10 Chapter Books That Should Be in Your Child's Backpack

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly book blog meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. The prompt this week is "back to school", and my topic of choice is 10 Chapter Books That Should Be in Your Child's Backpack!

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter, #1) by J.K. Rowling

There isn't a chance in the world that you haven't heard of Harry Potter. The series about the magical orphan fighting against the tyranny of the Dark Lord is the flagship of the millennial generation's fiction intake; anyone growing up from the late nineties to the very early 2010s has been touched by this series in some way. For many of us, Harry's story is not just a tale of equality and the fight between those who love and accept and those who hate and oppress, but it's also an old friend. It's filled with characters we adore, plot twists we delight in, values we've internalized. The series was a phenomenon, and that was because it was phenomenal.

The younger generation, though, won't be as familiar with the series as mine was. Brace yourselves, millennials-and-up, because I'm about to blow your minds: there are millions of children in elementary school this year who were born after not just the books finished, but after the films were done! No, seriously, this year is the tenth anniversary of the release of the Deathly Hallows book and the sixth anniversary of the release of Deathly Hallows Part 2 into theaters. Is that not nuts?

So if you happen to be the parent/guardian, close relationship, or even just the family friend of one of these post-HP youngsters, I'm willing to go on record saying that it's your sworn duty to make sure that a copy of Sorcerer's Stone makes its way into that kid's backpack this year. You'll be doing them a favor, that's for sure; kids these days deserve to experience the magic that is J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World.

Alanna: The First Adventure (Song of the Lioness, #1) by Tamora Pierce

When it comes to books that your child will see in school, there tends to be two primary categories: classic stories that the teachers and curriculum are going to share with them and new releases that their friends and local librarians will introduce to their lives. What gets left behind are older stories, stories that never had the ratio of value to popularity that makes a classic; there are an unknowable number of poignant, powerful, life-changing books that the older generations will remember fondly, but will likely never make their way into the modern child's hand. So with this choice, I'd like to avert some of that.

Alanna: The First Adventure was a actually more than a bit outdated even when I picked it up (it had been published about fifteen years previously, in fact), but the world was a bit different back then. When I first stumbled into Tortall, the concept of young adult literature had yet to solidify; J.K. Rowling had only just burst onto the scene in the past couple of years, and books were still sorted into either "children's books" (the majority of which tended to be aimed toward younger children rather than teens and preteens) and "adult books" (which many authority figures tried to keep from young children's hands altogether). Nowadays, Song of the Lioness and Tamora Pierce's other works are considered young adult, but Alanna: The First Adventure definitely feels like it comes from an era before such a label became a guideline.

But that's not to say it isn't a wonderful story and part of a powerful series! Because it is; Alanna: The First Adventure is the first book in a quartet that was my first experience with a subgenre known as "feminist fantasy". It's a story of a brave, resilient, determined female character who fights against the patriarchy she lives within; when told she can't pursue her dreams because she's a girl, she decides to masquerade as a boy, and as she grows into a woman, her courage and achievement actually begins to change her society. It's an empowering story, and though there's criticism to be found in regards to the story romance plotline (the relationship dynamics are outdated at this point, a vestige of 80s mores that might seem a bit uncomfortable to modern readers), I'd highly recommend it for each and every little girl.

Kittens in the Kitchen (Animal Ark, #1) by Ben M. Baglio

If the kids in your life are anything like myself at a young age, they're big fans of animals. And I don't just mean pets; I was utterly in love with everything furry, feathery, and scaly. I loved farm animals, wild animals, imaginary animals; I loved them all. And one of the ways I indulged in that love was by watching television and reading books about animals!

I was eager to consume it all; when it came to television, Zoboomafoo was a delight of mine, I thought the Magic School Bus episode about city wildlife was fascinating, and the late Steve Irwin was my hero. In the realm of books, though, I had one primary animal indulgence: the Animal Ark series by Ben M. Baglio.

The story follows Mandy Hope, the adopted daughter of two veterinarians living in England. She has a love for animal life even more intense than my own back in the early 2000s, and in each book, she gets involved in the life or lives of yet another animal in need of her help. She rescues ponies, finds homes for kittens, and just generally lives a life utterly enviable to those of us who want to live in closer contact with the natural world.

So if you've got a child who's interested in cats and dogs, goats and chickens, ponies and horses, and more, then you'll want to check out the Animal Ark series. Mandy is a great role model, the stories are mature and responsible in their subject matter, and all in all, the series is just a bunch of fun.

Deltora Quest: The Complete Series by Emily Rodda

The fantasy genre, once maligned as the arena of nerds, geeks, and dorks, is now as mainstream as it could possibly be. Harry Potter captured the minds of an entire generation, series like True Blood and Twilight made monsters once relegated to horror movies into questionable teen and young adult lust objects, and Game of Thrones is one of the most popular and highest rated television shows of all time. A penchant for fantasy is no longer something considered shameful; dragons and zombies and wizards and magic are something that the average person knows and appreciates in one for or another, and children's fantasy enjoys a post-Harry Potter renaissance unlike anything readers could've imagined before Rowling.

