Little-Known Books (grades K-8)

I love rare books, I don’t know why. Everyone has heard of “Charlotte’s Web” and “Because of Winn-Dixie,” and although those are great, most of my favorites are little-known. Here is a list of a few of my favorite books that I bet you have never heard of.

Some (The Riverboat Adventures) are lesser known than others (Holes) but most are little-known all the same. The books are listed by reading level, being said the beginning books are for grades K-3 and the last books are for grades 3-8.

Irena Sendler was a young Catholic social worker who rescued 2,500 Jewish children during World War II. Although not graphic, this large picture book does depict how Irena smuggled children out of the Warsaw Ghetto and hid them in everything from potato sacks to tool boxes. She had dogs and would teach them to bark when hidden babies cried, and the Nazis would avoid the dogs and therefore the babies were saved. Realistic and sometimes heart-breaking, younger children probably won’t fully realize the danger these children were in.

What I liked about this book the most versus another certain picture book about Irena, was this had beautiful illustrations. Irena Sendler survived the war, was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad VaShem, was nominated for the Noble Peace Prize, and died in 2008 at the age of 98. For adults and older children, there is a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie about Irena called The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler.

Girls to the Rescue series by Bruce Lansky

This series of 7 books features courageous and witty girls from around the world. Each book is filled with fables, fairy tale twists, originals, adaptions, legends, fairytales, folktales, and true stories of girls and young women who used their kindness, wit, and courage to save their brother, family, or sometimes village. The reading level is about the same as the American Girl series, and if your girl loves AG, they will definitely love these books. The beginning of each story includes a small glossary and pronunciation of foreign words, which is very helpful.
There is no boy-bashing, or anything parents would find inappropriate. Since each story is short, this series would make great bedtime stories! In these stories, you’ll meet; an Italian girl who saves her family by outsmarting a farmer who cheats both of her brothers (book 4); a blind girl who saves another girl from a fire (book 5); and Cinderella’s assistant who does good and helps others – without the fairy’s magic. (book 1).
Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine

Growing up a slave, Henry doesn’t know how old he is, or his birthday. But Henry does know he wants his freedom, and he wants it badly. As an adult, Henry marries and has children. But, his wife and children and sold. Now more than ever before, Henry yearns for freedom. With the help of a friend, Henry feigns injury and escapes in a box, mailed to the north – freedom. A true story, Henry’s Freedom Box is a great way to teach children about the Underground Railroad in an age-appropriate way. The scene where Henry’s family is forced away is very sad, but dealt with in an appropriate manner.

Twenty and Ten by Clarie Huchet Bishop
Based on a true story, this short children’s novel is about twenty fifth-grade French children who take in ten Jewish children during the Nazi occupation of France in 1944. The story is told from the view of a young girl named Janet. She and a few other children are playing the Flight of Egypt, with Joseph, Mary, and Jesus fleeing King Herod. The game soon ends in a fight, and the children are called inside where a refugee sits. The refugee tells them they have to hide ten Jewish orphans, because, like Jesus, they are being persecuted and the Nazis are like Herod’s soldiers. The children, anxious for some adventure and “real life adventure” instead of make believe willingly offer their help and promise not to say anything. Written in the simplistic way grown-ups talk to children, this book reminded me of Number the Stars by Lois Lowry in so many ways. Although I would have liked to know more about the real children involved, this is an excellent story of teamwork, friendship, and courage.

The American Girl Mysteries by various authors
You may have heard of the American Girl series, but for some reason, no one has really heard of the American Girl mysteries. There is 1-3 mysteries for every one of the American Girls. Each book is smaller than a DVD case and contains less than 200 pages. Personally, my favorites are all of the Kit mysteries and all of the Molly mysteries. The reading level is a tad higher than the 6 regular American Girl series.

Love That Dog by Sharon Creech
Jack hates poetry. Because boys don’t write poetry and his brain is empty. Slowly, through time and a loving teacher, Jack learns to appreciate poetry. When his poetry catches his teacher’s eye, the teacher wants to post it on the board for the class to see. At first Jack insists it remains anonymous, but finally gives in once he sees how much his classmates love it. Jack’s teacher then wants him to write about a pet, but Jack doesn’t want to. A bittersweet story evolves, over Jack’s beloved yellow dog. In chapters but told completely through free-verse poetry, this would make a fantastic read-aloud. The title is a spin off of the poem “Love That Boy” by Walter Dean Myers. The end includes a few poems mentioned in the book.

