We Recommend: Heavy-reading, mild, only child edition

Ah, another episode of We Recommend, in which we attempt, by hook or by crook, to find the absolutely perfect book for people who write in. Got a kid in your life who needs a recommendation? Write us with the age, reading tastes, favorite books, and any other relevant (or irrelevant) information, and we'll give it a shot.

 

OK, we got this e-mail. And read through to the end, because that's where it gets tricky:

I have a 7.5 yr old (2nd grade) who's reading at a 4th/5th grade level.  Her only homework this year is to read 20 min./night.  Anyway, this is actually kind of challenging, b/c there's a gap between what she can understand if it's read to her (Caddie Woodlawn, for example) and what she has the patience to read on her own.  Last year we had good luck with the Magic Tree House series, but she's read them all now (although she still loves them).  She's also been reading the Boxcar Children books at school, but she seems to want those to remain for school only.
So I guess I'm looking for a series that will draw her in & make her eager for the next installment–but (and here may be the difficult part) nothing terribly scary.  Definitely no Harry Potter yet.  I took a look at 39 steps, and I think they'd be too much for her–this is not a child who deals well w/ strong dramatic tension.  In the past she's loved Betsy Tacy, Little House, Magic Tree House, Boxcar Children, and the American Girl books.  But the Dear America series isn't grabbing her in the same way–some of them are pretty sad, and I think that gets to be too much to handle. In addition, if your readers had suggestions about good books that feature only children, that would be awesome.  My daughter is feeling rather unhappy about her "only" status right now, and I'd love to find more books where the hero/heroine was also an only.  Henry & Mudge need not apply, as we read them all two years ago…
Ah, a challenge.


See, I can think of lots of books that might appeal—not least Gone Away Lake, which Chestnut just finished and loved, or the the Little House in the Big Woods series. But with an only child? Hmmm. Harriet the Spy comes to mind, but I think that might be a little too difficult if Caddie Woodlawn is better read aloud than alone. Harriet the Spy is one of the great books of all time, but it is, I think, best savored alone. Plus, she is asking for a series, so the EB White books, lovely as they are, don't really qualify (though both Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan feature only children).

OK, here goes: it's a stretch, because while technically all these girls are only children in that they have no siblings,  they are also orphans, living with other orphans, so it's a bit of a fudge. Nonetheless, ladies and gentlemen, I bring you…
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The one we've read is The Ten O'Clock Club which was very much loved, but they're all pretty sweet, and interesting—and they're not too difficult. I've been feeling lately like there's a major tendency just about everywhere to throw kids into Ballet Shoes when they're just in 3rd grade and they're not ready, and they end up missing a whole bunch of nutty, easy-to-read books like these. I, of course, am guilty of this, but I'm trying, I'm trying.
But I digress: I have a hunch someone will come up with something even better than this. Have an idea? Put it in the comments.

32 thoughts on “We Recommend: Heavy-reading, mild, only child edition

  1. I’ll suggest (as ever) Cam Jansen. I’m pretty sure she’s an only; the books feature her best friend, Eric.
    Here’s a fabulous snippet from a kid’s review of Cam Jansen: The Mystery at the Haunted House #13 on Amazon:
    “Have you ever wannted to read an interesting book? Well now is your chance to raed the book I read because it is very teriffic. […] It was an easy book, but it was a page turner. I garantee you that if you read this book your head will be blown off. I also like this book because the characters are stupendous. The one bad thing is that there are not many cliff hangers.”
    (The lack of cliff hangers sounds like a good thing for this request’s reader!)
    I think Jigsaw Jones is also an only, and the books feature his best friend, Mila. So if she likes gentle mysteries, these two series could last you a while.

