bantam-weight novels for all ages

Over the years I’ve collected several long lists of snazzy chapter books under 100 pages long which serve a wide variety of readers.

As I’ve gone about gathering them,
I’ve come across many gems that, slim though they may be, are just too long to fit that brief.
Yet they’re quite a bit shorter than your average children’s novel
which tends to run around 220-350 pages long.

Thus I decided to pull together a list of these 100-200 page, bantam-weight novels,
and just like their even-more-featherweight cousins, these books fit a wide gamut of readers.
Some are truly first chapter books for new, sturdy readers which simply run a bit long because of their use of large fonts and highly-illustrated pages.
Some are vintage novels, written in the ’50s or ’60s, say, when page counts tended to run a bit lower.
Others are brand new, sophisticated reads for tweens and teens full of the complexities of real life in our messy world.

Today I’m reviewing 17 of these fabulous bantam-size novels that I’ve read in recent months.
As usual, I’ll list them in approximate ascending order by difficulty and maturity level.
These titles range in suitability for ages 5 through adult.
Then I’ve provided a link to an index
where I’ve gathered the many, many other titles 100-200 pages long
which I’ve reviewed over the years.
There are so many gems on this list,
so do take advantage of it and share it with those who would benefit.
That link is at the end of today’s post.

The Chocolate Touch, written by Patrick Skene Catling, illustrated by Margot Apple
originally published in 1952; this edition 1979 by Harper
126 pages

This short, sweets-laden story is quintessential British children’s literature. Written in 1952, it’s a clever riff on the myth of King Midas, still in print and loved today.

John Midas is gaga over candy, especially chocolate. Despite pleas from his parents and chiding from Dr. Cranium, its pull is irresistible to him.  One day John discovers a new candy shop where a mysterious shopkeeper gives him one very unusual chocolate candy. Lo and behold, after John eats it, he begins to encounter the strangest phenomenon — everything his lips touch turns to chocolate!

What will it take to cure John of his chocolate obsession and his accursed chocolate touch? An excellent, old-fashioned choice for sturdy young readers or for reading aloud to ages 5 and up.

Sona Sharma, Very Best Big Sister?, written by Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Jan Khatun
published in 2021 by Candlewick
112 pages

This charming story runs along the classic track of welcoming a new baby into the family, but stirs in the sweet spice of a bustling, multigenerational household in India. The result is a warm, affectionate, captivating account, full of piquant personalities. Strong illustration work adds immensely to its character.

Sona isn’t altogether sure she’s excited about adding a sibling to the family. Will there be enough love to go around? Will she have to share everything that’s special to her? Worries murmur about her like so many starlings. However the prospect of the traditional naming ceremony lights a spark in Sona’s mind. Soon she and her sidekick, a stuffed elephant, are puzzling over baby names and helping prepare a lovely nest for the new little one.

Loads of cultural detail mixed into a familiar storyline make this a brilliant choice for young listeners or strong readers who can make use of the glossary for help with the Indian vocabulary. Ages 6 and up.

No Flying in the House, written by Betty Brock, illustrated by Wallace Trip
published in 1970 by Harper
139 pages

One extraordinary day, old, fabulously-wealthy Mrs. Vancourt receives two surprising guests — Gloria, a tiny dog just 3 inches high and 3 inches long who knows 367 tricks; and Annabel Tippens, a small, willo’-the-wisp of a girl under Gloria’s care. Gloria says (oh, yes, she talks, too) that their stay is only temporary as the two of them settle into the grand home.

As time goes by, more fantastical elements emerge in the Vancourt mansion — a magical, golden cat; a secret princess; and the news that Annabel is half-fairy. Annabel is tickled pink over her fairy nature and newfound ability to fly, until suddenly she is forced to make a critical choice between being fully fairy or fully human.

A classic fantasy, now more than 50 years old, illuminating the enormous power of love. For ages 6 and up.

Fabio, the World’s Greatest Flamingo Detective: Peril at Lizard Lake
written by Laura James, illustrated by Emily Fox
published in 2020 by Bloomsbury
128 pages

Fabio is the world’s greatest flamingo detective, and Gilbert, a giraffe, is his trusty sidekick.  I’ve enjoyed a couple of their adventures in the past and happily gave this third episode a spin.

