Ever wondered what classic chapter books are worth adding to your family’s library? These 50 chapter book picks are child and parent approved, and make for excellent family read-alouds! Get your children hooked on classic books from an early age–or use this reading list to fill in the gaps with classics you may have missed when you were little.
Read more classic books to your kids!
One of the best gifts you can give your children is a love of reading. And reading aloud classic, time-honored chapter books will build that foundation. It’s magic when it happens–you cuddle next to each other on the couch and as the stories unfurl your child takes it in, to blossom out with empathy, imagination, and a sharp mind.
First, you start small. You read picture books to them when they’re very young, and gradually they stop dancing on the couch and learn to sit, and look, and listen.
Then, when they’re a little older, say three or four, you pick out a chapter book–with illustrations–and introduce them to the life-changing concept of the To Be Continued story.
You make fun voices and you read with feeling and you pause to explain when you need to, and they get hooked on read-alouds forevermore. You can whip that book out to tame the most chaotic waiting room experience. You can slip in a chapter when you and your child need some alone time together. You can read outside while you loll in the grass or read in the car to pass the miles. You might find that reading together as a family will change your life.
But then, what chapter books should you read?
There are many fantastic children’s chapter books published each year, but I’m not an expert in those. I’ll recommend what I do know, and that’s classic children’s literature.
I was blessed with a large family of six kids growing up, and we read aloud daily: a chapter book with Mom in the mornings, a different chapter book with Dad after supper. We read a variety, not just fiction or classics, but many of our favourites–our repeat read alouds–were classics. That’s the book list I’m giving you today. This is a sampling of some of the excellent classic chapter books we read as a family, with a few mixed in that I discovered or read on my own.
Read these aloud to your children, or students, or grandchildren. Read these to yourself if you missed out on them growing up, or just want to build your own foundation in the classics as an adult reader.
- Most of the authors on this list wrote multiple chapter books for children, so if you like a book you read by them see what else is in their bibliography. I just chose one book or series per author, because this list was getting rather extensive!
- Since some of these classic chapter books are quite old (some almost 200 years old), you’ll find a lot of differences in the way we think today. I believe it’s healthy for children to put themselves not just in someone else’s place, but in someone else’s time, and differences in worldview make for excellent conversation.
- Don’t be afraid of “big” or dated vocabulary. Children can comprehend a lot through context.
- The following list is ordered roughly from earliest reads (that you can start at about age 4), to books suited for older children (young teens). However, if you’re reading aloud to multiple kids, don’t worry too much about pigeon-holing an age. If you start a book that seems too scary/advanced for the youngest listener, let the older children continue it on their own and move onto something else for the family read-aloud.
50 Best Read-Aloud Classic Chapter Books
(Click the book’s title to go to the Amazon page for pricing options and to read more reviews!)
- A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond – This 1958 book–the first in a series–follows the adventures of a kind and well-spoken bear who’s adopted by a human family.
- Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne – This book is best read aloud by someone who can manage to do different voices for each character. All of Pooh’s friends in the Hundred Acre Wood have such distinct personalities; each can become friends for a child the way they were for Christopher Robin.
- The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame – The cast of anthropomorphic animals have quite distinct personalities, which make them feel like old friends the more you re-read their stories. The Wind in the Willows is a gentle, come-and-go book that makes it perfect for bedtime reading.
- The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling – Kipling certainly has a way with words. Even though we’re quite removed from the setting (a forest in India) and the time of writing (1890s), our 4-year-old son loves these stories!
- Heidi by Johanna Spyri – Growing up, this story about the orphan Heidi made me want to run in the fresh air of the Alps and drink limitless goat’s milk. It’s a wonderful story of childhood, friendship, and the beauty of a simple life.
- The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis – There are few books that are so universally spellbinding for children as are these. My husband and son are working through the series together now, and I know it will be the first of many readings.
- The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum – This story reads very much like a fairy tale, with repetition, various quests, and the innocence and goodness of the heroine. The other books in the series are equally imaginative, so if your family likes this one you can keep going!
