This post may include affiliate links. That means if you click and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Please see Disclosures for more information.
One of the things I’ve looked forward to most as a parent is sharing books with my kids. While we’ve enjoyed (and still enjoy) so many wonderful picture books, in my mind, this has always meant chapter books.
I was a pretty early reader, and I don’t have too many memories of picture books. My favorite childhood chapter books, however have stayed with me. We’re finally reaching this stage with my older daughter, as her own reading abilities are exploding and we have been reading Harry Potter together, which has been amazing.
I don’t know if my kids will love the same books I did as a kid, and it’s fine if they don’t. But at the very least, I do plan to introduce them to these books–they can decide from there.
- From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
This was a twist on my fascination with survival stories, plus it features a strong, smart, curious girl who is relentless in her pursuit of the answer to a fascinating mystery.
- The Secret Garden
Kids love “forts,” and in my mind, the secret garden was the ultimate fantasy fort.
- Tuck Everlasting
I have always loved this book as a first foray into philosophical questions on life and death.
- The Little House Books
One of my most-loved childhood series; I hope to introduce these soon, and do some related reading of my own!
- Harry Potter
My six-year-old and I are reading the third book now. The books are new to both of us, and I love them for the life lessons inside of a magical world of compelling stories that have made so many children life-long readers.
- Little Women
My girls are cultivating a deep sister bond that is amazing to watch, but they definitely have their conflicts and are very different from one another—just like the sisters in Little Women.
- The Judy Blume Oeuvre
These books shaped my young reading life and taught me so much about families and places that were different from my own. Plus it always just felt like Judy got what it felt like to be a kid.
- Wolf Hollow
I read and loved this middle-grade novel earlier this year and I’m keeping it around for my kids to read, probably when they’re a bit older.
This is the one book on my list that I haven’t read yet, but I’ve seen so many raves about how wonderful it is that I’m adding it to our family’s must-read list.
- Whatever they want
My parents gave me freedom to choose the books I wanted to read. They bought us kids books they thought we might like, but they also let me select the ones I wanted. Even fluff books like The Babysitters Club (love forever) were instructive, and they didn’t even limit my reading when I got my hands on books they maybe didn’t find quite so appropriate (VC Andrews, I’m looking at you). Unless my kids are picking up Nazi propaganda, I want them to experience the joy of discovering excellent books—and to let them define excellence for themselves.
This list is certainly not exhaustive, and really it only covers my own fond book memories, as well as a very few that I’ve read as an adult. In truth, while many of these are classics, my list and my knowledge of great children’s books feels a little outdated. I will love Judy Blume forever, and so many of her books include themes of diversity and empathy, but does she hold up for today’s kids? I like to think so, but I have more work to do in this arena.
In addition, most of the books that stand out from my own childhood are lacking in diversity, especially in the main characters. There are so many new, amazing children’s books that I’m not yet familiar with, and I intend to read and introduce books with more diversity in race, religion, ability, class, and experience, as well as books that teach empathy and kindness.
Do you have recommendations for great kids books featuring diversity, empathy, and kindness?