Thanks to book lists from William Kilpatrick's BOOKS THAT BUILD CHARACTER and Jim Trelease's READ ALOUD HANDBOOK, I was able to find plenty that not only kept their attention by capturing their imaginations with exciting adventures, but also inspired them to strength of character, courage, and kindness...many times, with lots of laughter along the way!
Age ranges are approximations, depending on whether you're reading these books aloud, or your children are reading them on their own...
-MY FATHER'S DRAGON (series), by Ruth S. Gannett (ages 6-8) The narrator relates the tales as adventures his father had as a boy. Exciting exploits with hair-raising escapes and wonderful creatures. VERY imaginative and a perfect transition book into "more story with less pictures". This fantasy novel has been around since 1948!
-JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH, by Roald Dahl (ages 6-10). Clever fantasy with lots of fun word play. Dahl's style is almost like Dicken's in describing the miserable plight of orphaned James...horrible mean aunts, outlandish characters, and a magic peach pit will engross your listener with hours of fun reading.
-CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY and sequel, CHARLIE AND THE GREAT GLASS ELEVATOR, by Roald Dahl (ages 8-12). More fantasy from Dahl about childhood justice and delight, full of imagination and the best kind of storytelling. Charlie Bucket lives with his mother and four bedridden grandparents in their one-room home. Charlie wins a trip into the magical, fantastical world of Williy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. A satirical look at want and need, greed and generosity, all remedied through the methods of the eccentric candy maker. Not to be missed!
-THE GREAT BRAIN (series) by John D. Fitzgerald (ages 8-12) Hilarious adventures of an Irish-Catholic family in Mormon Utah in 1896. Tom - a.k.a. the Great Brain - is a 10-year-old genius con man, always interested in making a profit (and always learning a lesson.)
-MANIAC MCGEE, by Jerry Spinelli (ages 9-12). This is the story of a 12-year-old boy, who as a stranger in Two Mills (a runaway, actually), is naively ignorant of the racial divide between the East and West sides of town. He's also unaware that his life will become legend as he performs one amazing feat after another (like running 49 touchdowns in a single game!) You won't believe the miraculous things he does - the most courageous being the healing of the division in the town and the end of the racial prejudice there. Good contemporary fiction.
-A DOG ON BARKHAM STREET and sequel, THE BULLY OF BARKHAM STREET, by Mary Stolz (ages 9-12) There are two problems facing 9-year-old Edward: Martin Hastings, the neighborhood bully, and the fact that Edward's mom and dad don't consider him responsible enough to own a dog. Then his Uncle Josh comes for a visit and brings him - a dog! The plot takes a turn and Edward becomes disallusioned and wants to run away. His father's steady reliability teaches him about love and responsibility in caring for others. In the sequel, you find out what made Martin - the "bully" - behave the way he does as we get the story from the bully's perspective!
-FRINDLE, by Andrew Clements (ages 10-12) Humorous, yet thought provoking story celebrating the glory of language. Nicholas, 5th grader and bit of a class clown, invents the word "frindle" to replace "pen", after his teacher gives him an extra assignment about how new entries are added to the dictionary. Hilarity ensues as the whole school begins to use the word. In the end, the student and teacher find a true appreciation of each other.
-THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH, by Norman Jester (ages 10-12) Fantasy story of a mysterious tollbooth appearing in the home of a young and bored time-waster, a boy named Milo. Packed with humor, wordplay, and brain teasers galore as Milo stumbles upon many adventures of the mind! (An example of the quirky humor, fun use of words and logic: Milo arrives at the "Island of Conclusions" in an unusual fashion - he jumps, of course!)
LLOYD ALEXANDER'S THE PRYDAIN CHRONICLES (ages 9-12) Fun and imaginative series about a would-be hero, Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper to the wizard Dallben. Taran doesn't always make the smartest decisions, but learns along the way (which is part of his charm!) Boys and girls alike will love this series! THE BOOK OF THREE; THE BLACK CALDRON; THE CASTLE OF LLYR; TARAN WANDERER; THE HIGH KING.