During my adolescent years of admiring The Catcher in the Rye, there’s a particular Salinger’s quote that has stuck with me. In it, his quintessential anti-hero, Holden Caulfield, reflects on the unique sadness of finishing a book for good, wishing its author could be a “great friend of yours whom you could call whenever you felt like it.”
When I first read that line in high school, something resonated deep within me. A good book leaves a lasting impression long after its narrative has concluded. Its characters and the imaginary worlds they inhabit leave an indelible mark and, consequently, shape the way we perceive the world around us.
With this philosophy in mind, I can’t think of a more meaningful gift to give my children than the most cherished fictional friends. Brave, kind, loyal, and truly unforgettable, the characters at the heart of these books are precisely the type you’d want accompanying your little ones throughout their formative years. Continue reading for 13 remarkable children’s chapter books to read alongside your kids.
1. Mercy Watson Is Missing!: Tales from Deckawoo Drive
When Mercy Watson, a beloved pig, goes missing in the chaotic neighborhood of Deckawoo Drive, the Watsons are heartbroken, and local authorities prove unhelpful. But when a clever idea to hire a bumbling private investigator, Percival Smidgely, and his pigeon Polly, emerges, the neighborhood comes together to solve the mystery. As they follow hoofprints and an enticing scent, the community sleuths embark on a heartwarming and funny adventure. This is the newest addition to Kate DiCamillo’s beloved Tales from Deckawoo Drive series and is sure to be a hit for littles getting into chapter books.
2. Frankie and Friends: Breaking News
Young Frankie’s mom leaves to cover a breaking news story, and while she’s proud of her mom, she also misses her greatly. To fill the void, Frankie decides to create her own news show with the help of her friends, including her doll, toy robot, and cat. In a heartwarming and imaginative adventure, Frankie discovers her first story at home, demonstrating humor and empathy, and ultimately understanding that even big sisters can miss their mom. This heartwarming story fosters compassion and is a great way to introduce young reporters to new journalism and news terms.
3. Welcome Home, Anna Hibiscus
Anna Hibiscus returns home to Nigeria from her visit to Canada, and she’s surprised by the changes she finds in her family and her house: Her baby brothers are growing, her grandfather seems older, and Anna worries that her family may not love her as much as before. Meanwhile, she becomes the caretaker of a mischievous chick, Snow White, and struggles to keep it out of trouble. However, a surprise visitor ends up arriving to provide a distraction from her concerns and creates new adventures in this sweet story.
4. The Girl Who Drank the Moon
A 2017 Newberry Medal Winner, Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon is a sweeping fantasy novel full of mystery, adventure, and dark prophecy. While the plot follows a young girl raised by a strange trio—a 500-year-old witch, a poetry-loving swamp monster, and a pocket-sized dragon—it ultimately teaches you an unforgettable lesson on the power of love in its varied forms.
5. The Jumbies
At the intersections of mystery, horror, and fantasy, The Jumbies makes use of Caribbean folklore to enthralling and unforgettable effect. Baptiste pits Corrinne, a fearless young heroine, against an encroaching band of devilish creatures, forcing her to summon an ancient form of magic she never knew she had access to. Brilliant, fun, and breathtaking, The Jumbies is one of those stay-up-way-past-bedtime reads.
6. Dealing With Dragons
The first installment in Wrede’s cult classic The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Dealing With Dragons, is a whip-smart play on classic fairytale tropes. Full of brazen wizards, hulking dragons, and the most lovable literary princess and witch you’ll ever meet, this book (and the entire series) is a must-read for any burgeoning fantasy-lover.
7. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
Winning a Newberry Honor award in 2010, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon follows a young girl and a dragon on their quest to find the old man in the moon, a mystical character who is said to have all the answers to life’s mysteries. Gripping and beautifully told, Lin’s novel introduces the magic of Chinese folklore in a way that is full of heart, friendship, and longing.
8. The Conch Bearer
I enjoy a good epic fantasy adventure, and The Conch Bearer delivers just that. Taking place in a small town in India, this novel, the first in The Brotherhood of the Conch series, follows a young boy named Anand on a mysterious quest to return a magical shell to its rightful home across the country. Full of age-appropriate danger and intrigue, The Conch Bearer is a memorable read, similar to Harry Potter.
9. Whatever After
When Abby and her little brother Jonah are sucked into a mysterious mirror in the basement of their new home, they find themselves transported to fairytale worlds, dropped into the middle of classics like The Little Mermaid, Jack & the Beanstalk, and more. In each book of this New York Times bestselling series, the duo disrupt one fairytale after another, trying to ensure everyone gets their happy ending and to return home before their parents wake up and find them missing.
10. The BFG
A young orphan named Sophie finds herself in cahoots with a Big Friendly Giant and teams up with him to save the world from its mysterious child-eating monsters. Apart from the first chapter’s eerie midnight abduction, this 1982 classic is brimming with playfulness, warmth, and laugh-out-loud humor.
11. Dragons in a Bag
When a young boy is sent to his grandmother’s for babysitting, he discovers there’s more to her than meets the eye. It all starts when he learns she’s a witch. Then, she tasks him with transporting a small dragon, making him promise to keep the creature safe inside its bag. Of course, things go awry, and a fun and fantastical adventure unfolds.
12. A Wolf Called Wander
For nature-loving kids (and grown-ups), this page-turner, based on the true story of one amazing wolf, follows the brave lone wolf, Wander, on an incredible journey after tragedy befalls his pack.
13. Black Beauty
A touching life story told from the horse’s perspective, Black Beauty transformed culture at the time of its writing, bringing attention to the widespread abuse of horses. With the wealth of life wisdom contained in this 1877 novel, it’s no surprise it remains a timeless classic.