The chapter books below come in all shapes and sizes, so no matter what your son or daughter may be interested in, one of these should grab their attention. All would be good for children nearing the end of Grade 1, or any time in Grade 2. And if mom or dad are reading, kids as young as 4 might find these exciting too.
Akimbo and the Lions
by Alexander McCall Smith
1992 / 66 pages
The author, Alexander McCall Smith, is best known as the author of the The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency but he does children’s books as well.
Akimbo is a boy who has access to all the coolest animals in Africa – his dad is one of the rangers in charge of a wild game reserve, which means that from one book to the next Akimbo is having adventures with snakes and baboons and elephants and crocodiles, oh my!
In Akimbo and the Lions he accompanies his father to trap a lion harassing a small village. But things don’t go as planned – instead they trap a cub and scare the momma away. That means someone needs to take care of this wee little lion, and Akimbo convinces his dad that he is just the boy for the job!
McCall does a wonderful job of balancing the tension in the book. There were moments where my 5 and 7-year-old were covering their mouths (and sometimes their eyes) but these moments didn’t last too long.
This is just a good old-fashioned adventure, perfect for their age group. It is short – a book that can be read in two or three sessions – exciting, sometimes sweet, with gentle humor along the way too. We look forward to tackling others in this series.
by Eleanor H. Porter & Kathleen Olmstead
150 pages / 2007
I’m not one for abridged classics – why not just read the original?
However, there is an exception to every rule. I recently realized that my little ones could benefit from learning about Pollyanna’s “glad game” – like her they need to learn how to look for the positive side of things. But they just weren’t old enough yet to sit through the original. Fortunately Sterling Books’ “Classic Starts” has a very good abridgment.
Half as long as the original, it is the perfect size for my girls’ ages, three through seven.
Pollyanna is a poor but lively orphan girl who goes to live with her rich, strait-laced aunt. Hilarity ensues as this somber lady is gradually won over by her cheerful niece. There is one shocking/sad moment that could cause young listeners some distress – Pollyanna gets hurt quite badly. I peaked ahead and made sure that the chapter with the accident was the first one I read that night, and then I kept on reading the next couple chapters so we could finish on a happier note. That helped my audience work through this tense section.
Andi’s Pony Trouble
by Susan K. Marlow
61 pages / 2010
Andi is 5 going on 6, with dreams of owning her very own horse. Andi lives on a farm in the West in the 1870s, and already has a pony, named Coco. But Coco can only trot, and that not fast enough for Andi’s liking. So she wants a horse for her birthday.
But as little Andi tries to prove she’s big enough for a horse, everything goes wrong. Author Susan Marlow, does a good job of interjecting comedy throughout – at one point Andi ends up with eggs on her head, which had our girls giggling. There are 11 pictures throughout, which helps make it an accessible book for younger children too.
The author is Christian, and it shows –Andi also gets into some minor naughtiness, but afterwards asks her mom, and her pony Coco, for forgiveness.
The only downside is that while Andi knows she shouldn’t say disrespectful things, she still thinks them. Quite a lot. That’s okay in small doses, but it pops up more in other Andi books. I would give Andi’s Pony Trouble two thumbs up, but this internal backtalk is the reason why we’re not going to buy the rest of this series. Though we probably will get them from the library.
The Adventures of Lancelot the Great
by Gerald Morris
92 pages / 2008
This has all the adventure you’d expect from a Arthurian tale, but way more humor. And maybe the best way to review it is to share one of those jokes.
Sir Lancelot wants to be one of King Arthur’s knights because “They have the bravest hearts, the noblest souls and the shiniest armor in all the world.” Lancelot is a little obsessed with his appearance but on his journey to Camelot, (to introduce himself to the King) he gets caught in a rainstorm, and his armor ends up getting “splashed all over with dirty spots.” When at last the rain stopped, Sir Lancelot turns his attention to his spattered appearance. Moving his lance to his left arm, he draws a towel from his saddlebags and begins scrubbing at his armored legs. Soon he is absorbed in the task, paying no attention to where his horse is taking him. When he does finally look up, Lancelot sees a knight bearing down on him. Thinking it one of those roving evil knights and “having no time to shift his lance to his right arm…he met the knight’s charge left-handed, popping his attacker very neatly from his saddle.” Almost without pause, another knight attacks him, and then another and another, which gets Lancelot quite annoyed, as this near constant assault really interferes with his cleaning efforts. But he quickly dispatches them one after another. This happens 16 times in all, and after the 16th knight was dispatched, Lancelot hears clapping.
It turns out he had wandered into a tournament unawares, and won it quite unintentionally, while using his lance left-handed. Then when he finds out the King himself is the host of the tournament and wants the noble knight to join the Round Table, Lancelot is distraught. Why?
“Look at me! I’m all covered with mud! And I did want to make a favorable first impression!”
The rest of the book is more of the same – my girls were laughing out loud, and I was having a great time too.
The only caution would be that other books in this series have some magic and supernatural elements that might be of concern to some parents. But this book is just good silly, feudal fun. This could be enjoyed by kids all the way through Grade 5 and 6.
The big goose and the little white duck
by Meindert DeJong
169 pages / 1938
It begins with a big boy buying his mother a big goose for her birthday present – she’s always wanted one for a pet. But there is just one problem: to buy the goose he had to borrow money from his gruff grandfather.
Now the grumpy old man was more than happy to loan the money but only because he misunderstood what the big boy intended. He thought the boy was buying it for his birthday – for his eighty-eighth birthday just a few months away. He thought the big boy was buying it so that grampa could, for the first time in his long life, have a taste of roast goose.
So the fun in the story is seeing how this can all conclude with a happy ending!
It was a great read-out-loud book to share with my young daughters. The big goose is an excitable character, and the grandfather likes to bellow, which means that I got to get loud too.
DeJong won both the Hans Christian Anderson and Newbery awards for children’s literature, so the man could write. If mom or dad are reading it, this is good for ages 4 and up.
Jon Dykstra and his siblings blog on books at ReallyGoodReads.com.