- Five Children and It by E. Nesbit – While out in the English countryside one day, five siblings discover a strange creature that can grant wishes–but only one wish per day, and it expires at sunset. Nesbit was a popular children’s author at the turn of the century, and was an inspiration to C. S. Lewis, who read her books as a child.
- The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder – This is another series we read over and over again growing up. In fact, our first major family road trip was themed after these books–we visited sites where Laura lived, and studied the historical backdrop for her novels.
- The Happy Hollisters by Jerry West – This is the first volume in a fun, mid-century series about five children who solve mysteries. Growing up, I loved the interesting locations that the Hollisters visited and the skills they’d pick up in each. Reading the books to my son now, I’m equally impressed with how intelligent, capable, and close knit they are.
- Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White – This was the very first chapter book I read, and I’ve spoken to a number of other bookworms who say the same. It’s a quintessential part of childhood to read this book. So if you never did, go back and patch that gap!
- Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry – based on a true story, Misty is about the wild horses of Assateague Island, and about two children from neighboring Chincoteague who hope to race one.
- The Water Horse by Dick King-Smith – While beach-combing near her home in Scotland, eight-year-old Kirstie discovers a very large, strange egg. Naturally, she brings it home and waits for it to hatch(:
- The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang – Lang was a Victorian author who collected folk and fairy tales from around the world into his immensely popular “color fairy book” series. This first volume includes classics like Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and The Forty Thieves.
- The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting – This series follows the adventures of an English doctor who can communicate with animals in their own languages. Like many great children’s books, Doctor Dolittle started as stories told by a parent to his children. In this case, Lofting was writing from the trenches during World War I.
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll – This story is all Alice’s dream, and the book itself is dreamlike–odd, whimsical, rarely making sense. So don’t expect a neatly-plotted narrative, but do expect something captivating and unexpected.
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl – A poor boy finds one of five golden tickets that grants him entry into Willy Wonka’s candy factory for an exclusive tour. I think most children will find this an easy premise to get in to(:
- The Borrowers by Mary Norton – Life has its challenges when you’re only six inches tall. The Clock family lives comfortably under the floorboards of the “Big People’s” house, secretly borrowing the things they need to furnish their home and supply food for the table. Things get complicated when Arrietty Clock makes friends with a human Boy.
- The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner- I grew up with the 90s cover art editions, but I was surprised to learn this kids’ mystery series actually began in 1924! The first 19 novels are by the original author, although dozens of sequels have followed since. Here’s the original 1924 edition, and here’s the first 4 books in a boxed set. (The first book was revised in 1942, and the series continued from there.)
- Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi – The original Italian fairy tale about a wooden puppet’s quest to become a real boy. I highly recommend seeing if you can get the edition that’s illustrated by Greg Hildebrandt; the stunning pictures bring the story to life–no pun intended(;
- Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming – Did you know that the man who created James Bond is also responsible for this delightful children’s story? The book is quite a bit different from the 1968 musical, so except some surprises!
- The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald – Written in 1872, this is an early fantasy novel for children. It tells the story of lonely princess Irene, her friend Curdie, and the vengeful goblin race that lives in the nearby mines.
- Mary Poppins by Dr. P. L. Travers – If you’re a fan of the classic Disney movie, be prepared for something a little different with this book. One main difference is that book Mary Poppins is not as kind as movie Mary Poppins! There are actually eight Mary Poppins books, as Travers wrote all the up through the 1980s.
- Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink – This based-on-real-events story is about a tomboy girl growing up on the frontier in the 1860s. Fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder will enjoy this!
- All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor – A close-knit Jewish family share joys and hardships in New York’s Lower East Side at the turn of the century. A great pick for fans of Little Women.
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain – Twain’s “ode to boyhood” is extremely readable for modern-day children; it’s funny, relatable, and sometimes edge-of-your-seat exciting.
- The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White – The wizard Merlyn mentors “the Wart,” an orphan boy who will one day become the famous King Arthur. We loved the illustrated edition from Dennis Nolan–look for that!