Among the amazing series available in the world of children and teen's fantasy, I have a few favorites. Among them are series like the aforementioned Harry Potter and Song of the Lioness, but for a somewhat younger audience than the YA or MG crowd--the chapter book crowd, if you will--I have a different recommendation entirely.

Emily Rodda's Deltora books are a delight that I discovered well over a decade ago. Set in a dangerous and deadly fantasy world that's kind of like an extremely creative magical Australia (the author herself is Australian, by the way), Deltora Quest, Deltora Shadowlands, and Dragons of Deltora tell the story of Lief, a typical fantasy orphan boy with a serious destiny ahead of him. But as cliche as that might sound, the story isn't; it's a traditional hero's journey, sure, but what supports it is anything but ordinary. The world itself is rich, creative, and awe-inspiring to those of us who enjoy the intersection of worldbuilding and kidlit; the supporting cast is detailed, complex, and not so traditional as the hero they support; and the plots themselves are a perfect balance of complex yet simple enough for the audience, indulging in plot twists and logic puzzles that will entertain both children and adults.

If your child likes fantasy and hasn't yet picked up this series, it definitely deserves a place in their book bag this year!

The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #1) by Lemony Snicket

Back when I initially read the first installment of A Series of Unfortunate Events, it was already a popular series. But I had no idea that its popularity would be so vast as to get a mid-2000s film adaptation starring Jim Carey of all people and so enduring as to get a mid-2010s Netflix adaptation starring starring Neil Patrick Harris! I am genuinely amazed that this series retains its cultural relevance as we approach 2020, and I'm glad; it definitely deserves the praise it gets.

At the time of its publication, A Series of Unfortunate Events was an utterly unique children's series. It was hilarious, dark, emotionally mature, and witty--a veritable breath of fresh air! The story of the Baudelaire children was a throwback to older children's stories, in which the morose nature of life falls heavy upon the shoulders of young protagonists who never quite manage to crawl out from beneath their oppression. It was a bittersweet, wonderfully referential, and even self-indulgent story that was a genuine delight to read.

While its definitely a tale for older children (the adaptations are more approachable for younger kids), I highly recommend it to anyone capable of understanding it even to a half of its full potential!

The Secret of the Old Clock (Nancy Drew, #1) by Carolyn Keene

Children's mysteries are and have been a well-established genre for decades. For the modern child, there's more to choose from than one can even properly process, and that honestly much different when I was growing up. If I wanted to read a mystery, I had more options than I knew what to do with: did I want to read A to Z Mysteries? Cam Jansen? One of the Mary Kate and Ashley mystery books? A Baby-Sitters Club Mystery? A Hardy Boys book? Or one of the most important detectives of all time, Nancy Drew?

While some may bristle at the description of Nancy Drew as "one of the most important detectives of all time", I stand by it. Nancy Drew has been a staple of literature for almost a century now; she debuted in the thirties, was revitalized in the 50s and beyond, and endures to this day in the form of books, video games, and even a relatively recent movie. She is the girl detective, varying degrees of clever and capable in even her least impressive incarnations. And while her older stories may sometimes feel outdated to modern audiences, there are plent of modern Nancy Drew stories to be had.

Any young fans of the mystery genre are doing themselves a disservice if they've not yet read Nancy Drew.

Kristy's Great Idea (The Baby-sitters Club, #1) by Ann M. Martin

If you grew up anytime between 1986 and 2000, you no doubt heard of the Baby-Sitters Club. The BSC series is a minor point of nostalgia for those of us who were bookish girls during that decade-and-a-half timespan (though there were plenty of male fans, too, of course!), and I for one definitely still hold the series in fond regard. The Baby-Sitters Club instilled in me a fondness for groups of female characters as an element of fiction, a love which was reinforced by series like Sailor Moon and Tokyo Mew Mew; and while I certainly didn't become a babysitter thanks to this series (though perhaps I might have if I'd actually known any families that needed a sitter when I was of the appropriate age...), it did give me a certain fondness for the trappings of childcare in general (which is significant, considering I'm a person whose desire to raise children ranges from negligible to nonexistent).

There was something for everyone in the series and its core circle of babysitting girls. Tomboys and those of us with leadership inclinations could identify with Kristy; Mary Anne was the representative for shy girls with oppressive parents; Claudia was an extremely welcome instance of representation for Asian Americans and individuals with learning disabilities, and her artistic inclinations were a beacon of inspiration for the like-minded; Stacey was also fairly representative in her struggle with diabetes, which some readers may be inclined to see as a metaphor for more serious illnesses such as HIV or AIDs; Dawn's California roots were relatable to children with similar backgrounds and ultra-cool to those of us for whom California was so alien as to seem like another planet filled with beaches and movies stars, and her struggles with her parents' divorce is perhaps one of the most relatable experiences in the entire series, given the rising divorce rates over the last several decades; Jessi's intermittent struggles with anti-black racism reflected extraordinarily common real-world experiences in the most appreciated of ways, while her ballet skill made her only more relatable for many little girls with similar interest; and Mallory's huge family, interest in horses, and writing aspirations made her familiar territory for plenty of other little girls, including myself on that last point.

