I’m always on the lookout for new books for my kids. Not only are the avid readers, but story time, when I read to them, is one of our most cherished times of day. Not only do I want quality books and imaginative stories for them, but for me as well. I don’t want to have to read Diary of a Wimpy Kid when I could read The Hobbit!
So, in my search for great books for kids, I’ve been reading quite a bit lately, and have put together a short list of books that not only meet my standards of what children’s books should be, but also have an element of adventure to them. I’ve also tried to balance this list with both classics and newer titles. Further, I’ve left off shorter books, like The Way Back Home, by Oliver Jeffers, even though it’s a fantastic little story about a finding ones way home from the moon. The books on this list are all chapter books. However, I do recommend pretty much every book we’ve ever read by Oliver Jeffers.
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Disclaimer: As with any book for kids, I strongly recommend that you read it first by yourself, especially if you have a sensitive child. A couple of books on this list have a few scary moments, and I do disclose those. However, you know your child best, and you understand what they can and cannot handle.
A series by James Patterson
I have a confession: I’ve never read a James Patterson book. I don’t have anything against him, per se, but I’ve always viewed his books (and the entire genre in which he writes) as being something you’d read on a beach vacation when you just want to zone out. Because that type of reading has never really appealed to me, I have never been able to get into his work. Having said that, these books come highly recommended by my 10-year-old son.
However, a while back I spotted the first book in his Treasure Hunters series, which is simply titled: Treasure Hunters, and on a whim bought it for Jack. It was a whim, for sure, but I was intrigued by the maps inside and the storyline: a family, the Kidds, with four kids sets off on adventures around the world.
Now Jack is as picky about his fiction as his mom. So, I was surprised when he not only devoured Treasure Hunters in almost one sitting, but then came to me and asked if I would get him the other books in the series.
Of course, I obliged, and we now have the first four books in the series. They are action packed with mystery, intrigue, spies, treasure, and adventure. This series is definitely worth packing for you next family vacation, or loading them on your kindle for your kid to read on long car trips.
A Wrinkle In Time
A Wrinkle In Time holds a special place in my heart as the first science fiction book I ever read. If you’re not familiar with this classic story (and haven’t seen any of the movie adaptations), you are in for a treat.
The story, the first book in a series of five, recounts the adventure of a brilliant yet misunderstood girl named Meg Murray, her even smarter brother Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin O’Keefe, as the travel through space and time and across dimensions in search of Meg and Charles Wallace’s missing scientist father.
This is such a great story because not only is it fantastically written, but it deals with themes such as courage, self-doubt, compassion, love, persistence, hope, and overcoming ones fears. The children are aided along the way by a myriad of creatures, but for the most part, the triumphs are their own. They do battle a dark and ominous threat, mysteriously named IT, and at times you’ll be left wondering if there will be a happy ending after all. For this reason, you may want to exercise caution, however, my sensitive 10-year-old boy (and my own 10-year-old self) loved this book.
If you have a kid who doesn’t like to read, there is a graphic novel version of this book that is well illustrated and engaging.
The Chronicles of Narnia
C. S. Lewis
I feel very ill-equipped to write about the works of Lewis (and Tolkien, see below), but definitely have to add a few of their titles to this list for the obvious reason that both Lewis and Tolkien are master story-tellers, particularly when it comes to tales of adventure.
Typically, when people hear “Narnia,” they think of the most famous book in the series, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. That’s all good and well, but did you know that is the second book in the series? The first book in this series is actually The Magician’s Nephew, and if The Lion , the Witch, and the Wardrobe is an allegory (spoiler alert: it is), then The Magician’s Nephew is an obvious creation story. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is book two, with an additional five books after it, giving you plenty of bedtime story material to share with your children.
The Chronicles of Narnia are to younger children what The Lord of the Rings is to older children/young adults. All the books in this series are filled with adventure, good versus evil, right versus wrong, and themes such as loyalty, compassion, and bravery. Like James Patterson’s Treasure Hunters that I wrote about above, these stories revolve around four siblings, the Pevensies, and their adventures. However, The Chronicles of Narnia are classics, have stood the test of time, and have an enduring quality filled with fantasy.
You can buy the entire series in one bound edition, making it an easy tome with which to travel.