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  2. Don’t have too many only children books. But here are some suggestions:
    Miracle on Maple Hill
    All of a Kind Family
    My Side of the Mountain
    The Wheel on the School
    Millie Mollie Mandy (and its sequel)
    Trixie Belden mysteries (the early one where she is about 13)

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  3. If she liked Betsy-Tacy, how about All-of-a-Kind Family or Five Little Peppers? They’re definitely not onlies, but have a similar sensibility. For more off-the-wall but (I think) not too scary, how about Pippi Longstocking? And is Winnie-the-Pooh too young?

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  4. There’s the Meg Mystery series by Holly Beth Walker, which is out of print but you can still find it at libraries and online for order quite cheap. I think I remember Meg being an only child. A couple of the mysteries might be a bit eerie or creepy (one deals with a ghost), but they’re well written and fun to read.
    Although I haven’t read them myself, the Meg Mackintosh mysteries are very popular and might be right up her alley – the reader gets to solve the clues along with Meg. She is not an only child, though, so she doesn’t fit as perfectly as the older Meg mystery books.

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  5. Hi–this is the mom from above. Thanks for the suggestions–I think she’d love All of a Kind Family, and the orphanage series looks good too!
    Just to clarify, I’m really asking two separate questions. 1, a good series that she can read on her own (she can zip through a Junie B. Jones in about 30 minutes). And 2, just general recommendations for things we can read together that might feature an only child. Not bibliotherapy–just where that happens to be part of the book. She loved Trumpet of the Swan, btw.
    I think the patience thing may be less of an issue than I originally thought. She read all of Little House & On the Banks of Plum Creek to herself last year, so she’s definitely capable of longer books–the trick is getting something she’s interested in, enough to pick it up if she doesn’t finish it in 2 days. Her reading group will be working on Pippi Longstocking this fall, so we’ll see how that goes.
    (BTW, I started to preview “Gone Away Lake” to see if she’d like it, and in the first few pages, Portia is describing their cousin to someone on the train, and says “He’s an only child, poor thing.” I think I’ll be editing that part out when we read it…)
    And I agree with throwing kids into books before they’re ready–I’m guilty of that myself…

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  6. How about Ivy and Bean? Or is that too easy? Ivy is an only.
    Harder, and not an only, but what about the Ramona books, (or really anything) by Beverly Cleary? Ramona certainly spends serious time WISHING she had no sibling!

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  7. No problem–I wondered whether I should clarify & then decided that’d be 3 emails, and maybe overkill!
    I should also say I agree with *the comment* about throwing kids into books… it’s very easy to introduce something just b/c it’s a classic & I loved it (Secret Garden, e.g.) w/o considering deeply enough whether the child is ready for it.
    We love Ivy & Bean, but have read all of them! We also read a bunch of the Ramona books together, several years ago (those were some of our first chapter books), but I wonder whether she’d like to read them herself now.
    I still crack up thinking of Ramona naming her doll “the most beautiful name in the world”–Chevrolet.

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  8. What about Nancy Drew? The traditional ones would be better as a read aloud, probably, and can sometimes be a little bit scary, but there are newer ones where she’s a kid (So, I guess prequels? But set in current times? It confuses me, but whatever), and she and her pals solve, you know, the case of the missing carnival tickets and things like that. She’s also an only child.

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  9. My daughter is the same age and similar reading level. We’ve received tremendous help from commenters here in the past, so I felt I must contribute!
    She loves: the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books, Clover Twig, Cornelia Funke’s Igraine the Brave, The Clementine series, Moxie Maxwell, the Judy Moody books, and the classic The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes (although she did comment that I always pick books with “lessons”).
    If your daughter ends up liking Pippi Longstocking, she may also enjoy Gooney Bird Greene (Lois Lowry).

