16 Great Chapter Books
for Third Graders
by Janssen Bradshaw
Wondering what book to pick up for your third grader?
As they develop more independence and the ability to read longer and more complex stories, the world of children’s literature really opens up.
These new and classic titles are perfect for all kinds of third-grade readers. They’re also great for reading aloud, if that’s more your child’s speed. Or you can try alternating back and forth — they read a page, then you read a page — so they can practice their reading but not get so bogged down they lose sight of the story arc.
No matter how you use these books, all 16 are winners.
Pages & Co. Series
Tilly Pages has an enviable ability: she’s a bookwanderer, which means she can travel into any story she chooses. Tilly discovers her power at Pages & Co., her grandparents’ bookshop, after meeting literary characters — like Anne of Green Gables — who bookwandered out of their own stories and into Tilly’s life. With the help of a new friend, Oskar, Tilly solves all sorts of bookish mysteries, starting with what happened to her mother who disappeared.
Fantastic Mr. Fox
When is Roald Dahl not a good idea? This book is a quick read and hilariously funny. (There are also audio versions of Roald Dahl’s books and this one is particularly excellent if you have a child who would rather listen than read.)
The Unicorn Rescue Society Series
For third graders who can’t read enough about mythological creatures, The Unicorn Rescue Society is a must. New kid at school Elliot Eisner and thrill-seeking Uchenna Devereaux are tapped to join an ultra-secret organization that’s been protecting mythical animals — and keeping them hidden — for centuries. Their adventures take them around the world and face-to-face with fantastic creatures; the accompanying illustrations make a perfect crossover for newly independent readers.
Cam Jansen Series
There’s a reason this series has been a bestseller for over 30 years — and with over 30 books in the set, it will keep readers busy for a good while. You might think of Cam Jansen as a descendent of Nancy Drew: there’s no mystery Cam can’t solve if she just puts her mind to it, especially with her best friend Eric at her side. It’s a great transition for those just getting into chapter books.
Planet Omar Series
A wonderful #OwnVoices series, Planet Omar centers a young Muslim boy as he nervously transfers to a new school. Omar is bighearted and wildly imaginative (he suspects his new teacher of being an alien, for starters), and though he’s confronted with a bully and a feeling of otherness, he has his imagination, quirky family, and new best friend to help him find his footing.
The Fantastic Frame Series
This series is so much fun because it mixes art history with heart-pounding adventure. Ten-year-old Tiger Brooks and his neighbor Luna must literally dive into famous paintings — by artists including Georges Seurat and Georgia O’Keefe — to search for a missing person. Black-and-white line art transforms into full color when the duo enters the frame (not unlike Dorothy going from Kansas to Oz), and the two must get out quickly or risk being trapped in the paintings forever.
Scoob didn’t count on a spring break like this one. He also didn’t count on being majorly grounded, but his grandma had other ideas in mind, and she’s whisked him away on an epic road trip — Green Book in hand — retracing the journey she and Scoob’s grandpa took once upon a time. With his grandmother at the wheel, Scoob learns important truths about both his family and America’s history.
Confessions of a Dork Lord
Meet Azrael Bal Gorath the Wicked, Son of the Dark Lord Who Vanished, and Heir to the Throne of Black and Broken Glass. His friends call him Wick. Everyone else at Middle Ages School calls him the Dork Lord. It’s hard living up to your famous father, especially when your heart’s not in it (and you’re still in Remedial Spell Casting). Buckle up for this hilarious and irreverent new series.
The Phantom Tollbooth
Third grade is the perfect age to experience the wonder of The Phantom Tollbooth. Milo’s mysterious journey to the Island of Conclusions and his burgeoning friendship with Tock the ticking watchdog will reinvigorate imaginations — including yours! Why not revisit this classic with a family-wide read aloud? Your kids will be clamoring to read the next page.
Jake the Fake Series
Jake managed to fake his way into the Music and Art Academy for the gifted and talented, but he’s not so sure where to go from there. He’s certainly no musician or artist. Really, all he’s ever been able to do is make people laugh. Co-authored by actor and comedian Craig Robinson and best-selling author Adam Mansbach — and accompanied with pitch-perfect illustrations from Keith Knight — this new series is primed to become a fan favorite.
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
Every third grader needs a dose of Judy Blume in their life — and every young reader who’s lived through the woes of sibling rivalry will appreciate this tale of Peter and his little brother, Fudge, who’s hogging all the attention. The kid’s trouble in Peter’s opinion, though all anyone seems to care about is his so-called cuteness. After your child devours this one, they can turn to Superfudge and Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great.
A Dyamonde Daniel Book Series
Dyamonde Daniel is the sort of literary role model parents dream of for their kids. The third grader with “wild-crazy hair” is here to make friends, reconsider what she really needs in life, and question the narratives she’s hearing at school. Author Nikki Grimes is so talented at weaving difficult conversations (about things like privilege and body image) into the daily life of Dyamonde, a sparkling, smart, and kind heroine.
The First Rule of Punk
Creative preteen Malú is just trying to be herself — after all, as her father taught her, that’s the first rule of punk. At school, Malú and her new bandmates defend their right to express themselves against a school administration that pushes conformity; at home, Malú’s mother wants her to learn more about her Mexican heritage, which Malú, who’s biracial, has complicated feelings about. You’ll cheer for this thoughtful, bold young narrator.
The Witches of Benevento Series
In the ancient Italian town of Benevento, legendary witches wreak all sorts of mischief. Five young cousins — Primo, Emilio, Rosa, Maria Bepinna, and Sergio — must work together if they’re ever going to outsmart them. The books are full of tantalizing clues and plucky characters who each get their moment in the spotlight: Rosa becomes the first girl to compete in the annual Boar Hunt, Sergio tries to appease the ancestor spirit who lives upstairs, and more.
The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail
What child hasn’t been charmed by miniature, hidden worlds? Enchanted fairies, tiny “borrowers” who live in the walls, and now a pipsqueak of a mouse who doesn’t know his own name. But that won’t stop him from setting off for Buckingham Palace to seek an audience with Queen Victoria and find out who he really is. Whimsical and clever, this one’s sure to charm your young reader.
The Zach and Zoe Mysteries Series
Young sports fans and athletes will love the Zach and Zoe Mysteries series, which follows 8-year-old twins as they take to the court (and field, and rink...) while solving cases along the way, from the missing baseball to the damaged lacrosse net. There’s no shortage of action from sports journalist and author Mike Lupica, and the whodunit element keeps the pages turning.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2015 and updated in 2020.