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Growing Reader

20 Kid-Approved Books for Advanced Second and Third Grade Readers

by Kari Ness Riedel

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Kids become independent readers at their own pace. In a second or third grade classroom there can be a variety of reading levels, ranging from kids who are sounding out words to those flying through the final book in the Harry Potter series.

Students often get assigned a reading level based on assessment tools like Lexile, DRA, or Guided Reading and may be encouraged to read books at their level.

There are different schools of thought on the importance of reading books at your level. I belong to the group that believes kids should be encouraged to read whatever interests them to help develop a lifelong love of reading, rather than stressing about whether a book is “the right level” or not.  However, it can be a challenge for advanced readers in early elementary grades to find more complex texts that they want to read and that are still appropriate for their maturity level (i.e. not full of romantic drama, excessive violence, or swearing).

Here are 20 books recommended by young readers on Bookopolis.com, an online community where young readers share book reviews and recommendations with friends. The picks range from classic mysteries to modern fantasy to nonfiction. These books are written at a 5th-8th grade reading level, but the content is appropriate for the 7- to 9-year-old crowd.

  • Mysteries and Puzzles

  • Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library

    by Chris Grabenstein

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    Twelve kids are invited for a sleepover in their town’s brand new library built by Mr. Lemoncello, who is like the Willy Wonka of books. Adventure, mystery, and humor abound as the kids work to solve various book-related puzzles and riddles that will enable them to be the first one to escape the library. Sonia says, “This book rocks! I must've read it five times, but it never gets old.” Also, check out the second and third installments in this series that are just as delightful as the first one.

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  • Three Times Lucky

    by Sheila Turnage

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    Spunky sixth-grader Miss Moses LoBeau is the self-appointed detective of her small North Carolina town. When a murder shakes up the tight-knit community, Mo and her best friend Dale are on the case. This mystery adventure is full of wit, charm, and characters that you’ll want to hang out with even after the story ends. According to Ryal, age 10, “If you love mysteries, then you will LOVE this book.”

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  • Nancy Drew

    by Carolyn Keene

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    This classic mystery series still holds up with young readers today. Each book reveals a different case investigated by the highly likable and clever teenage sleuth, Nancy Drew. If your reader likes the first one, there are many more in the original series to fill up their “to be read” list. Nikki raves, “This series is phenomenal. I always have to keep reading to find out who did it!”

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  • Modern Folk and Fairy Tales

  • Rump

    by Liesl Shurtliff

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    Adventure, humor, and friendship abound in this new twist on the classic fairy tale, “Rumpelstiltskin.” Twelve-year-old Rump is a hero, not a villain, in this version, and must go on a hero’s journey to break the spell that has been put on him. Tiffany raves, “Rump is a really good book. I love how he takes on all the challenges and that he never gives up.”

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  • The Inquisitor’s Tale

    by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly

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    Sawyer highly recommends this award-winning book that is like The Canterbury Tales for young readers. “One of the best books I've ever read; it is filled with just the right amount of humor, magic, and adventure.” Told by multiple narrators, we learn about the adventures of three children and their possibly magical dog. Each narrator makes this medieval adventure tale more fantastical than the last. (Note: This novel may not be the best match for sensitive readers, as it contains a bit of violence.)

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  • Animal-Driven Adventure Stories

  • The Tale of Despereaux

    by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering

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    This modern classic centers around the unexpected adventures shared by a mouse who loves a princess, a rat who prefers lightness over darkness, and a servant girl with a big wish. Heartwarming characters, page-turning action, and beautiful writing make this an excellent choice for readers of all ages. Rhea, age 9, highly recommends it – “I give this book five stars because it is full of adventure, love, bravery, and hope.”

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  • Redwall

    by Brian Jacques

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    The mice of Redwall Abbey seem easy to conquer. Still, the rat warlord Cluny underestimates the strength and bravery of Mattias, his mouse army, and the loyalty of their fellow woodland creatures. This series is excellent for fans of epic adventures who are comfortable with a bit of violence. “This book is a classic hero’s quest, and I recommend it to adventure lovers,” says Brendan, age 10.

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  • Classic and Modern Realistic Fiction

  • The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl

    by Stacy McAnulty

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    A random lightning strike made 12-year-old Lucy Callahan a math super-genius, but this superpower can’t help her predict what middle school will be like or why she even needs to go. Her grandmother encourages her to give it a try, make one friend, join one activity, and read one book that’s not about math. With themes of self-discovery and friendship, this is a profoundly relatable story. Julie sums it up well, “This book reminds you that everyone is a little weird, and that's okay.”

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  • The Great Brain

    by John D. Fitzgerald, illustrated by Mercer Mayer

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    J.D., the admiring younger brother to Tom (aka The Great Brain), narrates the adventures that they have as boys in the early 1900s. Tom is a slick-tongued con artist and uses his big brain to figure out how to turn any situation into a money-making scheme. J.D. offers a more innocent and highly entertaining perspective on their shenanigans. Corsa loved reading this book with his dad and sharing a laugh before bedtime.

