10 Chapter Books to Read Aloud With Your Daughter

When we read a good book to our children, we delegate: we enlist the help of gifted authors to demonstrate for them (and for us, too) what life is like in other places, other times, other bodies. This is what it looks like, a good book says, to ask for forgiveness even when the asking is hard, to love the unloved, to find joy in the common graces of life.

A good book takes us outside our own experience, outside a particular moment where Papa reads aloud to the rest of us, who were drawing a moment before but now sit—sniffling, pens suspended—as we listen to Prince Rilian’s farewell to his father. This is grief. This is joy.

This is, in a sense, one aspect of what the Bible does for us: it shows us what it looks like to fight against God, to persevere when we don’t want to, to look forward to the life yet to come. We study the movements of the Lord’s hand through each story and find comfort in the fact that his hand moves in our stories, too. We watch other lives lived out in its pages and recognize ourselves in them; that recognition then shapes the way we respond to trouble when it comes. This is where rebellion leads; this is redemption.

10 Chapter Books to Read Aloud With Your Daughter | Little Book, Big Story

And so we fill the corners of our hearts with Scripture and the corners of our home with good books. We surround our daughters with characters that they can connect with, characters who are foolish and funny, warm and wise, prone to mischief or perhaps a little too perfect. We introduce them to Anne, Jo, Heidi, Lucy, and Laura, of course. And then we move on to Bobbie, Phyllis and Irene, Emily and Rose—heroines of the lesser-known works of great authors or of the books picked up on a whim that are, perhaps, unassuming on the outside but radiant within.

Here, for your pleasure, is a list of our favorites. These stories don’t appeal exclusively to girls, by the way. Quite a few of them feature male characters that share the spotlight with the female lead or simply steal it outright, but they’re boys (and men) of good quality that I want my girls to know and love. I suspect that those of you with sons might find that your boys scoot their Legos a little closer to the couch whenever you pull these books out to read with your daughter. (I’ve marked those books with an asterisk.)

*THE RAILWAY CHILDREN, by E. Nesbit

The Railway Children, by E. Nesbit | Little Book, Big Story

When their father is unexpectedly (and mysteriously) called away from home, three children move to the English countryside with their mother. Adventures large and small ensue, all told in the charming style of E. Nesbit. This book is one of my very favorites. (Read the full review.)

*THE PRINCESS AND THE GOBLIN, by George MacDonald

The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald | Little Book, Big Story

An old fairy tale of the best sort, written by an author who came to my attention because C.S. Lewis gave him a hearty endorsement. This is, I think, the best of his books for children, and features the princess Irene and her unlikely friend, Curdie. There is also a magical great-great-great-great-grandmother and a whole passel of ornery goblins. (Read the full review.)

WHAT KATY DID, by Susan Coolidge

What Katy Did, by Susan Coolidge | Little Book, Big Story

Circumstances change abruptly, both in life and in plot lines. What Katy Did demonstrates both aspects of this, and through the story of Katy Carr, shows how the road of suffering often leads to the most glorious destinations. (Read the full review.)

THE TINKER’S DAUGHTER, by Wendy Lawton

The Tinker's Daughter, or "Why is it so hard to find strong Christian characters in fiction?" | Little Book, Big Story

Here is a marriage of history and fiction. Wendy Lawton tells the story of Mary Bunyan, the sightless daughter of John Bunyan, as she navigates life during her father’s imprisonment. This is a beautifully told story and shows the progress of Mary’s fledgling faith alongside the robust, proven faith of her father. (Read the full review.)

*THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, by Roger Lancelyn Green

The Adventures of Robin Hood | Little Book, Big Story

There is a good deal of “bashing of crowns” and “striking one another with blows” in this book, it’s true. But this unlikely candidate merits a spot on this list for three reasons: 1) Maid Marian is no nameless damsel in distress here but a woman bold, courageous, and virtuous. 2) The men in this book know how to treat the ladies. 3) My daughters loved it. (Read the full review.)

EMILY OF NEW MOON, by L.M. Montgomery

Emily of New Moon, by LM Montgomery | Little Book, Big Story

You already know about Anne. Emily of New Moon is the slightly darker tale—a deep violet to Anne’s brassy red, twilight to Anne’s fresh morning—of Emily Starr, poetess, orphan, and bewitching lead lady. My affection for this book is deep, my friends. So deep. (Read the full review.)

