The Reading Radar


The Reading Radar is our place where we (the EIJ community) pick up teachers’ and parents’ vibes on what works for kids as riveting reads, as well as readalouds:

This first thread focuses on books for 8 years and above:

Our 3rd-5th graders are really picking up the pace with their reading and I’m needing something more challenging for them. We’ve got things like Goosebumps, Box Car Children, Enid Blyton (I know but it’s fun!), Judy Blume, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys. I guess I’m looking at ages 9-12 or even higher.
So far they don’t seem to like HP though. I wonder if it’s because they are too challenging. My daughter was scared by the movies (she’s not scared by much so that’s strange) and won’t even let me try to read them to her. It’s annoying! Usually if I start reading something in class the kids will line up to borrow it to take home and read. But it just aint working with HP. We liked “Because of Winn Dixie” and “Hatchet”. One of the boys is reading “Indian in the Cupboard”.  The book lists you provided look useful. I’m going to try the Mysterious Benedict Society too.
Oooh and I’m sure I have “Holes” and “The Strange Incident of the dog in the night” (or whatever it is called. I’m going to dig them out and try one out with my daughter tonight),

Tracy Beaker is a good idea. My daughter, at least, would love those. And she tends to drag most along with her. We have done some other
Jacqueline Wilson before and I had forgotten about her.

Have your boys tried the Jiggy Mccue series? They’re very British humour. Here’s a link on Amazon to the first one, from memory: Poltergoose. We laughed lot of these. Look at this page.

“Ivan the Terrible” looks worth checking out too. Ooh yes, we like “Who was… Albert Einstein?” And all the “Who was…?” titles.
— J.


We did actually have an abortive experience with one of the books in that series, The Killer Underpants.  bought it on a visit to the UK a couple of years ago, on the recommendation of my brother’s children, but left it at my parents’ house as it was a bit too advanced for DS1 at that stage… My mother likes to read the boys stories over Skype, so I suggested it as something they’d enjoy.
After the first couple of chapters, though, she got really uncomfortable with all the stuff about underpants and what’s inside them, and suddenly switched without warning to a Mrs Pepperpot story that obviously fit her sensibilities better. I looked for the book when we were home in the summer, but couldn’t find it – Mum must have quietly disposed of it.

I didn’t think it could be that rude if all three of my brothers’ kids had enjoyed it, so was planning to buy another copy at some point in any case. Now I know to read Poltergoose first!
— C.D.


It’s probably less rude than Captain Underpants or Wimpy Kid. Or at worst, en par. — J.


Here’s a few ideas from our household:
Rainbow Magic series, Scholastic. My 10 year-old daughter loves them. Two girls team up with a different fairy in each book to foil Jack Frost and his goblin “henchmen” who are out to make life miserable for the inhabitants of Fairy Land. (The ones published in Japan have both J and English in the same book).
Cam Jansen; Puffin publishers. A young girl uses her photographic memory to solve mysteries with her friends.
Junie B. Jones; Random House. Adventures of a young school girl (6th grade?). Written in first-person much how a 6th-grade American girl might speak.
Cat Kid; Scholastic. Young girl who is half cat (tail and ears and feline senses). — R.


My son is really enjoying the Charlie Bone series and the Mysterious Benedict Society books. Before that he was enjoying the Secrets of Droon,  Flat Stanley, and of course Harry Potter.
Also, here’s a link to a pretty extensive summer reading list from the school our boys will be attending in the US next year – maybe some of you will find it helpful. — C.


I’m about to start DS(9) on some Paul Jennings books – they are written for older kids (10-13yrs) but with a younger reading ability. The author was a teacher when he wrote these, and worked with kids with poor reading skills.
I think the downside might be that they are unashamedly Australian, so vocabulary may be a bit of a problem.
They are short stories, which think might make a change from having to get through a ‘whole book’.
I have a few here, but will start on “Unreal”. Will let you know how they go.

When I was teaching in Australia, the upper primary kids loved these (including those who read well.)

When you said that Enid Blyton wasn’t working, did you mean the Famous Five and Secret Seven? I remember being amazed that I was reading my mum’s copies, so I guess the stories must be quite dated by now. I sure did love them though (along with all things Blyton.)
Fortunately my kids did let me read them the faraway tree books.

I am reading Deltora Quest aloud to my second son (7). This is my second time through the series. He doesn’t like to listen for a long time, but he wants to see the anime, which I am keeping from him until I finish. These are popluar in Japanese, so thought I would mention them again. I know they didn’t fly with C’s son. –T.


I`ve been looking into Joan Aiken for my soon-to-be 10 yr old DD1. She might be good for that age group? Several short story collections come highly recommended – Tale of a One-Way Street, A Harp of Fishbones, and A Necklace of Raindrops is coming out in a new edition of the original with illustrations by Jan Pienkowski on Nov 5th.. The Arabella and Mortimer series has about 18, and then there`s the Wolves of Willoughby Chase series (13 in that) which is a bit more advanced, I imagine. Good for read alouds, I believe. — J.


