Media without dark themes for 8-year-old?
October 29, 2014 3:35 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for books, TV shows, and movies that avoid dark or scary themes (especially the subject of death), but would still be interesting for a bright 8-year-old. Specific recommendations and wider resources are all welcome.

Common Sense Media helps, but it doesn't seem to have details on a lot of the books I am looking up.

She tears through chapter books at a rate of 1/week minimum, so series/author suggestions would be great.

Game and websites suggestions are also welcome.

She loves science, fantasy, and adventure.
posted by Eolienne to Media & Arts (43 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
What is her reading level?
posted by DarlingBri at 3:43 PM on October 29, 2014

Response by poster: I don't remember exactly. It's years higher than her age.
posted by Eolienne at 3:48 PM on October 29, 2014

Star Trek! (Pre-Abrams, please.) Maybe it gets a little scary for kids sometimes, but generally the whole dang franchise is optimistic and fun and thought-provoking and awesome. Voyager also has strong, smart women all over the place, and damn the haters.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:01 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I already recommended this book today, but perhaps the YA fiction novel Impulse? It has tons of super-interesting science. And it's not scary. And the adventure is super cool. (And there is no sex but there is some kissing so perhaps save this one for later?)

More age appropriate: A Wrinkle in Time, which is basically a love letter to science.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:06 PM on October 29, 2014

Best answer: David Attenborough's entire body of work. Most are broken into hour long segments. He makes learning scientific facts so much fun. Also, the Evolve series. Both available on You Tube.
posted by effluvia at 4:15 PM on October 29, 2014

Best answer: E. L. Konigsburg's books a pretty life-affirming and good for brainy young girls (I speak for experience.) I especially enjoy From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and The View from Saturday. They are about museums and academic bowls respectively.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 4:15 PM on October 29, 2014 [8 favorites]

My all-time fave: Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. The book, NOT the movie with Rosie O'Donnell.
posted by harrietthespy at 4:21 PM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh man, has she read Patricia C. Wrede's Dealing With Dragons series? Clever heroine, the villains are more sarcastic than scary, and the books are laugh-out-loud funny. (Can't remember if The Frying Pan of Doom is in Dealing with Dragons or another Wrede short story, but that's an example of her silly humor.)

Amazon says it's for age 10+ which sounds perfect for an advanced 8-year-old.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 4:37 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh and Anne of Green Gables, of course, although there's a death of a main character at the end of the first book. It's presented in a warm and loving way, not a scary way.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 4:38 PM on October 29, 2014

How'd my daughter get over to your house? Anyway, here are some books that my daughter of similar age and taste enjoyed:

Melendy books, Enright

Dealing with Dragons series, Patricia Wrede (she really enjoyed the series)

The Enola Holmes series by Nancy Springer (this got her interested in Sherlock Holmes and we are now working our way through the collected Holmes stories by Conan Doyle)

The Spirit Animals series (book 1 is by Brandon Mull)

The Familiars series by Adam Jay Epstein

Ever After High series by Shannon Hale

The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

Lantern Sam and the Blue Streak Bandits by Michael D. Beil

She really got into the Guardians of Ga'Hoole series by Kathryn Lasky, which I didn't expect (there are battles between owls & some characters die), and she avidly watched the movie based on the first book. Thanks to the books, she learned a bunch about owls as well, which was a bonus.

The Warriors series by Erin Hunter (again, pretty violent but she doesn't seem to mind)

She also likes Pokemon and will watch watch Pokemon episodes online, fast-forwarding through some of the battles and reads Pokemon manga from the library.
posted by mogget at 4:40 PM on October 29, 2014

Best answer: Also, my daughter's getting into Minecraft in a big way. She likes to play the games on the American Girl website, many of which are adapted from Orisinal.

I find that GoodReads or Amazon reviews are more helpful in ferreting out problematic content. Pick a few books she has enjoyed, look them up on Amazon, and start clicking through on the "Customers who bought this item also bought...", then make a list and go look for them at the library. If you have a good library near you, go ask the children's librarian for recommendations; they have amazing powers (and lists of books).
posted by mogget at 4:47 PM on October 29, 2014

Best answer: Nthing The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler.

