20 Best Children’s Chapter Books of All-Time

My kids are getting older now and have moved on to chapter books. They still really enjoy non-chapter books as well, but we are on our summer reading programs and need some engrossing tales. I have compiled a list of some of our absolute favorites of all time. These titles have been read in my house numerous times.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler: Claudia Kincaid lives a comfortable life in suburbia, but she hates it. She feels that her parents do not appreciate her enough. She wants to run away-to somewhere beautiful and elegant. She chooses the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and invites along her younger brother Jamie. Living in the museum they get wrapped up in a mystery surrounding a statue that was possibly made by Michelangelo. On their quest to find out more about the statue, Claudia meets the extraordinary Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler –the woman who sold the statue to the museum- and discovers more about not just the statue, but about herself as well.

The Secret Garden: Mary Lennox is a rude, self-centered, affectionate little girl. She is all these things because she was unwanted by her parents, and raised mostly by servants that just tried to spoil her to keep her out of the way. When cholera kills her parents and the servants in the manor, she is sent to live with her Uncle on a lonely moor. There she discovers a secret garden, and within it, a young crippled boy who has been confined there for years. Through Mary’s intense characterization we are pulled into a charming children’s chapter book that is at once simple and full of depth.

The Velveteen Rabbit: I have exceptionally fond memories of getting this book read to me as a child. It is a lovely tale, albeit somewhat sad, about a young boy and his Velveteen Rabbit whom he gets when his china dog is replaced. The other more expensive toys scorn the Velveteen Rabbit, fancying themselves to be real while he is not. The Rabbit finds out that a toy can only become real if its owner truly loves it. The boy takes the Velveteen Rabbit with him everywhere, until he becomes deathly ill with scarlet fever. When he is well enough to travel he is sent to the seaside on doctors’ orders until he is all better, and all his toys are to be burned to disinfect the nursery. He is given a new rabbit, and forgets all about his old one that now sits near a bonfire. But even in the most dire of situations, as the Velveteen Rabbit finds out, there are still happy endings to be had.

Where The Red Fern Grows: Billy Colman wants, more than anything, a coonhound pup. When he is lucky enough to get two, he couldn’t be happier. He roams the Ozarks with his dogs, trying to ‘tree’ an elusive raccoon. They quickly become one of the finest hunting teams around, and win the gold cup in the coon-hunt contest. Where there is happiness though, there is also sadness. This book does a wonderful job of balancing these two emotions that come together to make this an unforgettable read.

James and the Giant Peach: James Henry Trotter is a four year old boy who lives a peaceful life with his mother and father in a cozy home. Unfortunately, their idealistic lifestyle does not last terribly long. On a shopping trip to London, Jame’s mother and father are both swallowed by an escaped Rhinoceros. He is then sent to live in a ramshackle house with his wicked aunts-Spiker and Sponge-who abuse him for the next 3 years. When an old man finds James crying, he hands him a sack of green crocodile tongues that James accidentally spills on a tree. Consequently, it is a peach tree, upon which a massive peach grows. Befriending a random group of insects that were also transformed by the tongues, James sets out on the adventure of a life time to rescue his parents.

Island of the Blue Dolphins: Karana is young when the Aleuts attack her village and tribe, killing her father and many others. When the new chief of the tribe heads out for a new land, he sends a ship back for his people. When it is about to set sail and Karana’s brother is still not on the ship, she jumps off and swims to the island. When her brother is killed, Karana is left to survive on her own-which she did, for 18 years. The book is based off of a true story that took place in the 1800s.

The Bad Beginning: The first book in Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events is truly a terrible beginning. The three Baudelaire orphans, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, are sent to live with their wicked uncle (Count Olaf) after their parents are killed in a fire. Things only go from bad to worse then, with Olaf after the family fortune, and don’t get better. It’s only thanks to their wit and perseverance that they are able to escape the cunning and evil Olaf-or so they think. (But you MUST read the entire series to your kids!!)

Number The Stars: A rather intense children’s chapter book, Number The Stars takes place in Denmark in 1943, in the third year of the Nazi occupation in Denmark. It is told from the point of view of a 10 year old girl, Annemarie Johansen, as she struggles to deal with the cruelty that is taking place all around her. While she herself is not Jewish, her best friend Ellen is, and Annemaries family does their best to protect her. When they are forced to flee, everyone’s world is turned upside down.

Black Beauty: A totally classic chapter book, it is told from the first person point of view of a stunningly beautiful horse named Black Beauty. His life begins carefree and happy, until he falls and scars his knees. The wealthy people who owned him get rid of him, as he is no longer presentable in their eyes. The rest of the book tells about the many owners that he is passed to, some cruel and some kind. It has a strong emphasis on kindness to both man and beast.

The Wind in the Willows: Mole, who is usually quite a homebody, gets fed up with spring cleaning one day, and travels to the surface to enjoy the nice weather. By the banks of the river he meets Ratty (a water rat) who offers him a ride in his boat. Mole travels around with Rat more and more often, and together they embark upon a series of adventures that involve saving their friend-the obsessive and self-destructive Toad-battling weasels and ferrets, and exploring the Wild Woods to find the elusive Badger.

The BFG: Sophie is a young orphan in the city of London. One night she happens to be awake at midnight-the witching hour-a time known for strange and magical things to happen. And happen they do, when a tall cloaked giant comes striding down the street, silently, and carrying a long trumpet. Sophie watches in awe as he blows his trumpets into peoples bedroom-strangely, the trumpet is also silent. The giant spots Sophie then, and snatches her up to keep her from telling anyone what she saw. Thus begins the story of the BFG-in which Sophie goes from being kidnapped to a foreign land of terrifying and loathsome giants to a national hero.

The Witches: Luke is a young boy living with his Grandmother after the death of his parents. One night, his Grandma tells him how to recognize a witch by listing off their main traits. They have long fingernails, which they hide in gloves, and they’re bald, so they all itch their scalps under their wigs. They also want to destroy all children. While Luke and his Grandmother are vacationing in England (the place with the nastiest witches) Luke stumbles upon a meeting of witches, and must figure out how to deal with them, before it’ too late for children everywhere.

Mary Poppins: One day an east wind blows Mary Poppins, the most unusual nanny ever, onto the doorstep of the Banks house at Number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane. From then on, life for Jane, Michael, and the twins will never be the same. Mary Poppins brings enchantment with her everywhere-sliding UP banisters, and making medicine taste yummy. One things for certain-in all the kids chapter books there have been or ever will be, there will never be a nanny quite like Mary Poppins.

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