by Meredith Bartolo Pappas
What makes a chapter book a classic? According to the definition of the word classic, it is a remarkable book that can stand the test of time.
This definition includes books that have been around for decades but also leaves room for new books that will be sure to still have relevance in years to come.
With so many amazing chapter books for kids out there, it is hard to narrow down which would make a classic chapter book list, but here are twenty that are not to be missed:
20 Classic Chapter Books For Kids
Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster with illustrations by Jules Feiffer. The story of a young boy and a dog that head off on an unforgettable adventure through a mysterious tollbooth. The writing is so clever and engaging, this one is sure to keep you reading. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson In this complex book, two children become friends against all odds and build a magical place in the woods, only to have it end in tragedy. Meant for children ages 10 and up, this is a moving portrait of true friendship and grief. The Giver by Lois Lowery In the beginning, the world 12-year-old Jonas is living in seems to be almost utopian, but after he is given his job as The Receiver of Memories, things begin to seem less than perfect. This job becomes a challenging and powerful task that will change the course of his life forever. Beautiful and heart-wrenching, this tale is a stand-alone book, but can be read alongside three others that make up The Giver Quartet. Red by Leisel Shurtliff Truly a classic as it reimagines one of the most classic characters of all, Little Red Riding Hood. Read all about her life, including her mystical grandmother in the woods. Leisel Shurtliff also wrote Rump and Jack about two other classic characters, Rumpelstiltskin and Jack and the Beanstalk that are also wholly absorbing. A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle A favorite children’s fantasy book, this story is about the unique characters that make up the Murry family, along with Meg Murry’s friend Calvin. They set off on a dangerous adventure to find their scientist father, but who knows if they will find him or be able to return home. If you like this one, there are other books about the interesting Murry family that are also fantastic reads. From The Mixed-Up Files Of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L Konigsburg Have you or your kids ever wondered what it might be like to secretly live in a museum? Brother and sister James and Claudia run away from home and find out just what museum-living is like in this classic book meant for ages eight and up. Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke Anna is as sweet and fun as her name and this book series is a wonderful beginning for early readers, or as a read-aloud with younger children, preschool age and up. Anna lives in Africa with her African father and Canadian mother, twin brothers, and lots of family all around her. They do a lot of traveling, from beach trips to visiting her Grandmother in snowy Canada, so these books give a lot of insight into different parts of the world. There are eight books in the set and can be read in any order. Another similar series for slightly older children is The No. 1 Car Spotteralso by Atinuke, all about a boy and his life in a village in Africa. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. Such a smart book! An interesting group of people gathers for the reading of the will of an eclectic man and mysteries abound. This book is filled with puzzles, riddles, twists, and turns and is absolutely engaging. Due to the subject matter, and the idea of murder, this is a classic book best suited for older children. The One And Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate with illustrations by Patricia Castelao Find out what it feels like to be an animal in captivity with very little love and attention from Ivan, a gorilla being forced to live in an enclosure in a mall. Poignant and difficult to read at times because of the subject matter, this is a tender and well-written book. Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard Atwater with illustrations by Florence Atwater Silly fun abounds in this book about a house painter, Mr. Popper, who is surprised to receive penguins in the mail. He and his family train them and next thing you know, they are a popular traveling act. There are some outdated social ideas in this book, but it is mostly just really good fun and well-loved by children from preschool age and up. King and Kayla by Dori Hillestad Butler with illustrations by Nancy Meyers Kayla and her dog King enjoy solving mysteries together in this sweet series. These loveable characters make each one of these engaging easy readers a delight to read aloud or have beginner readers devour on their own. Stella Diaz Has Something To Say by Angela Dominguez Angela Dominguez is an accomplished picture book author and illustrator, and this is her first novel for older children. Based on her own life growing up, this book shows how being bilingual can be challenging at times, especially for a social girl like Stella. An endearing story with Spanish words throughout, for ages eight and up. The Unicorn In The Barn by Jacqueline Ogburn with illustrations by Rebecca Green. A young boy named Eric finds out that the veterinarian that bought his grandmother’s house has a secret, she cares for magical animals like a unicorn and talking cat. He becomes her apprentice, along with her headstrong and temperamental daughter, and a strong friendship and love for animals grows. There are some swear words and a section when Eric is accidentally shot and injured by some hunters, but it can easily be altered if you are reading it out loud together. A touching and quick read. The Frog and Toad Collection by Arnold Lobel This isn’t a traditional chapter book as each chapter is really a stand-alone story, but it is just right for beginner readers. Frog and Toad really exemplify the idea of being the very best of friends, and most of their stories are just silly fun for the youngest readers. A great way to teach about the short story format. Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai Such a unique and lyrical book written in the form of poetic verse, this is a story of a refugee family fleeing their vibrant home in Vietnam during the war. Make sure to also read the interview with the author included in the book, as this is based on her life. For older children, ten and up. Beyond The Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk Another one that will definitely pull on your heartstrings. As an infant, Crow was found and raised on a small island. But at age twelve, she is thrust into a dangerous journey of discovery. There are some scary elements to this story, so it is best for ages ten and up. All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor The only book on this list that takes place at the turn of the century, this book is such a quaint tale of five siblings living in New York City with their parents. This is a series, but the first book is the sweetest one. The Girl Who Drank The Moon by Kelly Barnhill This book reads like an old folktale, and has some scary concepts right off the bat, but is hard to put down once you get reading! Gripping and dark at times, this one is best for older children to read while curled up under a blanket. Choose Your Own Adventure by RA Montgomery These books can’t be beat! They aren’t always the most dynamic stories, but who doesn’t love interactive tales where you can make the adventure your own?! So much fun to read, they are often a wonderful way to engage children who might not love reading…yet. There are almost fifty of these in print, and each book has many different outcomes. Rowan Of Rin by Emily Rodda If you love action and adventure, this fantastic series does not disappoint! Rowan is a kind, dreamy boy who feels like he doesn’t fit into his tight-knit community of strong people, but it is his mind and heart that help him save his village and people again and again. Each book is a thrill-ride with tender moments and loyal friendships tucked throughout.
There are so many wonderful classic chapter books for kids out there, this list is just a small sample of some that children and adults can love now and for generations to come. What are some of your favorite classic chapter books?
About Meredith Bartolo Pappas
Meredith is a licensed teacher with almost twenty years of experience in education. Her specialties are holistic learning, early literacy, and social-emotional development. She is also a reading specialist, artist, and mom of two. She loves all things bookish, magical, and cozy. Find her at Sharing Circle Education sharingcircleeducation.com and on Instagram @sharingcircleeducation.
Magic Tree House Read Alike Books
Nonfiction Books for Kids
Magical Realism Books