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Great post! Totally agree with you. (And I'm with you on The Tale of Despereaux -- and everything else Kate DiCamillo has written!)

kids reading

Personally I have never considered Harry Potter appropriate for small kids. I liked your other suggestions.


So many great book suggestions!

I must totally and emphatically cheer for A Cricket in Times Square. I used to read that aloud to my*self* as a kid - it's lyrical and funny and charming and exciting and so much fun to dramatize. It's one of my favorite books ever ever.


Winnie the Pooh and the AA Milne poems were ones that my Grandma read out loud to me, and I loved them all. The poems are so fun to read out loud.

I had forgotten about No Flying in the House, but I loved that one too. I think the test for being a fairy was "can you kiss your elbow?".

I think I read mostly Enid Blyton books at that age, which are probably too out of date now, but I loved The Magical Faraway tree. I think my parents read that one to me, because the book we had was gigantic.


Amen to that! It's not kept in the NINE+ section for any old reason.

Nearly 4 times a day, I am suggesting a parent to try reading Anne Of Green Gables, Little House On The Prairie and other lovely classics to their children. A 6 year old is not going to be OK with The Goblet of Fire. Likewise a 8 year old is NOT going to be ok with Meg Rosof's books!

I love Kate DiCamillo, have you read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulan by her? She does so well in my store, I literally hand her books to nearly every customer, she has such a vibrant way of telling a story.

Mrs Pepperpot is another one I adore for the younger ones! Heck, I love it NOW!


I agree 100% with everything. :)

It's like people think their kids are missing out on some cultural phenomenon if they don't get them on HP now (now, now, now!). I also feel that sometimes parents are very good at saying "No, wait until you're a little older" because they themselves aren't willing to read the book first.

In addition to your suggestions, I try and suggest Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle when we can get it in the store. My brothers loved those books when they were in grade school.

Jennifer Wharton

Heh, I can beat all those - I had a patron who explained that she had read the entire Harry Potter series to her INFANT and what should she read to him next? No, she did not want boardbooks. Picturebooks? For my child? Certainly not! Argh!!!

The other side to this problem is the ever ugly head of reading levels. I get lots of kids who are at the perfect age for a certain classic or series, would love to read it...."but her reading level is much higher!" saith the parent. Sorry 3rd grader, no fun stories for you. How about some Thomas Hardy?

Sarah  Heather

Wait...I just finished reading HP to my dog. Are you telling me it's not appropriate for him?


If this were Facebook, we would give you a giant LIKE. This is a wonderfully written piece about something we deal with daily, and your suggestions, of course, are excellent.

Jen Robinson

This is a great post, Melissa. I agree with you 100%. I think it's SO important not to push kids to read, or listen, above their age levels, for all of the reasons that you mentioned. MotherReader and I have talked about this at Booklights until we're blue in the face. What I especially like about this post is your nice list of alternatives. I'd add Clementine. My personal belief is that every six year old should hear or read the Clementine books. Denying them that chance because the parent wants to be able to brag about having read the HP books to their kid ... that's plain wrong.


Definitely Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle! Are the Ruth Chew books still in print? I loved those as a child.


Wow. This really needed to be said. I know of a first-grade teacher who reads the Wimpy Kids series aloud to her class. My first thought was, WHY? when there is so much more out there for this age group. Can first-graders really understand the middle school mentality?
Why do parents want their kids to skip ahead and miss all the fun and wonder in picture books? What is this obsession with being 'ahead'?
My 13 year-old daughter is reading Harry Potter as I write this. (She hasn't seen the movies.) She loves it and she told me she's glad she 'waited' because it is more suited to her now.
Great post! Thanks for the reading list.


I do so agree!

I'd also add the Moomintroll books to your fine list...


Thank you so much for this list! My 5 year old is scared of a lot of things so I would never even consider reading HP to him now! We're just finishing Stuart Little so we're looking for another book to read next. Perfect timing to come across your list!

Melissa (Book Nut)

While I generally agree with your overall point (especially because the books get darker as they go along), I disagree with this one:

If they hear HP aloud at a young age (especially if it ultimately scares them), there is a decent-to-good chance they will not go back and read the books to themselves when old enough to process them in their entirety.

This hasn't been the case with my children. We've read the first three HP books out loud to going on three of our girls, starting around kindergarten and first grade. Both of our two older ones have gone on to finish out the series on their own, and the oldest one multiple times. I do think that with some kids that would be the case, but I don't automatically think it's a decent-to-good chance.

Then again, we didn't *start* them on Harry Potter, but also read Wizard of Oz, Winnie the Pooh, Little House and Narnia... so, maybe, I just nullified my point.


