If you’re looking for great books for bright kids, I’ve got 5 new chapter books for middle grade readers, 5 older favorites, and one bonus non-fiction picture book for older readers that I think you’re going to love.
Whether you are building a classroom or home library, or whether you are looking for great gift ideas, this list will help you find the perfect book.
This is a part of a series of videos and written reviews for books I recommend for bright young readers.
The new books were sent to me by the publisher for review, but I have not received any compensation for the reviews, and the opinions are purely my own. The old books are from my own library.
The Eleven Books for Middle-Grade Readers
📚 The Interplanetary Expedition of Mars Patel by Sheela Chari
📚 The Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher
📚 Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen by Kate McGovern
📚 Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards
📚 Baby Island by Carol Ryrie Brink
📚 Star Island by Louise Dickinson Rich, Illustrated by Elinor Jaeger
📚 The Thundering Prairie by M. A. Hancock
📚 The 21 Balloons by William Péne du Bois
You may scroll down to read the reviews, or click the video below to watch or listen to longer reviews and see the books and their illustrations.
[Note: The links are affiliate links, which means that the website receives a small commission if you purchase the book.]
New Chapter Books:
The Interplanetary Expedition of Mars Patel by Sheela Chaari
Based on the award winning Mars Patel podcast, this is the second book in the series that began with The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel. It’s a futuristic sci-fi mystery series with a cool format. In addition to regular prose, there are emails, podcast transcripts, newspaper stories, and instant messaging threads, so it doesn’t look like a lot of text. It’s about a group of young detectives, so it’s kind of like Encyclopedia Brown and friends went to space. It’s got a fast-paced plot, so I think it may appeal to reluctant readers. I love a series for middle grade readers, and this one doesn’t disappoint.
✅ Get a copy of this sci-fi fast-paced book on Amazon.
Julius Zebra: Grapple with the Greeks and Julius Zebra: Entangled with the Egyptians by Gary Northfield
This series blends comics and text in a clever, engaging way. I love that the comics aren’t superfluous. They’re essential to following the story. This isn’t a graphic novel, per se, but it will appeal to readers of graphic novels. The novels are funny, fast-paced, and populated by anthropomorphized animals (like the Zebra). The backs of the books have great information connected to the topic (Roman numerals, anyone?). The font is large, leaving lots of restful white space on the page. I love these for anyone, but if you would like books that teach a little bit of something in addition to entertaining, they deserve a spot on your shelf.
✅ Get a copy of the Greeks adventure on Amazon.
✅ Get a copy of the Egyptians adventure on Amazon.
The Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher
Orphan Seren Rees travels to Wales to join a family, but when she arrives, all is not what it seems (or that she’d hoped). There’s a mystery and proper Victorian spookiness. It’s set in Victorian times, and is a perfect holiday read. Every chapter has a rhyming couplet that I found clever. It’s a great next read for lovers of The Secret Garden. It’s the first in a series, so if your reader (or you!) like this one, keep going!
✅ Get a copy of this cozy Victorian mystery on Amazon.
Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen by Kate McGovern
To me, this book represents all that’s fabulous about contemporary middle-grade fiction. There’s a character with lots of strengths, but also an undiagnosed language processing disorder. She has to repeat fifth grade due to her reading difficulties, and she persuades everyone that it’s because the school budget cuts necessitated having a student stay behind to help the teacher as an aide. Pretty clever. Well, I think you can guess what comes – her lies grow bigger and more twisted, and they destroy the very friendships she’d hoped to keep by telling those lies. It’s a great story of how hard it is to be different and how hard it is to get out of a web of stories once you’re in deep. If you’re building a library of diverse books, this is a great addition, as well.
✅ Get a copy of this cautionary tale told well on Amazon.
