I had some trouble making this list of Charlotte’s Web read alikes. I didn’t want it to just be a list of books with talking animals and animal friendships, (or a duplicate of my top 10 animal novels book list), but it was challenging to find books which fit the bill that weren’t about domesticated animals! So I just gave in. I wanted to make sure that any child who could read Charlotte’s Web would also enjoy these books. There are a few on the upper end of the age limit, but most are good for ages 7 and up. Although for the typical 7 year old, these are best as read alouds.
Note that I do not consider all of these gentle chapter books (<–click there for a list of those). After all, Charlotte’s Web deals with death and the realities of farm life. You will also find a mix of classic and contemporary books, plus one written in verse!
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Saving Winslow by Sharon Creech. Young Louie misses his brother Gus, who is in the army. So nursing a small, sickly donkey he names Winslow helps to fill the gap of loneliness. Winslow also helps him befriend Nora, a charming and quirky girl who lives close by who is dealing with a loss of her own. Delightful and heartwarming and will spark lots of conversation.
Freddy the Detective by Walter R. Brooks is a wonderful and funny classic book from 1932. I wish Freddy the Pig got more attention that he does because my sons loved this book. After reading Sherlock Holmes, Freddy decides to try his hand at barnyard sleuthing. After a bit of success (some of it hilariously accidental), some of the other animals realize that the jail is actually more cushy than the outdoors. While reading it, I couldn’t help but compare it to my kids’ other favorite pig, Nanny Piggins. The humor in Freddy, while charmingly silly is much less over-the-top ridiculous.
The Curious Lobster by Richard W. Hatch. First published in 1937, this title will appeal to fans of books like Charlotte’s Web, Wind in the Willows and the Thornton Burgess animal stories, but anyone who loves gentle quirky humor and animal stories will enjoy it. A lobster’s curiosity about the world prompts him to leave the ocean in search of knowledge and adventure. He risks the perils of dry land and makes friends with Badger and thus his adventure begins. I am so delighted to have discovered this book. It’s the perfect old-fashioned read aloud for and the content is appropriate for any age who is ready to sit down and listen to a chapter book.
A Boy Called Bat (series) by Elana K. Arnold. Third grader, Bixby Alexander Tam, goes by the nickname Bat and exhibits behaviors that might place him on the spectrum. He flaps his hands and avoids eye contact, but the author never labels Bat “autistic.” She simply allows us to see Bat, and all his friends, as unique individuals. Bat’s mom is a veterinarian and one day she brings home baby skunk. Bat wants to take care of it and must prove to his mom that he knows what he is doing. Full of wonderful characters and lots of interesting information about skunks, this is an absolutely delightful story.
Little Dog, Lost by Marion Dane Bauer. I have had more people write to thank me for introducing them to this book than any other title. A novel written in verse may not be high on your read aloud agenda, but I encourage you to try this one. Little Dog, Lost is an utterly charming story. Three plot points: a boy who needs a dog, a dog who needs an owner and a neighbor who needs a friends come together in an extremely satisfying story. For me, the cadence of the free verse made this book easier to read aloud than prose. The story is heartfelt and engaging while still providing kids (and parents!) the opportunity to contemplate and discuss ideas like the importance of community and companionship. I read it aloud to my 6 and 10 year olds and we all throughly enjoyed it.
Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes. My son loved this classic book about a boy who saves up for a puppy (one whole dollar!). Once Ginger Pye is part of the family, he mysteriously disappears and the kids are convinced he’s been stolen. The whole neighborhood gets in on the action to look for him. A classic, heartwarming tale.
Bless this Mouse by Lois Lowry is a lovely short chapter book about a group of mice who live in Saint Bartholemew’s church. Mouse Mistress Hildegarde looks after her community of furry friends, making sure they stay out of sight. When one of the mice is spotted, the mice must come up with a clever plan to thwart the extermination attempt, and all on the eve of the Feast of Saint Francis. My 7 year old and I enjoyed this funny and touching story which has a wonderful, old-fashioned and classic flavor.
Escape from Baxters’ Barn by Rebecca Bond. An eclectic group of farm animals must escape a barn before it is burnt down because the down-on-their-luck farmers want the insurance money. The animals work together to come up with a plan to escape. We especially enjoyed all the personalities of the animals, and for a drama queen like me, the book provides a lot of material for funny voices!
Gooseberry Park by Cynthia Rylant. My son’s teachers read this to the class and my 6 year old loved it so much he wanted me to read it at home. So of course I did! This charming story follows the adventures of a bat with a taste for junk food, a kind dog and a wise hermit crab as they try to save their friend Stumpy the Squirrel and her new babies. We also read the sequel, Gooseberry Park and the Master Plan, and enjoyed it just as much.
Me and Marvin Gardens by April Sarig King. This was such an interesting read. Obe Devlin lives in a house that has sat on his family’s farmland for several generations. But his grandfather lost much of the land and it is now underdevelopment for tract housing. Obe spends his time down at the creek looking for animal tracks and one day he spies a strange new creature that eats plastic. Obe names the animal, Marvin Gardens–Obe’s dad loves Monopoly. Obe tries to keep Marvin a secret but then he discovers Marvin’s scat is toxic to the land. While I was reading this book I kept thinking Marvin must be a figment of Obe’s imagination, but he wasn’t and that makes the book so much better. It would be easy for King’s book to devolve into environmental preachiness but it is not at all didactic and it’s a great read aloud for the whole family.
Masterpiece by Elise Broach. My kids LOVED this book, especially my 6 year old who couldn’t stop talking about the betrayal by one of the characters. Marvin, an artistically talented beetle makes friends with James, a young boy. The two become embroiled in an art heist when Marvin’s drawing is mistaken for James’s work.
Og the Frog (series) by Betty G. Birney. My son has long loved the Humphrey series and was so excited to discover that Birney was now writing a series about Og the Frog, Humphrey’s fellow classroom pet. Og dreams of returning to his native habitat but when the class decides to research whether or not they should keep him or return him to the wild, Og has second thoughts. After all, he’s come to think of the children as his friends. This is a wonderful, gentle and funny read aloud that is suitable as a read aloud for younger kids, too.
The Water Horse by Dick King-Smith. Set in 1930’s Scotland, a girl finds a strange egg on the beach and takes it home. She keeps it in her bathtub, where it hatches into a kelpie, a mythical water horse. The family raises it but when it gets too big they must release it into the loch. The movie version is very different than the book.
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