Thank you for this! Every time I get that "my child has read HP/LotR/the entire works of Shakespeare", I want to say, "But did they get it? Did they enjoy it?" I can just imagine the crickets effect.


Thank you so much for this post! I couldn't agree more with your points for waiting as well as your list of alternatives. I would add The Miraculous Adventures of Edward Tulane (DiCamillo) to this list also.


Oh, THANK YOU for this great list! I have searched and searched for alternatives for my boys, and I have not come across many of these. THANK YOU! Most of these are at my library and I can't wait to share them with my children. I noticed many have magic, which my kids love, and is why so many are drawn to HP.

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is a great read as well as the Wizard of Oz also. THANK YOU AGAIN!!! Such a great article and list!

Mary Lynn Longsworth

Another set of books you may want to add to your list of something to read for around the 6th and 7th grade group: The Tripods Trilogy (The White Mountains/The City of Gold and Lead/The Pool of Fire) by John Christopher. With the Earth under the rule of the alien Tripods, a group of 13-year-olds make their way to join up with a band of freedom-fighters struggling to end their despodic reign. Some years later, and probably at the behest of his fans, Christopher would go on to write a prequel aptly titled "When the Tripods Came."

As to the heart of your post, I am one of those fortunate parents whose common sense overcame her eagerness to nearly drown my child in the literate culture I so enjoy. Yet it was not the aforesaid Harry Potter I would have baptised my son in when he was born 2-and-a-half years ago. No, I had in mind to read my newborn Brian Fagan's translation of "The Iliad" when he came into the world. Thankfully, I realized that the only reason I wanted to do that was both to hear my own voice, and thereby have him get used to mine (as if he hadn't already heard me enough in the womb), as well as enjoy the excellent tale myself. In the end, though, I would have been hoarse, and my young gentleman would not have understood a word of it - though he might have been mildly entertained to see his mother hopping about like a loony-bird. I figure I will bide my time, though, and little by little feed him the tales of gods and dinosaurs as he grows, as he likes them, and as is age appropriate. Potter, Percy, Frodo, Dorthy, and the White Witch can wait, too, upon the bookshelf until he is ready and he wants them.

No matter what his age, though, I can't be thankful enough for libraries. Right now, with son being 2 1/2-years-old and into picture books, we browse the shelves, check out books that might be interesting, and I get to learn his current likes and dislikes, as well as sound out his tolerances. Some days he wants shorter, simpler books, like Doreen Cronin Betsy Lewin's "Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type" or Mo Willem's "Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale." Other days, he'll be into more verbose or ecclectic styles like Neil Gaimann's "The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish" or Terry Pratchett's "Where's My Cow." In the end, it helps tremendously, so that we know what books to purchase ourselves for the family shelves, or to recommend to friends and family as gifts for your young sir.

All in all, I do hope that my son develops as much an enjoyment of reading as myself and my husband have, as well as a tolerance for his parents and grandparents. We're not just a bunch of avid readers, but learners as well, with a smattering of writing and art thrown in for good measure (and a computer or three). In short, we are "geeks," and we have the books (and other media) to prove it.


Great advice and an excellent list of books. One I would add, (though it is not fantasy)The Wheel on the School is one of the greatest read alouds ever written. By Meindert Dejong. The audiobook version is also excellent.

a fantasy series that my kids have all loved is The Borrowers by Mary Norton. This is also excellently read on audiobook.


I definitely see your point, but wanted to put in a word for knowing your child. We finished the HP series (audio books read by the ever awesome Jim Dale) when my youngest was 5. She went on to amaze the curators at the HP exhibit that visited Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry with her knowledge, knowing arcane things like Madame Puddyfoot's tea shop. She has almost perfect recall (a skill I'm very envious of) and an emotional maturity much beyond her age (she's now 6.5.) Neither child is of a type who frightens easily.

I have finally come to terms with this, after having mixed feelings about being continuously unable to meet my children's increasing demands for more content, more complex content, and more advanced content. The place I've reached with my children, my family, is that they have a really well-developed sense of what is fantasy and what is reality. They have no trouble differentiating. To me, this is the key skill to look for with your children.

When *they* (not you) are ready. Follow their lead. I was already listening to the books myself. At some point my kids started expressing their displeasure when I would listen ahead or listen without them (I hadn't realized at the time that I was listening *with* them, but treating it incidental as I had done with the radio for years. I shudder to think what kinds of news radio yuk I've put them through, not realizing they were really paying attention!!)

We started talking about what we were hearing (this is also key to me - since we were listening in the car so much, I could pause the playback to address questions or ask them questions, or to break up intense scenes.) We would listen outside the car, in the house, on the patio, while doing housework. They built up a ritual about reading "story" (any story, we've listened to dozens by now), to the point where now, 1.5 years later, my kids almost reflexively say when they get into the car "can we listen to story?" and we do! We've devoured a number of series, short ones in addition to long ones, but honestly their preference is for longer fare. They seem to enjoy the process of being lost in a book, and having someone else do the heavy lifting of reading for me helps me, as I can't read while driving or making dinner.