This time the two of them — courtesy of Gilbert’s brand new airplane, coupled with his zealous overconfidence — have crash landed into the middle of a mystery.  The town where they’ve arrived and are awaiting repairs to the biplane is experiencing a sudden shortage of water. Instead of simply turning on the taps, everyone has been forced to buy bottled water.  With a desire to survey the source of the trouble, and a creeping feeling that something sinister lies beneath these woes, the two detecting friends head off to the Black Mountains.

Sabotage, secrets, and scorpions! Can Fabio and Gilbert outsmart the devious criminals responsible for the current crisis? A pink-lemonade toast to a job well done! These jolly mystery/adventures are heavily illustrated in jaunty lemon yellow and hot pink and make a zippy read for ages 6 and up.

Ways to Grow Love, written by Renée Watson, illustrated by Nina Mata
published in 2021 by Bloomsbury
177 pages

We first met the amiable Ryan Hart in Ways to Make Sunshine. Now it’s summer and rising 5th-grader Ryan is coping with some disappointing changes in her plans due to her mom’s pregnancy. Just now mom can’t  share the roller coaster. She can’t accompany her to check out armfuls of books at the library. Ryan is happy to be welcoming a new baby, but alterations to her cherished routines are still hard to bear.

And that’s just the beginning of a wave of changes challenging her because summer church camp brings some unexpectedly tricky friendship complications. Ryan’s parents desire her to grow into a leader who meets the world with kindness, and despite the various stings, missteps, and setbacks she faces, Ryan is a true champ at navigating that pathway.

Warm, human, and blooming with love, this is a delightful second installment in this tenderhearted series, perfect for ages 8 and up.

Mac B, Kid Spy: The Impossible Crime, written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Mike Lowery
published in 2019 by Orchard Books
150 pages

This is the second of the Mac B series. They are cheeky, rambunctious, preposterous accounts of an ordinary American kid named Mac who keeps getting tapped on the shoulder by the Queen of England to track various criminal masterminds, head up secret missions, restore the Crown Jewels, all that kind of super cool spy stuff.

This round sees Mac puzzling out how the Crown Jewels were stolen (again!) from a locked room. His detecting work requires travel to the Tower of London, as well as an old Irish castle where he encounters menacing king cobras among other obstacles.  Breezy, ridiculous, humorous adventures illustrated with cartoonish zest. There are, I believe, 6 Mac B volumes out by now so if your reader likes these fast-paced reads, they’re in luck! Ages 8 and up.

Egg Marks the Spot (A Skunk and Badger Story), written by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Jon Klassen
published in 2021 by Algonquin Young Readers
149 pages

We first met Skunk and Badger when Skunk arrived unexpectedly at Badger’s place and the friendship between these two mismatched folks sputtered to life. In this second installment, the two set off on a camping expedition to Endless Lake in order to find an agate to replace the lovely one stolen by Badger’s cousin, Fisher.

However, rather than finding another agate, the two, joined by a small, orange chicken named Augusta, stumble onto discoveries and events utterly unexpected. That underhanded rascal, Fisher, is up to no good, once again seeking to rob them of a miraculous treasure. Dastardly deeds, uncommon bravery, loyal friends, a guild of Norwegian rats, and one stunning splendor from the Jurassic Era, all await our intrepid crew.

Timberlake has created two sparkling, eccentric personalities in Badger and Skunk.  She employs copious absurdity, a sophisticated vocabulary, and wry humor, studding her tale with oodles of rock-adoration and out-of-the-blue surprises.  Klassen’s occasional art with its scruffy line and broody darkness complements the story perfectly. This is a good choice for strong readers ages about 9 and up, with broad literary tastes; it could also work as a read-aloud for a fairly wide age span. Older readers who enjoyed Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses will likely enjoy these volumes as well, which are best read in order.

The Ballad of Tubs Marshfield, written by Cara Hoffman, illustrations by Olivia Chin Mueller
published in 2020 by Harper
190 pages

Tubs Marshfield is a happy, friendly, music-loving frog who makes his home amongst a close-knit community of creatures in an emerald green, Louisiana bayou. Life for Tubs doesn’t get any better than an evening with his merry-hearted fellow musicians, strumming some tunes, feasting on rose-mallow wine and catberry jelly.