The Hobbit or There and Back Again
J. R. R. Tolkien
Speaking of The Lord of the Rings, let’s talk about The Hobbit. Actually titled The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, it’s pretty safe to say that this tale of adventure, treasure, friendship, and fantasy is known by all… but hasn’t been read by all. I read The Hobbit long before it became a movie trilogy, and I remember walking out of the theater after the first movie remarking to Kyle, “there’s a lot from that book I clearly don’t remember!” The truth, however, is that there is a lot in the movie that either happened in other Tolkien works (such as The Silmarillion) that were added in or that never actually happened in the first place.
The Hobbit doesn’t need anything extra. It is such a delightful story on its own, and with poems and dwarves songs and captivating characters, it is so fun to read aloud to your kids. A book as famous and popular as this one really doesn’t need further explanation from me. If this book has been on your list for a while, but you’ve simply not gotten around to it, take the time to pick up a copy and read it. You won’t be disappointed.
The Inquisitor’s Tale Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog
I read The Inquisitor’s Tale during our recent spring break trip and could hardly put it down. Written in a similar style as The Canterbury Tales, The Inquisitor’s Tale recounts the adventure of three children, and their holy dog, from several points of view, while the overall arc of the story is narrated by one voice, the Inquisitor.
Each chapter begins and ends with a brief interchange between our main narrator and the person who is about to recount their version of the story, such as a nun, a priest, or an innkeeper, to name a few. The story takes place in Medieval Europe, during a time in history that is filled with superstition, a belief in magic, an oppressive social system, and where the Church acts as the government. The narrators of the story are all in an inn, recounting their versions of the lives and adventures of three children: William, Jeanne, and Jacob, along with a very special and saintly dog, Gwenforte.
The Inquisitor’s Tale deals with themes such as bigotry, oppression, death. Further, there is some violence, so for these reasons, I suggest you read the book first. It is written with older children in mind, and my own children have not read it yet. I do think that Gidwitz handles these themes beautifully and through this story provides some excellent conversation starters for you to have with your children. Highly researched by Gidwitz and masterfully illustrated by Hatem Aly, it is no wonder that this delightful book holds a Newberry Honor distinction.
Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter
Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter, by Astrid Lingren is the story of a spirited young girl named Ronia and her adventures in the forest where she lives. She lives a charmed life as the daughter of a robber chief, but she is quite alone. Alone, that is, until she meets Birk, the son of her fathers archenemy. The two become friends but it isn’t long after that that the two robbers clans erupt into a fierce quarrel.
You may already be familiar with some of Lingren’s other works such as Pippi Longstocking and The Children of Noisy Village. I particularly love Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter because it features so many of the fantastical and mythical creatures of Scandinavian folklore: harpies, rumphobs, dwarfs and the like. Lingren weaves nature: the forest, the weather, even these imagined creatures, and provides the reader with a rich, natural backdrop from which she tells her story. This book would be a great read-aloud for any kid old enough to sit still for chapter books.
The Book of Boy
Catherine Gilbert Murdock
The Book of Boy, like The Inquisitor’s Tale, takes place in Medieval Europe. The Book of Boy, however, takes place a few years after “a pestilence,” which the reader can safely assume is the Bubonic Plague. Narrated from the point of view of the main character, Boy, we are taken on a journey from central France to Rome and back in search of seven relics.
The story begins by showcasing an unusual talent of Boy’s: his ability to talk to animals. As the story progresses, the reader learns that this is but one of Boy’s many unique talents and features, and the reader soon learns that Boy is just as much of a mystery as the journey he is on.
Boy is a poor, hunchbacked servant who early in the book is employed (or borrowed, rather) by a strange pilgrim named Secundus. Secundus, we discover, is on a pilgrims journey to find seven relics he claims will save him. As the story progresses, the reader will find herself oscillating between the intrigue of Boy, the mystery of Secundus, and the quest to locate the relics.
If you do not know much about the history of the Catholic Church during Medieval times, especially as it regards to relics, you may want to do a little research, especially before reading this one to your kids. I am not Catholic, but having lived in Europe during college, I had the opportunity to see some relics myself and have a working understanding their importance during Medieval Europe.
Regardless of your faith, this story is a compelling read and The Book of Boy has most certainly earned its Newberry Honor Book distinction.
What children’s adventure books are on your list? I’m always on the lookout for new and exciting reads, especially for bedtime or in the car. Let me know in the comments section!