The Stinky Cheese Man by Jon Scieszka (Viking Juvenile, $18). What if the Ugly Duckling grew up to be even uglier? These wonderfully warped fairy tales have shown up in a couple of my Cross novels, when Alex Cross would read Stinky Cheese to his kids. They always laugh uproariously, as did my son Jack when he was younger.
Nate the Great by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat (Delacorte, $14). Nate understands that you have to solve a few minor-league cases before you can move on to Sam Spade–style crime-stopping. Great stories and snappy, clear writing. Attentive readers can help Nate pick up clues along the way.
Sideways Stories From Wayside School by Louis Sachar (HarperTeen, $6). Each chapter can stand alone, and kids can skip around to their favorite stories. Relatable because it’s school-based, it’s also insanely funny, in a black humor kind of way, so parents will like it, too. This might not make sense now, but: Beware of the kid wearing multiple raincoats!
My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett (Yearling, $7). Something we often forget is that kids love to laugh, and books can achieve this sometimes even better than film or TV. What makes My Father’s Dragon work so well is how Elmer always seems to come up with the most unexpected solutions to problems he encounters on his journey. How did he know that two dozen pink lollipops and six magnifying glasses would come in handy?
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (Scholastic Press, $25). This novel might be intimidating if Selznick hadn’t decided to make half the story a cool flipbook of illustrations. It’s like watching and reading a great silent movie. An engaging story with fun, interactive elements that will help turn your kid into a reader.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney (Abrams, $13). The wildly popular Wimpy Kid books successfully bridge the gap between graphic novels and chapter books—which is quite a feat. Boys especially love this series.