If you have made it here, you must be seeking a solution to the most wonderful of problems. Your skilled, voracious reader has run out of developmentally appropriate books to read. Or maybe you have a child who is reading at their expected level but is sensitive to scary, sad or suspenseful stories. Or you have a child who absolutely, positively, totally, completely does NOT want any kissing bits in their books (yuck!).
Well, we’re here to help.
The following books have all been chosen for their quality, complexity and language, and also because they deal with their themes in child-friendly ways. Just because a child can read Stephen King, doesn’t necessarily mean that they should. We have sorted these books by age range for simplicity. Choosing books based on a child’s age is an art rather than a science, so it’s a good idea to double check whether the books are right for your reader or not. If you want some ideas about what to look for beyond these suggestions (after-all your reader may very well devour the recommended books as quickly as you can hand them over), scroll down for some tips.
Oh. And buckle up. This is a long list.
Chapter Books to Share with 3-4 Year Olds
Wolves of Greycoat Hall by Lucinda Gifford (Australian)
When the Greycoat family hear that wolves are permitted back to Scotland, they decide that they are ready for a Scottish holiday, but Scotland is not quite ready for them. Key themes of family and differences.
The Tales of Mr Walker by Jess Black & Sara Acton (Australian)
Based on the real Mr Walker, a Guide Dog Ambassador who lives in the Park Hyatt in Melbourne, this collection of stories follows Mr Walker’s daily antics. It is written with whimsy, but also in such a way a child could warmly hold the labrador’s adventures in their heart as completely true.
Can a cat and a dog really get along? Charmingly set in Amsterdam with the theme of seeing things from someone else’s perspective.
Violet Mackerel by Anna Branford & Sarah Davis (Australian)
A Bear Named Bjorn by Delphine Perret (Translated from French)
Dulcinea in the Forbidden Forest by Ole Könnecke (Translated from Swedish)
Books for 5-7 year olds who are reading at an 8-10 year old level
How to Bee by Bren McDibble (Australian)
Set in an imagined near future where climate change has altered the food system and childrens’ roles in it, Peony is taken from her home in the country to the city where she must find ways to keep herself safe.
Eliza Vanda’s Button Box by Emily Rodda (Australian)
Fantasy adventure in which Milly finds herself dealing with muddles in multiple worlds through the conduit of Eliza Vanda’s button box.
The Peski Kids by R.A Spratt (Australian)
Funny. The sibling squabbles that mark the Peski kids’ relationship are not enough to get in the way of them solving mysteries (or trying to) that no one else can.
The Word Spy by Ursula Dubosarsky & Tohby Riddle (Australian)
The Little Wave by Pip Harry (Australian)
Bindi by Kirli Saunders (Australian, Indigenous)
Polly and Buster by Sally Rippin (Australian)
Books for 8 Year olds reading at a 10-12 year old level
The Orchard Underground by Mat Larkin (Australian)
Quirky mystery. Pri Kholi was the first child in the town of Dunn’s Orchard, but it wasn’t until he met Attica Stone that he really thought about the question: Where’s the Orchard?
The Secrets We Keep by Nova Weetman (Australian)
When Clem starts afresh at a new school after a house fire takes everything from her including her mother, she can’t bear to tell the truth about her past. Will these lies and omissions get in the way of her making new friends and moving on?
Dragonkeeper by Carol Wilkinson (Australian)
Series. A slave girl in ancient China saves a dragon and they begin an epic journey to protecting a mysterious stone.
The Golden Tower by Belinda Murrell (Australian)
The Grandest Bookshop in the World by Amelia Mellor (Australian)
Every Thing We Keep by Di Walker (Australian)
Sensitive by Allayne Webster (Australian)
Books for 10-13 year olds who are reading YA or Adult
Rich writing and through provoking metaphor are the hallmark of this story set in a time post an environmental catastrophe in which twins Summer and Winter must deal with their father’s role in the tragedy.
Lenny’s Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee (Australian)
Lenny and her chronically ill brother explore the world through their ever-growing encyclopedia of wonders. Just as a note for particularly sensitive readers, this book is quite sad.
