Chapter Books for Kids with Old-Fashioned Flair

I’m frequently asked for children’s chapter book recommendations (and boy do I love giving them!). Parents want both good books to read aloud and chapter books kids can read independently.

Chapter books for kids that have an old fashioned feeling

Last week I shared my favorite picture books to give as gifts but I don’t want to neglect older kids! Giving your child the gift of a chapter book that you intend to read aloud is a wonderful gesture. These are some of my favorite selections with an old-fashioned flair. Whether they were published 50 years ago, or much more recently, I consider them to be classics. (Find more classic titles in the the index of all my book lists.)

All are great choices for read alouds, or independent reading for kids age 7 and up (depending on a child’s reading level, of course). Think of a read aloud book as a family gift! Parents who are just getting started with reading aloud chapter books will benefit from reading Amy of Sunlit Pagesstellar tips on how help young kids love chapter books.  (Note: I chose all these books because I love them. Titles and covers below are affiliate links. Happy reading!)

Modern and Classic Chapter Books for Kids:

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. This is possibly my favorite chapter book ever and I consider it a modern classic. Minli’s family lives in poverty and Minli sets out on a quest to find the Old Man of the Moon and change her family’s destiny. Along the way she is accompanied by the Jade Dragon and her journey is filled with twist and turns of fate. Lin deftly weaves together Minli’s quest, her father’s stories and wonderful illustrations to create a memorable tale.

The Saturdays. This is the first book of Enright’s Melendy Quartet.  Four siblings living in pre-WWII New York City form the Saturday Club. They pool their allowances and each child takes a turn living out their dream adventure on successive Saturdays.

Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon. Personally, I think My Father’s Dragon is the absolute best book to make your first chapter read aloud. Since your child is going to demand to read the sequels, you might as well get all three in one go. It’s also the easiest book on this list for independent readers.

The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles. My fifth grade teacher read this aloud to the class. I can still remember how eager I was for read aloud time every day around that worn out avocado green carpet. Three children set out on a journey through a magical land to find the shy and secretive Whangdoodle. If your child loves books about mythical places like Oz or Wonderland or even Hogwarts, this book will be a welcome gift.

The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread. DiCamillo’s masterful tale weaves four stories about a mouse who falls in love with a princess, a rat who loves soup and a peasant girl who wants to become a princess. Sweet, touching, sophisticated and desperately wonderful, it is also a little bit dark.

Homer Price. Homer is a classic you can’t resist. I’m mentioned him several times on the blog. Both my kids loved listening to this book as I read it to them. There was a lot for me to explain, like traveling salesman, and why horse and buggies, and cars would be on the same road, but the boys ate it all up.

The Enormous Egg. Both kids loved this book from the 1950s in which a chicken’s egg hatches to reveal a baby triceratops. Nate Twitchell names his new pet Uncle Beazley. Caring for Uncle Beazley is not without it’s ups and down. The dino can’t help but get into trouble until one day its time to take him to the National Museum in Washington, D.C. If you have a child who you think is ready to listen to chapter book and he or she loves dinosaurs, try this charming, funny book on for size.

All-of-a-Kind Family. Sydney Taylor wrote a series of books about a Jewish family living in the Lower East Side of NYC around the turn of the (twentieth) century.  The five girls have tech-free adventures such as going to Coney Island, looking for library books or visiting the market. One of the best things about these books is that life as a Jewish family is an integral part of the book but not the overriding concern.

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy. It’s hard to believe this book was written only a few years ago!  It has all the charm of books like Betsy-Tacy or Anne of Green Gables. The Penderwicks rent a house for summer vacation and have such splendid adventures with the musically talented boy who lives in the “big house” you’d be hard pressed to remember they exist in the same world as cell phones and Wiis.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963 . This book is surprisingly funny, something you might not expect with the phrase “Birmingham — 1963″ in the title. The Watsons live in Michigan but 9 year old Kenny’s brother Byron can’t seem to stay out of trouble so the family goes on a trip to Alabama where the grandmother lives. As you might imagine, the events of Birmingham and racism is present throughout the book but Curtis handles the difficult subject matter intelligently and the family members’ love for each other is the true focus of the story.

Do you have a chapter book that you love to give as a gift to a child? What would you add to the list? We love getting more recommendations!

This post contains affiliate links. Including such links supports the cost of running this blog (at no cost to you) and does not affect which books I choose!

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  1. Erica, this is a great list. I remember reading many of these and my daughter has read them all. Thanks for reminding readers about these great books.

    • Erica MomandKiddo says:

      Thanks, Alex. It’s nice to be reminded of books we’ve read in the past. I sometimes lose track of them all and I bet others do, too.

