Growing Reader

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

by Kari Ness Riedel

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, 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

    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.

  • The Invention of Hugo Cabret

    by Brian Selznick

    Hugo is an orphan and a thief living a secret life in a Paris train station. Things change when he meets an eccentric girl and they embark on an adventure to unravel a hidden message from Hugo’s dead father. This captivating story is told with the support of Selznick’s beautiful illustrations. Grace shares, “It has really great pictures and the plot is very interesting.” Even if you’ve seen “Hugo,” the movie based on the book, it is well worth reading.

  • Book Scavenger

    by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

    Twelve-year-old Emily moves to San Francisco and instantly becomes friends with James based on their shared love of puzzles and books. They go on a quest to find out what happened to Garrison Griswold, the inventor of Emily’s favorite game, Book Scavenger (geo-caching with books.) Jeeth raves, “If you like riddles and if you like books, you will like this book.”

  • The Candymakers

    by Wendy Mass

    Four unique kids have been chosen to participate in a national candy-making contest. As they compete to create the most unique and tasty candy, the kids find themselves wrapped up in a mystery where things are not always what they seem. Told from the perspective of each contestant, this book is charming, clever, and funny. Presley loved the writing style saying, “It makes me feel like I’m right there. I've read it two times, and I’ll probably read it again."

  • Nancy Drew

    by Carolyn Keene

    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!”

  • Modern Folk and Fairy Tales

  • Rump

    by Liesl Shurtliff

    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.”

  • Tuck Everlasting

    by Natalie Babbitt

    Ten-year-old Winnie seeks an adventure to break the boredom of her sheltered home life. She explores the woods behind her family’s estate and meets the magical Tuck family. As she develops a friendship with the Tucks, she must grapple with whether to reveal their magical secret or not. Oliver recommends this story: “I loved the book. It’s exciting, adventurous, and scary!” Deep themes and big moral questions make readers think as they enjoy this tale.

  • The Inquisitor’s Tale

    by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly

    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.)

  • Animal-Driven Adventure Stories

  • The Wild Robot

    by Peter Brown

    Roz the robot awakes to find herself stranded on a remote, wild island full of unfriendly animals. She must use her wits and her heart to survive. This simple story is full of action, adventure, and lessons on friendship. Bryce exclaims, “It was amazing! I loved every part of it. I can't wait for the sequel to come out.”

  • The Cricket in Times Square

    by George Selden, illustrated by Garth Williams

    Another classic, Newbery award-winning book that is still loved by kids today. Tucker, a New York City mouse, and his best friend Harry the cat welcome Chester Cricket to the big city from his home in the meadows of Connecticut. They befriend a young boy, Mario, and head out on a series of adventures. Sid recommends this book “to anybody who likes fantasy. It is a great and funny story” with “some heart-breaking moments, so be prepared.”

  • Classic and Modern Realistic Fiction

  • Little House on the Prairie

    by Laura Ingalls Wilder, illustrated by Garth Williams

    Based on the real-life experiences of the author, this series introduces a new generation of readers to life on the American frontier. Whelan raves, “I couldn't stop reading it! I recommend this book for people who love history.” Adults may enjoy reading this classic with young readers to share the adventures, love, and laughter of Laura’s Midwestern childhood.

  • The Great Brain

    by John D. Fitzgerald, illustrated by Mercer Mayer

    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.

  • The Penderwicks

    by Jeanne Birdsall

    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!”

  • Words with Wings

    by Nikki Grimes

    This inspiring book, written in verse, tells the story of Gabby, a shy young girl who likes to daydream. As her parents begin to fight frequently, her daydreaming increases and she finds it harder to pay attention in school. The series of beautiful poems shares her journey of loneliness and self-discovery as she navigates new friendships and family dynamics. Chanelle urges others to read this "because it is emotional and moving.” This is a great choice for deep, empathetic thinkers.

  • Wonder

    by R.J. Palacio

    If your kid has not read this book, run to the bookstore or library to get it — especially before the movie comes out. 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.”

  • Engaging Nonfiction

  • The Way Things Work Now

    by David Macaulay

    This book is packed with information on the inner workings of everything from windmills and Wi-Fi to touchscreens and 3D printers. Told with humor and a brilliant blend of simplicity and depth by an author who truly knows his machines. It is perfect for fans of nonfiction and informational books.

  • Rad American Women A-Z

    by Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl

    This is a collection of well-researched, short biographies of 26 bold and brave women who shaped the course of American history. It offers a brilliant mix of well-known and more obscure women throughout the decades who had careers in politics, sports, entertainment, science, activism, and more. Eleanor loved it and extols, “It was full of girl power and was so inspiring."