All-Of-A-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor

The story follows a Jewish family with five girls. Since I come from a family of five girls, I could relate to most of the stories in here. Someone is most always crying, sick, fighting, in trouble, or about to be in trouble. The story is told through short chapters. Each chapter is like a mini-story. The stories include a nice library lady, a trip to the beach, Papa’s birthday, notable Jewish holidays, and simply the girls’ daily lives. 

Great Lessons in Virtue and Character: A Treasury of Classic Animal Stories by William Kilpatrick

Featuring excerpts from stories like Island of the Blue Dolphins and The Horse and His Boy, this bedtime-story gives lifelong lessons through compelling animal stories. 

Bridge to America by Linda Glaser

Based on a true story, Bridge to America is about a young Polish-Jewish boy in the 1920s who is waiting for word of his father, who lives in America. When his father finally sends them money, Fivel and his family leave behind poverty and the Cossacks in search of a new life. However, their new life brings many challenges. At school, Fivel is teased for being an immigrant. He does not know words like sheriff  and he doesn’t know his birthday. He is pressured to become more “American”. At home, his mother still sticks tightly to traditions and Jewish religion. How can he seem to fit in in home and in school?
You can see a (free) teacher’s guide for this book here.

A House of Tailors by Patricia Reilly Giff

Dina HATES sewing. Searching for a life beyond sewing, the thirteen-year-old leaves her small home in Germany to join her uncle’s family in America. Unfortunately, her uncle owns a sewing shop. As Dina battles epidemics and a fire, she grows as a person in a way she would never imagine.

Behind Enemy Lines by Bill Doyle

Meet a German-American pilot who escapes from a Vietnamese prison camp; a female cross-dressing American Civil War soldier, a young man who gets on the wing of a flying plane to escape the enemy, and a young French woman who helped Americans during WWII. Filled with adventure, courage, and told in an appropriate manner, Behind Enemy Lines features 8 extraordinary people who did the right thing.
The Riverboat Adventures series by Lois Walfrid Johnson
Set in the 1850s and 1860s, this Christian historical fiction series follows 12-year-old Libby Norstad. Libby went to live with her wealthy aunt after her mother died but as she grows older, her father, captain of the boat the CHRISTINA, wants Libby to live with him on the ship. (this is where the series begins) Libby runs into a mysterious cabin boy and before she realizes what is happening, she is involved in the Underground Railroad helping a young fugitive escape. NOTE: The new edition of this series is called “Freedom Seekers.”
Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff
This Newbery Honor winner is about a talented young artist in foster care. Hollis Woods has been in so many foster homes, but only soon seems to stick out; the Reagans – the only family who seemed to truly care about her. Hollis is sent to Josie, an elderly, kind artist who begins to lose more of her memory day by day. But Hollis doesn’t want to leave, and she will do anything in her power to stay.
Although not very long, Pictures of Hollis Woods is a great novel that sparks some great discussion topics. Written in an engaging manner, this book has great messages and themes. There is also a Hallmark Hall Of Fame film with the same name.
Holes by Louis Sachar
Overweight teenager Stanley Yelnats IV believes he is “cursed” due to his great-great-grandfather. Falsely accused of stealing a pair of shoes, Stanley is arrested and sentenced to a detention facility called Camp Green Lake. In the middle of nowhere, the boys of Camp Green Lake must dig 5×5 feet holes daily to “build character.” Stanley soon finds out they are digging holes for the Warden, who is looking for an ancient buried treasure…
Holes is a great treasure for older children, packed with adventure, humor, and treasure.
There is a Disney movie called Holes based on the book. Unlike some movies, the movie Holes matches the book pretty well.
Peter by Anne Holm
Peter is left with nothing to do in a boring house when his friend Morten moves. Until, the mysterious painting above the fireplace, The Boy in Yellow, takes Peter to an exciting place – Ancient Greece! Peter later travels to medieval England. Filled with adventure and history, Peter reminds me of The Chronicles of Narnia, how in the end everything fits together like a puzzle and how Peter gets magically transported from one period in time to the other.
What makes this book unique is definitely Peter himself. For being so young, he is very witty. Anne Holm is a very witty author. A few quotes that stuck out to me were, “The angrier you were, the less likely you were to think clearly.” and “Being brave meant that though you might be frightened, you would face the greatest danger if you knew it was the right thing to do.” For the most part, the entire book is filled with bits like this. Since this book was written in the 1960s in Denmark, the writing might be a little awkward for younger readers.
I Am David by Anne Holm
I Am David was originally published in Denmark as David, published in the USA as North to Freedom, and then reprinted as I Am David after the 2003 film. David has been in a concentration camp for as long as he can remember. When a prison guard gives him a mysterious chance to escape “north to Denmark” – David seizes his chance.  The only thing he knows about the outside world is from a friend, Johannes, and the other men in the camp. Throughout his journey, David experiences the beauty of the simple, wonderful things in life.  To top it off, the writing is beautiful, inspiring, and full of wisdom.
What are your favorite little-known books?

