This list doesn't include the picture books we've been collecting like the Little Tim books, the Church Mice books, or Shirley Hughe's Alfie series--I'm trying to stick mostly to school-type books or literature for the AO years.
The order is...random. And I've tried to find the most interesting links I could, on the authors' websites where possible. (If you look closely enough, you'll find out which one originated the character of Shrek.)
1. Ballet Shoes, by Noel Streatfeild. (Check out that link--there are photos of places from the story.) For girls around Year 3 age...and how many books (besides Roller Skates) include not only Shakespeare references but children who are more or less homeschooled? (Roller Skates--which includes Shakespeare, not homeschooling--is a book in which many parents will need to proceed with caution--there are very scary and very sad parts, enough to unsettle some children unless you do some judicious skipping.)
2. Margery Sharp's Miss Bianca/Rescuers mouse adventure books. Some are better than others, but the first two at least are must-reads...but not too young, maybe Year 3 or 4. Adventure, courage, and poetry.
3. More mice and furry/feathered heroes: William Steig's Abel's Island and The Real Thief. For around the same age, because Steig never stints on vocabulary.
"Without waiting to catch breath after his heroic skirmish, he began uttering, over these detested feathers, the most horrible imprecations imaginable. Heaven forfend that the owl should have suffered a fraction of what Abel wished it. Abel wished that its feathers would turn to lead so it could fall on its head from the world's tallest tree, that its beak would rot and become useless even for eating mush, that it should be blind as a bat and fly into a dragon's flaming mouth, that it should sink in quicksand mixed with broken bottles, very slowly, to prolong its suffering, and much more of the same sort."
4. A Toad for Tuesday, by Russell E. Erickson. I guess the owl in #3 reminded me of this one--for Year 1 or 2, and most children at that level could probably read it for themselves. No offense, but people who avoid "talking animal stories" don't know what they're missing with this one. Warton the Toad is kidnapped by a Really Mean Owl who plans to eat him--next week--for a birthday snack. But he attempts to remain calm.
5. Armed with Courage. (I had to include a serious book.) I've written about this before: it's a book of short biographies of courageous people: Florence Nightingale, Father Damien, George Washington Carver, Jane Addams, Wilfred Grenfell, Mahatma Gandhi, and Albert Schweitzer. Something like Hero Tales, not specifically Christian, but inspirational and well written. We've just finished reading this (in our Year 3 1/2).
"The toad dug into his pack and pulled out two beeswax candles. As soon as they were lit and began casting their warm glow about the room, he felt much better. He began to straighten his corner. And, being of a cheerful nature, he began to hum a little tune.
"The owl couldn't believe his ears.
"'Warty, you did hear me say that I was going to eat you next Tuesday, didn't you?'
"'Yes, ' said the toad.
"The owl shook his head."
"Nothing on earth was wasted. That was the belief of this man who seemed to have magic in his fingers. Every day he had a whole handful of new ideas, too. He searched the woods and fields and brought home plants, leaves, and roots. Then he took them to his laboratory and made them into useful products, or medicines, or food. He told his students that they must learn to "see." They must always see something good in nature. They must always look for something that would benefit mankind.
"Not even a few handfuls of dirt were too humble to interest Dr. Carver. Yet he wanted almost nothing for himself...."