Here's a common situation that happens several times a week in the children's section of the library and the bookstore.
A parent or grandparent comes in and says that their child loved the Magic Tree House series (or another series at a similarly easy reading level), but now can't seem to get them interested in something else. When asked what they tried next, the answer is almost always Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys or Dick and Jane, because the parent loved to read them when they were growing up.
I've got nothing against these books. Lots of people (me included) learned to read with Dick and Jane or tried to read every single Nancy Drew book when they were a kid. There are still kids that like them and enjoy them, but these books are far less requested these days.
An adult's memory of reading a book or series may be wonderful and magical. But when recommending a book the important thing is to make sure that it's the right book at the right time for the right kid. For more about the right time, see my post about reading Charlotte's Web to my five year old son.
I'd recommend the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew to third graders and above who enjoy mysteries and long series. If you hand it to a kid that has just finished Magic Tree House (grades K-2) they are going to be completely overwhelmed. Take one of those yellow or blue books off the shelf at a library and read it again. The books are triple the length and the vocabulary is much tougher. For a kid interested in early chapter books, I'd try something from this list instead. Or, if they're really interested in the subject matter, there are now multiple Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series in early chapter format and with contemporary characters.
Children's literature is an always developing and ever changing field. A lot has happened since I was a kid and there are thousands more choices available now than there ever were before. Let your children revel in all the great new books.
Of course, there are classic books that are always recommended, but read them again or ask a librarian before handing them to a child. They were all products of the time in which they were written, reflect those attitudes and prejudices, and they might be harder, easier, longer, or shorter than you remember them. There are those wonderful magical books too, that do hold up when you reread them. Books like Winnie the Pooh and Charlotte's Web have been in print for decades because they're timeless and a joy to share with a child.
So, sure, Dick and Jane gets the job done if you're teaching a child to read. But why not use Dr. Seuss or Elephant and Piggie? Both Dr. Seuss and Mo Willems revolutionized the beginning reader field with books that not only contain good, easy to read vocabulary, but that are also bright, silly and funny. If your child is very interested in something, there are now books for beginning readers available on nearly every subject. They can learn to read with a controlled vocabulary book about Star Wars, princesses, riddles, trucks and lots more. Picking something that they want to read will make all the difference.
It's impossible to keep up on all the changes in the children's book field. Here's where a librarian or a children's bookseller can be very helpful and do something that Google and Amazon can't. We know the new titles, we know what's hot, we know what sits on the shelf, we know the latest award winners, we know which books parents and kids come back for again and again. We're also extremely experienced in listening to readers about the things they like and the books they've previously enjoyed and helping them find something new. And we're happy to help you.
Got a book you remember loving as a kid that didn't hold up when you re-read it as an adult? How about one that was just as good or better than you remember it? If you shared it with you kids, what did they think about it?
Need a recommendation for your budding reader? I'm all ears... please leave a comment below.