Fourth Graders Looking For a Good Book…



Standing in the children’s book section in Buttonwood Books and Toys the other day, I joined a conversation between Buttonwood’s owner and a customer who was a mother on a mission.  She was shopping for her fourth grade daughter who is a strong reader, but not ready for the mature content of some young adult books. It was a familiar dilemma. Almost every week, the parent of a third or fourth grade student comes by the Library to ask for recommendations for their son or daughter who loves to read but has, in their parent’s words, “read everything for their age and wants something more challenging.” The mother in Buttonwood planned to start a summer book club for her daughter and asked if I had any suggestions.  The first book I took off the shelf was Ingrid Law’s Savvy, a story about a family in which every member has a  “savvy” or a special power. At the opening of the novel, 12-year-old Mibs is looking forward to finding out what her savvy is, but things don’t work out the way she expects. Law’s book is so imaginative and fun that it’s an easy recommendation to make. The good news is that there are many others…in fact, I had trouble limiting the list. I decided on 15 books – Savvy and 14 others….


The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (Newbery-winning story about friendship told from the point-of-view of a captive gorilla)


Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (10-year-old Bud Caldwell runs away from his foster home to search for his father, a jazz musician)


Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (Nearly fifteen years after its publication, my love for DiCamillo’s first novel has only grown. The story of Opal, who with her preacher father, moves to a small town in Florida and meets a stray dog she names Winn-Dixie.)


Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper (Fifth grader Melody was born with cerebral palsy. She’s really smart but can’t walk or talk. A challenging and important book for all kids)


Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (They’ll all be carrying notebooks around after reading about Harriet!)


Remarkable by Elizabeth Foley (pirates, magic, word play, wonderful characters – just a solid delightful story!)


Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee (a retelling of the Snow Queen…an eleven-year-old girl who believes in the facts meets meets a “Marvelous Boy” who tells her he is going to save the world from the evil snow queen)



Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (written in free verse and in first-person, this is the story of fourteen-year-old Billie Jo who is growing up in Oklahoma during the dust bowl.)


From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (the last time I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York – which is the setting for this classic novel – I noticed a brochure about visiting the places where Claudia and her brother, Jamie, go in the museum. Reading this book is an essential part of the childhood reading experience.)


Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (a mixture of fantasy and magical stories from Chinese folklore, I’ve never had a student read Lin’s book without immediately asking for the companion, Starry River of the Sky)


The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadhota (winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. 12-year-old Summer is spending the summer with her grandparents who work for a harvesting company. The most memorable thing about this novel is the portrayal of the lives of farmers.)


Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker (the story of two girls who, through a shared tragedy, become friends during a summer on Cape Cod)


The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (equal parts illustration, narrative and a cinematic production, Selznick’s Caldecott-winning book takes place in a Paris train station in the 1930s. The book is much better than the movie!)


Seven Stories Up by Laurel Snyder (A time travel story – back to 1937 Baltimore)

And if this group of kids was one year older, I would add:

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

Holes by Louis Sachar

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

The Vine Basket by Josanne LaValley

This list will give them enough to choose from this summer – and maybe the next!




6 thoughts on “Fourth Graders Looking For a Good Book…

  1. I’ve been in that mother’s shoes – and you’ve offered some wonderful suggestions! A recent book that my 11 yr old DD loved is A SNICKER OF MAGIC by Natalie Lloyd.

    • Hi Cathy,
      That’s so funny – because that book was on my original list. I literally had to drop a few I loved and that was one of them.
      We are on the same wavelength….Thanks.

  2. I second the nomination of A SNICKER OF MAGIC, but also would add: HALF A CHANCE (Cynthia Lord); TURN LEFT AT THE COW (Lisa Bullard), and EMMY AND THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING RAT (Lynne Jonell). All solid stories that never talk down to the reader and always make you want to turn the page.

    • Hi Gwenyth –
      Just read Half a Chance and totally agree! Now I need to add Lisa Bullard’s book to my list….Thanks.

  3. Thank you Shelley. Since our chat in the bookstore, Ainsley read Savvy immediately and absolutely loved it. She then devoured Because of Mr. Terupt (her brother had it as compulsory reading for school, so she grabbed it and highly recommends it). Your blog is wonderful, thoughtful, so helpful. Next, we are going to read a bunch of the ones you suggested. Thank you!

    • Hi Michele,
      I’m so pleased Ainsley enjoyed Savvy and Mr. Terupt – both awesome books. Mr. Terupt has a sequel – Mr. Terupt Falls Again – which your kids
      may want to check out!

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