Not a Holiday Gift Guide: Books to give in 2014

For a full explanation of this post, read this!

Alysa, give me a book recommendation for _________!

A "six-year-old boy who reads at probably a sixth-grade level but like short, simple books like Magic Tree House." Submitted by Amy.

First, I want to say that regardless of reading level and comprehension abilities, there is something very appealing about the Magic Tree House books. And it is 100% great for a kid to prefer books written for kids his age, even if his reading abilities are above average. Reading is about so much more than your reading level. (I should know. I'm a college grad who reads children's literature, always.)

Second, I want to say "You are in luck, Amy!" My son Benjamin is a strong reader and a six-year-old at this very moment! Let the recommendations begin!

I love Alvin Ho by Lenore Look, and so does anybody I've ever heard back from after I've recommended these books to them. (There are six in the series now.) In book one, Alvin is a first grader who can't utter a word at school, thanks to his performance anxiety disorder. He is hilarious and mischevious. The books are perfectly illustrated by LeUyen Pham, and probably just a touch longer than your average Magic Tree House. As Benjamin says, "Alvin is allergic to everything except explosions and superheroes." (My reviews here and here)

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke came to mind and I asked Benjamin what he liked about the books. "I like that sometimes [the characters] are helpful, sometimes they're fighting, sometimes they are nice." I hadn't really thought about it before but the Zita series really does have particularly deep characters. Emotional complexity. And now I'm proud of my six-year-old for recognizing that and appreciating it in literature. The books follow Zita on her adventures in alien worlds and the grand adventure of trying to get home. There are three books in this series.

"Which is better, Zita or Sidekicks?" I asked Benjamin. 
"Hmm, I don't know . . . "

Benjamin recommends Sidekicks by Dan Santat because it has a good mix of "peaceful times and fighting times." The book follows a superhero in search of a new sidekick and his pets, who want the job.

I was wondering this morning if The Phantom Tollbooth would be a good one to try. . . I haven't given it to Benjamin yet. He read the brand new graphic novel Muddy Max yesterday and said it was good. (Max gets superpowers when covered in mud. How cool is that?) I admit I haven't read it yet, so I can't personally vouch for it. If you wanted a book to read and discuss together, I'll jump at the chance to recommend the picture book The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman (my review here).

Good luck on your search, Amy! Hopefully there is something here that your six-year-old can sink his teeth into!

Alysa, give me a book recommendation for . . .

"My mom, who loves to read and seems to prefer Christian Fiction." Submitted by Amy.

Ok Amy. I will admit that this is not my strong suit. Your mother may have read both of these already, but if she hasn't, they're ones I can recommend wholeheartedly knowing that all the grown-up ladies who love Christian Fiction of my acquaintance loved these:

I still think about Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas with surprising regularity, considering it's been years since my book club read it.

If your mom hasn't read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society yet, I will be shocked. Shocked! But it's great. So, just in case, I will stick it in here. 

Alysa, give me a book recommendation for . . .

A "series appropriate for 8 year olds that read at about 7th or 8th grade levels that have appropriate content (and that we haven't read)." Submitted by Debra:

After hearing that her son rips through books like crazy (and has already read Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, The Kane Chronicles, Gregor and the Overlander, and Alatraz books) I thought, "Either we've got to get this kid a really long book, or a book that he can go back to over and over again.
Because you just can't keep up with that.
On that note I thought of The Skull in the Rock which I mentioned over here, and Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World which I reviewed in this post. Skull has lots of awesome science to wrap your brain around, and photos that you can study and dive into. Shipwreck has more adventure packed into it than many a fantasy novel (and it's all true).

Since he likes fantasy, you might look into the Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi, if he hasn't already found those.

I also thought that it would be great to pull in some of the series my siblings and I read when we were kids, so that all the books would be available for immediate consumption. The Hobbit (and Lord of the Rings) came to mind. Also I think my brother was about 8 when he first read Ender's Game (though subsequent readings added more depth to his understanding.

When I was 8 I loved The Babysitter's Club by Ann M. Martin and all of Madeline L'Engle's books. When I was in 7th or 8th Grade, I loved reading Holes by Louis Sachar.

Good luck on your search, Debra! I've heard good things about Fablehaven, but I wanted to give you some more to look at. Let me know if I can be of more help and/or what you think of these suggestions.

This post is still open! Fill in the blank!

Alysa, give me a book recommendation for _________!


  1. Alysa--these are great! Thanks so much. My son hasn't read any of those yet, so I can't wait to look into them! Also, I totally agree with you about reading being "so much more than your reading level." There's a boy in my son's class who just finished The Hobbit, and I just wanted to cry because he's missed so many good books just because he can read at a higher level.

    Also, I've read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, but I actually think my mom has not, so thanks for reminding me about it (it's been years since I read it). Thanks for taking the time to think up some great recommendations!

    1. You're welcome, Amy! I'm glad I could connect you with some great books! I hope you let me know how they go over. :)


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