I do agree with the premise - it shouldn't be a marker for a parent to prove a point, but you should follow your child's lead. We had already been building up to longer works by the time we started HP, and I expect to re-listen to the entire series every 18 months or so. I've had some failures with the audio books we've done--some clearly aren't of interest, are too intense, or go over their heads. But mostly the experiences have been extremely positive.

Meanwhile, my one wish for this list of alternate titles would be to find more non-animal main-character books for younger readers.

I have a personal dislike for animals-as-main-characters stories (probably from being force-fed them as a youngster, because I couldn't possibly be ready for subject x, y, or z. A Wrinkle In Time went on to become one of my favorite books of all time, once I finally pushed my way past my elementary school librarian to be able to read it!) I'd like to see more stories (maybe more need to be written?) without main characters who are pigs, bunnies, dogs, mice, or other rodents. I'm not complaining about Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, but I just wish there were more titles that didn't feature rats as the main character.


a friend of mine linked to this post off FB I'll be likewise sharing it. I am a HUGE Harry Potter geek (the proper term in our household is Potterhead) and have been since years before I became a parent - went to the 5th book release in costume, my eldest just finished kindergarten this week. My eldest went to the 6th book release with us (in costume as Baby Harry, in a Gryffindor sweater I crocheted for him, along with a crochet Golden Snitch toy) and my 2nd went to the 7th book release with me when he was 3 weeks old. The HP movies were the first movies those two went to in a theater (3rd movie at 9 days old with my firstborn, 5th movie at 14 days old with my 2nd - kinda sad that there wasn't a movie this summer, I'm typing this around my 3rd child who will be 3 weeks old tomorrow and is currently sleeping on my chest). Even took my 2nd to a HP conference when he was 5 weeks old. Yeah... THAT kind of nerd.

Mine were exposed to the books in utero - I was listening to the audiobooks (I have all of them unabridged on CD and ripped into MP3s that I keep on my cell phone's memory card and play through the speakerphone whenever I need the stress relief) while nesting at the end of pregnancy. My 2nd would calm down to Jim Dale's voice faster than to the sound of his own father's voice for the first several months of life. My eldest likes watching the movies on DVD (tho he doesn't really sit through them) and both kids yell out spells that they've heard from the movies and audiobooks.

But have I actually READ the books to the kids yet? No. And I don't plan to read them to them or allow them to read them on their own until they're at least 9.75 years old (that'd be 9 and 3/4), maybe 11. They're interested, but they're not ready and I recognize that as their parent. I'm also planning on making sure they GET the outside references to mythology that are made throughout the series - such as Fluffy/Cerebus and that Nicholas Flammel was a real person. Kids in the single-digit-age-range really aren't likely to be able to comprehend a story at that level.

Though the way I "discovered" the Harry Potter series was by watching the "learning challenged" kids I was teaching during summer school when the 4th book came out be obsessed with it to the point they wouldn't leave the room to go to recess - kids with ADHD that wanted to sit and read a dictionary-sized book instead of play outside? I *HAD* to find out what THAT was all about. And they were really getting it - mixed class of kids going in to 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade (was primarily the rising 4th and 5th graders reading the books). I didn't wind up reading them myself for a few months after that, borrowed them from a family friend and read them all straight through when I had the flu... then found fanfiction... and the rest is history.

For kids almost but not quite ready for HP, the Percy Jackson series isn't bad (not at the emotional/psychological/character development depth of HP but decent particularly for those with mythology interests).

Oh, and people telling kids not to read books because they're "below their reading level" annoys me horribly. I was a very advanced reader - late high school/early college reading level by beginning of 7th grade - but I still liked to read "brain candy" books sometimes. I sandwiched reading The Scarlet Letter between reading Baby-Sitters Club books (and yes, I actually did comprehend Scarlet Letter in 7th grade, wasn't exactly a "sheltered" child thanks to parents divorcing when I was a toddler). Let kids read what interests them. For older kids that are resistant readers, Neil Gaiman's Sandman graphic novels might help pull them in.


Melissa, I realize this post is older but I find myself coming back to it again and again. I agree with you wholeheartedly but even more appreciate all the wonderful suggestions you've listed here. I think many of us who love to read don't remember back past 7 or 8 so what we were reading (and falling in love with) are the first books we think of when we have children. If you ever find the time to post more suggestion for the younger set (mine are 3 and 4) I for one will be eagerly reading and buying. I've bought many, many books based on what you've recommended and so far have loved them all.

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