We Recommend, 2nd Grade Book Group Edition

Yet another in our We Recommend series, where you guys write in asking for what would be the right book for the small reader in your life. Go ahead, try us!

Wow. So, we got an e-mail from someone doing something both brave and noble:

I volunteer in my kids’ school and am leading a book group this
year.  This is the first time the school has had a book group for kids
this age, and my first time leading a book group at all.  There are 6
members of the group, all in second grade.  There is a mixture of girls
and boys and a variety of opinions about what makes a book great.  All the
kids are proficient readers who are able to read a chapter or 2 on their own
during the week and come to group ready to discuss what they read.  The
problem is that we don’t know what to read next.  The girls want
Junie B. Jones, the boys want Diary of A Wimpy Kid, and the teachers want
something that will interest and challenge the kids but that isn’t
something they would normally read in their free time.  They also want my
input, which is where I am hoping you will come in.  We will be finishing
our first book selection, The Boxcar Children, this month.  None of the
kids would have chosen this book because they thought it looked “boring”,
but 3 chapters into it, they were all hooked.  The reading has been easy
for all of them and the discussions were much more in depth than I would have
anticipated, so we could go with something a little more complex next
time.  We are open to non-fiction or maybe historical fiction, but most of
all want the kids to be captivated and excited to participate. 

again: wow. This is a great-sounding project, and it is also something
that sounds like it would make me strangle people. So first of all I am
impressed and amazed that she is trying this. Now we can move on and
think about how to help her.
Junie B. Jones? I think not. I, personally, detest Junie B. Jones, who
is to my mind nothing more than a third-rate wannabe Ramona. The cutesy
faux bad grammar, the (what I read as) falsity of the rambunctious
voice, all of it just grates on me. But that aside, what to do? It's the old
boy/girl conundrum. You can't nix Junie and then just let the boys have their way. Often one of the best ways out of that is with
animals, who don't inspire the same level of gender partisanship. But
what animal? And how to avoid just going to the cutesy stuff?
I brought up the problem to both Diana and Chestnut, and the both
immediately grasped the complexities and challenges. I mentioned Ramona
and Diana said, "Not fair to the boys." Chestnut went rummaging around
and came up with two good options:
Paddle to the Sea
Oggie Cooder.
These were, thought, inspired. Both are excellent and intriguing. Paddle to the Sea is the story of a canoe set on a long, water-way journey by a boy, but it's language might be a bit sophisticated I think. Oggie Cooder, a book we love, is sweet and engaging but I hoped to come up with something new.

But I did think these were good options, and asked Diana her idea:

My Teacher Is an Alien.

Truthfully, I have not read this. It looks…well, it looks like it probably is. Silly and funny and a bit pandering. I thought some more: Maybe Sideways Stories from Wayside School? Maybe Chet Gecko? Anyway, here's what I came up with:


I know, I know: so old-school. So retro. So silly. The story of the magical lady who solves every parenting problem with all sorts of ridiculousness.

It does have, I think, its own sort of magic. And a nice gang of boys and girls. And maybe, maybe it will work? But I'm not entirely convinced. Do any of you have any better ideas for this brave lady?

20 thoughts on “We Recommend, 2nd Grade Book Group Edition

  1. Well, I would recommend the first Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle book, though, not this one, which I didn’t think was as good.
    I thought right away of All About Sam by Lois Lowry. This was greeted with absolute delight by every member of my class, even though none of them had ever read the Anastasia books. The reading level might be a little higher than what they’ve been doing, but maybe not.
    Alvin Ho might be a good choice.
    How about Beezus and Ramona or Ramona the Pest?