Lately though, a rash of sickness has been plaguing Tubs’ friends and neighbors. His cousin Lila, a doctor, is determined to get to the bottom of the mysterious ailments but as it turns out, it’s Tubs’ destiny to discover the toxic cause of all their troubles.

This eco-fable sings with the joyous music of nature in balance, which is disrupted by the discordant notes of pollution and degradation, and bettered by the harmonies of a community working together towards restoration. Hoffman’s parallels to our endangered planet include the chaos and confusion resulting from misinformation and wild conjecture, wishful thinking and outright denial, as well as the reality of climate refugees and courage of climate activists. Obviously it’s not a measure for measure portrait of our present situation and solutions, yet when millions of people every year are dying from air pollution alone — it’s an important story to tell.

The story is easy enough for ages 9 and up to read but unpacking the layers of meaning may require slightly older readers, possibly in a book club setting.

The House of Serendipity, written by Lucy Ivison, illustrated by Lucy Truman
published by Razorbill in 2021
209 pages

Young Myrtle Mathers is newly alone in the world and has taken a job as a maid for the aristocratic Cartwright family, leaving behind her sweet life working with her parents in their tailoring shop. In her new position she meets Sylvia, the younger daughter of the Cartwrights, and a surprisingly kindred spirit.

It’s the debutante ball season in London and Sylvia’s mother is planning a ball to top all others for her elder daughter, Delphine. But when Delphine’s new Parisian dress turns out to be a thing of nightmares, the grand coming-out seems doomed.  Until fashion-designer-wannabe Sylvia and seamstress-extraordinaire Myrtle secretly put their heads together and turn out the most astonishing dress London has seen yet. This launches them into an even more daring design commission, even as they keep their entire enterprise a secret, for an inter-class association like theirs would be a thing of scandal.

Despite its charming, frothy pink cover and pages swishing with chiffon and glittering with diamonds — this story is the opposite of prissy. Sylvia fizzes with moxie and mischief. Myrtle radiates quiet confidence and talent. The story features powerful artistic dreams, audacious young women, and clandestine plots to subvert society’s rigid expectations. Studded with delicious period details of both upstairs and downstairs lives in 1920s London, it’s a spirited series opener for ages 9 and up, especially for young fashionistas.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, written by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
published in 2006 by Candlewick
210 pages

Edward Tulane is a distinguished, richly-accoutred, china rabbit. He’s also a vain, dispassionate fellow with no thought for anyone but himself. His mistress, 10-year-old Abilene, adores him and tenderly cares for him, but his heart remains untouched.

The momentous turning point in Edward’s life comes when he is lost at sea — rabbit overboard! — during a voyage on a cruise liner. From there, Edward’s improbable, winding journey introduces him to a wide variety of people and their temperaments, conditions, and stories, to troubles, sorrows, and heartbreak, to  cruelty and kindness. Through his experiences, Edward grows into a far wiser rabbit with love in his heart.

As always, Kate DiCamillo does not baby her readers but elevates her prose with elegant phrasing and a rich vocabulary. It’s a sophisticated story about the transformative power of suffering and the beauty of empathy, love, and home, for ages 10 thru adult.

Clayton Byrd Goes Underground, by Rita Williams-Garcia
published in 2017 by Amistad
166 pages

Clayton Byrd adores his grandfather, Cool Papa Byrd, and lives for the chance to play the blues on his harmonica — his blues harp, that is — whenever Cool Papa jams with his fellow musicians, the Bluesmen.

Clayton’s mother, however, has a cold, fractured relationship with her dad, strained to the breaking point by all the years he was gigging on the road when she was a little girl.

When Cool Papa dies, therefore, these two have opposing reactions. Clayton’s mother gives away all Cool Papa’s instruments, all his LPs, every trace of him, and declares an absolute end to the blues; Clayton, in response, runs away from home, hoping to replicate his grandfather’s life with the Bluesmen. And immediately runs smack into a whole lotta trouble.