What about the “An Unfortunate Series of Events” series? Definitely one level up from Enid Blyton etc. (I’m another Blyton fan, but my boys find her boring, sadly.)

I remember someone recommending the “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series a while back on another list, and when I looked at it online it seemed to be around the level you’re looking for too.

“Holes” is brilliant!

And what about Dianne Wynne Jones? I’m borrowing several of her books from our local library at the moment, just for my own pleasure. Your kids will probably have seen Howl’s Moving Castle, so the fact that the book is pretty different might be a shock, but some of her other titles are just great for that age range. “The Ogre Downstairs” and “Charmed Life” were both really good reads.

The “Tracy Beaker” books seem pretty good, though DS1 has started two and finished neither (probably both because they’re a bit too far above his reading level and the protagonists are all female).

Dick King-Smith is also about at that level, I think.
I’ve used several of his as read-alouds so far, ones like “Dodos are Forever” and “The Foxbusters.”

Digging back into my own memory of that age:
“Stig of the Dump”
“The Silver Sword”
“The Borrowers” series
“Charlotte’s Web”
“The Hobbit”
Some of the older Roald Dahls if they haven’t read them already: “Matilda,” “The Witches,” “James and the Giant Peach,” “The BFG.”
The “Doctor Doolittle” series (the new edition, with the racist bits taken out)
I remembered another good author for the 9-12 age range:
Anne Fine. “Ivan the Terrible” in particular is great for bilingual children. From her website:

“It’s Ivan’s first day at his new school, and Boris is told to look after him, and translate for him, because Ivan can only speak Russian. After all, St Edmund’s is a civilized school. Only problem is, Ivan isn’t civilized. So when Ivan starts greeting people as ‘lowly shivering worms’, and asking for words in English like ‘crush’ and ‘mutilate’, Boris realises that he’s going to have his work cut out for him. And that’s just the start of the day… Little does he know that Ivan will leave a lasting influence, and that he himself will never enjoy listening to nursery rhymes ever again…”

Re Mrs Pepperpot – “Mildly interested” is a good description 😉 I think the stories are a bit young for DS1 now, but maybe a bit old still for six-year-old DS2. They’re easy reading, though.
About reading over Skype: My parents call just before bedtime, so I take the laptop either over to the sofa or up to the bedroom, where the boys have a bedtime story. Short, self-contained stories work better than chapter books with cliffhangers,
we’ve found, as we only Skype once a week or so. A single chapter of Paddington turned out to be too long and the boys lost interest in the middle, but Mrs. Pepperpot stories were just about the right length. I need to find some other similar ones, actually.– C.D.


-Secrets of Grim Wood books by R. L. LaFevers (I think 3 books in series)
-The City of Ember series by Jeanne Duprau (also 3 books)
-Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan
-Childhood of Famous Americans Series (many biographies by various authors in the series)

Just a warning for those starting the City of Ember series. The first and second books are great but the third (Prophet of Yonwood) is a real departure from the plot and not so liked by boys. I was so disappointed by the third that I didn’t read the fourth, but my son says that the Diamond of Darkhold is a good conclusion to the first two books. The Prophet of Yonwood doesn’t add to the plot so can be skipped by those wanting a faster pace. — LNLH.


We happened to pick up the newly released video City of Ember 2008 movie version of the book. Interesting plot…the author Jeanne DuPrau says on her website:
“Q: Where did you get the idea for The City of Ember?
A: I grew up in the 1950s, when many people were worried that there might be a nuclear war. Some of them were building bomb shelters in their back yards. I think this influenced my idea for Ember—a city built to protect the human race from a terrible threat. But I was also just interested in the idea of a city that had no light other than electricity. What would it be like to live in such darkness, and to know that light and food and supplies were all running out? And not to know about weather or trees or animals (except for a few rats and insects) or any other places? All this grabbed my imagination. And once I’d written The City of Ember, I hoped it would make people think about our world—about the sun and the moon, the forests and the ocean, the wind and the rain—and how precious it all is.
Got my kids (8 and 12) both hooked and wanting to read the Ember series, that was great since we are looking for something to replace Artemis Fowl/Eragon/Harry Potter series which has been so fast-paced and exciting that nothing else seems to match my kids’ expectations now (save Eragon series even Harry Potter pales by comparison according to my son). I hear the movie bombed at the box office due to lack of promotion and marketing. Shame really.

Charlie Bone and Secrets of Grim Wood sound interesting, what ages are they suitable for, for the precocious reader, or easy reading?

39 clues series by Scholastic didn’t cut it either after all of the above cool reads, the kids didn’t want to continue with book 2 in the series. Stoneheart bombed too, but the kids will read Inkheart cos they liked Cornelia Funke’s “The Lord Thief”. We did like Jacqueline Wilson, Ottoline series and Roald Dahl’s books, and also the wacky Wayside School series (younger end of readers though). The kids loved A Series of Unfortunate Events, but not Enid Blyton, Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew series … other than Faraway Tree which is still tops in English and Japanese, the other new ghost-writer-written and contemporarized stuff seemed really lacklustre and boring.