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  • The Penderwicks

    by Jeanne Birdsall

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    The Penderwick sisters — four motherless girls — are always ready for an adventure and a bit of mischief. Family warmth, silly pranks, and laughter abound in this classic series that is charming, witty, and nostalgic. Marco praises this story, “If you are going to read this book, you must get ready for pure awesomeness!”

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  • Short

    by Holly Goldberg Sloan

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    Julia is witty, charming, and short for her age. When she gets cast as a Munchkin in a local production of The Wizard of Oz, she finds herself growing in new ways. She develops meaningful and important friendships with Olive — a fellow Munchkin who is an adult with dwarfism, Mrs. Chang — her “old as dirt” neighbor, and Shawn — the worldly and wise director of the play. Emma, age 11, raves that this book is “funny, inspiring, and totally enjoyable.”

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  • Wonder

    by R.J. Palacio

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    If your kid has not read this book, run to the bookstore or library to get it. Auggie Pullman is a fifth grader with a severe facial deformity who must navigate the unkindness of peers when he attends a public school for the first time in his life. This funny and beautiful book fosters great discussions about empathy and kindness. Anna says, “Everyone should read this book. This book will inspire you and teaches you that it’s okay to be different from everyone else.”

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  • Historical Fiction

  • Bud, Not Buddy

    by Christopher Paul Curtis

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    Set in Michigan during the Great Depression, ten-year-old Bud is struggling to live in foster care after the death of his mother. He runs away to find his birth father based on a significant clue left by his mother – a flyer of Herman E. Calloway and his famous band, the Dusky Devastators of the Depression. Humor and a sense of adventure uplift this touching story of a boy looking for answers. Connor says, “I really liked this book because [Bud] worked through hardships and overcame problems.”

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  • Wolf Hollow

    by Lauren Wolk

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    12-year-old Annabelle shows that kindness trumps hatred when she stands up to Betty, the school bully, and helps Toby, a reclusive war veteran who is down on his luck. This complex and beautifully crafted story set in Pennsylvania in 1943 takes readers on an emotional journey and introduces them to a critical time in recent history. “This book can be so funny and then terribly sad. I could sit and read this book 15 times!!!” shares Luana, age 11.

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  • Fantastical Adventures

  • Pages & Co.: The Bookwanderers

    by Anna James, illustrated by Paola Escobar

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    11-year-old Tilly grew up in her grandparents’ bookshop in London after her mother disappeared. As an avid reader, she often wishes that the characters in her favorite books could be part of her real life. When this wish becomes a reality, and she realizes that she can wander into any book, she finds herself on a mystery-filled adventure that could explain what happened to her mother. As Berkeley says, “If you like books and magic, you will LOVE this!”

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  • The Phantom Tollbooth

    by Norton Juster, illustrated by Jules Feiffer

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    Join Milo and the watchdog, Tock, on their fantastical adventure into the Lands Beyond. This classic from the late and great Norton Juster holds up for young readers today. Beck, 8, highly recommends it. “It’s funny, adventurous, and the puns are pure awesomeness.”

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  • Addison Cooke

    by Jonathan W. Stokes

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    What would you do if you found out that the aunt and uncle who raised you got captured by Russian treasure hunters looking for long-lost Incan riches? If you’re Addison Cooke, you call your sister and your two best friends and hop on the next plane to South America to rescue them. This humor-filled adventure tale has been described as “The Goonies meets National Treasure,” or as Ellie says, “This is the best book I have ever read.”

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  • Engaging Nonfiction

  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

    by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, illustrated by Anna Hymas

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    When his small farming village in Malawi is devastated by a drought and widespread food shortages, young William Kamkwamba turns to the science books in his local library to solve the problem. Using scrap metal, he creates a machine to harness the wind for electricity that helps his family pump needed water into their land. This page-turning memoir showcases the power of young people to use creativity and innovation to change the world. According to Logan, age 9, “It’s a great reminder that you can do anything you want to do in life!”

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  • Amazing Ancients!: Egypt

    by Gabby Vernon-Melzer, illustrated by DGPH Studio

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    This is a fantastic series for young makers and explorers. It combines exciting facts about Egyptian history and cultural life with hands-on activities like decoding hieroglyphs, making papyrus, and cooking traditional food.

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  • Brave. Black. First.

    by Cheryl Hudson, illustrated by Erin K. Robinson

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    Stories of brave and innovative women abound in this illustrated compilation of fifty short biographies of African American women who shaped our world. From Simone Biles to Rosa Parks to Maya Angelou, the real-life adventures of these remarkable women will inspire and inform young readers.

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