If you have never read a Baby-Sitters Club book, you've no need to fear. These books aren't just about babysitting. Some of them are, sure, but more of them use babysitting as a way to deal with serious issues and to facilitate more interesting plotlines; within the massive line of BSC stories, you'll find everything from books about dealing with the loss of grandparent, books about childhood illnesses, books about struggling against racism and prejudice, spooky books for budding horror fans, straightforward mysteries, and plenty more There's just so much to choose from when it comes to the world of Stoneybrook, Connecticut, and if you just spend a bit of time poking around, you're all but sure to find something that the children in your life will be eager to read.

The Absent Author (A to Z Mysteries, #1) by Ron Roy

Speaking of mysteries, one of my absolute favorites series when I was among the demographic of chapter book readers was Ron Roy's long-running A to Z Mysteries series. It began in the nineties when I was a child, and after its original twenty-six book run (one book per letter of the alphabet, of course!), it continues to this day in the form of two spin-offs, the A to Z Mysteries Super Edition series and the Calendar Mysteries series, which is intended for a slightly younger audience.

It's a very charming story, particularly due to the fictional setting of Green Lawn, Connecticut (my fondness for which I recently discussed in My Top Ten Favorite Fictional Settings), and while there are minor points in some of the mysteries that might date the series, the books aren't yet so outdated as to no longer be fun stories for modern children.

So if there's a young mystery fan in your life, I definitely recommend giving some of these books a chance! The characters are multifaceted, the setting is charming, and the mysteries are fun (though predictable for older children and adults).

Dinosaurs Before Dark (Magic Tree House, #1) by Mary Pope Osborne

The Magic Tree House series is one of the most beloved chapter book series to come out of the 90s. It's magical, historical, and educational; it's a time-traveling journey undertaken by two plucky youngsters: Jack, a methodical, bookish older brother; and Annie, Jack's deeply compassionate and bravely heroic younger sister. The Magic Tree House series has it all; it indulges in its audience's thirst for everything magical in a post-Harry Potter world; it embraces feminism with Annie's characterizations; it celebrates other cultures and eras as the titular tree house travels through time and space like an earthbound TARDIS; it even dabbles in mythology with the inclusion of Morgan le Fay, Merlin, and Camelot. And there is even a series of corresponding children's nonfiction books meant to take the educational aspects of the series to the next level.

As a child, I was always very charmed by this series. I keep using the word "magical" because that's just how the series felt to me back when I was among its target demographic; even before the Arthurian mythology was more deeply explored as the series went on, its charm was in its impossibilities. It facilitated its historical fiction premise with the use of fantasy, and it was just the hook I needed (coupled, of course, with the third book's use of ancient Egypt as a setting) to fall in love with the series.

And with more books still being published to this day, the series has certainly not lost its luster nor its grasp on the world of children's fiction. If you're interested in a series to help get a child interested in exploring other cultures, places, and eras, Magic Tree House is definitely one of the best places for you to start!

Poppy (Dimwood Forest, #1) by Avi

For my last choice this week, I am once again revisiting Avi's wonderful Dimwood Forest series; in particular, I have chosen the original book of the series, Poppy. Rather than reiterate everything I recently said about this series, I'm going to be quoting from one of my recent posts, 10 Book Recommendations for Disney Animation Fans, in which I sung the praises of this series.

Dimwood Forest [...] is a series of children's books by acclaimed author Avi. The focal point of the series is Poppy, a field mouse whose life plays out across the span of each of the books save the prequel, Ragweed. Besides that prequel novel, the series consists of Poppy, Poppy and Rye, Ereth's Birthday, Poppy's Return, and my favorite by far, Poppy and Ereth. Those first three books (Ragweed, Poppy, and Rye) were stories I enjoyed during my own childhood, and quite recommend them for modern children, as well... but the real gem of the series is Poppy and Ereth. After reading the rest of Poppy's story, in which the grumpy porcupine Ereth plays a supporting role, reading their surprisingly emotional storyline in this final novel was, well, surprisingly emotional!

Honestly, I'm really looking forward to rereading these books once I get the time, and I highly recommend them to anyone looking for some talking animal fun!

In spite of my greater love for Poppy and Ereth than the earlier Poppy, I have to say that if one were to start with the series, one would be amiss to begin anywhere but Poppy. Forget the Ragweed prequel, and don't even think of launching into the series at any point later than Poppy; to truly get the emotional impact of these characters and their story, one must begin at the beginning--the true beginning, not the prequel "beginning"--and get to know the world of Dimwood Forest through the eyes of the little field mouse who survives against the odds in Poppy.

If you've got any children in your life who can appreciate a thoughtful story of sentient animals (a la Black Beauty or The Lion King), Dimwood Forest and Poppy are definitely something you'd do well to make sure ends up in their backpack sometime during this school year.

So what do you think? Do you love these recommendations or hate them? Is there another book that you'll be making sure your kid takes to school this year? Let me know in the comments below, and join in next week for another Top Ten Tuesday!

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