There are many parents deciding to homeschool their kids this year, and we at Biblio want to help. We are putting together lists of popular classic literature suggested by teachers and librarians for each grade. These lists are geared towards our American or an English-speaking audience, but they can be a good jumping-off point for anyone wanting to supplement their kid’s reading lists.
Does that book seem too hard for your child to understand? It’s probably not. Books tend to contain more vocabulary than children (or adults) would be exposed to in spoken language or in media. That’s a good thing. It makes their brain grow. Reading is shown to improve memory, and may even combat the development of Alzheimer’s in older adults. The practice of reading helps develop concentration skills that are critical to both children and adults as well, both in school and in careers later on.
Best Classic Books for Second Grade
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
This popular children’s novel was written in 1961 by British author Roald Dahl. James and the Giant Peach is about an English orphan named James who cared for by his two abusive aunts. James finds a tunnel in a gigantic peach and enters into a magical world where he befriends seven bugs. He proceeds to embark on a wild adventure with his insect friends, getting into trouble and saving them from sticky situations.
James and the Giant Peach has frequently become the target of censorship due to a rude word or two, references to tobacco and whiskey, and potentially scary content. It might be a good one to read along with so that you can ask (and answer) questions as well as offer context at some of the sticky points in the story.
Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
Make Way for Ducklings is a children’s picture book written and illustrated by Robert McCloskey that was first published in 1941. The book tells the story of a pair of mallard ducks who decide to raise their family on an island in the lagoon of Boston Public Garden and need the community’s help to get there safely! Make Way for Ducklings won the 1942 Caldecott Medal for McCloskey’s illustrations.
Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary
Beezus and Ramona is the first of Beverly Cleary’s books that focus on Ramona Quimby and her sister Beatrice (Beezus). Beezus and Ramona is told by 9 year old Beezus’ point of view as she tried to relate to her 4 year old sister, Ramona. This beloved book was published in 1955 and although times have changed, the sibling rivalries shared herein are very realistic and humorous, all in one.
Stuart Little by E. B. White
While he is best known for Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little was E. B. White’s first children’s story. Published in 1945, it tells the tale of a young New Yorker named Stuart Little who had the “shy, pleasant manner of a mouse” and – spoiler alert – he actually IS a mouse! This tale has been popular since its publication and a film was made in 1999.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Lewis Carroll’s novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland introduces the story of a young girl in a fantasy world filled with peculiar, anthropomorphic creatures. Published in 1865, this immensely popular tale of literary nonsense takes the reader on an exploration of logic and absurdities. The story and its sequel, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, have been retold numerous times through live-action performances, cartoons, and films. Its impact on our popular culture is overwhelming, introducing phrases like “down the rabbit-hole” and iconic images like the “mad tea-party” and the Queen’s commands, “Off with her head!”
The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
The Boxcar Children is a tale of four orphaned children who create a home for themselves in an abandoned boxcar in the forest because they fear their new guardian might be a cruel person. Henry (14), Jessie (12), Violet (10), and Benny (5) do their best to find food and supplies and make their strange home a cozy place. This novel was first published in 1924 as The Box-Car Children but was reissued in a shorter, revised form in 1942.
There are over 150 Boxcar Children books out now, although Warner only wrote 19 of them. Many of the modern books are set in current times and are more focused on the children solving mysteries or having adventures.
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
The wild and raucous character of Pippi Longstocking was created by Astrid Lindgren and named by her daughter, who was requesting a tale to be told while sick at home. The strong and unconventional Pippi has been an inspiration to many young girls ever since.
Pippi was first written and published in Sweden in the 1940s but translated into an American edition in 1950. The story of Pippi has been censored in some translations to make her a bit more of a “respectable young lady,” while her anti-authoritarian outlook was accepted more readily in other countries. Some of the more modern editions have modified some of the insensitive cultural stereotypes used in the original text.
The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
First published in 1950 by Geoffrey Bles in the UK, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is the first published and best known of the C.S. Lewis’ popular Narnia series. The tale of the children who move in with the professor to avoid the bombings during WWII and discover a portal within a wardrobe that leads to a magical land called Narnia was inspired by real children who were staying with Lewis for that grim reason. Today, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is one of the most popular children’s books in print and is included in many top 100 book lists.
Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
Owl Moon is a 1987 children’s picture book by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr. The book won many awards, most notably being the Caldecott Medal for its illustrations, and has appeared on the show Reading Rainbow. Yolen described the book as “a positive family story. It’s about a girl and her father.”
Heidi by Johanna Spyri
Heidi is a classic children’s book first published in 1881 in Germany by Swiss author Johanna Spyri. Heidi tells the story of an orphan brought to live with her grumpy grandfather in the Swiss Alpa and how she makes friends and wins the hearts of those around her.
Amy C. Manikowski is a writer living in Asheville, NC.