Here are 10 (plus a bonus pick) of the best Chapter Books and series we read in 2017.
I have one more book list for you. I shared my Favorite Fiction Reads from 2017 and my Favorite Non-Fiction Reads from 2017, but some of the best books of all were middle grade chapter books.
Some of these books I read aloud with one or all of my children (ages 11, 9, 7, and 3). Some of them I read on my own and then passed along to one or more of my children to read. All of the books on this list are phenomenal.
In addition to these favorite chapter books that we loved this year, our absolute favorite series to read aloud right now is the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place. I adore them with all my heart – we made it to the last available book in the series in 2017 and are now waiting most anxiously for the final book to be released.
For more of our favorite family read aloud books, check out this earlier post.
If you’re on GoodReads you can find all the books in this post in a GoodReads List here so you can easily add them to your “to read” shelf. Follow along on GoodReads to see more of what we’re reading throughout the year.
Best Chapter Books We Read in 2017
Seeds of America Series by Laurie Halse Anderson
There are three books in this series, Chains, Forge, and Ashes. They were some of my very favorite books last year. I read them all and then pushed them on my 11 year old daughter, who, thankfully, loved them just as much as I did.
The series begins in 1776 at the start of the American Revolution and ends in book three with the American victory. What makes these books unique and wonderful is that they are told from the perspective of the slaves. The first book, Chains, is narrated by 13 year old Isabel. She was promised her freedom upon the death of her owner, but finds that promises to slaves mean nothing. Following Isabel’s experience, Anderson takes us through a revolution being fought for freedom, but not freedom for everyone. All three books are complex, emotional, gripping, and brilliant.
These are the books that I keep recommending lately. Given the subject matter, I’d say they are best for 10 and up. But they are just as wonderful for adult readers as they are for kids. And if you have a teen that is obsessed with Hamilton, you could probably talk them into reading these pretty easily too. They are just So Good. I want you to read them. If you have any interest at all in well executed historical fiction, please read these books.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Hands down, this was everyone’s favorite family read aloud last year. I somehow made it 35 years without ever reading the Hobbit. So if, like me, you’ve been avoiding the Hobbit, let me say a few things that might change your mind. First, this really has nothing to do with Lord of the Rings. They aren’t alike at all. So if you don’t like Lord of the Rings (or saw the movies but don’t think you’d like that sort of book), think again. They aren’t alike at all. Second, if you saw the newest Hobbit movies and think that you don’t want to read a book like that, think again. Those movies have nothing to do with the Hobbit book – really, nothing.
The Hobbit, as many people already know, is a completely charming book. Even my three year old enjoyed listening to this at the end of each day. It is sweet and funny and absolutely thrilling. It’s a most perfect fairy tale of a book to read aloud together. I can’t believe it took me so long to discover this!
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
I read this just after it won the Newbery Award last year and I was smitten. My 11 year old and 9 year old girls also read this and thoroughly enjoyed it too. I actually read this into the wee hours of the morning, despite knowing I would have to wake up at 6:30 AM to get my daughter to her before-school activities, because I just could not put it down.
The book sucks you in immediately with it’s dark and chilly setting. Every year the people of the protectorate leave a baby as an offering to a witch who lives in the forest. They don’t really remember how it began, but they believe that their sacrifice will prevent the forest witch from inflicting horrors upon them. The reader soon discovers that there is another side to this story and things are not at all how they seem.
There’s magic and fantasy, like any good fairy tale, but there’s also science, and critical thinking, and legend, and a beautiful story about the power of stories. I already want to read this book again.
Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder
I was conflicted about this book at first. However, when I realized that I’d been thinking and talking about this book for weeks after I finished it, it finally dawned on me just how genius the book really is. The problem with it is that there is a dystopian story line happening in the book – there are 9 kids on an island and every year a boat comes and brings a new child and the oldest child must get in the boat and leave the island – but it’s not really the point.
It’s easy to get hung up on the dystopian story line and then feel disappointed when you don’t get any answers. You never find out why the island is there, who is sending the children, where they go after they leave. I wish I’d known these things up front. I might have discovered and enjoyed the real story line more if I hadn’t been looking for answers to questions the whole time. Still, once I caught on, I thought the book was really beautiful and meaningful. The real story here is the story about growing up – transitioning from childhood into the next stage of life. And that story line is very well done. This is a great book for tweens and the parents of tweens.
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
The title initially turned me off to this book, but don’t let it fool you too. This book is fantastic! And it’s not a princessy sort of book at all. There are 3 books in this series (we’re in the middle of book 3 right now) and they are all absolutely wonderful. I’ve been reading these aloud with my girls and we adore them. They get so excited to read these at night that they start asking for bedtime as soon as dinner ends.