  2. I love The Penderwicks an there are two sequels. Some of my fifth grade girls are really enjoying it this year.

  3. Great list! My daughter also became a fan of the last of the really great whangdoodles when HER 4th grade teacher read it to them.

    I love the Penderwicks and always think of it as a new old classic.

  4. I like “Hank the Cowdog.” It’s a great series and the author adds a lot of humor to his books. I also like the time-traveling baseball books by Dan Gutman, especially Honus and Me.

  5. My kids love THE YEAR OF THE DOG (also by Grace Lin). Another favorite of mine is THE COTTAGE AT BANTRY BAY series by Hilda Van Stockum.

    • Erica MomandKiddo says:

      The Year of the Dog is a great choice. I’m not familiar with Van Stockum’s book. Thanks of the suggestion.

  6. Erica, you put up such wonderful lists :) I’ve read about half of these and loved them. About 1 1/2 years ago, I got to meet Grace Lin and her editor (and longtime friend) Alvina Ling at one of our NJ SCBWI conferences when I facilitated one of their workshops and they’re both so nice :) Really enjoyed WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON. And, of course, THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX. I also had the privilege of talking to Kate DiCamillo for a few minutes (same conference) while I had her sign my handful of books before she took on “the masses” for signings. Another really nice, down-to-earth person :) She is still in awe and grateful for her success, having thought she’d NEVER get published! Even the BEST get rejected so many times, they feel that way!

  7. soooooooooo many favorites here!! i haven’t read Last of the great whangdoodles yet and my friend says it’s her favorite book of all time, so we have really got to get on that!

  8. I’ve only read a couple of these, but I adore this genre. Thrilled to have more suggestions of books to try!

  9. We just finished Homer Price last night! And I’ve been thinking of rereading The Saturdays myself (I loved it when I was little), but now I’m thinking maybe I should read it aloud instead. Love this list!

    • Erica MomandKiddo says:

      When we read The Saturdays I found myself explaining a lot of stuff about how people used to live, but he really loved it because it’s set in NYC and they knew all of the places that were mentioned.

  10. Great list. The Watsons, Despereux, and Whangadoodles were all ones I read aloud to many of my classes of fourth/fifth/sixth graders over the years. Some other much loved read alouds from my students were The Thief Lord by Corneila Funke, Among the Hidden, and The City of Ember. One of my former students saw me with my kids in his neighborhood. He came running to see me. He’s now a Junior in college but was still talking about how much he loved City of Ember and how it was one of his favorite memories from sixth grade. Wow, the power of a good story.

    • Erica MomandKiddo says:

      It’s so nice to hear that a teacher approves of my choices because I know from experience that the books our teachers read to us stay with us. Another one my 5th grade teacher read that became a life long favorite was Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game.

      • Oh, loved THE WESTING GAME! Read it this past year and was amazed by the writing and how she accomplished getting inside all the characters’ heads so seamlessly, and mapping out the clues so well!

    • As a little note of trivia: THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM was the book Kate DiCamillo read (while working in a book warehouse) that made her think THAT’s what she wanted to do—WRITE! How wonderful, right? :D

  11. Great list! We are in the middle of reading the Enright’s Melendy Quartet. I loved Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls, my 5th grade teacher read Where the Red Fern Grows and I loved it so much I had to find and read anything else by Wilson Rawls.

    • Erica MomandKiddo says:

      There’s something about 5th grade teachers and read alouds, I think! Those are the books I remember from school, too.

  12. Love, love LOVE your list!!!

  13. The Mysterious Benedict Society!!

  14. How interesting. There are a couple of books that I haven’t heard about, and the rest we read already :) As always, great list!

  15. Teacherbees says:

    I read my fathers dragon to my kindergarten every year. They love it. We make a list of what is in the backpack and then the have to predict what will be used with each animal. Love this as a first chapter book.

  16. I enjoy My Father’s dragon with my second graders every year. I remember my library teacher reading it to my class long ago.

    I loved All of a Kind Family and The Saturdays myself.

    My second graders also enjoy Jack Plank Tells Tales; a story of a young man who had to leave pirating because he just can bring himself to pillage. The book is about his attempts to find an alternate career. Quite funny and with a nice message. Another popular one is The Chocolate Touch.
    My daughter and I both loved The Five Children and It, and the two others in the trilogy.
    My son enjoyed Poppy, by Avi.

    • Erica MomandKiddo says:

      My chocoholic son loved The Chocolate Touch and also we’ve been reading the Poppy series. We still have one more left. I should have included that one one this list, although I had it on our summer reading list, but I agree, Avi’s book is really wonderful. Thanks for your recommendations, I shall take a look at Jack Plank, it’s on my to read list!

  17. Love the Melendy quartet AND All of a Kind Family series. Other great ones are the Henry Reed books and Katie John books.

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