Things can get a bit tricky in the ‘in between’ stage of a child’s reading life, usually when they are around 6-9 years old. They need something more challenging than a picture book but they’re not quite ready for a middle grade book. Books for ‘in between’ readers of this kind– typically 6-9 year olds but obviously every child is different – are often called ‘chapter books’.
I find the ‘chapter books’ label a bit unhelpful because, well, what about non-fiction? Or activity books? Or anything else that isn’t traditional fiction written in chapters? But that’s not the only problem with books for ‘in between’ readers.
Very young readers are well served with a vast array of beautiful, inventive and hilarious picture books. Middle-grade readers (around 8/9+) have shelves upon shelves of awesome adventures, in both fiction and non-fiction, to choose from. But things get pretty thin on the ground, and often quite dull, for children in the ‘in between’ stage.
However, there are some truly brilliant books for ‘in between’ readers out there if you look hard enough. I’ve done just that and rounded up my favourites here so you don’t have to keep searching! Many of them are officially for 7 years and up, so you may want to read them with children at first – but obviously you’ll have a better feel than me for what’s right for them. Enjoy!
Iguana Boy Saves the World with a Triple Cheese Pizza
by James Bishop, illus. by Rikin Parekh
What would your dream superpower be? Invisibility? Super strength? Or… being able to talk to iguanas? Dylan isn’t too happy about being landed with that last one either, but he learns how real bravery can mean trying your best in a seriously less-than-perfect situation.
I absolutely smashed through this funny, warm adventure, with a super-relatable character at the heart of its silliness. Rikin Parekh’s cheeky, charming drawings are a perfect fit, too. First book in the series: here are books two and three.
Africa, Amazing Africa
by Atinuke, illus. by Mouni Feddag
(Walker Books, 2019)
An amazing book about amazing Africa! Atinuke masterfully celebrates this great continent’s variety and complexity, its mingling of modernity and tradition, its harsh realities and incredible achievements.
Each country has its own beautifully illustrated page with upbeat, fact-packed text that helps kids discover what contemporary life looks like everywhere from Angola to Zimbabwe.
Moth: An Evolution Story
by Isabel Thomas, illus. by Daniel Egnéus
This stunning picture book (also suitable for younger children) tells a true tale of evolution in action – the drama of human history playing out on the wings of the peppered moth. It’s an amazing example of how creative non-fiction can be, making it easy for children to understand science but also to see its beauty and magic.
It also, importantly, gives hope – by showing that humans can change the way we live, and that the rest of nature can respond to that change. The natural world is not a brittle, static thing; it’s resilient, adaptable and ingenious in ways that we don’t even fully understand yet. We just need to give it a fighting chance to recover and thrive. A totally unique reading experience.
by Polly Ho-Yen, illus. by Binny Talib
This cleverly told story is about Lula and Lenka, best friends and total opposites. It has stylish but friendly illustrations and a simple, relatable plot – best friends stuck in an argument – that still has plenty of character and detail. And a lovely twist: each girl tells their side of the story in their own font. Perfect for younger or less confident readers.
by Kimberlie Hamilton
Look, life can be pretty stressful and serious sometimes – even for kids. I think we can all agree that what we really need at the end of a long day is to read about the daring adventures of history’s very finest cats.
Prepare to meet Nora the piano virtuoso, Pitoutchi the Nazi-tricking war hero, Stubbs the town mayor, and a whole host of explorers, life-savers, survivors and good-luck charms. There are all sorts of fun feline facts and other snippets, too – from ‘Mystical Moggies’ to ‘Record-Breaking Cats’. The downside? Pretty unimpressed with my cat’s lazy lolling-about now – come on, Luna, the world needs saving!
Weird Little Robots
by Carolyn Crimi, illus. by Corinna Luyken
(Walker Books, 2020)
How easy is it to love a creature made of old dentures and scrap wire? Very easy, it turns out. This delightfully odd book had me so invested in the fate of five tiny, magical homemade robots, and the happiness of Penny Rose – their lonely, kind-hearted creator – that I had to speed through the last few dozen pages before I could get to sleep!
It’s full of science and secrets, fun and friendship, and it gives kids a light-handed lesson in how our choices affect the people (or robots) we’re connected to. I also loved seeing a relatable main character being allowed to make pretty hurtful, selfish mistakes – not through any malice, just getting swept up in excitement and wanting to belong – but then have a chance to learn, do better and make things right.
The Clue Is in the Poo
by Andy Seed, illus. by Claire Almon (QED, 2020)
WHAT a title. And what a fun, useful book to back it up! It’s all about tracking wildlife and it revels in the things that so many kids love – animals, adventuring and, of course, POO!
It’s full of practical guides and tips to help children identify animal prints, poos, nests or burrows and more – plus plenty of quizzes, jokes and odd facts for indoor fun, too.
by Sophy Henn
(Simon & Schuster, 2020)
Ugh, being a superhero can be SO annoying. Dealing with flapping capes that just get in the way, flying off to battle baddies when you’re supposed to be getting some sleep, having to use your SUPER-embarrassing superpower in front of everyone…
Those may not be your average kid issues but Pizazz is still fabulously relatable – from her irritating little sister to her struggles making new friends at school. It’s such a fun read, full of fabulous illustrations and comic panels and lively typography. I’d recommend it for any kid but I think it might really capture the interest of children who are a bit ‘meh’ about reading – how’s that for super? There’s also a second Pizazz book out now – and a third available to order!
The Book Itch
by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illus. by R. Gregory Christie
(Carolrhoda Books, 2015)
There’s not much in the world better than a really great bookshop, right? And this is a story of a truly legendary one – The National Memorial African Bookstore in New York City, owned by Lewis Michaux and known by the community as ‘Michaux’s’.
The book cleverly gives a child’s-eye view of the bookshop and the history that wound around and through it – from meeting Muhammad Ali to watching Malcolm X’s rallies outside, then chatting with him in the store’s back room, and later hearing the tragic news of his death. The beautiful painted illustrations are full of emotion and totally immersive, and bold typography pulls out quotes for kids to remember.
There’s so much love in this book – for family, for learning, for community, for Black pride, and for this very special bookshop that brought them all together.
Hope Jones Saves the World
by Josh Lacey, illus. by Beatriz Castro (Andersen, 2020)
Oh, I love this book so much. It’s written as a series of blog posts by ten-year-old Hope, whose New Year’s Resolution is to stop using plastic. She soon finds out just how hard that is, and step by realistic step she becomes a bonafide activist.
Hope braves a rollercoaster of excitements and disappointments, never giving up but also learning that she can’t – and doesn’t need to – take on the world alone. As well as being a great story, it’s full of practical info to help kids create change on a bigger scale. The second book in the series, Hope Jones Will Not Eat Meat, is out now. Hooray!
Harriet Versus the Galaxy
by Samantha Baines, illus. by Jessica Flores
(Knights Of, 2019)
Ah, this one is just so much FUN! A rip-roaring read stuffed with silly planets (including my favourite, Planet Pancake, with its warring factions of sweet and savoury crepes), super-secret spies and sock-munching aliens.
Like her creator, comedian Samantha Baines, Harriet wears a hearing aid. But unlike her (as far as we know…), Harriet’s new hearing aid translates alien languages that no one else on Earth can understand. With her gran and genderfluid new bestie Robin by her side, it’s up to Harriet to save the world!
I hope you’ve found some books for ‘in between’ readers on this list that you’re excited to share with the kids in your life. And, if you haven’t already, make sure to subscribe to What Book Now?, my monthly newsletter. It’s packed with interesting, inclusive children’s books and other great stuff!
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