This piercing, coming-of-age story, a National Book Award finalist, spotlights grief, and the anger it can birth; fathers, and the ways they impact us for good or ill; pain, and the way it can unexpectedly translate into heartfelt music. Ages 10 and up. Plenty to chew on for a book club discussion.

Carry Me Home, by Janet Fox
published in 2021 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
197 pages

Lulu, age 12, has had to step up, bear a load of responsibility, and essentially parent her little sister Serena, in the difficult months since her mother died and her father seemed to lose himself. During this time, her dad up and disappeared for awhile, leaving them with their aunt. Now he’s suddenly left them again. But this time it’s worse. This time they are completely on their own.

As the days drag by Lulu tries to keep Serena safe, fed, and warm in their home — an old Suburban. She tries to keep secret their past and present, just as her dad has urged her to do, desperate to shield herself and Serena from child protection services who she fears will separate them. But Montana is cold this time of year. Fear, loneliness, and overwhelming sadness haunt her. Serena’s getting sick. Might there be someone she can trust to help rather than harm them, if she confides in them?

This is a powerful story of grief, loss, homelessness, desperation, and strength, hope, lovingkindness, and community. As a rule I pass on novels for this age range featuring the illness and death of a parent. This story, while focused on Lulu’s crisis with her homelessness and missing father, does employ flashbacks about her mother’s cancer and death as well as the loss of a brother by miscarriage. So be aware that there’s a lot of pain here even though in the end, relief arrives via the love and support of Lulu’s new community. It’s an excellent window onto the profound challenges of homelessness for children — an estimated 2.5 million children in the U.S. are currently homeless.  Recommended for ages 11 and up.

Rip to the Rescue, written by Miriam Halahmy
published in 2020 by Holiday House
196 pages

It’s September 1940. Jack, age 13, has lied about his age and joined the Messengers just in time for the London Blitz. Amidst the rain of incendiary bombs, blazing buildings, and clouds of smoke and ash, Jack deftly, speedily, maneuvers his bicycle delivering messages to fire and ambulance crews around the city. Despite the grave dangers, he’s supremely chuffed to be an essential part of the war effort. Even better, one night Jack finds a stray dog and carts him home. As it turns out, Rip has a knack for locating people trapped under debris, making him an ideal partner in the rescue efforts.

Besides his messenger duties and rescue work, Jack is also managing his increasingly angry father who was seriously injured and traumatized in the First World War, and keeping life-and-death secrets for his new friend Paula and her Jewish family.

Packed with vivid details of London during this harrowing crisis — the horror and chaos in the streets each night; the steady, defiant courage and resilience of ordinary Londoners — this book is based on the true accounts of children who performed heroic roles during the Blitz and a real rescue dog named Rip who was the forerunner of today’s search-and-rescue dogs. Try this for ages 11 and up, especially for those who love historical survivor stories, dogs, or accounts of World War II.

The Most Perfect Thing in the Universe, by Tricia Springstubb
published in 2021 by Margaret Ferguson Books, Holiday House
182 pages

Quiet, homebody Loah Londonderry, age 11-1/2, lives with her adventurous, ornithologist mom, as well as cantankerous Miss Rinker and her creaky, old, tender-hearted brother, Theo Rinker. That is, this foursome makes up the household when Loah’s mom’s scientific research doesn’t take her away for months at a crack. Just now, Loah is awaiting her mom’s return from a long Arctic expedition, but a few days before Dr. Londonderry’s scheduled arrival she extends her stay in order to pursue a rare bird she’s sighted, a dangerous, solitary, rogue choice. Loah is unhappy about this, to say the least.

Things go from bad to worse when the Rinkers both fall ill and communication with her mom suddenly cuts off.  Loah, who struggles with anxiety, suddenly is thrust into a caretaking role that moves her way out of her comfort zone.

Ah, this book! I absolutely loved it. It’s a gorgeously-written, profound musing on home and family — the broken and flawed people who make up our families, the anchoring love we all fiercely need and can provide one another, the wounds we carry when those we count on to nurture us are insufficient to the task, perhaps even abandoning us altogether, and the ways those wounds can be healed in some measure. All of this plus a lovely layer of ornithology and ecology as we ponder the wisdom to be gained from nature, especially birds which are better than some humans, it seems, at this nurturing and protecting business. It’s such a rich story. Don’t be deceived by the happy-go-lucky air of the cover. I’d recommend it for ages 11 or 12 and up and note that adults are a great audience for this as well.

