We Recommend: Love and Relationships and Families

It's We Recommend, in which we attempt to match kids up with their perfect book. Got a kid in your life who needs a recommendation? Write us at thediamondinthewindow (at) gmail (dot) com with the age, reading tastes, favorite books, and any other relevant (or irrelevant) information, and we'll give it a shot. And all the good suggestions are in the comments, so be sure to look there.

Can I tell you how wonderful it is to have an email account where you get heartfelt, thoughtful requests for great books? As opposed to, say, work emails about deadlines and missed comments and general misery? It is very wonderful.

Anyway, I think you will find today's request particularly affecting (though perhaps I am just tired and loopy?). You be the judge:

I have an 8 year old daughter who theoretically loves to read (she says she does) but in reality starts a lot of books but doesn't finish them.  She ripped through the first Harry Potter, but only got halfway through the second.  She started Mary Poppins but didn't get far.  She has loved reading (on her own) Ivy & Bean, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Betsy-Tacy.  Together we have read The Little House books, the Penderwicks, the Ramona books, most of Roald Dahl, and lots of Judy Blume. She is happy for more challenging books if we read them together, but on her own I think she struggles a bit and gets easily discouraged.  Today she said she wasn't that keen on the Harry Potter books because bad things kept happening and that she preferred books 'about love and relationships and families'.  Any suggestions gratefully accepted.

Love and relationships and families? What an appealing little person this is!

This email made me think several things. One: she is not ready to read full-on complex chapter books. When we read as grown-ups, I think we lose sight of the fact that it's not just difficult words that make a book hard to read. It's convoluted sentences, or sentences that jump from one page to another, or even just the prospect of 300 more pages. And when it's too hard, it's just no fun.

I know that reading parents get impatient. They want their kid to find all the awesome books that they themselves have loved—it's hard to wait. And I think we forget, too, just how old we were when we read things. We have this fuzzy image of "When I was a kid," and don't remember (maybe) that we were in 6th grade when we read Judy Blume or Harriet the Spy or whatever it was. Or maybe we were in 3rd, but it's different for everyone, and no one's interest is served by matching a kid with a book that is too hard. And Harry Potter? It's scary. I don't think I would ever have read it when I was 8. I couldn't even stay in the room to watch Batman.

So this parent is lucky: the kid is happy to be read to. To that end, I would say read aloud! Read all of the many stories in which bad things DON'T keep happening. Read her Ballet Shoes. Read her Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great! Read her Mrs. Piggle Wiggle's Magic! Read her All of a Kind Family, too.

But for her to read? I consulted with Chestnut, who is the absolute perfect person to talk to about a case like this. She thought about it and considered The Cobble Street Cousins. Which could be really great. But then she thought about it a little more and said, "I've got it!" And I think she does.


A kid wants to read about "love and relationships and families"? You can bet Chestnut will give her love and relationships and families. Sarah, Plain and Tall is excellent, and heartfelt, and sweet. My only worry? It might be too hard, but I don't think so. And if it is? Her mom can read it to her, and she can take the Cobble Street Cousins on her own, and curl up in her room, and read about love and relationships and families some more.

But maybe there are other great ideas? Put them, as always, in the comments.

25 thoughts on “We Recommend: Love and Relationships and Families

  1. Yes to everything you said. My kid was not an advanced reader and at 8 Ivy and Bean was just about her speed. She experienced lots of longer, more complex books through read-alouds and audiobooks, and now at 11 she reads them on her own and likes reading and I am forever grateful and wish I could go back and reassure my 3-or-4-years-ago self.
    As for recommendations: I’d try her on the Clementine series, which has great friendships and family relationships– it’s a wonderful read-aloud, too, if she’s not up to reading it on her own. Also, maybe Ruby Lu, Brave and True.


  2. We love “The Lighthouse Family” series by Cynthia Rylant. They are very short and while the language isn’t complex the writing style is, for lack of a better explanation, very elegant; true prose.


  3. Everything you said too! Except I love Mrs. Piggle Wiggle’s Farm more than the other books.
    And how about the Lollipop books by Dick King Smith? Sweet and charming. And finally, how about Elizabeth Enright? Spiderweb for Two might be a good intro.


  4. Perhaps she’ll be ready for the Little House on the Prairie series in a few months. Yes, some bad things happen, but overall it’s good things and family and new places and seeing how folks lived, worked, and played many years ago.