The series takes place on Mount Eskel, a remote and rugged mountain in the kingdom of Danland. Miri, the main character, has never been off the mountain or away from the quarry that sustains life there. The people of Mount Eskel struggle to earn enough to feed their families, but overall, they are a happy, hardworking, close knit community. And then messengers come from the faraway capital of Asland with an announcement. The king’s priests have divined that the prince’s bride will come from Mount Eskel. A princess academy is set up and whether the girls like it or not, they must spend a year in the princess academy and turn themselves into proper princess material so the prince can choose one of them to marry.
It’s not a fluffy read like the title implies. In fact, all three books have strong, admirable female characters and deal with complex issues. There are so many lessons to be learned in this series, but Hale does it without ever being preachy. I can’t say enough good things about these books! They have prompted such deep and intelligent conversations with my girls, while also just being good fun to read. I even used a scene in book two to help explain the whole Roy Moore scandal to my 11 year old. Really, these are wonderful books for grownups, teens, and middle grade readers.
The Edge of Extinction Series by Laura Martin
I’ve raved about these two books, The Ark Plan and Code Name Flood, here before, but they deserve all my praise. They are so fun and so widely appealing. We listened to these on audio book as a family and they were a big hit. I have been recommending these right and left. Because they are fun for so many ages, they are perfect audio books for the family car trip or great family read alouds. I recommend these books for grown-ups, teenagers, and kids 6 or 7 and up.
These books are Jurassic Park exciting! They begin 150 years after a dinosaur cloning experiment went horribly wrong. In this future, humans were nearly wiped out and the few that remain live in underground compounds. The book follows Sky Mundy and her best friend Shawn as they try to solve the mysterious disappearance of Sky’s father who vanished from the compound 5 years earlier. These books reminded me of the Divergence series without the romance. Survival is the name of the game and these books are full of adventure and excitement. So much fun!
Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk
This is middle grade fiction at its very best. My 11 year old and I listened to this on audio. We had a difficult time turning it off to do things like sleep and eat. It’s a story about bullying and redemption and it’s full of plot twists that will keep you hanging on to every single word. It’s beautiful historical fiction set between World War I and II. It called to my mind To Kill A Mockingbird and The Hundred Dresses. It deals with some tough subjects, but told by a child narrator, which I think makes it a good read (or maybe read aloud) even for third and fourth graders.
May B. by Caroline Star Rose
I picked this book up at the thrift store, largely because I liked the cover. Turns out, it’s a wonderful book! It’s written in verse – but don’t let that turn you off, because it is very readable. I push this book on almost everyone who stops by my house because it needs to be read.
The book is reminiscent of the Little House on the Prairie books, but more grown up. And by grown up, I mean it deals with more of the hardships of prairie life, more grit and less nostalgia. May doesn’t want to go, but when her family needs the extra money they send her to a neighbor (think miles away on the prairie “neighbor”) to keep house. But it turns out to be more difficult than May could have even imagined. This a beautifully executed story of character and perseverance. All of my girls enjoyed this one too.
The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
First, I love everything I’ve ever read by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. This book is the sequel to The War that Saved My Life. In the first book, the story begins during World War II when 9 year old and her brother are sent out of London to avoid the bombings. It isn’t until she is away from home for the first time, that Ada begins to understand and heal from the abuse her mother has heaped on her because she was born with a club foot.
The second book picks up where the first leaves off in the middle of the war. It finishes Ada’s story of growing up and healing with warmth and beauty. These books deal with heavy topics, but they are hopeful books. They are deep and there’s a lot to talk about and even more to think about.
The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz
This is set in the 1200’s and is told Geoffrey Chaucer style with multiple narrators and stories that weave together. This book is incredible. It’s also tricky for me to recommend because there are some scenes of bloody violence in this book that I felt like were a bit much for middle grade fiction. Luckily, I read this aloud to my kids and did some quick on the spot editing.
Still, bloody violence aside, this book is genius. There’s a lot of humor (oh my, we laughed until we cried in this book) and rollicking adventure. But the reason why this is in my top 10 is because it’s really a brilliant philosophy book. This is a book about morals and it gives you so many levels on which to think about right and wrong, hatred and love, religion, diversity, and more. It can be a bit irreverent though, so I would recommend parents read it first and prepare to talk about it.
And a bonus pick:
The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic by Jennifer Trafton
We read this aloud together on the recommendation of a friend and it was fun, fun, fun. 10 year old Persimmony Smudge (don’t you just love that name!?) is living a boring and ordinary life on the Island At the Center of Everything. Boring that is until she overhears a very big secret, one that could change everything for the little island. The adventure begins when she tries to get someone to listen and help. This is a fun, lighthearted read that we highly recommend – all 5 of us!
Laura Martin says
My husband found your article mentioning my book, and I just wanted to pop over to thank you from the bottom of my writers heart for liking it enough to tell others about it! That kind of word-of-mouth promotion is huge for a new author like myself. So, THANK YOU, and I’m enjoying binge reading your blog! Keep your eye out for my new book coming out in 2018- FLOAT. No dinosaurs this time, but I think you’ll still like it based off of the rest of your choices for favorite chapter books! (I’m biased, but you have GREAT taste in books…) Thank you again!