Bartholomew Fair, by Mary Stolz
published in 1990 by Greenwillow Books
152 pages

It’s late August in 1592, the final day of Bartholomew Fair. Join six folks visiting the fair that day — Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth I; Merrycat, a young scullery maid in the palace kitchen; Jeremy and Jones, two students at Westminster School; John Kempton, a wealthy cloth merchant; and Will Shaw, an overworked, underfed lad toiling for a stonemason.

Sample the fragrant gingerbread men, goggle at astonishing wares from saddles to mousetraps, gasp at the acrobatic ropewalkers, and learn about the lives of our six fairgoers on this singular day. One of our six does not return home that night. Which will it be?

Stolz has written a rich piece of historical fiction, densely studded with colorful, delicious details of 16th century London. An unusually challenging vocabulary, leisurely pace, and period tone all require quite a confident, advanced reader, ages about 11 and up. It might also be read aloud to sturdy listeners about ages 8 and up who are studying medieval history. Adults looking for a quiet, fascinating foray into Elizabethan England will enjoy it, too.

The Mzungu Boy, by Meja Mwangi
first published in 1990; first North American edition 2005 by Groundwood Books
150 pages

In 1983, I spent 3 months in a small village in the Aberdare mountains of central Kenya, not far from Nanyuki, the setting for this superb book. Kenya had become independent just 20 years earlier and the bloody Mau Mau Rebellion — the context for this short novel — was fresh in the minds of those I met there. Thus I was immediately intrigued by the premise of this story and before I finished page one, utterly drawn in by Mwangi’s captivating writing.

It’s the account of Kariuki, a 12-year-old Kenyan boy, and Nigel, an 11-year-old white (mzungu) British boy recently arrived from England to visit his settler grandfather, who become friends against all odds and experience rural Kenya in the late 1950s — first the heartaching beauty and expansive freedom of the open plains and deep forests, but eventually the deadly violence and clash of wills between native Kenyans and their British colonizers.

The immediacy, authenticity, and richness of this account make it a tremendously compelling read. A few Swahili words to manage without a glossary plus a great deal of brutality, devastating violence, and danger, require mature readers. I’m suggesting ages 13 and up. It’s an excellent choice for adults with an interest in Kenya or African literature as well.

Soul Lanterns, by Shaw Kuzki, translated from the Japanese by Emily Balistrieri
published in 2021 by Delacorte Press
162 pages

By age 12, Nozomi has heard some stories from her grandmother about the day the A-bomb decimated Hiroshima, instantly killing, along with 70,000 other citizens, two of her grandmother’s teenage daughters. And she’s participated in many lantern-floating ceremonies, honoring those who died with colorful, glowing memorials on the river each August 6th. Yet this year Nozomi begins noticing more, asking more questions, grappling more deeply with the sorrows of survivors’ stories, curious about unknown fragments in the lives and stories she knows in part.

Nozomi and two of her friends explore these stories and translate what they learn into pieces for an art exhibit about Hiroshima, then and now.  Taking place in Hiroshima in 1970, 25 years after the A-bomb dropped, this is a spare, grim, unvarnished look through Japanese eyes at the grotesque death, trauma, and on-going grief resulting from the bombing on August 6, 1945. It also offers intriguing insights into Japanese culture and a thoughtful meditation on the role of art and story in remembering and healing.

It’s an emotionally-difficult, strongly pro-peace, empathy-building novel.  Once again, the book’s cover seems to pitch this to younger readers, but the frank discussions of carnage, death, and grief definitely make this a solid choice for ages 14 through adult. Be aware that many family members are introduced in the opening pages; I needed to make a small diagram for myself to keep track of the Japanese names and relationships presented.


Now, here’s a link to about 150 more fantastic titles, all between 100-200 pages,
and likewise suited to a wide age range of readers and listeners.

Happy treasure-seeking!