*TREASURES OF THE SNOW, by Patricia St. John

Treasures of the Snow, by Patricia St. John | Little Book, Big Story

Have you heard of this book? I hadn’t either until a friend recommended it at a wedding reception dinner. But Treasures of the Snow is a beauty worth seeking out: in it, you’ll find the gospel faithfully represented in a fictional setting, as a feud rises up between two families that needs the wisdom of a grandmother and the power of the gospel to resolve. (Read the full review.)

THE KING’S EQUAL, by Katherine Paterson

The King's Equal | Little Book, Big Story

The author of Bridge to Terebithia tells an old-fashioned tale of an arrogant prince who cannot assume the kingship until he finds a wife who is “his equal.” (He thinks himself so wonderful that this must be all but impossible.) The King’s Equal is available as either a very short chapter book or a rather long picture book. In either format, it’s a joy to read. (Read the full review.)

A LITTLE PRINCESS, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett | Little Book, Big Story

Okay, so you probably have heard of this one. It isn’t as famous than its celebrated cousin, The Secret Garden, but if I’m perfectly honest, I liked it better. Sara Crewe—wealthy and petted, but gentle and kind—suffers a fall of fortunes and determines to be a true princess throughout her trial. Unlikely friendships, unexpected blessings, and a satisfying conclusion spring from this decision. (Read the full review.)

*EIGHT COUSINS, Louisa May Alcott

Eight Cousins, by Louisa May Alcott | Little Book, Big Story

Sheltered and newly orphaned Rose meets her uncle and eight boy cousins for the first time, finds them bewilderingly active but ultimately endearing and goes on to forge the best sort of friendship with them. This book is funny, charming, and beautiful all at once, and sparkles with the same delight in story and language that fuels Alcott’s Little Women. (Read the full review.)


Have I missed any? What are your favorite little-known chapter books for girls?

Prayer for a Child | Rachel Field

Sometimes, you go out looking for books. You pillage the shelves of the used bookstore or library, book list in hand, or you find in the free boxes outside either place books you didn’t know you were looking for, books whose covers call to you or whose titles ring some bell in your memory and so you bring them home for closer scrutiny.

Sometimes you find books at library book sales, where the room is too small and the patrons surprisingly aggressive (these are books and they are dirt cheap and people really, really want them), but you have found so many diamonds in the rough this way that you stand outside the library at 9:58 on the first day of each sale with two dozen or so other dedicated hopefuls. When the doors open, you try to be civilized.

Prayer for a Child, by Rachel Field | Little Book, Big Story

Sometimes, you go out looking for books. And sometimes, books find you. You receive them as a gift, or they show up in a box of odds and ends from your mother-in-law who is cleaning out shelves and closets and found a few things she thought you might like. If you had not just heard the book read on Read Aloud Revival, you might have overlooked it, but you did just hear it read and so you recognize it for the treasure it is when you open the box.

That is the origin story of our copy of Prayer for a Child. This is a short book, perfect for a small child, and it walks through a simple prayer line by line, illustration by illustration, touching on the different parts of a child’s life that are worth thanking the Lord for but that are so easily overlooked: parents, shoes, a favorite chair. The author’s emphasis on gratitude and the lilting cadence of the prayer make this a lovely read aloud.

Prayer for a Child, by Rachel Field | Little Book, Big Story

I will be honest, though: Elizabeth Orton Jones’s illustrations didn’t appeal to me at first (even though she won a Caldecott medal for them). It wasn’t until I looked closely at the illustrations and realized that they encapsulate an aspect of childhood in the 1940s that I came to appreciate the historical depth that they add to the book. The dated look of them somehow underscores the fact that this prayer is timeless, as applicable for children of our era as it was for the children of World War II.

Prayer for a Child, by Rachel Field | Little Book, Big Story


Prayer for a Child
Rachel Field, Elizabeth Orton Jones (1944)

 

Half Magic | Edward Eager

Four children find a coin that grants wishes, but it only grants wishes by halves. Adventure and hilarity ensue.

The plot of Half Magic might strike you, as it did me, as the sort of thing that E. Nesbit might write, and that is no accident. In the book’s opening chapter, Edward Eager gives E. Nesbit’s books a cheerful salute, then goes on to tell a story that borrows from the best parts of her work while introducing its own original charm.

