In this section, we present our picks for the 20 greatest books for kids ages 8-9. It’s part of our series on the 100 Best Children’s Books of All Time.
60. The Indian in the Cupboard
Written by: Brock Cole
The Indian in the Cupboard is an enchanting tale about a Native American toy that comes to life and befriends the boy Omri. The book was published in 1980 and was received with enthusiasm. The toy comes to life after being kept in a magical cupboard given to Omri. The story follows their adventures, and the time they spending getting to know each other, Omri caring for Little Bear who can be quite demanding. In the end, after finding Little Bear a bride, Omri decides to send the whole cast of toys back to their original time (when plastic in this world the toys are alive in their own time) and resolves not to bring them back, until, that is, the sequel which was published in 1985.
59. Happy Hollisters
Written by: Jerry West
This series follows a family with five children ranging from 4-12 who also happen to be amateur sleuths. The books take place in the family’s hometown, and on occasion abroad in other towns around the country when the family goes on vacation. Each of the children is a different archetype so most kids will have somebody to relate to, and look up to in this series. There are 33 Happy Hollisters books that were published between 1953 and 1970. These books are great fun for children, and a captivating introduction to mystery novels.
58. Nate the Great
Written by: Marjorie Weinman Sharmat
Illustrated by: Marc Simont
Nate the Great is a series of children’s detective stories, and also the name of the main character in those stories. The books consist of 20 picture books and six chapter books. There are also four spinoff works following Olivia Sharp, a detective cousin of Nate’s. The character is intended to be the children’s version of Sherlock Holmes. As for influence, some have theorized that the character Rosamund, both in the way she was drawn and the description of her as just, “strange” was the inspiration of the advertising and graphic novel character Emily the Strange but this has never been substantiated.
57. Riding the Pony Express
Written by: Clyde Robert Bulla
This is a book about three friends in the mid 19th century. Dick Park, son of a Pony Express rider, Katy Kelly, daughter of a way station master, and Little Bear, a native american boy that lives in the area. The fast moving adventure story covers how the Pony Express worked, and the challenges of keeping the mail moving fast. Of course there are other themes in the story as well. The pace of the book is brisk, keeping childrens’ attention from cover to cover. This adventure tale captures the romance of the old west, and features one of America’s great innovations, a great experiment in fast, efficient, cross continent communication in an age when such communication was slow and unreliable at best.
56. The Whipping Boy
Written by: Sid Fleischman
The Whipping Boy is one of the more complex stories for kids this age. It carries many mature lessons about human dignity, spoiled children, abuse, and the human yearning for freedom, even if often it is at the expense of some comfort. Above all this book is about living in another person’s shoes, and being considerate of other people, as well as the value of telling somebody what you truly think even if it might be hurtful to them. Overall the message about shared human qualities regardless of social status or class. In 1987 The Whipping Boy was awarded a Newberry Medal.
55. The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Written by: Elizabeth George Speare
The Witch of Blackbird Pond is a classic tale of clashing cultures, adapting to new circumstances, and the danger of making assumptions about people. The protagonist, Kit, is a strong minded woman that moves to a land where that’s viewed with suspicion. She’s not superstitious but the people in her new puritan town in late 17th century Connecticut are very superstitious. They accuse a person Kit has come to like of being a witch Kit helps her escape. She also does several minor things that anger influential people within the community and is eventually accused of witchcraft herself. Young love also makes an appearance throughout the story.
54. The Tale of Despereaux
Written by: Kate DiCamillo
This book featuring a mouse and four stories of his adventures received a warm reception when it was published in 2004. The praise culminated in the book winning the 2004 Newbery Medal, and not long after it was made into a feature film. These stories have heart and will serve as a great introduction for children to high adventure. The stories don’t just follow Despereaux, some of them focus on other characters, and use them to help build the world. Children will learn the value of judging people based on their individual qualities rather than outward appearance.
53. The Tales of Uncle Remus: The Adventures of Brer Rabbit
Written by: Julius Lester
Illustrated by: Jerry Pinkney
The Adventures of Brer Rabbit is a charming book with a very classic, beautiful style in its illustrations. The book has been around in many forms throughout the years since the late 19th century. It has been adapted for both film and stage. In 1988 the book was awarded the Cora Scott King Award. While the version from the late 1800s later received some criticism for racist overtones, the modern incarnation of the stories retain all the charm but have been updated for mirror the progress that has been achieved in the mid to late 20th century.
52. Little House on the Prairie
Illustrated by: Laura Ingalls Wilder
These autobiographical books follow the life of Laura Ingalls from the age of five through the first four years of her marriage to Almanzo Wilder. They are a charming coming of age story and a rare, incredible look into the experience of average folk trying to make a life for themselves on the frontier. The television show Little House on the Prairie varied in its faithfulness to the books, but nonetheless won the hearts of audiences. The show ran for ten seasons, and those episodes were replayed for nearly two decades. The books even inspired a 26 episode Japanese animated series called Laura, the Prairie Girl.
51. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Written by: Frank L. Baum
Illustrated by: W.W. Denslow
This book received a warm reception when it was published in 1900 but faded in to the background after, not discussed much among children’s lit circles. Indeed even after the hubbub surrounding the incredibly popular movie the books were mostly ignored. At one point in the 50s the director of Detroit’s library system even banned the book saying it had “ no value” to children and supported negativism and cowardice. However despite harsh criticism and general indifference from the children’s lit set, this series continues to capture the imaginations of children generation after generation. It’s a timeless story and has endured for over 100 years and shows no sign of stopping.
