Gift Idea for Families: The Chapter Book Edition

Many moons ago, my parents started a Christmas tradition where, in addition to a personal gift, we also got a “family gift.” Something Bill, Catherine, and I could share/do/enjoy together. One year it was a pasta kit, another year it was tickets to a show, then there was the sled … you get the idea. So I asked myself …

Why not books the family can enjoy together?

Winter is the perfect season for family read aloud time. The days are shorter, and we’re all together inside more because of some inevitable weather event or just plain cold temps. These chapter books celebrate all types of families, offering humor and delight in everyday events. They are suitable for reading with everyone in the family, though children younger than 8 may struggle with understanding some story elements.

Dinosaur Boy by Cory Putman Oakes
| Science Fiction/Fantasy, Humor, Friendship, Series |

dinosaur boy cory putman oakesSawyer Bronson has the dinosaur gene, just like his grandfather! With his new tail and the plates down his back, everyone knows it, too. Being part stegosaurus made him an easy target for the bullies in class. Lucky for Sawyer, Ms. Mathis, the new principal, rigorously enforced the “Zero Tolerance” policy for bullying.

Just a few weeks into the school year, and 10 of Sawyer’s classmates have been expelled and then disappear. Sawyer, his best friend Elliot, and new student Sylvie decided to investigate. What they uncovered was something out of this world! They were kids. Who was going to believe what they said?

Who doesn’t love a good dinosaur-alien story? We don’t want to give it all away, but everyone is sure not only to laugh out loud, but ask for extra chapters. Sylvie, Elliot, and Sawyer are a great trio and the author does a great job showing how different personalities can work together – and be friends! 

Read the Review | Order at | Shop Your Local Indie Bookstore

A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic by Lisa Papademetriou
| Adventure, Diverse, Fantasy, Folklore, Magic, Travel, Friendship |

tale highly unusual magic lisa papademetriouCity girl Kai Grove is spending the summer with Great-Aunt Lavinia Quirk, whose personality matched her name! Lavinia, who is related to her deceased father, didn’t have kids, so Kai was pretty much on her own. Within a few hours of arriving in Texas, two things happened: she found The Exquisite Corpse, and she met Doodle, the girl across the street.

At the same time, mystery-loving Leila Awan is soaking in Lahore, Pakistan. She is far away from her sister Nadia (the star of the family) and excited for an “authentic cultural experience.” Exploring her uncle’s library, she spotted a book with an intriguing title: The Exquisite Corpse.

When the girls open their copy the first time, they see nearly blank pages. As each girl adds a few words or asks a question, the story begins to reveal itself. Through these pages, the girls meet Ralph T. Flabbergast and Edwina Pickle. Despite the fact that these people (may) have lived a long time ago, Lelia and Kai could not tear themselves away from the book as they learn about their lives and love for each other. Separately – and yet somehow together – the girls learn how we are connected to each other and through time.

Wonderfully refreshing, fun, and unique. Aunt Lavinia is a hipster and Doodle reminds readers of Pippi Longstocking. Leila’s struggle with being part of a culture and yet not fully understanding it is so real, and very powerful. The layers are exquisite, and readers can be in the past and the present at the same time in beautiful ways that are, as the story illustrates, connected.

Read the Review | Order at | Shop at Your Local Indie Bookstore

Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling 
| Adoption, Diverse, Friendship, Humor, Life Lessons, Series, Specially Abled |

momentous events life cactus dusti bowlingIt took a while, but Aven Green (14) feels like she has adjusted to life in Stagecoach Pass. Except, time moves on and high school is about to begin. As far as Aven is concerned, one of the worst things (besides 2,300 new kids to stare at her) is that she will never be able to go to school dances. She can’t do the Y-M-C-A because she was born with no arms.

When the very popular Joshua Baker starts paying attention to Aven, her BFF Zion Hill tells her to steer clear of this bully. Thinking positive, Aven assures Zion that people can change. She learns the hard way that Joshua isn’t one of them. She is beyond humiliated and pushing away her parents and friends. Just when she has committed herself to being a hermit, other doors are there to open. Will they help Aven restore her confidence and repair her friendships?

Aven’s voice is unique and yet universal. There are times when the story made me uncomfortable, but that is a GOOD thing. As a reader, I appreciated Aven’s view of the world: good, bad, and ugly. Unless she reminded me, I didn’t see a “girl with no arms.” The story is well-rounded and realistic. There are the friendships with Trilby and Connor; her relationships with the Hill family, her biological grandmother Josephine; and the natural give-and-take of the relationship with her adopted parents.

Readers can’t help but be inspired by this poignant, hopeful, and (at times) humorous story. Aven may live in a Western theme park, but her high school experiences and self-talk are universal.

Read the Review | Order at | Shop at Your Local Indie Bookstore

See also Book 1, which is set in middle school: Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus.

How to Outswim a Shark Without a Snorkel by Jess Keating
| Adventure, Friendship, Growing Up, Life Lessons, Series |

My Life is a Zoo Jess KeatingIt isn’t easy being TV star Shep Foster’s granddaughter; but Ana Wright (12) is on her way to being famous herself. She can’t walk around the zoo without being recognized by her young fans (thanks to that crocodile presentation), which happens a lot more. It’s summer and there is lots going on at the zoo. Grandpa is putting the finishing touches on the Marine Adventure Zone, and he wants his “Ana Banana” to be the star of the shark tank! Just when she’s getting used to the idea, she gets some bad news: Ashley the Sneerer is interning with the zoo this summer, too. Why is she here? What’s her motive? This can’t be good. Swimming with sharks is easy compared to navigating life and friendship.

Humor and great characters come together in this exceptional, laugh-out-loud story. Ana has a great voice, her family relationships are authentic, as is her journey of figuring out friendship. She has an equally authentic cast around her (except for her grandfather’s supermodel girlfriend). The word “wholesome” kept coming to mind as I read it.

Read the Review | Order at | Shop at Your Local Indie Bookstore

Other titles in the My Life Is a Zoo series: How To Outrun a Crocodile When Your Shoes Are Untied and How to Outfox Your Friends When You Haven’t Got a Clue.

The Family Hitchcock by Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett
| Adventure, Humor, Mystery, Spies, Vacation |

Mfamily hitchcockaddy and Benji Hitchcock have plans for the summer, but so does dad. The Hitchcocks of Chicago are swapping houses with the Xavier Vadim family of Paris, France. Tres fun, oui? Everyone but Dad sees it as a disaster, and their fears are confirmed when the Vadims arrive in Chicago early: Mom, Dad, goth teen girl, and 3-year-old boy! What on earth will they find when they get to Paris? Let’s just say its an adventure!

Any preteen who has a younger sibling will love this! The family dynamics are spot on, and the story moves fast with plenty of day-in-the-life humor. What makes the story particularly fun is the way that many of the misconceptions – often dropped into the story by Maddy – unravel.

Read the Review | Buy at | Shop Your Local Indie Bookstore

DISCLOSURE STATEMENT: The “Order at” link goes to When you buy through, Amazon donates to the Reading Tub. As a nonprofit, the Reading Tub has an affiliate relationship with for fundraising purposes. All proceeds go to our mission.

The Reading Tub also has an affiliate relationship with When you purchase through “Shop at your local Indie Bookstore,” the Reading Tub can earn donations for our literacy mission.