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  • Oh, how I love this list, and I really appreciate your ratings and summaries. I just pinned it and subscribed to your blog.

    One gem we came across this past year is The Hiding Place (about the Holocaust) which was made into a radio theater production by Focus on the Family. Such an amazing story of doing the right thing despite sheer terror, selflessness, finding purpose for your life even in a concentration camp, serving God and others, faith, and forgiveness.

    • I love Corrie ten Boom’s story! I own both her book and movie, but haven’t heard Focus on the Family’s radio theater production yet.
      Thank you for commenting on my blog!

  • I love this! And I love that you are a homeschooled teenager with your own blog. Very impressive. Do you use Sonlight for your curriculum? That’s what we use. We love it! We read “Twenty and Ten” last year. My kids (twins) were only in kindergarten and learned and retained SO much more about WWII (and courage!) from that book than they ever would have from a boring old textbook. Thanks so much for sharing. I think you’re great. 🙂

    • Thanks! No, I don’t use Sonlight and I have have. I LOVE Sonlight’s books, their message, and what they stand for, but I only learned about them last year 🙁 I would have LOVED Sonlight in 4-7 grade! My sister is doing our own makeshift-version of Sonlight for history this year.

  • I love the book “Behind the Bedroom Wall” (Can’t remember the author now), which I had never heard of, but my brother read in school. I also like “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” and the sequel, but those used to be read in school–they may now be on the banned book list along with “Huckleberry Finn” and the like, but I enjoy them and think they are informative as well as entertaining. I homeschool my daughter (almost 7) and we will be reading these, as well as some on your list. I also love that you summarize the books rather than just putting a title down. (I might never bother looking it up if there is only a title and no summary!) Thanks!

    • Thank you for your kind comments, Charity! I love Behind the Bedroom Wall! (By Laura E Williams I believe). I have never heard of “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.” I just looked it up – the sequel won a Newbery. I have been pretty impressed with past Newbery books so I’ll give those two a try. Thanks!

    • Good day to you .
      I saw this advert of I am David on pinterest
      And quite like the unusual books mostly for children.
      I have a small collection of paperback books which I was either given for birthday or later bought with pocket money back in the late1960,s onwards .
      Jill Paton Walsh. Fireweed .1969
      The Silver Sword by Ian serraillier.1960
      Both concerning children during W.W.2.
      Emil and the Detectives. By Erich Kastner.
      A film was made on the book in the 1930,s.
      The Family from one end street.
      By Eve Garnett. 1937 .ish.
      There is a series of books by Eve Garnett on the adventures of One end street.
      Lastly I got a old library book from the USA .
      Memoirs of a Survivor .
      By Alicia Appleman-jurman.
      A excellent story of a courageous young girl of the Holocaust Nightmare.
      Couldn’t put it down it was so good .
      I could go on about all the other paper back books I have but it would probably be just like
      84 .Charing cross Road London. England.
      Which by the way is one of my all time top ten films .
      Regards Geoff Thompson. Surrey England.

  • Thank you! Very good list. I would add Marguerite De Angeli books … all of them, big ideas, framed in manageable stories, probably 8years and up. Bright April, Thee Hannah!, the Lion in the Box, The Door in the Wall.

    commenting as anonymous because I can’t figure out how to put anything else in… sorry.

    • I’ll have to check those out! 🙂 Thank you!

      PS if you see Reply As and click “Anonymous”, you can choose “Name/URL” and type in a name. (You don’t have to put a URL)

  • Twenty and Ten is one of my favorite books. When I was a college student in the sixties my creative dramatics professor read it to us. I read it to my second and third grade students when I taught. When one of my students graduated from college her mom called and wanted to know what was the name of the book about the cave that I had read so she could give it to her daughter for graduation.Now I volunteer in my grand children’s library and I am reading it again.