Half Magic, by Edward Eager | Little Book, Big Story

Eager’s characters are as warm, quirky, and fallible as Nesbit’s Bastable or railway children, but they feel less like carbon copies than like well-crafted, energetic homages to her characters. The narrator’s voice and the enchanting plot also tip their hats toward Nesbit, and upon finishing the book, I found myself with two very compatible desires: I wanted to read more Nesbit, and I wanted more Eager as well.

I love all of that about Half Magic. But the best part is this: while reading Half Magic, I found it hard to get through more than a few pages at a time because I could not stop laughing out loud. The last book to affect me this way was T.H. White’s The Once and Future King (also affectionately mentioned in Half Magic), but Eager’s book featured more comedy in a shorter span of time, so I was left holding my breath through certain passages, in the hope that I might make it just a little further before my eyes watered so much as to make the text illegible. Then I collapsed, caught my breath, and began again.

Half Magic, by Edward Eager | Little Book, Big Story

I do not want to wait to share this book with my family. But I will. I’ll save it for a few years: I think the girls will laugh a little harder at the jokes then, but the wait may kill me. We’ll see.


Half Magic
Edward Eager (1954)

A Letter to My Daughter About Beauty | Deeply Rooted

Some essays start as a note scribbled in the margin of my grocery list; others arrive as a complete draft, written swiftly and sloppily on the pages of my composition book. But a few begin as entries in the notebooks I keep for my daughters, like the essay that appeared on the Deeply Rooted blog yesterday.

A Letter to My Daughter About Beauty (Thea Rosenburg on the Deeply Rooted blog) | Little Book, Big Story

There are certain things that I wish I could tell you, but I suspect that they are the sort of things that you will have to learn for yourself—the sort of lessons that stick better when they come after years of struggle. Perhaps there is something in the struggle that is important, I don’t know. But here is one of them: you are beautiful.

And so on.

I’m so happy that the post went up on Mother’s Day, because that is the day I became a mom—the day that my first daughter was born. We’re celebrating her birthday today with two dozen mint chocolate cupcakes that we can’t take to school because she’s home sick with a fever, so if you want a cupcake and don’t mind risking a fever, you know who to visit. But if you’d rather not risk the fever and still want something sweet, then the essay is probably a safer bet.


A Letter to My Daughter About Beauty
Théa Rosenburg, Deeply Rooted blog

How to Play Librarian

Last week, while sifting through the photos stored on my laptop, I found this:

How to Play Librarian | Little Book, Big Story

That’s Lydia. The one that turns seven next week. I went through the usual shock and aww that accompanies a discovery like that, from “Really? She was ever that small?” to “Oh, the cheeks!”, and as I moved from one photo to the next it occurred to me that you might be interested in these photos, not because they cause you to meditate on the rapid passage of time (though they may affect you that way if you’ve seen Lydia lately), but because they are from the day we built ourselves a library and named Lydia head librarian.

little-book-big-story-cardboard-library (7)

I suppose this is a picture of one way that we have made books a part of the daily fabric of our family life: we play with them as well as read them, and share them with each other in inventive, quirky ways.

We had received a library kit as a gift not long before those photos were taken. It came with Ex Libris tags, a date stamp, and a small notebook, and for the longest time, I wasn’t sure what to do with it—we had more books than Ex Libris tags, and I have no desire to loan books out with due dates—but then we received a box of old books from a friend and those books, that kit, and a big box left over from a move combined to make a trifecta of creative play. We made library cards for the family, tucked tags in the front of each book, and Lydia’s shift began.

How to Play Librarian | Little Book, Big Story

How to Play Librarian, or "A DIY Cardboard Library for the Ages" | Little Book, Big Story

So, how do you play librarian? It has less to do with the way you build a cardboard desk and more to do with how you view books. We have always kept our books within our children’s reach, and while that costs us some book covers when we have a toddler in the house, that price is worth the sense of ownership our girls feel when they browse the bookshelves of our home. They learn to respect books, yes, but better yet, they learn to value them for what they contain—not just for how they look on the shelves.

I grew up with that sense of ownership: my dad gave us free access to his books (and I mean free: when given the opportunity to choose my own subject for a book report, I once went my dad’s bookshelves and selected Bimbos of the Death Sun. It’s a pity I can’t remember how my teacher graded that paper) and so I always knew where to go when I needed something new to read—and who to ask if I needed help finding it.