Colossus: The World’s Most Amazing Feats of Engineering by Colin Hynson, Illustrated by Giulia Lombardo
This book’s a bonus because it’s not a chapter book. It’s a picture book for older readers focusing on incredible feats of engineering from around the world. While I think the illustrations could have been more engaging, the layout is wonderful, and the illustrations are simple, so they’re easy to understand. There’s a wide, wide assortment of engineering goodness (everything from the Great Wall of China to Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah island). There are broad categories of engineering (like bridges), and then specific examples (Trans-Siberian Railway). It’s a fabulous blend of history, culture, and engineering, which is an essential part of engineering. There are a couple of places where the font color does not contrast sufficiently with the background that makes for difficulty reading in low light, but there are only a couple of those. Anyone interested in engineering or in how things work would love this.
✅ Get a copy of this engineering awesomeness on Amazon.
Old Favorite Chapter Books
Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards
At the top is my favorite childhood book. Yes, this is the same Julie Andrews we know and love. This story of an English orphan girl who climbs the orphanage wall and discovers a cottage in the woods is a delight. The illustrations are wonderful, and the way she makes the cottage her own is just charming. I think about this book probably once a week, even though I’m old! It’s a great Christmas read, too. And no spoilers, but she maybe finds a family, not just a cottage. Trust me, this one’s a winner. You know what? I’m going to go re-read it now.
Baby Island by Carol Ryrie Brink
I didn’t even realize it until after I’d recorded the video that this book was written by the beloved author of Caddie Woodlawn! I bought this book for one dollar at a Scholastic Book Fair at my elementary school when I was in second grade, and I’ve loved it ever since. Yes, second grade, but I was a very, very advanced reader. The story of two girls shipwrecked with four babies to care for made me want twins. Until I had my first child, that is. It’s like The Babysitter’s Club meets Robinson Crusoe, and I loved it. The cover is different, and it doesn’t cost a dollar anymore, but this oldie-but-goodie may be a perfect fit for a young reader you know.
Star Island (Boy) by Louise Dickinson Rich, Illustrated by Elinor Jaeger
Originally published as Star Island Boy in 1968 and republished as Star Island a few years later, this is the story of a foster child who is placed with a couple in a small lobstering village on a small island off the coast of Maine. It’s a shame it’s not in print because it’s a timeless story of finding family and how our fears can sometimes get in the way of our happiness. I have read this perhaps a dozen times, and it’s worth buying a used copy of it to read this story. She’s most famous for her non-fiction story of her family’s life in the Maine woods, We Took to the Woods, but I have always loved this story with a passion.
✅ Get a copy of the this obscure worthwhile read on Amazon. [Note: I found a couple of listings for it, and this one had the more reasonable pricing. Ignore the ridiculous list price and grab an old copy for a few bucks.]
The Thundering Prairie by M. A. Hancock
Just like Star Island, this book was printed as a Weekly Reader Children’s Book Club edition. It tells the story of a thirteen-year-old boy who shoulders the responsibility for getting his family’s homestead claim in what is now the state of Oklahoma. I love the way Mary Hancock shows the capability of young teenagers and the way she portrays a family and a sense of duty. There are illustrations at the chapter breaks that add to the tale. It would be a terrific read-aloud. If anyone is studying Westward Expansion, this would be a solid companion novel. It’s also a good jumping-off point for a discussion of the egregious way in which the American Indian land was divided up and given away.
The 21 Balloons by William Pène du Bois
The new cover just isn’t as good as the original, but the story still reads true decades after publication. This Newbery-winner is about an explorer who has returned from what was supposed to be a hot air balloon trip around the world and turned into something much different. He tells the story to his explorer’s club, and the tale of the utopic society he found on the island of Krakatoa is amazing! I loved this book so much, and I remember being simply captivated by the way the family structure on the island worked and the sheer cleverness of it all. The illustrations are fabulous. Some people have told me they had trouble getting into it. Feel free to skip the very beginning and start in Chapter 3 a couple of pages in with the section that starts, “It is funny that my trip ended…” Mischief managed. This would also be a great family or class read-aloud.
Great books help create great readers. If you would like to find more books for bright kids (as well as toy suggestions), my Amazon storefront has all of my recommendations.
You May Also Like:
- 7 Picture Books for Bright Readers (Books for Bright Kids: Episode 1)
- 5 Great Books for Young Readers (Books for Bright Kids: Episode 2)
- 5 Picture Books about Animals (Books for Bright Kids: Episode 3)