A teacher friend of mine prompted this blog post. Actually, she asked me for this list over a year ago, and she knows how very, truly sorry I am that it's taken me this long to get it for her. Once I had done so, though, I thought I might share it with the world.
The following list is a brief overview of some books that are currently in-print that I think would suit the tastes of boys who are in 3rd or 4th grade, or who are reading at a 3rd or 4th grade level. Having never been a 3rd or 4th grade boy, my opinion comes from having a father, an older brother, and many boy customers, all of whom I observe and talk with about books. The general trend runs toward sports, "funny" books, and action/adventure. I'm also throwing some part-graphic novel titles on here, just for fun.
The original series I recommended at the teacher's request was the Dan Gutman series, Baseball Card Adventures (HarperCollins). These stories featured a boy who upon touching a baseball card, would be transported back in time to meet, say, Mickey Mantle or Shoeless Joe.
Continuing on the sports theme, I would also recommend a series by Loren Long and Phil Bildner, originally known as Barnstormers when it was a hardcover-only series, now known as Sluggers in hardcover/paperback (Simon & Schuster). This has a similar feel to the Dan Gutman series, in that it combines baseball and magic, but aren't high-fantasy (no goblins, trolls, etc.). There are six in the series so far. My favorite aspect of this series is that a lot of baseball terminology and slang are used right in the prose, and then defined in the margins of the page. You get to read a great baseball adventure story and learn baseball vocab - what could be better than that?
One last sports series, that's not baseball specific is the Comeback Kids series by Mike Lupica (Penguin). Each book features a boy playing a different sport; so, for instance, one plays basketball, one football, one baseball, etc.
On to non-sports recommendations:
Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder by Jo Nesbo, illustrated by Mike Lowery (9781416979722, $14.99, Simon & Schuster). The word "fart" is in the title. Need I say more?
The Indian in the Cupboard (series) by Lynne Reid Banks (Random House). An oldie but a goodie, though being sensitive to the portrayal of Native Americans in literature, I have to say this series is typically lacking in its cultural sensitivity and accurate tribal-specific information. That said, I read this series as a kid and it's what, in part, influenced me in becoming a Native American studies major in college. So, you never know.
Never underestimate the power of the Choose Your Own Adventure novel, mostly written by R.A. Montgomery, though other writers fill in the series (Chooseco). These don't need to be read in order. They have started publishing some CYOAs at the beginning chapter book level for 1st and 2nd graders, too.
The Jon Scieszka recommendation section of this post:
Knucklehead by Jon Scieszka (9780670011384, $12.99, Penguin). The subtitle is Tall Tales and Mostly True Stories of Growing Up Scieszka. These tales feature the outlandish (mostly true) events that occur when you grow up as one of six brothers. Pictures of Jon Scieszka and his family are sprinkled throughout the book. Some parents have been sensitive to the cover - it was designed specifically that way to reflect the covers of comic books that Scieszka read as a child that age, not as a political statement of today.
Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs, and Some Other Things...
(...that aren't as scary, maybe, depending on how you feel about lost lands, stray cellphones, creatures form the sky, parents who disappear in Peru, a man named Lars Farf, and one other story we couldn't quite finish, so maybe you could help us out)
by Nick Hornby, Neil Gaiman, Jon Scieszka, Jonathan Safran Foer, etc. (9780385737470, $12.99, Random House). Besides winning best title of the decade, this book is a great introduction to some fantastic authors. Basically these are all short stories, a few pages long, mostly sci-fi or fantasy-related. A good introduction to this genre and these writers for kids at the Middle Grade reading level.
A similar book for those reading at the higher end of Middle Grade, say 10-14 years old, try Guys Write for Guys Read, edited by Jon Scieszka (9780670011445, $11.99, Penguin). This is the same type of book where all the stories are a few pages long, only not only sci-fi/fantasy-based tales. In this compilation, all the contributing writers are guys, writing for a guy audience.
Part graphic novel, part regular novel recommendations:
Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom & Frankie Pickle and the Pine Run 3000 (series starring Frankie Pickle) by Eric Wight (Simon & Schuster). This series is a little easier reading level for those reluctant readers, more of a 2nd to 3rd grade level. The "every day" scenes are in prose; it's when Frankie's imagination takes over that the graphic novel element comes to life.
Dragonbreath (series) by Ursula Vernon (Penguin). A relatively new series starring a little dragon as the main character, but in the role of a boy; also featuring a foreign exchange student (a salamander) and ninja frogs.
The Fog Mound (trilogy) by Susan Schade and Jon Buller (Simon & Schuster). Recommended by my Simon & Schuster book rep, this series is about a chipmunk named Thelonious who is given the chance to find out if the old stories are true - if people rather than animals once ruled the Earth, and if they did, what happened to the humans?
Now that you've heard my two cents, does the peanut gallery have any favorites they'd like to add?