If you’re looking for something new to read with your kids, remember that eventually everything that is old becomes new again. Here are some great options for kids five and up that I found in one of my favorite “book books”, 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up.
These books are from the “5+” section, but these are all more like the “early chapter books” we use now for readers who are pretty solid with reading the words but need to work on understanding. They are great read alouds for younger kids too.
The chapters are short, text is frequently broken up with pictures, and the plots are usually episodic (meaning loosely connected), so they are easy for the little ones to follow.
Some of the words might be hard, but it’s fine to just read those to the kids if they stumble. This is “fun” reading, which means you shouldn’t get bogged down in making the kids sound everything out. Leave that for school.
“Emerging Readers”, meaning kids who can read all of their sounds and are working more on comprehension, will enjoy trying these books on their own or reading them with an adult.
Best of all, they are wonderful classics and all legally available FREE online at Project Gutenberg …these are all in the public domain. The links to each book appear below.
They aren’t all American either: 1 is from Australia, 1 is from England, 1 is from Spain, 1 is from Germany, and the only American entry is about the Netherlands.
Hint: the print can be a bit small in some of these old fashioned books…go ahead and change that font on your Kindle, and hold a book mark under the lines so the child can see where you are.
Project Gutenberg is great for schools teachers because all of the books can be legally copied and shared, in any form, and no log in is required.
How to Download Books Freely and Legally
For directions on downloading from Project Gutenberg and more, read How To Download FREE Books with Project Gutenberg and Why You Should
To understand public domain, read What Does Public Domain Mean?
1.The Magic Fishbone
By Charles Dickens
The Magic Fishbone is one of the few books that Charles Dickens wrote for children, so don’t let YOUR assumptions about Dickens keep you from taking a look at it. It’s a wonderfully fanciful story about an impoverished royal family beautifully illustrated in color. The best part is the narrator: Dickens has handed his pen over to a seven year old girl to tell the story.
Available FREE at Project Gutenberg: The Magic Fishbone
2. Perez the Mouse
By Luis Coloma, translated from the Spanish by Lady Moreton
Perez the Mouse is the Spanish precursor to the Tooth Fairy. In this story, written by a Jesuit priest, Perez takes the boy-king Buby I (based on the real boy-king Alfonso XIII) on a nighttime trip through his kingdom. Adventure ensues, but along the way the king (and the readers) learn a lot about Spanish culture and the responsibilities of leadership. The version of this book on Project Gutenberg is beautifully done with all of the original color illustrations.
Available FREE in English at Project Gutenberg: Perez the Mouse
Available FREE in Spanish at Project Gutenberg: Ratón Pérez: cuento infantil
3. Maya the Bee
By Waldemar Bonsels, prose translated from the German by Adele Szold Seltzer, poems by Arthur Guiterman
Maya the Bee has been a popular story since it was first published in German in 1912. It’s a wonderful story about an adventurous girl (!) bee who leaves the hive to explore the world on her own. This book is also sneakily educational because it describes all the animals…mostly insects…accurately and in detail.
You may know of this story from the different screen versions that have been made.
Available at Project Gutenberg in English: Maya the Bee
At Project Gutenberg in German: Die Biene Maja und ihre Abenteuer
Amazon Prime members (U.S.), click here to watch the film for free.
4. The Magic Pudding
By Norman Lindsay
This Australian story features a wide range of fantastical animals, including a koala and a penguin, who travel with a magic pudding called Albert, who is never eaten up and, oh year, also changes flavors.
If you’re going to read this with an American kid, you might want to have a discussion about the difference between American pudding and British/Australian pudding. Because, you know, to us it’s basically a custard, but to them, well, it can either be a generic name for a dessert OR refer to anything, sweet or savory, steamed or boiled in a casing (cloth or intestine or…).
Either way, the story is fantastical and definitely a must read.
Available FREE at Project Gutenberg: The Magic Pudding
5. The Dutch Twins
By Lucy Fitch Perkins
Ironically, this book is not from the Netherlands. The author is American, and The Dutch Twins was originally written in English. It is the first in a series about a variety of twins from different countries or different time periods (although they would all be historical now). The Dutch Twins is the first and also the easiest to read; you’ll find the key to difficulty of the various books in the series when you open the Project Gutenberg file.
Each book is a charming snapshot into the lives of children in different places and times, and don’t worry, the plots (e.g. the sexism) is not what you fear it might be. Having said that, double check the other books in the series for anachronisms that may not have stood the test of time.
FREE download at Project Gutenberg: The Dutch Twins (Note: As of this writing, the PG doesn’t include the pictures; paying a small amount at Amazon is worth it to get them.)
Other titles in the series available at Project Gutenberg: Lucy Fitch Perkins
The Amazon link below includes the first thirteen books in the series and a list of the entire series, which should be gradually going into the public domain over the next decade or so.
Including a book sadly called The Pickaninny Twins, which is a really outdated and offensive way of referring to Black children. Some of the other stories have stood the test of time better. In the time period, I imagine Perkins was trying to be progressive.
Previewing all of the titles is recommended.