  2. We’ve just discovered Edward Eager’s Half-Magic, and are waiting for the sequel to come in at the library. It’s been a huge hit with my 6yo, who wants stories that are both more complex than Magic Tree House and not as scary. We just started E. Nesbit’s Five Children and It, which looks quite festive. Now that I’ve read them, Nesbit & Eagar are clearly the progenitors (do I have the right word?) of the Spiderwick & Snicket books. They have the advantage of being adventure stories but, by dint of their being written so long ago, they inadvertently have some of the advantages of historical fiction. But these two author recommendations are fun, adventure novels, with a bit of magic thrown in (not full-blown science fiction, but very much indebted to fairy tales).
    I also think The Great Brain–a fictionalized memoir (I think) of the author’s childhood in Utah around the turn of the century–is a great book. The kids are funny and adventuresome and, well, not precious. There is some conflict regarding families’ different religions and different economic status, and a kid who bullies a new kid because his family are new to the United States. For now, I decided I wasn’t quite up to explaining the prejudice and bullying parts of the story to my 6yo yet, but he looked at it recently and was really intrigued. I think around second grade the kids–sadly–might already know about some of these things. Also, there is a farm word used a lot that has morphed, since the writing, to be more of an active insult word, I think, esp. if you are city-bound. But if you can explain the context of that so no one gets in trouble quoting from the book to random adults, I think The Great Brain would be both fun to read and a rich source of discussion.
    Sorry to go on so long–I wish I could sit in on the book group. It sounds great.


  3. Diana nixed Ramona as “unfair to the boys,” when I brought it up. And I dearly love Half-Magic but I think it would be too hard for most second grade readers, even strong ones. And yes, you’re totally right, I meant the first Piggle Wiggle book, sadly I was too out of it to remember what that one was called.


  4. How about:
    Cynthia Rylant – The Storm. This is the first book in her Lighthouse Family series. It is sweet, and exciting and has both male and female lead characters who are animals.
    Daniel Pinkwater – The Hoboken Chicken Emergency. This very funny book is one of my all time favorites!
    Ursula Le Guin – Catwings. Also an adventure story starring animals.
    Peggy Gifford – Moxi Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little. This is a very funny book about a girl who has to write a book repror on Stuart Little and she has not been able to bring herself to read the book all summer. Her brother follows her around taking pictures of her failing to read Stuart Little, and of the accidents that happen, these photos illustrate the book.


  5. How about Tomie De Paola’s 26 Fairmount Avenue? We listened to it on CD in the car and all my kids loved it. Then my second grader got it for Christmas and has been reading the whole series over and over. It is an autobiographical series beginning when Tomie is around 5 years old, but gives us a great window of how the world was back then, plus he is such a great story teller!


  6. My five year old and I just finished Bunnicula and she loved it! So, that’s what immediately came to mind. Of course, I did the reading and I am not good at remembering how complex language is, so I’m not sure about that.
    I am all about Clementine, too, but I think that might be unfair to the boys, too.
    Second Sideways Stories from Wayside School. One of my all-time favorites.
    I also love Only YOu Can Save Mankind by Terry Pratchett. Funny and suspenseful, but there’s a good lesson there, too.


  7. What a great list of suggestions! I can’t wait to check a lot of them out.
    I don’t know a lot about these newer books, but I did have some thoughts on ones I enjoyed as a kid. Would the “Wizard of Oz” books be too girly–or too hard? I always liked them because they were fantasy and adventure at the same time. I loved “Five Children and It” for the same reason, along with “The Phoenix and the Carpet.” I realize, looking back, that I learned so much about history from the ways those books were written. I remember trying so hard to figure out what paraffin was!
    I also really enjoyed the “Great Brain” books, and my first-grader is enjoying having “Soup” read to him–both fiction starring boys, with a historical theme, which I, as a young girl, really enjoyed.
    Congratulations and good luck to the mom doing the reading group. Makes me wish I had the courage to try something like that, but it’s hard enough to pick a bedtime story my boys can agree on!


  8. What about Finn Family Moomintroll? Perhaps it’s a bit of a stretch, but seems as though this book club is the perfect place to challenge the kids a bit.
    How about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? Hmmm…that’s another one that might be a bit too old.
    Oooh, they’re dated, but how about The Moffats and Ginger Pye and The Alley and the other Eleanor Estes books?
    Carbonel and Carbonel the King are back in print (thank you, NYRB!) and might work.
    The Wayside School stories might work.
    Much as I adore Pratchett, I don’t think any of his books are really a good match for second graders…
    What about Robert Lawson’s Robbut: The Tale of a Tail?
    Or Mary Poppins?