- The Rescuers by Margery Sharp – The Disney movie is, in fact, based on a delightful series about the white mouse Miss Bianca and her daring rescue missions. As a child, I found these books exciting and genuinely edge-of-your-seat. The novels were illustrated by Garth Williams, who you’ll recognize from the Little House series and Charlotte’s Web.
- Little Britches by Ralph Moody – Perfect for fans of the Little House books, this autobiographical series features a male protagonist coming of age in the early 1900s.
- Thee, Hannah! by Marguerite de Angeli – A story of a young Quaker girl, set against the backdrop of pre-Civil War America and the Underground Railroad. De Angeli’s books often featured overlooked or culturally diverse peoples.
- The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss – On an ocean crossing, a Swiss pastor and his family are shipwrecked on a desert island, where they must learn to survive and rebuild their lives.
- The Secret Garden by
- Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls – Rawls’ book Where the Red Fern Grows is perhaps better known, but I actually preferred this novel instead. Mostly because this one has a happy ending. And I love the premise of Jay scouring the Ozark mountains to capture escaped circus monkeys! Pretty memorable summer, I’d say.
- Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery – I’m biased as a huge Montgomery fan, but I believe every child should get to encounter red-headed Anne. The first book makes a great read-aloud, and older children may want to continue the series on their own (or branch out to other Montgomery novels).
- Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie – Yes, there’s the Disney movie, but there’s so much more to the story, as you’ll learn when you read the original novel!
- Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson – What child doesn’t love a treasure hunt? This sea-yarn is steeped in adventure and action. We watched the Muppet Treasure Island movie with my son, but I can’t wait til he’s just a little older and we can read the real thing!
- Twenty and Ten by Claire Huchet Bishop – Twenty French schoolchildren agree to hide ten Jewish refugee children. With the Nazis coming, everyone’s courage and ingenuity will be put to the test.
- Black Beauty by Anna Sewell – This forerunner of the horse story genre is told as an autobiography of a horse growing up in Victorian England. It was an instant bestseller, and actually served to inspire reforms in animal welfare.
- The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien – While Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is denser and better suited for older children, The Hobbit was specifically written as a children’s story and you could start it younger!
- A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – My dad read this to us every Christmas, and its pages are as cozy and familiar to me as a favourite blanket. If you can find it, grab the hardcover edition illustrated by Greg Hildebrandt.
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott – Children will find plenty to relate to in the March sisters’ escapades. Even after 150 years, the story is fresh and very accessible.
- The Coral Island by R. M. Ballantyne – Picture Robinson Crusoe and The Swiss Family Robinson–but without adults. This is an action-packed, desert island survival story, with three shipwrecked boys as protagonists.
- Gone Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright – One summer, two cousins discover an abandoned lakeside resort. Well, it’s almost abandoned…they find two residents who never left, and the mystery begins to unfold.
- Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt – What if you could live forever? Ten-year-old Winnie Foster meets a family who can–and soon, she’s faced with an important choice of her own.
- Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham – This Newberry Medal winner tells the biographical story of Nathaniel Bowditch, a sailor and mathematical genius. An inspiring tale of adventure and virtue, with a dash of romance.
- Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge – Set in the Netherlands, a poverty-stricken brother and sister enter to win a famous ice skating race. The author includes detailed descriptions of Holland and its culture, so this might be a better pick for older kids who don’t mind pausing the action for the sake of world-building.
- My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George – Was it just me, or does every child dream of “living off the land”? I always loved this story because Sam Gribley gets to do just that when he runs away to the Catskill Mountains to test his survival skills.
- Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor – Set in the South during the Great Depression, Taylor’s novel deals with some intense subjects (racism, bullying) without being too graphic.
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle – This fantasy/science fiction follows the unusual adventures of the Murray children as they quest to find their father, who went missing while working on a secret government project.
- Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell – A 12-year-old Native American girl is left stranded on an island when her tribe sails away. She fends for herself, hoping that one day her people will return for her.
What are your family’s favourite classic books to read together?