Nine-year-olds are hitting a crucial stage in their reading lives. The act of choosing a book is getting more complicated. Reading levels are varied, and looking cool is taking up more mind space. In an overwhelming world (and you can’t argue that 4th grade is anything but), a lot of kids go for what they know. As an elementary librarian, this means I am constantly inundated with requests for the same handful of titles. Any book excitement is celebrated, but my library only has so many copies of the favorites. With checkouts popping up every two weeks, we run out of options fast.
The explosion of graphic novels has made book recommendation a million times more exciting. The reading ability of 9-year-olds is all over the place, but their need for peer acceptance is pretty steady. Graphic novels bridge this gap in such a satisfying way. Books with impressive thickness and not-babyish illustration can be enjoyed by struggling readers, allowing them to immerse themselves in a story in a way that blocks of text might prevent. The graphic novel section is usually where we start, but I did not include graphic novels in this list. For some great graphic novel recs, start with this list of recent middle grade graphic novels.
Beyond graphic novels, I’ve been curating read-alikes and book recs to keep all my upper students interested. It can be tricky to find the right fit, and to encourage patience in both the reader and myself. The categories below represent the most requested titles or genres I hear from students in 3rd through 5th grade. I hope you find something that piques your interest!
Books Like Junie B. Jones
Junie B. Jones is technically a 1st grader, but there are many 9-year-olds who turn to this series for comfort and readability. These books below are great read-alikes in reading level and spunky characterization. Each one offers many books in the series, so they can keep coming back for more.
Dragons and Marshmallows (Zoey and Sassafras, 1) by Asia Citro and Marion Lindsay
This has an amazing blend of science and fantasy. Zoey and her best friend (a cat named Sassafras) use the scientific method to solve medical problems plaguing the magical creatures only they can see.
Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen by Debbi Michiko Florence and Elizabet Vukovic
Sometimes compared to Ramona Quimby, Jasmine is sweet and striving to do something before her big sister beats her. Starring in a series of five books, Jasmine Toguchi’s Japanese American family will win your heart
Meet Yasmin! by Saadia Faruqi and Hatem Aly
Yasmin is a curious and creative Pakistani American second grader. This relatable realistic fiction series has 24 installments full of fun and relatable adventures.
Books For Manga Lovers
Far and away, manga is the biggest request I get from students at the moment. My students are deeply into anime, wearing My Hero Academia sweatshirts and asking me why more of our books don’t read from right to left. This has been an adjustment for me, a reading adventure I have no background in, and I’ve been relying heavily on the expertise of others. This list has a lot more excellent manga for young people.
Dragon Ball Z by Akira Toriyama
Goku uses his well developed martial arts skills to defend Earth (and his family) from extraterrestrials, villains, and other threats.
Sailor Moon by Naoko Takeuchi
A typical girl is living her normal life pretty uneventfully- until she is told by a talking cat that she is actually Sailor Moon, and must fight evil in the name of the Moon.
Books Like Diary of a Wimpy Kid
I don’t like Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I think the main character is mean and selfish, and I don’t think the emphasis on his lessons learned is enough to cancel that out. However, this is one of the most heavily read series in my library. I’m psyched whenever I can steer a reader towards one of these instead.
Sam Wu Is Not Afraid of Ghosts by Katie Tsang, Kevin Tsang, and Nathan Reed
Sam Wu has troubles, but instead of blaming them on everyone around him, he comes up with a plan to prove his bravery. Written in the first person and full of school and family exploits, it has the structure of Wimpy Kid with much more heart.
Amelia’s Notebook By Marissa Moss
Nine-year-old Amelia does not think writing in this notebook is going to help her get over the pain of moving. Still, she’ll give it a try. Not a new series by any means, but Amelia still wins hearts with her honest journalling and amazing doodles in the margins.
Another mega-request: “Where are your scary books? Like, the really scary ones!” I often point the kids to Mary Downing Hahn, the perennial queen of elementary horror. The Goosebumps series also gets its share of action, but the books below build on that spooky feeling while introducing some winning characters.
Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh
Harper and her younger brother are already trying to adjust to a big move. Next thing you know, they’re dealing with a severely haunted house. Why does Harper feel like she’s been here before? And why is her brother acting so weird? This tale of horror and mystery will keep you guessing until the end!
Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega
Lucely and Syd already know about ghosts, but when they accidentally unleash some very bad spirits, they get more than they bargained for. Drawing help from the living and the dead, the two girls go through some scary situations on their quest to undo the damage and stop whatever is hurting their town.
Books Like Harry Potter
Although just about all 9-year-olds have heard of the series, I don’t rec Harry Potter anymore because the author has made gross transphobic remarks. For students seeking fantasy, characters discovering hidden abilities, and friends banding together to fight evil, I recommend some of the books below.
Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel José Older
The Civil War is raging in an alternate universe where dinosaurs never went extinct. Magdalys Roca and her friends from the orphanage are caught up in a related scuffle when she learns she can communicate with the dinos without speaking. This starts an adventure that currently spans three books, with more to come!
Aru Shah and the End of Time: A Pandava Novel Book 1 by Roshani Chokshi
Aru Shah doesn’t know she’s special. She doesn’t realize that she is the reincarnation of one of the five Pandava brothers. She has no idea that lighting the Lamp of Bharata will actually unleash a demon called The Sleeper. Suddenly, everyone in the world is frozen, a pigeon is yelling at her, and she is racing against time. This series is more endearing in every single installment. An all time favorite, for sure.
Hopefully something above will tempt the 9-year-olds in your life to pick up something new. Whether it’s a well-worn classic or something fresh and exciting, any reading is a win! If you’re looking for more ideas, try this list of chapter books for kids. Happy reading!