If you are looking for books for advanced readers — particularly second and third graders that are reading and comprehending well above their grade level —this selection of books has been curated just for you!
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The best books for advanced readers, particularly that challenging group of strong second & third graders!!!
There’s one group of readers that I find the most challenging to pair with excellent books. Who, you ask?
The advanced second graders (kids anywhere from 7-9 years old), those children who are not only strong readers, but also very mature socially and emotionally.
Who are these kids, and why is selecting books for advanced readers so difficult??
Is your child an advanced reader?
Typically, advanced readers are the kids whose reading skills progressed rapidly soon after they learned the fundamentals of reading. These kids often read for fun — and they read voraciously at that.
Advanced readers typically don’t care if a book looks too “big” or too long — they are always up for a challenge.
Advanced readers often do not need to be reminded to read — they do so on their own, all the time, whenever they can get their hands on a book.
It may not sound like it would be so tough to pair these kids with books, then, but it is.
Why is it challenging to choose books for advanced readers?
There’s one simple reason. Despite their reading prowess and high comprehension, these advanced readers are still so young.
And this is where the problem lies: often times, there is a big jump between the easy chapter books most kids their age are reading and middle grade novels for tweens.
So what to do? We have to find this group of readers books that are both challenging and age appropriate.
Books for advanced readers must be both challenging and age appropriate!
Books for advanced readers, particularly in or around second grade, should be challenging enough so that they don’t devour an entire series in two hours, yet have age appropriate content when it comes to things like language, violence, relationships and other sticky topics.
Case in point: some of these advanced readers can literally read just about anything you put in front of them, but we cannot give an eight year old a young adult novel simply because they can read it!
Talk about content overload! These books are way too mature for young elementary school kids.
Thus, it becomes our responsibility — the parents and educators, to steer them in the right direction.
When selecting books for advanced readers, consider these important characteristics
What should you look for when selecting books for advanced readers, particularly 7, 8 and 9 year olds? When selecting stories for my young students that are really strong readers, I consider the following:
books that will introduce new vocabulary;
books that introduce new cultures, peoples, subject matter and ideas;
books in different formats my students may have not previously engaged with, such as novels in verse, graphic novels, nonfiction novels, and poetry compilations;
award winning books, knowing that these stories are of exceptional quality and usually always written from a child’s point of view;
the age of the character in the book. One good rule of thumb is to refrain from handing your child a book with a main character that is more than two or three years older than him. Thus, I rarely will give a book about a child in middle school to a second grader! This is often more important for girls who enjoy realistic fiction, because the older the characters in a contemporary novel, the more complex the emotional relationships are, and they often include plot points you may not be ready to expose your child to, such as crushes, mean girls, body issues, and sass;
the particular child’s sensitivities and fears… which brings me to this:
When picking books for advanced readers, remember YOU know your child best!!
I can’t stress this enough. While the books I’ve selected here are those that are challenging, engaging, and “clean,” please remember that you know your child best. When selecting some of these more “advanced” reads, it is so important to pay attention to the subject matter and think about how your child may relate to that content.
If your child is sensitive to the idea of a child who has no parents, please refrain from giving them a story about an orphan.
If your child frightens easily, a book set during a war or an adventure book with some suspense or “scary” villains may not be the best thing for her to read before bed.
If health related issues give your child extreme anxiety, be thoughtful and steer away from books that have a main or secondary character battling an illness or other health complication.
Make sense? The moral of the story is to always pay attention to your child’s sensitivities and fears. On this note, I highly encourage you to check out the parent reviews and guides on Common Sense Media. I love this site for learning more about books I have not yet read!
And now, without further ado, here are the books we love for advanced readers. We can’t wait to hear your thoughts!
Books for Advanced Readers: Realistic Fiction Novels
Wishtree, by Katherine Applegate: “Trees can’t tell jokes, but they can certainly tell stories…” And so it is with Red, a majestic oak tree that is nearly two hundred and sixteen “rings” old, harboring secrets and stories that have been nearly forgotten by the people in the community in which it lives. Red is a wishtree who watches over the neighborhood, keeping mostly to himself. When a Muslim family moves onto the street, however, Red witnesses firsthand that all neighbors aren’t so welcoming, and even children are forced to undergo hateful messages. It is then that Red realizes his status as a wishtree is more important than ever, and it might be just the time to break with tradition and intervene. For our full review of Wishtree, click here!