Try The Borrowers by Mary Norton, The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. I read those books to pieces at her age, and they're not dark or scary.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:48 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks so much for the suggestions so far. Just wanting to emphasize that we are really needing to avoid pretty much all death and much in the way of violence right now.
posted by Eolienne at 4:49 PM on October 29, 2014

Best answer: Warning: Harriet the Spy and A Wrinkle in Time are fabulous but also kinda dark. Harriet the Spy is mostly about various kinds of social isolation, ostracism, etc. (although also ways people cope). A Wrinkle in Time includes this (Wikipedia-summarized) episode:

The children then travel to the dark planet of Camazotz which is entirely dominated by the Black Thing. Meg's father is trapped there. They find that all the inhabitants behave in a mechanistic way and seem to be all under the control of a single mind. At the planet's central headquarters (described as CENTRAL Central Intelligence) they discover a red-eyed man with telepathic abilities who can cast a hypnotic spell over their minds. He claims to know the whereabouts of their father. Charles Wallace deliberately looks into the red eyes of the man allowing himself to be taken over by the mind controlling the planet in order to find their father. Under its influence, he takes Meg and Calvin to the place where Dr. Murry is being held prisoner because he would not succumb to the group mind. The planet turns out to be controlled by an evil disembodied brain with powerful telepathic abilities, which the inhabitants of Camazotz call "IT". Charles Wallace takes them to the place where IT is held, and in such close proximity to IT, are threatened by a possible telepathic takeover of their minds. With special powers from Mrs Who's glasses, Dr. Murry is able to "tesser" Calvin, Meg and himself away from Camazotz, but Charles Wallace is left behind, still under the influence of IT. The experience of tessering through The Black Thing nearly kills Meg, because Mr. Murry does not know how to protect her from the Black Thing which surrounds the planet.

I mean, the book fills me with joy, but it may not fulfill your criteria. From the Mixed-Up Files is a much safer bet (although its safety in a lot of ways depends on its characters' privilege, and I wish I could think of books for which this wasn't the case).
posted by feral_goldfish at 4:51 PM on October 29, 2014

In the non-fiction section, has she enjoyed "The New Way Things Work"? (The classic "The Way Things Work" is still good but of less relevance to a digitally savvy kid.) Definitely a book to keep and pour over. Most everything by David Macaulay is similarly beautiful and informative and light-hearted. There might be a little violence and death but only in great abstracted historical terms like wheels on chariots or castle ramparts for protection and offense or wedges for blades.
posted by Mizu at 5:00 PM on October 29, 2014

Would language learning appeal to her? Learning a foreign language often lets people take an interest in foreign language media originally intended for younger, native-speaking viewers. Presumably this material would be less dark.

(Although. Previously.)
posted by feral_goldfish at 5:10 PM on October 29, 2014

David Attenborough's entire body of work.

Uh, I'd avoid the wildlife series. Lots and lots of incidents where you can't help thinking: Oh no! The leopard is stalking the gazelle! We don't want the gazelle to die! But the leopard is old, and you can see her ribs! We don't want the leopard to starve! etc. It's pretty heartrending actually.
posted by feral_goldfish at 5:23 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Going Deep with David Rees! Fun edutainment where David Rees spends 20ish minutes diving into a seemingly mundane subject like "How to Climb a Tree" or "How to Open a Door." Fun to watch for adults, but I think Rees's infectious enthusiasm makes him especially suitable for kids too. FYI, the "How to Make an Ice Cube" episode ends up in slightly deeper territory with Rees contemplating the impermanence of existence.
posted by yasaman at 5:23 PM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:38 PM on October 29, 2014

I devoured James Herriott at that age, although there are a few pet deaths. There are also classic adventure books like The Swallow and the Amazon that I enjoyed and I don't remember having much in the way of death or violence.
posted by fshgrl at 5:39 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Westing Game. It's mystery-ish, but not really scary. It's also my reco for ages 8-80.
posted by sweetkid at 6:01 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Beverly Cleary. Seconding Swallows and Amazons. Enid Blyton e.g. Secret Seven. And, pure pulp, but the Babysitter's Club Series would keep her busy for a few years.
posted by kjs4 at 6:18 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thirding Swallows and Amazons. Bonus: it's a series -- but steer clear of Peter Duck, Missee Lee, and Great Northern, which aren't really part of the story line anyhow.

NOT James Herriot. Each book includes several animal deaths, and they're heartbreaking, even when they're not followed (as in one case) by the dog's owner's suicide.
posted by feral_goldfish at 7:34 PM on October 29, 2014

The old Bill Nye the Science Guy's are fun to watch. I love reading but there is more to life than books. Watching TV is, and has always been, my great escape. I remember enjoying Bill Nye well past the age of 8.

