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…
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).
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.