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Growing Reader

14 Kid-Approved Books for Advanced First and Second Grade Readers

by Kari Ness Riedel

kid-approved-books-advanced-first-second-grade-readers
Photography by Seana Williamson

Finding books for young readers who can read beyond their grade level can often be a challenge — especially for first and second graders whose reading level assessments show they can read at an upper elementary or middle school level. (Likely, Ready Player One or War and Peace are not the right choices for them!)

Here’s a list of kid-approved books from Bookopolis.com readers that are wholesome enough for a 6- or 7-year-old but will also keep them engaged and challenged. A challenging book doesn’t have to be based on their Lexile or Guided Reading level. It should offer complex characters, themes, or historical and geographical references that make it a thought-provoking book for advanced readers.

I included some classic favorites that parents already know and some recent titles. It’s always fun to read aloud to your child to help them go deeper in their understanding of a book — even if they can read it on their own.

If you need more ideas, check out my recommendations for advanced third-grade readers, advanced fourth and fifth-grade readers, or advanced fifth and sixth-grade readers.

  • Fantasy & Science Fiction

  • My Father’s Dragon

    by Ruth Stiles Gannett

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    A clever young boy named Elmer runs away to a distant island to rescue a dragon his father told him about. This collection of three fantastical stories has beautiful illustrations that enhance the story. As Julia says, these tales offer “an amazing adventure with a magical twist.”

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  • Tumble & Blue

    by Cassie Beasley

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    Blue Montgomery knows his family is cursed. His curse is that he loses at everything he does. With the help of a new friend, Tumble Wilson, who wants to be a hero, Blue goes on a quest to undo his curse. Children love this story filled with magic, adventure, hope, and struggle. For younger readers that like deep thinking, it opens up conversations about fate, luck, and controlling our thoughts and actions.

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  • Flora and Ulysses

    by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K. G. Campbell

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    This illustrated novel details the hilarious adventures of Flora, a spunky 10-year-old girl whose parents are separating, and Ulysses, a squirrel that gained superhero powers after being sucked up by a vacuum cleaner. Witty dialogue and madcap escapades make this Newbery Medal-winning book a favorite with kids and adults. Anna, 9, sums it up well, “Very funny, very unique. Never read a book like it. Awesome plot.”

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  • Dragons in a Bag Series

    by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Geneva B

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    This fantasy series takes place in a diverse, urban community and centers on Jaxon, a 9-year-old New Yorker. His dad died, and his mom is the sole breadwinner, so he often gets left in the care of a mean old lady he calls “Ma.” When he finds out Ma is a witch, he becomes her apprentice, going on daring missions such as saving baby dragons or traveling to Chicago with a bunch of witches and a rare Phoenix egg. This series is perfect for advanced readers as it offers page-turning action, interesting characters, and age-appropriate historical information about segregation, gentrification, and prejudice.

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  • Mystery & Adventure

  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

    by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake

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    Almost anything by Roald Dahl is excellent for this age group, but if your reader hasn’t experienced this classic story about Willy Wonka and his incredible chocolate factory, read this! The characters are fantastic, the writing is clever, and the adventures are endless. “It is a mouthwatering experience reading this book!” exclaims Ashley, 10.

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  • Samantha Spinner and the Super-Secret Plans

    by Russell Ginns, illustrated by Barbara Fisinger

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    After her Uncle Paul disappears, Samantha goes on a top-secret, dangerous mission to find him. This book is full of mysterious notes, puzzles to solve, and just the right amount of sibling rivalry. Beck, 10, recommends this “to readers like me who like funny mysteries with lots of twists and turns.”

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  • The Beatryce Prophecy

    by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

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    When Brother Edik discovers a mysterious young girl, ill and alone, hiding in the monastery barn during wartime, he knows he must help her. She has no memory of how she got there, but he realizes she is prophesied to disrupt the king’s reign. A charming but motley crew of characters comes together to support Beatryce and her destiny. It’s an excellent pick for fans of folktales and adventure stories about friendship and standing up for what’s right.

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  • Humphrey Series

    by Betty G. Birney

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    For animal lovers who like humor and adventure, this is a brilliant series starring the best class pet ever, Humphrey the Hamster. The antics of a third-grade classroom get chronicled through the eyes and ears of this clever hamster who can read and write (and unplug TVs.) Besides providing many laughs, these books offer life lessons about friendship, family, and pet relationships.

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  • Realistic Fiction & Humor

  • The Penderwicks Series

    by Jeanne Birdsall

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    The four motherless Penderwick sisters are always ready for an adventure and a bit of mischief. This charming and witty series is full of family love, silly pranks, and lots of laughter. The characters have a sweet innocence reminiscent of classics like The Boxcar Children or Little House on the Prairie. Erin, 10, recommends it because it “has lots of emotion…lots of adventures and the characters are very realistic…if you like those kinds of books, this one is perfect.”

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  • Pippi Longstocking

    by Astrid Lindgren

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    Another plucky heroine loved by young readers, Pippi is fearless, innovative, and strong. Her bravery and loyalty repeatedly save the day for her and her animal buddies as they travel the seas with her sailor father. Dillon, 8, gives this classic book high praise: “It is SO funny. I have read it so many times. It’s that good!”

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  • Jake the Fake Series

    by Craig Robinson and Adam Mansbach, illustrated by Keith Knight

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    Sixth-grader Jake can’t play an instrument and has zero artistic talent. This is a problem because he faked his way into the Music and Art Academy for the gifted and talented. This highly illustrated series is full of hilarious antics, clever gags, and lovable characters but offers profound insights about friendship, race, and accepting yourself. It is a great fit for kids who love realistic fiction stories like Smile, Big Nate, or Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

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  • Nonfiction

  • Mythology

    by Lady Hestia Evans, edited by Dugald A. Steer

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    This is an excellent book to learn about the fascinating stories of Greek gods and goddesses and engage with bonus activities, paper crafts, and card games. Christian, 10, reflects, “This awesome book talks about tales like Pandora’s box, Medusa, and other legends. If you like myths, you should read this book!” Other books in the Ologies series explore favorite topics such as Egypt and pirates.

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  • Who Was? Series

    by various authors and Who HQ

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    These nonfiction books are superb for advanced readers to learn more about famous people and places. In about 100 pages, students absorb interesting facts and stories about people like Walt Disney, Marie Curie, and Michael Jackson. Sonia, 9, raves, “I love these books. Read! Read! Read!”

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  • Rad Girls Can: Stories of Bold, Brave, and Brilliant Young Women

    by Kate Schatz, illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl

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    This book includes 50 inspiring vignettes about famous and not-so-famous young women who achieved incredible feats before age 20. Readers will learn more about amazing girls like Malala Yousafzai and Anne Frank and get introduced to powerhouses like Trisha Prabhu, a 13-year-old who invented an anti-cyberbullying app, and Ashima Shiraishi, who climbed world class-boulders at age eight. Nonfiction is a fantastic choice for advanced readers, and these brief biographies are perfect for a family or class read-aloud.

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2018 and updated in 2022.