Sabriel by Garth Nix (Australian)
Fantasy. Series. A 10 year old once described this book to me by saying: “Garth Nix is for kids like me who need a bit more.” Sabriel must walk the line between the living and the dead to fulfil her destiny.
The Mirror Visitor: A Winter’s Promise by Christelle Dabos (Translated from French)
Vango by Timothee de Frombelle (Translated from French)
Look for ‘Upper Middle Grade’ Books
There is a new phantom category making the rounds called Upper Middle Grade. This refers to books that are suitable for younger advanced readers. If you see a book branded with this category, it’s worth giving it a look for an advanced, upper primary reader.
A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay (Australian)
Crow Country by Kate Constable (Australian)
The Lost Soul Atlas by Zana Fraillon (Australian)
Iris and the Tiger by Leanne Hall (Australian)
My Life as an Alphabet by Barry Jonesberg (Australian)
Roll out the Classics
Classics can be a good choice for advanced readers because they expose children to ‘archaic’ language that can challenge and broaden their understanding of vocabulary and syntax. Classics can also add to the richness of reading by showing children a snapshot of times past. A warning, though, it’s a good idea to check your favourite classics before giving them to a child. A book that you remember being fine during your childhood can be deeply problematic through modern eyes (Huckleberry Finn, I’m looking at you.) If you choose to give these books to a child anyway, you might need to have a conversation about them beforehand about the way values change over time.
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren (Translated from Swedish)
The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery (Translated from French)
Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay (Australian)
YA Without Romance
One of the main things that marks a shift in category from Middle Grade to Young Adult is an increased emphasis on relationships and first-person introspection. Whilst this is compelling for many young readers, others aren’t ready for it or just aren’t interested. The good news is that there are plenty of books written specifically for teenagers that go easy on the ‘kissing bits’.
Monuments by Will Kostakis (Australian, LGBTQI+)
Euphoria Kids by Allison Evans (Australian, LGBGTQI+)
Take the Shot by Susan White (Australian)
Sensitive Readers: guaranteed happy ending.
One way to get a sensitive reader to push through the discomfort of reading a story that gives them ‘too many feels’ is to let them know whether there is a happy ending or not. This is less of a spoiler than you might think and might just be the thing that gives your sensitive reader the courage to give a book a go. If you are not sure what to choose, look for genres such as mystery that must have a resolution in order to be complete. There are also plenty of books out there that are feel-good stories with gentle tension and conflict.
Cryptosight by Nean McKenzie (Australian)
Australian bush setting. Exciting but not unbearably suspenseful.
We Are Wolves by Katrina Nannestad (Australian)
Big themes of war, death and child refugees, but the tension is frequently broken with charming, feel-good moments. You can assure your reader that there is a happy ending
Paws by Kate Foster (Australian)
The stakes in this book are real, but the tension is very gentle and the family relationships are lovely. There are also genuinely cute dogs.
Enola Holmes by Nancy Springer
Series. Classic whodunnit genre structure with resolved endings.
A Final Note on Comprehension
Comprehension is something to keep an eye on with ‘advanced’ readers. Your child may be able to read the words on the page and proudly push themselves to read books that are more and more advanced, but that doesn’t mean that they understand what they are reading. Luckily, it’s easy to check your reader’s comprehension and to give them a boost without squashing their enthusiasm.
It’s as simple as asking some questions about the book. If your reader’s answers show that they are finding comprehension tricky you can help them by front-loading them with knowledge about the concepts and events in the book. For example, if the book is about WW2 it could be helpful to listen to podcasts or have a discussion about what happened during that time in history. Your reader will understand more of what they are reading and will build on their knowledge more thoroughly if they have some grounding in the topic in the first place.
~ Gisela Ervin-Ward teaches children with learning difficulties how to read and provides literacy consulting to schools @podliteracy. She is obsessed with children’s books and writing and muses about them at @giselaervinward. www.giselaervinward.com