Musicals like Annie were always fun for me. I love Singing in the Rain too.

The Blue Planet was a really neat series that is now available on netflix.

Karate Kid, Mighty Ducks, if there is interest in sports.

I gave you a lot of movies. I'm not up on what is on tv for 8 year olds. I watch a lot of silly, reality shows because they are mindless.
posted by Jewel98 at 7:41 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, this is more old-fashioned but what about Half Magic by Edward Eager? It's a light-hearted fantasy about a group of children who find a magic coin that gives them only half of what they wish for, published in the 1950's.

And oh my goodness Freaky Friday is lighthearted and fun. I think it's funnier than the movie, and in any case, it's a different animal altogether so can be enjoyed even if she's already seen the movie. (The content and age level is younger, too -- as I recall the movies play up the romance/teen drama content but the book is more silly.)
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 8:09 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Last suggestion! Promise! Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar is really silly and fun. It's a bunch of short stories about a kooky school where madcap things happen. Very unrealistic and bouncy. It might be below her reading level but I remember enjoying it even as a teen when my little brother was reading them.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 8:14 PM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

All of a Kind Family is a series about a large Jewish family in NYC around the turn of the century... Not dissimilar from American Girl or Ramona Quimby.

If she goes for Bill Nye, maybe Alton Brown's Good Eats? Cooking is very accessible chemistry she can duplicate herself (ok maybe with a little help)!

Also - The Boxcar Children?
posted by jrobin276 at 8:19 PM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

The remake of The Karate Kid is excellent, but kinda dark. And the protagonist gets violently bullied by members of an evil karate club. If sports are an interest, you'd be better off with Bend it Like Beckham.

I have literally no idea what a bright science-loving eight year old girl would make of The Big Bang Theory. It's adult in that it features lots of (comic) sex/dating, and probably requires complicated conversations about sexism and satire. The scientist characters are almost all male at the beginning, while female scientist roles are given more and more airtime as the series progresses. If she's not already aware of sexism as a thing in science and geek culture, this won't be the best way to disillusion her. But as far as I recall it's pretty much free of violence and death. There are probably references to the characters having been bullied in the past. In one episode, a tenured professor has died, which results in a tenure battle -- but the professor wasn't a previously established character. In another episode, a character's mother curtly and offhandedly tells him his favorite cousin has died, and we see the character react -- but again, the cousin isn't someone we see or know anything about.
posted by feral_goldfish at 8:31 PM on October 29, 2014

I was going to recommend Tamora Pierce, but it doesn't meet your "no death or violence" requirements.

Terry Pratchett's "Tiffany Aching" series might be ok, at least the first one, but the later couple get kinda dark. The rest of the Discworld series, paradoxically, should meet your needs, though. My 9-year-old daughter's favorites are Wyrd Sisters, Lords and Ladies, Carpe Jugulum (although that does feature vampires), Witches Abroad. (Ok, anything with Granny Weatherwax.)

Before that, she was crazy about Enid Blyton, and the Dealing with Dragons series.
posted by leahwrenn at 8:31 PM on October 29, 2014

The Westing Game is a murder mystery (albeit for kids) so I'd avoid that for now.

Perhaps Babymouse, hilarious graphic novels, would suit -- my eight year old loves them. Also anything by Andrew Clements -- maybe Frindle to start? Seconding Patricia Wrede's Dealing with Dragons and Sachar's Wayside School books. (There are even funky puzzle/math books part of the Wayside school series which are really fun to solve.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 8:41 PM on October 29, 2014

How has nobody mentioned Judy Blume yet? The Fudge books and Otherwise Known as Sheila The Great immediately come to mind.

Also putting in another vote for Beverly Cleary. The Ramona books, of course, but I also loved The Mouse and the Motorcycle at that age.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:30 PM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Definitely anything by Elizabeth Enright - the Melendy books have already been mentioned, but I particularly love Gone-Away Lake.

Nthing Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series. And also feral_goldfish's advice on which ones to avoid. Especially Missee Lee.

My whole family grew up on the Tintin books. There's a bit of stylised violence, but it is pretty cartoony and I don't think too traumatic. You might get someone hit on the head but they're up and about two panels later. They're also hilarious. Steer clear of Tintin in the Congo and possibly Tintin in America as well if you don't want to get into the conversations about racial stereotyping.