How to Play Librarian | Little Book, Big Story

How to Play Librarian | Little Book, Big Story

We want our kids to be comfortable with our family’s books and so we carefully curate a library that we can share with them. We want them to feel free to read and touch and explore and play with the books we collectively own, and I have visions of watching them, nearly grown, browse the shelves, looking for something good to read. I will probably hover conspicuously in the background and ask (the way I do to my husband whenever he glances toward a bookshelf), “Can I help you find something?”

That is how I play librarian.

But better still, I have visions of watching my daughters pass books to each other, asking, “Have you read this one yet? You’ll love it.” And that is why I gave our daughters a box of old books to stamp and share at whim.

How to Play Librarian, or "A DIY Cardboard Library for the Ages" | Little Book, Big Story

Librarian turned out to be an enduring game and it’s one that Lydia asks to play every so often, in part because we keep those old books with the library kit (it’s still around, on a shelf in their bedroom) and I know she’d like to read them again, and in part because she just loves playing Librarian.

How to Play Librarian | Little Book, Big Story

Gunner covers Lydia’s lunch shift

Why I Love the Read Aloud Revival Podcast

I recently discovered Read Aloud Revival (through Aslan’s Library, of course) and after listening to an episode or two was smitten. “I’ve found my people!” I told Mitch over dinner. He then pointed out that he was my people, as were the three little people around the table. Fair point.

So I found my other people, the bookish ones, the ones to whom phrases like “build your family culture around books” serve as rallying cries and who read poetry at lunch and read books about reading books. I found those people. And I love them.

What is Read Aloud Revival? It’s a podcast about reading aloud to your kids. But wait—I can hear your skepticism brewing. How can someone devote a single hour-long episode to talking about reading aloud, let alone several episodes? What could there possibly be to talk about?

Read Aloud Revival: A podcast worth listening to! | Little Book, Big Story

Oh, my friend. There is so much to talk about. How do you choose books for your family? How do you discuss books with your kids? How do you read to toddlers or nuture your child’s imagination or read poetry to your kids? How do you introduce them to Shakespeare? How do you read aloud well, for that matter? Do you do voices or accents?

And what about the parents who don’t enjoy reading aloud but still want to nurture that part of their child that is fed by good books?

Read Aloud Revival: A podcast worth listening to! | Little Book, Big Story

If any of those questions hit that soft spot in your heart that brings you back to this blog more than once, then I think you’ll love Sarah MacKenzie’s podcast. Sarah MacKenzie is the charming host of Read Aloud Revival, the one who has such engaging conversations with her guests that I find myself, at the end of each episode, wanting the conversation to go on for just a little bit longer.

Some podcasts are great for listening to while I cook dinner, when the kids are up and running amok, but not this one: this is the treat that I save for myself, the one that I listen to on the front porch during nap time, sketchbook open, paintbrush in hand. (My logic: if my hands are busy while I listen I’m less likely to impulsively purchase every other book mentioned on the program.)


Read Aloud Revival (podcast)
Sarah MacKenzie

 

More | IC Springman

Our public library hasn’t changed much in the last twenty-five years. I know this because I used to go there when I was a child, and I used to go there when I was a child because I’ve lived in this town since I was three.

The librarians have probably moved a few things around, added some computers, and updated the decor a bit, but I don’t see the changes: the stained glass window is just the way I remember it, and the picture books are right where they always were. I used to explore those shelves, looking for books I would love. Now I explore those shelves looking for books I would love—and, okay, that my kids would love, too—and that is how I found More.

More, by LC Springman | Little Book, Big Story

More is the story of a magpie who collects and collects and collects, until—well, I want you to read this book, so I won’t tell you what happens. But it’s a story that addresses our bent toward hoarding and draws out, in a mere handful of words and some powerful illustrations, a friendship that is willing to stand up to a friend enmeshed in sin and stand by a friend when that sin’s consequences take effect.

This may be reading too much into a simple story—but I don’t think it is. More doesn’t close with a pat moral, but mixes these broader themes into the story gracefully, leaning on Brian Lies’s detailed illustrations to further the text on each page, so that, by the end of the book, we have laughed at and examined and delighted in the book so fully that it’s hard to believe that there’s little more than one to two words per page. Even the limited text provides a beautiful example of a case in which less truly is more.

More, by IC Springman | Little Book, Big Story

More, by LC Springman | Little Book, Big Story


More
IC Springman, Brian Lies (2012)