50. A Long Way From Chicago
Written by: Richard Peck
This short story cycle was awarded a Newbery Honor in 1999. The sequel won a Newbery Award. While the book is comprised of short stories, they all center on family, two children spend several summer vacations with their grandmother in rural Illinois and the experiences they have. The grandmom is quite a character and her antic include everything from entering pie competitions to illegal fish trapping. These charming stories of summer escape and adventures are some of the best you can find and kids will eat them up.
49. Bridge to Terabithia
Written by: Katherine Paterson
In this children’s lit classic two lonely kids create a magical forest. During the story the kids bring out the best in each other, together they discover new sides of themselves. This book may serve as one of the first deep examination of the concept of death for many children. That intense content has made the book the target of banning crusades, it was one of the most challenged books of 1990-2000. The book has gained worldwide recognition, becoming a staple in english classroom and a favorite of two generations of children, and likely many more to come.
48. A Wrinkle in Time
Written by: Madeleine L’Engle
This 1962 novel is a fantastic blend of science and fantasy. The book is classic children’s literature has won multiple awards including the coveted Newbery Medal and was runner up for the Hans Christian Anderson Award. The book centers on a girl whose father has gone missing while working on a secret government project. The book features a vivid cast of characters including the girl’s athletic older brothers and genius younger brother (sometimes capable of reading minds). The book plays with the basics of quantum physics and time travel using simple prose to engage children and not fly straight over their heads. A Wrinkle in Time is quite an achievement.
47. Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Written by: Jeff Kinney
This book is a satirical realistic fiction work about a Greg Heffley and his experiences in middle school. Diary is the first in a series of books following the same character. Greg deals with problems that face many children, particularly relationship problems with family and friends during the middle school years. His creative solutions to these relationship issues usually end up blowing up in his face with quite hilarious results. Diary of a Wimpy Kid was embraced almost immediately upon publication due to its wit and charm, it was adapted for the silver screen almost immediately.
46. Harriet the Spy
Written by: Louise Fitzhugh
The year of its publication in 1964 the New York Times named Harriet the Spy as one of the “Year’s Best Juveniles”. The book has since received some awards and recognition from children’s lit critics. The book was adapted for the silver screen and the motion picture was also successful. The story of a girl who spies on everybody, takes notes, and whose life ambition is to be a spy is one that children love. The book also teaches interesting life lessons about how your words and actions can hurt other people, and in turn cause them to want to hurt you. It also shows what happens when you humble yourself and ask your friends for forgiveness, and maybe tell a white lie or two to soothe their feelings.
45. Because of Winn-Dixie
Written by: Kate DiCamillo
This simple story about childhood centers on the beauty of the relationship between a girl and her dog. The book is a great story about how even if you don’t have much, great friends and pets can make up for a lack of material possessions. The book also has a theme running together about the dual nature of sweetness and sadness, and how they often accompany one another during life. The book was awarded a Newbery honor in 2001, one year after its publication. In 2007 the book was placed on the NEA’s Top 100 Books for Children list.
44. Sarah Plain and Tall
Written by: Patricia MacLachlan
This book won widespread recognition among critics taking home a Newbery Medal, the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, and the Golden Kite Award, all in 1986, which is also the year of its initial publication. This story is about a family working through hard times. Jacob, the father, lost his first wife during childbirth, and finds managing the farm by himself to be too much. So he places an ad looking for a wife. Sarah answers the ad, and moves west from Maine to meet the family and see if they’re a good fit. This tale of love and loss was also adapted for the stage and became a very successful off-broadway one act children’s musical.
43. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
Written by: Robert C. Obrien
Illustrated by: Zena Bernstein
Mrs. Frisby needs help, this widowed field mouse’s house is about to be destroyed by the farmer’s plow. She seeks the help of the rats of NIMH a society of lab rats that managed to escape from a lab at the National Institute of Mental Health and developed a literate and technological society. Her son would help, but he’s ill and it’s planting season. The plot becomes deeper and more intricate as the story progresses, but is told simply enough that children can follow it. The book was published in 1971 and won the Newbery Award in 1972. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH has two sequels and in 1982 was released as a major motion picture called The Secret of NIMH.
42. Walk Two Moons
Written by: Sharon Creech
This is a novel about a girl names Sal coping with her mother leaving after having a mental breakdown due to the death of her younger sibling. On a long car trip with her grandparents her grandmother (Gram) asks her to tell stories about her and her friend Phoebe’s (who had also recently lost her mother) adventures. As the road trip progresses Sal and her grandparents meet new people, experience new places, have their own adventures and make their own special memories. This Newbery Medal winning story deals with everything from the formation of new friendships and relationships, to grief, loss, coming of age, and cultural identity.
41. Island of Blue Dolphins
Written by: Scott O’Dell
This Newbery Medal winning novel was published in 1961 and is considered one of the great classics of children’s literature. Island of Blue Dolphins follows the story of a girl named Karana and is based on a true story of a Native American girl named Juana Maria who lived alone for eighteen years stranded on one of the channel islands off the California coast in the mid 19th century. There are some differences between the book and the real life events, for instance in the book Karana is stranded with her brother while in the real life events Juana Maria was completely isolated. The story provides the reader with a better understanding of both Native American culture, the abuses of natives perpetrated by european traders and settlers, in addition to being an incredible story of personal strength, and the will to survive.