And what about the Moomin books by Tove Jansson? They are sweet and whimsical, occasionally a bit melancholy but not violent or anything.

Margaret Mahy wrote for a wide range of audiences; the YA stuff is probably slightly too dark atm but is worth noting for future reference. There's plenty of younger reader stuff which is great fun and very playful.

If she likes anime, Studio Ghibli does beautiful films. Some are darker than others, but things like My Neighbour Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, Ponyo, Whisper of the Heart and The Cat Returns. There's moments of tension in some of them, but not really scary.
posted by Athanassiel at 11:15 PM on October 29, 2014

I loved All-of-a-Kind-Family too! I desperately wanted to be Jewish because of those books.

What about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:46 AM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Between these Pages blog is a great resource for finding age-appropriate books. The author gives detailed reviews that include the following categories: age recommendation, sex/nudity/dating, profanity, death/violence/gore, drugs/alcohol/smoking, frightening or intense things,

What about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

There are some scenes in it that I still find kind of disturbing. My second grader's class just did it as a read-aloud and enjoyed it, but I'd suggest that Eolienne re-read it before giving it to her daughter.
posted by belladonna at 4:59 AM on October 30, 2014

You know, speaking of Terry Pratchett, he has an old, old children's chapter book series that starts with 'Only You Can Save Mankind' that are completely bloodless and quite entertaining, if she's not put off by the constant mentioning of floppy disks.

Does she like musicals? There's a whole vein there in terms of movies - Mary Poppins, Hairspray, any Disney, My Fair Lady, Meet Me in Saint Louis. Also, your discretion, but I just went to see the new Book of Life animated movie with various relatives and was pleasantly surprised at how sweet it was - I was expecting a little more 'Nightmare Before Christmas', but it was closer to 'Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs' and the whole realm of death was treated much more like a fantasy realm with lots of interaction/love between the living and the dead. My little cousins are pretty sensitive and it hit none of their buttons.And it is beautiful. And there's a Radiohead cover, which makes up for the lackluster original songs.
posted by theweasel at 6:12 AM on October 30, 2014

A Wrinkle in Time is really dark. It's not violent, but it definitely could be disturbing.

I think a lot of these recommendations, you're probably going to want to read yourself first. All of Roald Dahl's books are great, but you need to vet those on an individual basis.

My son isn't ready for this level book yet, so i'm digging from the depths of my childhood memories, but I have fond memories of The Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler; and two more not mentioned yet are Mr. Popper's Penguins and The Pushcart War.
posted by telepanda at 7:04 AM on October 30, 2014

Hairspray is not appropriate for an 8-year-old, unless you feel like having discussions about hickeys and dating rituals of the 1960s with a confused child. The racism aspect was the easier part to explain, frankly.
posted by mogget at 9:33 AM on October 30, 2014

Stuart Little, Charlotte's Web, Caddie Woodlawn, Little House on the Prairie books, goodreads has a list
posted by cass at 10:25 AM on October 30, 2014

Jane Yolen may have some possibilities (I remember reading her a lot in the children's section as a young child but don't recall titles).

I loved Lloyd Alexander a few years older than that (4th or 5th grade), but it may be too violent still. (A lot of thiefs, fights, etc.)
posted by typecloud at 11:03 AM on October 30, 2014

Charlotte's Web

The book opens with Fern standing between Wilbur and her father's axe, the entire plot consists of Charlotte's attempt to save Wilbur from slaughter, and finally Charlotte dies.

I'm sorry to keep being such a killjoy.
posted by feral_goldfish at 11:10 AM on October 30, 2014

Khan Academy?
posted by feral_goldfish at 12:09 PM on October 30, 2014

This is not really in the fantasy realm, but the TV show Good Eats is super science-y and fun. It's poppy and corny enough to appeal to a kid, but it's also incredibly informative and not irritating. Win! (Bonus, she'll be really educated about the anthropology food and cooking, too.)
posted by Charity Garfein at 10:08 PM on October 30, 2014

Response by poster: Wow, thank you so much. I started marking as best the suggestions that seem to fit best right now, but haven't been able to look into all of them yet. Those that don't work now will be fantastic for when she gets a bit older.

I'd love to be able to read/watch all the things before she consumes them, but it's just not possible for us, so this really helps.
posted by Eolienne at 11:45 PM on October 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

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