Over the holidays I found myself helping a number of customers find books for those voracious younger readers who can be so tricky to keep supplied in books. I have one of those insatiable second graders and even as a children’s book specialist it can be a challenge. These readers want content, and they can handle longer stories, but they’re still young. They’re not ready for the emotional weight or thrilling suspense of many middle grade stories intended for slightly older kids. Plus, every reader has their own quirks—especially at this age—so there’s not exactly a one-size-fits-all solution. My reader rarely peeks out from behind the pages of his latest book, it seems, and has book piles started in every room. That being said, he’s only seven. He’s still turned off by dense type (“looks boring”) or the first two pages don’t hook him quickly enough (“is boring”) or for some reason the book drags in the middle (“got boring”).
Bunnies, Rabbits, Hares, you name it: We still keep it pretty light on truly harrowing adventure. While we dip into slightly darker fantasies when we read together, he gets more scared when he’s reading on his own. Jessica Day George’s magical Tuesdays at the Castle series, for instance, is a perfect fantasy for not-too-terrifying independent reading. And maybe it’s because they’re such gentle classroom pet worthy animals in real life, but from Royal Rabbits of London to Bunnicula to Mr. and Mrs. Bunny: Detectives Extraordinaire to Podkin One-Ear, rabbity middle grades offer humor, adventure, and even a little horror with cuddly, floppy-eared accessibility.
Media matters: How to Train Your Dragon was one of the first full chapter book series he devoured last year on his own. Motivated by his love of the movies, he pushed past his natural resistance to the page count and plowed right through. And while I sort of agree with Cynthia’s recent lament on ShelfTalker about boxed sets sitting around kids’ rooms as dusty relics of series past, when my sister sent him the full boxed set, it immediately moved into pride of place on his bookshelf, where it has gotten so many repeat reads that it’s actually breaking apart. And this introduction to dragons has led him to several diverting forays into dragon lore, notably Zetta Elliott’s delightful Dragons in a Bag.
Short Stories: I’ve written before about our family’s dive into the world of scary stories, but story collections of all kinds have been successful for my second grader. This week he’s finishing Chitra Soundar’s cheeky tales of young Prince Veera’s escapades outwitting adults with his best friend Suku. And Scary Stories for Young Foxes (which isn’t actually short stories, but feels a bit like it) proved that not only cottontails take the edge off a scary situation for a younger reader. Although, has anyone else noticed that every book written about foxes is also heart-wrenchingly sad? I mean, truly wonderful, but sad.
Graphic, Graphic, Graphic (duh): — I mean, we’re talking jumbled piles of Pokémon, Hilo, Amulet, Big Nate, Giants Beware, Rutabaga the Adventure Chef, Zita the Space Girl, Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales, and more. Those books are great on their own, but his insatiable appetite for illustrated stories has also been leading him toward books that might otherwise have seemed daunting, like Flora and Ulysses and How to Be a Supervillain.
Read Together: I know I’m preaching to the choir here, writing this for a readership of a children’s bookselling blog. But as a parent of young children, I’m beginning to realize how many parents stop regularly reading out loud with their kids once those kids can do it themselves. I fully understand the appeal of shortening the bedtime routine, but stories shared are irreplaceable. We’ve recently been reading The Dark Is Rising together at bedtime, and while he doesn’t have the context to fully parse the story’s layers on his own, he’s completely immersed and loves talking through each chapter as we go.
Plus, from a kids’ perspective, one advantage of having someone else read to you is that your hands stay free to cover your eyes or ears if things get suspenseful (or, God forbid, if any character expresses romantic interest of any kind in another).
Then Get More Books! I’m a dedicated children’s bookseller and passionately believe in the value of home libraries. But kids also need freedom to experiment and pick up things they don’t know are good just to see what they’re about. I think a healthy reading habit pairs bookstore visits with library trips to load up. After all, as Hermione says, “When in doubt, go to the library!”
Time to get more sustenance for your book hog.