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  10. How about Henry Huggins? There are a bunch of them, plus all the Ramonas (I love series with crossover characters!), and other Beverly Clearys.
    And, I cannot recommend the Melendy Quartet highly enough. The author is Elizabeth Enright, of Goneaway Lake, but they Melendys are not at all suspenseful or scary (my daughter can’t take dramatic tension either!). She may also enjoy some of the younger Madeline L’Engles, like Meet the Austins, which is lovely.
    Other ideas:
    • Heidi is an only child
    • The Wind in the Willows (maybe too long…)
    • The Bobbsey Twins are less suspenseful than Nancy Drew, and plus – twins! Two sets! What fun!
    • Paula Danziger has some books that are probably about the right age-level. She also has some for older kids, so double check what you’re getting
    • same for Judy Blume (Fudge springs to mind – and it’s about a sibling who wishes he wasn’t, so maybe that would be a good antidote for Sibling Longing?)
    Good luck! Let us know!

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  11. Babysitter’s Club is being re-published, isn’t it? I was that kid 25 years ago and they were perfect.
    Also, EB White, Beverly Cleary, Sweet Valley Twins (if you can find them used), the Sisters Grimm, Andrew Clements, etc.

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  12. My daughter just turned 8 and it sounds as if she’s in a very similar place.
    Cynthia Rylant’s Cobblestreet Cousins -an only child but with the fantasy of staying with two girl cousins for a year- are probably right up her alley for solo reading (she will whip through them but still), also Rebecca Caudill’s Happy Little Family. I would second All of a Kind Family and Mrs Piggle Wiggle.
    My best read aloud idea is “Understood Betsy” -only child, definitely in the Little House vein. My daughter loved it so much she made me read it twice.
    We loved the Melendy’s too.

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  13. I only quickly scanned the comments and I agree with Judy Moody and Mrs. Pigglewiggle. Have you seen the Puppy Place series? My third grader is zipping through them right now. She read two yesterday and loves them. There is a whole series and I think the reading level is close to Magic Treehouse, or maybe a smidge easier. Obviously easy-peasy for my daughter, but so what? If it is good and they like it and they are READING who cares?

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  14. What Katy Did and its sequels for read aloud (due to old fashioned language)
    We also highly recommend for read alound Swallows and Amazons, but have to highly edit the first few chapters until they get to the island (as it moves a bit slow).

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  15. Could Mary Norton’s The Borrowers be something she’d like? Arrietty is an only child. Astrid Lindgren’s Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter is also an only child, although that one might be a bit scary for a 7.5year old…

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  16. These are awesome–thanks! We’ve read a bunch of them, but I don’t think I ever would have found Understood Betsy, and although she’s read one of the Judy Moody books, I think we both forgot about them.
    To those who have a daughter like mine (so nice to know there are others out there)–the Clementine books really are great–especially after the first one, where she’s still kind of finding her voice. And we love Gooney Bird, also.
    Nancy Drew–how could I have forgotten? We have a few of the “Nancy Drew Notebooks,” which she really likes, so will keep those in mind too.
    We started Wind in the Willows last spring, and it was pronounced boring. So I guess we’ll wait a year or 2 for that one…

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  17. Like a PP, I immediately thought of Ivy and Bean, because Ivy is an only and is much envied by Bean as a result. Judy Moody, Ramona, Clementine, Gooney Bird Green, Simply Sarah, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle… among others all seem like possibilities too. I actually thought this was one of the easiest “We Recommends” I’ve seen on here! I can imagine dozens of series this girl might like. There are lots of gentle girl books that a good reader can be engaged in at that age.

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  18. Hmm…I’ll have to think about the “only child” suggestions (I have an only, too, though I don’t think she ever really wanted a sib…she knew she had it good!) The only one that comes to mind immediately is The Phantom Tollbooth. Oh, and Time At The Top by Edmund Ormondroyd is about an only child…she finds a family for her father and herself at the end of the book.
    But for series she might enjoy…Edward Eager! And Eleanor Estes’ Moffat books. (Her stand-alones, like The Witch Family, are good, too.) Joan Aiken’s books (there’s a great series that starts with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and she’s done a lot of wonderful and magical collections of short stories) might be a little bit old now, but might be just right in a year or so.
    Some of Diana Wynne Jones’ books might work.
    I’ll keep thinking.