  9. We just read Lady Lollipop, by Dick King-Smith (author of Babe) and are now hooked on him. And now I mention it, “Babe, The Gallant Pig” might be a great choice. But he has 100 books, lots to choose from…


  10. Marley and Me (chapter book version, don’t discount it. My girls couldn’t put it down)
    Alvin Ho
    Hate That Dog (there’s also a cat version)
    The Evolution of Calpurina Tate (girl with lots of brothers, science angle, historical fiction, might be a little advanced for 2nd graders)
    Odd assortment, I know, but some that my kids loved. Good luck!


  11. OMG, love, LOVE Half Magic.
    My 2nd grade daughter has been in a Mother/Child book club for the last two years. We have both boy and girl members. The kids pick the titles each month and they’ve made some excellent suggestions! Some of our favorites this year:
    Because of Winn-Dixie
    Mr. Popper’s Penguins
    The Mouse and the Motorcycle
    Chocolate Fever
    Bug in a Rug
    How to Eat Fried Worms
    Where the Sidewalk Ends
    Judy Moody
    Flat Stanley


  12. I’m going to second the recommendations for the Catwings series and the Judy Moody series. Judy Moody is a girl, true, but her brother and male best friend play a big part. Plus, she’s not very girly.


  13. Ooo, nobody has said Roald Dahl yet. What about Fantastic Mr Fox? That wouldn’t be too hard, I don’t think. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is such a good one, but probably above the level of these kids. I’m sure they could manage F.M.F though, and with a movie of it coming out soon, they might be extra interested.


  14. I love to hear Junie B. taken down. That contrived voice really gets under my skin. Ewwwww. And I can’t tell you how many people give those books as birthday/holiday presents. Why? Why, why, why?
    Moving along. I second Roald Dahl–as a 2nd grader, my kid particularly liked the BFG–and Mr. Popper’s Penguins and Wayside School. I think My Father’s Dragon worked for boys and girls in her class. In the fall of 2nd grade A. powered through The Littles (sort of a low-rent Borrowers) which would seem to work for either gender. By the end of the year, she definitely loved the Oz series, tho I am not sure where boys stand on that one and the books are kinda long.
    Re: Ramona. It breaks my heart to think boys should be denied access to these amazing books simply because they have a Y chromosome. Ramona’s best friend (at least early on) is the decidedly ungirly Howie Kemp. Maybe Ms. Book Group could do a dyad: the kids could read one Henry Huggins and one Ramona…


  15. How about:
    Homer Price
    Encyclopedia Brown
    Strawberry Girl
    The Saturdays (Elizabeth Enright)
    Also, I’m remembering 2 books from my childhood that I can’t put my finger on. Maybe someone will figure it out. One of them was about a girl living in Pennsylvania during a flood (the Johnstown Flood, I have to assume?). I thought it was by Lois Lenski, but I’m not finding it under her name in amazon.com.
    I thought the other was called Prairie Girl, and I sort of thought it was also by Lois Lenski, but I can’t find it either. I read them both repeatedly as a kid and I think they might work for this group. Can anybody help??


  16. Definitely seconding Piggle-wiggle, Homer Price and Popper’s Penguins… but how about a new book thrown into the mix?
    There is a little known but *wonderful* transitional chapter book (a touch more difficult than Treehouse, not as difficult as Eager) that was just released in paperback: Up and Down the Scratchy Mountain, by Laurel Snyder. A spunky girl, a boy who would rather not be a prince, a willful cow, a prairie dog who may or may not be a cat, and an adventure up a (slightly magical) mountain. It’s the kind of story that gives perfect voice to the sorts of questions about our world that younger readers love to discuss. Also a great read-aloud with plenty of spontaneous singing.
    I got to talk to the author via email last year, and she’s a peach too.


  17. Wow! I’m the mom who sent the original message asking for your input. Thank you for all the great suggestions! I will write them all down and do some research and get reading. The kids are dying to know what we are doing next and now I’ll be able to get a list for them to vote on. Thanks very much!!


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