  5. Hello – I am the poster of the email. Thank you for these fabulous suggestions – many of these books are ones I am not at all familiar with. We are in Australia so perhaps that is why. We have loved ‘Clementine’ and ‘Betsy-Tacy’ and the Little House books. ‘Sarah Plain and Tall’ looks right up her alley, so I’ll definitely get that, and her name is Ruby, so ‘Ruby-Lu’ sounds great too. In fact they all look great. Thank you so much – your blog is really lovely to read and I am both grateful and touched that you have taken the time to respond (and all the commenters too) to my email. Thankyou.


  6. I think most kids this age are “snackers”, meaning that they prefer to snack on books rather than reading them linearly. (I wrote more about this issue myself here on my blog. There is also a link to Fanny Harville’s excellent post on her son as a non-linear reader as well.)
    I would second the suggestion of reading aloud, for sure, because then they get the fun of reading without having to do the work themselves, which kids still need at this age, and it helps them see/hear the rhythm and cadence, etc. Plus, it’s just plain fun, and builds/strengthens the parent/child bond.
    All the suggestions have been great. But I’d also say don’t worry, she’ll hit upon a book eventually that will grab her and make her want to read it from cover to cover.


  7. Yes yes yes to the Lighthouse Series! Also I immediately thought of Understood Betsy. You may want to read it together – but I think she will love it.


  8. My daughter loves The Boxcar Children series. She also completely devoured the Judy Moody series. Great question–I’ll be watching for everyone’s answers!


  9. We started Edward Eager’s Half Magic at Christmas, and the children loved it! The 4 children characters are wonderful and realistic, and the parent(s) funny/warm. They were thrilled to begin the sequel, Magic by the Lake … I found these in a 4-book set by the author, with 2 more books involving magic (though not about the same family).
    I’d also recommend the Klise sisters’ 43 Old Cemetery Road series. They involve a very different sort of “constructed” family, but have the same tenderness to the relationships. We’re big fans here!
    What about the Dear America series? Many are quite high-quality, written by award-winning authors.


  10. Oops. I could have been more clear there. The name of the book is Half Magic; we happened to start reading it at Christmas because it was a gift to my daughter then.


  11. I love Eva Ibbotson’s stories for children this age – Which Witch, Island of Aunts, Secret of Platform 13, etc – the kids are old enough to get the humor and the books themselves are not too scary or upsetting.


  12. Weird, I thought I’d posted this in the morning, but I guess it didn’t go through…anyway, I posted a similar query last year, and got some wonderful recommendations. Anything by Elizabeth Enright is a hit at our house, and my daughter loved Understood Betsy. But look through the comments in the post at http://bit.ly/d5sSX4 to get ome wonderful suggestions for both read-alouds and read-on-her-owns…
    Oh, and how about Because of Winn-Dixie?


  13. Happy Little Family by Rebecca Caudill – its about at the same level as Betsy-Tacy and the first of the Boxcar Children. We liked all of the Fairchild Family books.
    Or how about Milly-Molly- Mandy?


  14. Erika beat me with both my suggestions. Elizabeth Enright is great especiall the ones about the Melendy’s (The Saturdays, Four Story Mistake, Then There Were Five, and Spiderweb for Two). I actually might start with The Four Story Mistake first, or another series, which was always our favorite, Gone Away Lake. Also think that Understood Betsy is great. If the girl likes (or at least doesn’t mind old fashioned books) then I’d try What Katy Did.
    Also, in addition to Island of the Aunts (another family favorite), how about Baby Island? Written by Newbery winning author, about two girls marooned off of Australia. My daughter loved it.


  15. How about the Green Knowe books by Lucy M. Boston? They’re not very long, and they feature friendly ghosts and a strong sense of family and friendship. (But they do have creepy bits in them.)


  16. I was reading the comments (because I always get ideas for my own daughter from these posts!) and I thought of one more–the “Sophie” series by Dick King-Smith. Sophie’s Snail, etc. These are funny, not too challenging, but still about families. (And I second the suggestion of Lady Lollipop and Clever Lollipop, and in fact anything at all by Dick King-Smith…)


  17. For a read-together series, I’d recommend Anne of Green Gables. For the 8 year old to read on her own, how about Caddie Woodlawn by Carrie Ryrie Brink? Great story about a girl and her family; sort of Laura Ingalls’ish.


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