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  19. The Melendys, Ramona, The Borrowers, Swallows and Amazons…this is sounding like a list of my most beloved books when I was young!

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  20. Emily of New Moon/Anne of Green Gables books (they’re both only children, but I think also adopted?)
    Sidewise stories from Wayside School
    I think Cam Jansen will be too easy.
    You might want to check out the Cabinet of Wonders. It might be too scary, but I think it’d be a good read-aloud and there are several only children.

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  21. A Little Princess was one of my favorite books when I was little She’s an only.
    The Phantom Tollbooth is a great read, Milo is an only child as well.
    Blue Willow by Doris Gates is another book with an only child protagonist, and it’s a classic.
    Beverly Cleary wrote one of the best only child books out there – Ellen Tebbits.
    Julie Edwards’s book Mandy is about an orphan girl who is also an only, so if your daughter likes the orphan series mentioned above she might want to read this one. One of my favorites.
    Also, Anne of Green Gables – she might be perfect! She’s an only, it’s a series, the first book would be perfect for her age now. Emily of New Moon is yet another only (also an orphan, like Anne), and also a series.

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  22. To Sarah R and Maria, I grew up on Joan Aiken and Paula Danziger (among many other excellent suggestions, of course). I’m going to hold off for another year or so on Wolves of Willoughby Chase etc., but I’m planning to test the waters soon w/ “Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat,” which features another evil nanny. She’s liked many of the Roald Dahl books (which, come to think of it, usually feature only children), so she may be able to take that one. If so, maybe we can move on to Aiken.
    I read a lot of Paula Danziger books in late elementary & middle school–I remember laughing & laughing over those…

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  23. I’d like to chime in (as the kid who started her love affair with reading very young..I was toting around an unabridged copy of Moby Dick in the 4th grade…) and say I LOVE, Love (still have and love) the Dr. Doolittle Series – there are a bunch of them and some are written from the perspective of Tommy Stubbins, who is his young helper. Magical and lovely.
    Also loved:
    -Nancy Drew (I know this was above, but they were awesome!)
    -The 100 Dresses
    -I’m going to be getting the Lemony Snicket series for myself/my little buddies
    Happy reading!

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  24. What about good old Encyclopedia Brown? Some of the mysteries are a bit dated, but most of them hang together. And he is an only.
    What about comics? Does she like Garfield? Calvin + Hobbes? Or maybe something more modern and graphic-novel-ish like the super cute and funny BabyMouse books? I can’t imagine any girl of that age not falling in love with Baby Mouse!

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  25. Hmmm…my daughter reminded me that until she was six or so she did want a sibling. Then we ran into a couple of families where the siblings fought like cats and dogs and she decided then that being an only wasn’t too awful.
    I mostly came back, though, to recommend the Moomintroll books for read alouds. I think I recommend them for everyone!
    And my daughter also reminded me that she loved the McGurk series. McGurk was the leader of a gang of kids who solved mysteries…she liked them better than Cam Jansen, though she read her as well.
    Oh, and Peter Dickinson’s Chuck and Danielle, about an only child and her whippet, is good and pretty darn funny.

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  26. Yep, Encyclopedia Brown is a favorite. Mostly b/c Bugs Meany is such a dope, as is Chief Brown.
    For those who recommended Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle–she gets to bring home books from her teacher’s collection at least once/week (more, if she finishes the first one), and after bringing home 2 Junie B. books last week, last night she brought home…Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle! I have yet to hear a report, though.

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  27. What about “The Worst Witch” series? I remember them from about that age. Not to hard, not to scary, not to long, not to easy. 🙂

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  28. This Side of Magic, et seq,by Debbie Dadey and Marcia Thornton Jones, is a lovely fantasy series that might hit the spot. Also All of a Kind Family and Betsy-Tacy, at least until the characters get to old. You could also try The Last Polar Bears, et seq, by Harry Horse.
    At that age I loved The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, Black Beauty, and Marguerite Henry’s horse books, and The Door in the Wall, by Marguerite de Angeli.

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