With the cold temperatures and sunless skies of winter approaching, most of us are desperately seeking screen-free ways to engage our kiddos as we endure pandemic hibernation. While we have definitely missed participating in extracurricular activities and social outings the past eight months, one benefit of our newfound excess time at home has been settling into a reading routine. However, when both schools and our public libraries shuttered last spring, I found myself in a frantic quest to keep high-interest and appropriately-leveled reading material in my kids’ hands.
While my professional background as a high school English teacher armed me with a knowledge bank of classical literature and great teen reads, I admittedly felt a little lost when it came to looking for books for my elementary school-aged boys. I have two boys with very different attitudes towards reading. My second grader is a voracious reader who passionately devours any books he can get his hands on. Our struggle with him is finding books appropriate to his age and interest level while also providing a challenge to stimulate his literacy skills. My inquisitive fourth grader would much prefer to conduct science experiments in our laundry room sink than curl up with a book. He enjoys reading “bite-sized facts” in nonfiction books, but can be reluctant when it comes to sustaining focus and stamina through a full-length novel. Luckily in my quest to cater to both of my boys’ reading needs, I discovered a myriad of excellent resources and titles that have kept us afloat during these homebound months. In case you are also looking to hoard books for the winter, I’m offering an outline of favorite reads:
One of my absolute favorite things to do with my boys is to read aloud to them. I began this nightly ritual of bedtime stories when they were infants and now our board books have turned into novels. My older son is approaching age ten and still begs me to read each night. I’m secretly hoping they will allow me to continue reading to them throughout high school!
Our favorite read-aloud series has been Percy Jackson and The Olympians by Rick Riordan. The first book in the series called “The Lightning Thief” introduces us to Percy Jackson as a 6th grader. In the opening pages of chapter one, Percy confronts the amazing discovery that the Greek gods from ancient myths are actually real and that he is a “half-blood,” the child of a mortal and a god. This dual nature makes Percy an incredibly engaging character. Kids can relate to his typical struggles to make friends and succeed in school while also being thrilled by his adventurous quests and encounters with mythical monsters and heroes alike.
We have read the first three books in the series so far, and my boys are anxious for us to get to the fourth and fifth. Similar to the Harry Potter books, Percy ages and matures throughout the series, so expect the subject matter to slightly mature as well. By book three, Percy is in high school and begins some mild flirtation with girls. Nothing too crazy, but something to be aware of as you pace your reading. There are also movie adaptations for the first two books in the series. My boys loved watching them after we read the books and analyzing all the ways the movie deviated from the book.
Lastly, one of the best things about this book series is that it has made my boys really interested in all things Greek mythology. Other finds for this subject matters include the National Geographic podcast “Greeking Out” and spinoff book series called “Zeus the Mighty,” which is excellent for early and middle-grade readers to read independently. My second grader also recently found a series called “Hopeless Heroes” that includes many of his favorite gods and goddesses. My nonfiction-leaning fourth grader loves reading the Greek myths in a more pure form with the beautifully-rendered “D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths.” It will come as no surprise that both my boys dressed up as mythical monsters for Halloween this year.
Favorite Series for Independent Reading
When searching for books, latching on to a great series is key! It keeps the momentum going. My second-grader has loved the following series that are approachable, fast-paced, and totally silly:
The Captain Awesome series involves a young boy who turns into a superhero. His entertaining sidekick includes his best friend, Nacho Cheese Man. There’s even a spinoff series about Captain Awesome’s class pet hamster named Super Turbo.
Similarly, The Notebook of Doom series and spinoff series, The Binder of Doom, involve adventures with not-too-scary monsters and lots of gross stuff like slime and boogers. With 13 of these silly and slightly spooky illustrated books, you should be able to ride the Halloween momentum and stay entertained for a good chunk of the winter.
My fourth-grader has loved the six-book Imaginary Veterinary series by Suzanne Selfors. Ten-year-olds Benjamin and Pearl discover Dr. Woo, a newcomer to the small town of Buttonville, who starts an undercover veterinary hospital for imaginary creatures. Ben and Pearl become interns there and meet legendary creatures like Sasquatch and the Loch Ness monster. Their adventures introduce them to unicorns, fairies, leprechauns, and dragons, and the books are sure to interest both boys and girls alike.
Our newest discoveries are the Mac B. Kid Spy and The Last Kids on Earth series. These both cater to slightly older grade readers and are a bit “meatier” in substance and literary level to keep my boys challenged. We discovered these by checking in with the New York Times book lists for children’s literature, and they have been fantastic finds.
I hope that sharing our recommendations keeps your kiddos reading through the long winter months ahead. Please share your favorites with me, too … we are always on the book hunt!