy of redemption!” crap, and decided that “Good People are Good People, God wants us to be good, take care of one another!” was a much better choice.😉

  8. I also loved to read from a young age. To my mother’s dismay, I would rather sit with a book than do anything else all day and night.

    I preferred fantasy or scary books like Catwings by Ursula K. Le Guin, Goosebumps and Fear Street by R. L. Stein and others by Christopher Pike. But I would read anything that I could get my hands on so a lot of Nancy Drew, Babysitter’s Club, Sweet Valley High which were hand me downs from an older girl on my block.

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