Wonder, by R.J. Palacio: “I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse. “ Talk about a book that will pull you in right from the outset. Wonder is the the story of Auggie, a boy with severe facial anomalies. Up until fifth grade, he was schooled at home. But when he gets ready to begin fifth grade at a real school, he wants nothing more than to be treated like an ordinary kid. Will his new classmates be able to get past his jarring facial differences? Wonder is the book that sparked the Choose Kind movement, and it is an extraordinary, poignant story that resonates deeply with both children and adults alike. Funny, tender, and oh-so-honest, this book should be required reading for every kid around the world. Absolutely phenomenal.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick: Hugo is an orphan, a clock maker, and a thief living on his own, out of sight, in a bustling Paris train station. He has lived a sad life, with few treating him compassionately. Yet Hugo’s anonymity — and his most precious secret — are jeopardized when his world collides with a bookish girl and a bitter old man who runs the toy booth in the train station. Short on text and heavy on stunning illustrations, this book captivates, mesmerizes and dazzles both young and old, at once a piece of art and a storytelling masterpiece.
Love that Dog, by Sharon Creech: Jack does not like poetry. After all, only girls can write it, and whenever he tries to write a poem, his brain feels all empty. But maybe not all hope is lost. With the help of a teacher, a pencil and some yellow paper, Jack may be able to tackle his poetry assignments after all. Written in a series of free verse poems, the more Jack writes, the more he realizes he has a lot to say. There is a lot of emotional depth in here, as Jack comes to recognize the power of poetry and uses it to explore his feelings about school, his late dog, writing, and other topics. A small masterpiece!
The War that Saved my Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley: This will forever be one of my most cherished middle grade novels, and it is a huge favorite among my students! Set in Great Britain during World War II, ten year old Ada has a club foot and an abusive mother who is ashamed of Ada’s disability. Thus, Ada is locked in their small apartment in London. When evacuations begin and children are removed from London and brought to the safety of the English countryside, Ada and her brother runaway to escape their mother’s wrath and join the group of evacuated children. The two are placed in the care of a woman named Susan, and though Susan claims she is “not nice,” Ada and Jamie may just learn what it means to love — and be loved in return. Ada’s story is mesmerizing — a compelling, character driven journey (my favorite!) highlighting one’s will to survive… and eventually thrive. For our full review of The War that Saved my Life, click here!
Books for Advanced Readers: Stories Featuring Animals
The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate: Inspired by a true story, this beautiful, powerful novel is written from the perspective of Ivan, a captive gorilla who spent twenty-seven years behind the glass walls of an enclosure at a shopping center. Ivan grew accustomed to being watched by humans all day every day. Only when a new baby elephant is brought into captivity after being taken from the wild does Ivan recognize he needs a change — and all of the captive animals need a change — for the better.
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo: A young girl named Abilene owns a three-foot tall china rabbit named Edward Tulane who she loves dearly. Edward, however, is only a toy who cannot speak, yet he can certainly think. And he thinks about one person only: himself. One day, Abilene loses her prized Edward when several mean boys on a boat throw him overboard. This is Edward’s story, from the ocean to the streets and among various different owners, each of whom leaves an imprint on Edward and, eventually, teach him how to open his heart and love.
Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White and illustrated by Garth Lewis: This is the tender story of a young girl named Fern who saves and loves a little pig named Wilbur. It is also the story of Wilbur’s affection for his dear friend Charlotte, a spider who lives with Wilbur in the barn. When Charlotte learns of a plan to slaughter Wilbur for bacon and ham for Christmas dinner, Charlotte hatches a plan to save Wilbur’s life. A classic, timeless tale of friendship, this gentle story teaches kids about the universal power of love.
The Cricket in Times Square, by George Selden: Chester Cricket did not intend to leave his meadow in Connecticut. But it just so happened that he followed the tantalizing aroma of liverwurst right into an open picnic basket… and ended up in New York City! Like any good tourist does, Chester enlists the help of two tour guides to show him around the town — Harry Cat and Tucker the mouse. From their home in a Times Square newsstand to the lights and sounds of Broadway, this fun and funny novel proves that famous adage: if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere!
Books for Advanced Readers: Fantasy and Adventure
The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo: This is the story of a young mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread. It is also the story of a vengeful rat, a servant girl with dreams of becoming a princess, and a jailer who lives in the dungeon, tied to a rope so he doesn’t lose his way in the darkness. How these stories weave together is a feat in and of itself, but they do– and it’s gorgeous — and they culminate in a hero’s quest that ends with one very small, but extraordinarily large champion who may just win the heart of the most beautiful girl in the castle. For our full review of The Tale of Despereaux, click here!
