I've been reading Phantom Tollbooth this week, and thought of you. 9 yo DD says she read it last year, but didn't know all the words, but that's kind of the point. Lots of pictures.
Need Book series ideas - Page 2
Hrmmm, I have a gifted 4th grader (in reading, she does fine in math, but it's not her "thing"). I also have a 7th grader who loves stories although doesn't read as much as my 4th grader. We listen to a lot of audiobooks, too. It sounds like they like classics, maybe fantasy, and not so much realistic fiction?
Do they like historical fiction? My 4th grader was into some of the "Dear America" series for awhile (prob 2nd & 3rd grade). Not sure on the illustrations with those. They are by several different authors, but your librarian should be able to point you in the right direction.
For realistic, contemporary fiction, dd2 loved the Lauren Myracle series, "Ten", "Eleven", "Twelve", etc, about Winnie. She also loved the "Ivy & Bean" series and liked "Clementine", too. Dd2, my 4th grader, loves, loves, loves those funny books like Dear Dumb Diary and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, etc, etc, but she's a voracious reader and will go for all sorts of books. I second the suggestion of the Andrew Clements' books like "Frindle". They're just a jump above Ivy & Bean, but not very thick. Have you tried the "Penderwicks" by Jean Birdsall? That might be too much (300 pp?), but my dd2 loved it in 3rd grade. I'm not sure if it's got the required illustrations, but it's a lovely old-fashioned feeling contemporary book series about a dad and his 4 daughters. It's one of those where the mom has already died when the book starts so I don't know if that's too scary for them or not. (My dd1 was my extra sensitive one, and dd2 will read most anything, although not the Hunger Games.) If not this year, maybe next year.
Ooo, speaking of old-fashioned, have you tried any Eleanor Estes books? "Pinky Pie" was our fave. Very gentle, but not slight. About a family in the 20s or 30s who go to Fire Island NY for the summer with their ornithologist dad and all the interesting things that happen. Very quaint and cozy, but fun. She has many others, but my kids really liked that one the best.
We loved listening to the "Theodosia" series by R.L. LaFevers. It's about a young girl who is an Egyptologist, daughter of two museum archaeologists in the early 1900s in England. There are some darker parts, but lots of funny stuff too. I think the dark is maybe on a Roald Dahl level, so some bad guys might get done in, but it's not very heavy. She has another series that might work, too, about a boy. Can't remember the name. It seemed a little young for us, but might work for you.
If they like fantasy have you done the "Fairy Realm" series? It might be a little lightweight, but I think it's weightier than Ivy & Bean, but nothing like Harry Potter — maybe 120pp?