DS and myself are alternating reading chapters in “Banner in the Sky” by James Ramsey Ullman…about a boy whose goal is to climb the only mountain left unclimbed in the European Alps and which his father had died trying to climb. Old but still very good reading from the beginning.  Very good prose and lovely on the ear for a readaloud. Will make kids totally see mountains and nature with new eyes. This book and My Side of the Mountain which ds recently read and LOVED make good companion readings. Also good together with the “Weather Factor” about the chapter where Austrian troops defended their country from their Alpine mountain defensive positions … very exciting true tales of war courage. The book (actually for adults) also has riveting chapter about the why Gengis Khan lost Mongol troops during the Kamikaze storm. We also read Swallows and Amazons which got great reviews on Amazon and elesewhere, we liked the story, but I think the story moves very slowly (Indian summer style) and would not be liked by reluctant readers or boys who like action and humor.

Storm Rider (also made into a film) will more likely be liked by boys.

Over Christmas sales, we were really pleased to pick one half-price one out of the bin entitled “Nick of TIme: An Adventure Through Time” by Ted Bell, more famous for the Alex Hawke series of spy-pirate-thriller books. But Nick of Time was Ted Bell’s first novel for youths or young adults.
Nick of Time has been a rollicking readaloud (we have a kids read a chapter-parents read a chapter aloud bedtime routine) ..truly an amazingly entertaining book for the early to young adult range of readers. No dumbing down here, despite the young protagonists Kate aged 7 and Nick aged 12 (just about a right fit for my two kids), rich vocabulary, it will take kids through pirate scenes, Admiral Lord Nelson’s ocean-skimming sloops and sailships as well as German U-boats.
The book oozes with atmospherics … Nick and Kate are kids of the local lighthouse keeper and they meet Blood the pirate in Greybeard Inn, on one of the Channel islands, find a “treasure chest” in the local waters, much of the action takes place in Hawke Castle and then there’s the time travel thrown in as well. The story ends in the pivotal events just before England declared war on Germany. I thought it would be a little too much at first, but somehow the formula works, the plot and dialogue are great and since there are really very few, no nil books these days on the Cold War period for kids, this book is a boon really. The only minuses to the book I thought perhaps are that the Germans were depicted as villainous enemies on the U-boat … and therefore were somewhat cardboard characters a la James Bond movies, and that the Winston Churchill speech in one of the chapters near the end of the book was heavy and dragged the hitherto fast pace of the book.
Some of you may recall that last year I’d recommended the Captain Horatio Hornblower series of books and the BBC drama series based on the books, I’m pretty sure the author is a fan of Hornblower as the name Horatio features in the book, also Lord Nelson such.

Luckily for us, according to Wikipedia, the sequel to Nick of Time will be published in hardcover early in 2010 (a decade overdue after Nick of Time’s publication!). “The Time Pirate” will deal with the Nazi invasion of the Channel Islands and Nick McIver’s role in George Washington’s victory over Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown in 178.
For the younger 8 yr-old, we’ve been also really pleased with Jacqueline Wilson’s series of books that have taken dd’s independent reading to new speeds and levels, as well as Clarice Bean series which have had the whole family rolling on the floor with laughter quite a bit.

— A. K.

” My 9year old DS reads in Japanese, and is currently loving the Percy Jackson series. (The movie comes out soon.) I read a bit of the first book in
Japanese, but much prefer my leisure reading to be in English. I’d love to try this series later in the year.
One of the homeschooling sites I check has lots of links to the units on Greek Mythology to tie in with Percy Jackson

You can follow this link to the Percy Jackson page, from there. There are five books in the series..” – — T.

Recently we also came across these book lists:

Top Teen Picks lists
Teen Books Review
Try also Oprah’s kids reading list (from earlier posts) the 6-9 yr and 10-12 yr old lists are terrific suggestions of books I’ve never come across before and probably would not pick up without this list’s help

— A.K.


I wonder if you might find some inspiration from the sources below. I`ve liked amanda craig`s site for a long time, but just discovered the lovereading4kids last night, though I like the look of it. The booktrust has other interesting leads elsewhere in the site.‘s-Book-Lists

Can anyone recommend other sites from other parts of the English-speaking world, e.g. Oz, NZ, Canada…? Many sites tend fo focus largely on only their local variant of English.
— Booklist junkie j. in tsukuba


Here are some book recommendations from Rick Riordan’s site: DS was looking for other books by the author, but it turns out he has read the lot. There are a few familiar titles on the list – some that have been mentioned here before. — T., I., Saga


I often just google “grade 4 reading list” and many summer reading lists will come up. Some books and authors we like are:

Lois Lowry, All About Sam (funny, great for idioms)
Andrew Clements, Frindle (all of his books or good)
Cornelia Funke, Dragon Rider
Roald Dahl, anything by him
E.L. Konisburg, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

We also read Hoot, which they liked.

I also use (a homeschooling program) for reading lists. The only problem is many of their grade 3-4 books are US historical fiction so they’re not always relevant.– J.

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