The Wild Robot, by Peter Brown: Roz wakes up for the very first time alone on a remote island. She has no idea who she is or how she got there, but she knows one thing: she is a robot, and she is programmed to survive. How, though, when no one in the wild is like her? Roz must learn to adapt to her surroundings, but the only ones she can learn from are the island’s animals… and the animals aren’t so welcoming of the “monster” in their midst. Will an orphaned gosling help Roz save herself?
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl: Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory is opening!! But only five lucky children will be allowed inside. Who will get those golden tickets? And what will happen when the kids get inside the magical, mysterious factory? Will the nice guy finish first, or will the other four be punished for all kinds of misbehavior? This is a tale of morality wrapped up in chocolate, and it has been entertaining kids for decades. Even in a world where imagination reigns supreme and life is filled with chocolate rivers and fizzy lifting drinks, children that are “good” and “bad” get just what they deserve!
Tumble & Blue, by Cassie Beasley: Blue Montgomery and Lily “Tumble” Wilson become fast friends, the yin to each other’s yang. Blue is an eternal pessimist who can’t shake a losing curse, whereas Tumble is a hopeful optimist, pining after her idol, Maximal Star, and trying to be a hero everyday — only to find that she is the one in need of saving. What the friends eventually learn is that their families– and fates – are inextricably intertwined. And as the fable that connects them goes, only a trip through the Okefenokee Swamp to meet a golden alligator named Munch will be able to change their cursed destinies. Will Tumble and Blue be able to find this mysterious alligator at the height of the blood red moon? And even if they do– is there enough magic for both of them to change their fates? For our full review of Tumble & Blue, click here!
Bob, by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead: If your child loves whimsical stories of friendship and belonging, this one will be a winner! Livy goes to visit her grandmother in Australia, and when she arrives she finds something she had forgotten about for the last five years: Bob, a short greenish character dressed in a chicken suit. Bob doesn’t remember who he is or where he came from, but he stayed in the closet and waited for Livy to come back, just like she told him to when she was last at Gran’s house. Livy had promised Bob that she would help him find his way back home, but will she able to make good on her promise so many years later?
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin: In this Chinese folklore inspired fantasy, a young girl named Minli lives in a ramshackle hut in the valley of Fruitless mountain with her parents. Her family is very poor, but her father tells her rich tales of Jade Dragon and the Old Man on the Moon who can answer all of life’s most difficult questions. Eager to help change her family’s circumstances, Minli sets out on a quest to find the Old Man on the Moon so as to determine how she can change her family’s fortune. Along the way, Minli meets many magical creatures, learns some valuable lessons about greed and discovers that the most valuable fortune may be the one you least anticipated.
Books for Advanced Readers: Awesome Series – Realistic Fiction
The Candymakers, by Wendy Mass: Four children are selected to compete in the competition of a lifetime — a candy making contest at the Life is Sweet candy factory! Which one of them will be able to create a candy even better and tastier than the Oozing Crunchorama? This book is told from the perspective of each of the four competitors, all of whom have some pretty hefty weights on their shoulders — and some astonishing motives too! Candy fans will love the details in this book, as well as each of the four characters’ differing stories. Set in a candy factory reminiscent of Willy Wonka’s, The Candymakers charms and delights, and as soon as kids finish this first book, they will be clamoring for the second!
Cilla-Lee Jenkins, Future Author Extraordinaire, by Susan Tan and illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte: Priscilla Lee-Jenkins is half Chinese, half Caucasian, but fully on her way to becoming the next bestselling author. Yet, she’s got a tight deadline because her new baby sister will be arriving any day, and she has to top the best seller list before her family forgets all about her. Cilla thus sets out to write about what she knows best — herself — and this first novel in the series is Cilla’s journal. CIlla writes about what is currently happening in her life, but also harkens back to her days from preschool and kindergarten. Bright, charismatic and heartwarming, once readers finish this first story, they will be eager to get books two and three!
A Boy Called Bat, by Elana K. Arnold and illustrated by Charles Santoso: Bixby Alexander Tam, called Bat for short, is a third grade boy on the autism spectrum whose life is full of surprises. In short? Being Bat is not easy. Sometimes, though, he has really good surprise days, like the day his veterinarian mom brings home a baby skunk which they have to care for before he is turned over to the animal shelter. Bat discovers he loves being a caregiver, and he has only a month to prove to his mom that he and the baby skunk belong together. Will Bat get to keep the skunk for a pet?
The Baby-Sitters Club, by Ann M. Martin: What can I say about these graphic novels, aside from the fact that it was these original books that hooked me on reading as a young girl?! I devoured the stories of these girls beginning in second grade, and I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to babysit. From toddler tantrums to prank phone calls, tomboys to tough girls, this series highlights ingenuity, family, and, most importantly, true friendship. THE BEST!
