Classic American Chapter Book Series That Are All About The Simple Life

There was a time - a simpler time - without so many distractions. Now, it seems that technology has taken over our every day. But if ‘slow living’ trends are any indication, we all seem to yearn for that simpler, building forts, picking apples...a wholesome childhood.

These American classics (new and old) are a great way to instill an appreciation for low-tech living and simpler times. Whether you read chapters together or encourage your avid young reader to go at it alone, introducing your bunch to these books can help shape their outlook about what really matters.

The Penderwicks Series

By Jeanne Birdsall

Reminiscent of classic kids’ books such as Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, the Penderwicks books have similar wholesome, simple qualities with a more modern setting. Dependable, sensible 12-year-old Rosalind; 11-year-old Skye, who is headstrong and spirited; creative 10-year-old Jane, with her head in the clouds; and timid, introverted 4-year-old Batty, the Penderwicks are four very different and yet closely bonded sisters.

The girls’ mother passed away from cancer shortly after Batty was born. They live with their caring but absent minded father, who takes them on a trip to Massachusetts where he has rented a beautiful cottage for the summer. They befriend the boy next door, whose mother is less than pleased about her boisterous new neighbors, and have many imaginative adventures together.

Little House on the Prairie Series

By Laura Ingalls Wilder

Laura Ingalls was a real little girl born in 1867 on the Wisconsin frontier. As an adult, she penned a collection of children’s books recounting her life living on the Midwestern prairies in the late nineteenth century.

The charming books focus on the family’s daily lives in small and simple homes. Readers will learn about activities that contributed to the Ingalls’ survival, such as harvesting maple syrup, working the farm, and hunting deer. They’ll also get a glimpse into the modest yet meaningful events that the family and their neighbors enjoyed, such as playing the fiddle around the fire after a hard day’s work, community dances, and their first trip by train.

Laura Ingalls Wilder (as she became known after marrying her husband, Almanzo) wrote nine autobiographical chapter books. Other authors took over in later years and wrote accompanying collections about Laura’s great-grandmother, grandmother, mother and daughter, so kids who become interested in Laura, Mary, Carrie, Ma and Pa will have ample reading material available.

Be aware: This book contains overtly racist attitudes when it comes to Native Americans, which is a reflection of the times. You'll likely want to have a conversation about this aspect of the book.

The Boxcar Children Series

By Gertrude Chandler Warner

Fourteen-year-old Henry Alden is in charge of his three younger siblings when their parents both pass away. Their neighbors, who own the bakery next-door, make plans to send them to live with their paternal grandfather once they discover the kids and on their own. But the children have never met their grandfather and think he must be mean man since their parents avoided him when they were alive.

Henry suggests that the four siblings –12-year-old Jessica (called Jessie), 10-year-old Violet and 7-year-old Benjamin— should run away. They discover an abandoned boxcar in the woods and decide to make it their home. Henry finds work doing odd jobs for the doctor of a nearby town who, unbeknownst to the children, is a friend of their grandfather. The children carve out a happy but simple life for themselves until Violet becomes terribly ill. Henry seeks help from the doctor who suggests they stay with his friend while she recovers.
There are a total of 19 books in the original series and other authors have written dozens more since Gertrude Chandler Warner’s death.

These timeless American classics are a great way to let your kids experience a totally different world where the struggles and the celebrations may not be the same but the emotions behind them are.

What are some of your favorite classic kids’ books set in simpler times?

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