The Penderwicks, by Jeanne Birdsall: The Penderwicks tells the story of a widower and his four daughters who have a wonderful surprise in store for them this summer — a holiday at Arundel, a beautiful estate in the Berkshires. While in Massachusetts, the girls embark on one adventure after another, from scrounging through treasure filled attics to taming gardens to taming rabbits. But not all is fun and games at Arundel, because Mrs. Tifton, the owner of the estate, does not approve of the Penderwick girls and warns them to stay out of trouble. A modern classic, this charming story will have young readers eager for the next installment in this witty series!!
Sideways Stories from Wayside School, by Louis Sachar: Oh no! A terrible mistake has been made! Wayside School has been built thirty stories high, with one classroom on top of another. The builder says he is sorry, but that doesn’t really help. Why? Because all sorts of shenanigans are in store, especially on the thirteenth floor. If your kids love to read funny stories, these classics will have them laughing out loud!
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, by Karina Yan Glaser: The Vanderbeeker family has lived in a Harlem brownstone on 141st Street forever, so when their reclusive landlord tells them they have just days to move out as their lease will not be renewed, the siblings take matters into their own hands. The five Vanderbeeker kids act quickly, coming up with one crazy antic after another – they will stop at nothing to convince their landlord just how special their family is and why they need to remain in their home. Will they be forced to leave nonetheless? Though set in present day, this wonderful novel has an old fashioned, throwback feel, featuring authentic characters and heartfelt story lines. A gem!
Books for Advanced Readers: Awesome Series – Fantasy and Mystery
The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart: This is one of those series I just cannot keep on the shelf in my school library! After an ad runs in the newspaper calling for “gifted children looking for special opportunities,” two boys and two girls pass the mind-bending tests and succeed. Their mission? A secret challenge that only the most innovative and intelligent children can complete. Yet, they’ll have to go undercover at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened to do so, where, surprisingly, there is only one rule: there are no rules. Will the four kids succeed? This is one to add to your child’s “must read” list!
The Land of Stories, by Chris Colfer: After listening to my school book club rave about this series every session for an entire school year, I went ahead and purchased it for the library. And let me tell you — these books fly off the shelves as quickly as they come in, and boys and girls alike find the series absolutely mesmerizing! What’s it about? Twins Alex and Conner leave their modern world and find themselves in a land of stories, wonder and mystery, where they come face to face with the very classic fairy tale characters they grew up reading about. How to get home again? Let’s just say it will be much more challenging than the twins ever anticipated.
The Magic Misfits, by Neil Patrick Harris: In this four-part series, a group of talented magicians discover the full breadth of their talents. Carter is a runaway street magician who never anticipates finding magic — much less friends — in a New England town. But somehow, Carter finds both, along with a crew of crooks eager to steal anything they can get their hands on. Carter teams up with a group of illusionists, and using a little teamwork and a whole lot of magic, this team sets out to save the town!
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, by Chris Grabenstein: What happens when the world’s most prominent game maker designs the new library in town? Kyle does his best to get invited to the invitation-only opening night, of course. But once he succeeds and actually attends opening night? Well, that’s the tricky part. Because when morning comes the doors are still locked. And getting in to the library wasn’t nearly as challenging as finding the way out! Will Kyle and his new friends be able to solve the puzzles and clues that will lead them to the hidden escape route?
The 13th Story Treehouse, by Andy Griffiths: In this metafictional series, Andy and Terry live together in a treehouse. But it’s not just any old treehouse, of course. Indeed, their treehouse is the coolest one in all of the world, complete with thirteen stories, a bowling alley, a swimming pool, an underground laboratory and a marshmallow machine that shoots marshmallows right into your mouth whenever you’re hungry. Need I say more?
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis: Oh, Narnia! This is one of America’s top 100 most-loved novels, selected by PBS’ The Great American Read. In this story, the second book in the series, four adventurous siblings walk through a wardrobe door and find themselves in Narnia, a frozen land stuck in winter, held captive by the White Witch. Yet, when the Great Lion arrives, a great change — and a great sacrifice — may arrive as well. Utterly captivating, your children will be enthralled from start to finish! This book stands alone, or as part of the series.
How to Train Your Dragon, by Cressida Cowell: This fabulous series tells the adventures (and misadventures!) of a hero named Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the III. Hiccup wants nothing more than to pass the initiation test of his viking clan by catching and training a dragon — but will said dragon tear him from limb to limb, or will he find a way to prevail after plucking a dragon from the nursery? While an unnatural hero, perhaps, HIccup’s pluck, humor and heart will keep your kids racing through each book in this fabulous series!