Binge-Worthy Chapter Books for Early Readers: Dragon Masters

What’s the last book series you binge read? Mine is Dragon Masters by Tracey West. Over the course about a week, our daughters and I read the existing 9 books of the series. Their only disappointment with the series is that the tenth book will not be published until June 2018!

img_7903.jpgDragon Masters books by Tracey West

The series begins with a young boy named Drake leaving behind a comfortable life on his family’s onion farm to train as a Dragon Master in the castle of King Roland of Bracken. Drake has been chosen by the Dragon Stone, a mystical stone, to be paired with an Earth Dragon who he eventually names Worm. Pieces of the Dragon Stone are given to each of the Dragon Masters to facilitate their ability to bond and communicate with their dragons. At the castle, Drake meets the other Dragon Masters and their dragons, as well as Griffith, the wizard in charge of training them. Over the course of the series, the Dragon Masters face danger and solve problems together. There is a heavy emphasis on the importance of teamwork in this series, which will appeal to parents.

The books are fast paced and suspense builds over the course of the series, particularly between books 8 and 9. At the end of each book, our younger daughter always exclaims, “I wonder what the dragon in the next book will be like!” The characters are life like and have distinct personalities. I appreciate the gender balance among both the heroes and villains of the books. While there is fighting in the books, the violence is largely mild and free from gore and blood. When injured, characters are rendered unconscious or frozen, rather than bloodied. The series also raises ethical questions about how the dragons and the Dragon Masters were recruited by King Roland that can lead to interesting discussions.


Do you have a series or two to recommend while we wait for the next Dragon Masters book comes out? Feel free to leave your thoughts!

More Sweet Chapter Books for Early Readers: The Adventures of Sophie Mouse

Over the last few months, we have received an influx of new books as gifts from friends and family who know that both of our girls love books. Between the holidays and their respective January and February birthdays, our bookcases are overflowing. Exciting!


The Adventures of Sophie Mouse books by Poppy Green

One of our recent discoveries has been the Adventures of Sophie Mouse series by Poppy Green. Sophie Mouse is a young mouse who lives with her parents and younger brother in Silverlake Forest. She and her best friend, Hattie Frog, have adventures with other young animals in the forest. In gentle ways, the books deal with issues of friendship, school, independence, and identity—all of which are topics that early readers are likely to find relevant to their own lives. For example, the first book in the series, A New Friend, deals with being the new kid at school and how to fit in despite being different.

Personally, I have not found the books to be fast paced, but they are quick reads. The books are filled with black and white illustrations and the font used for the text is relatively large. Plot twists are often predictable, but our daughters revel in being correct about their predictions. Characters talk through their worries and problems to find solutions.  Parents of younger readers will appreciate that there is no violence in the books. Even during a snowball fight, the snowballs end up hitting a wall instead of the characters themselves. An additional bonus for parents: Sophie and her brother are often depicted doing their chores and helping out around the house!

What are your favorite chapter books for early readers? Feel free to leave recommendations!

Transitioning to the Middle Grades

While our older daughter still loves many early reader chapter books, she’s starting to venture into middle grade territory. So far we’ve found the books to be longer, have fewer pictures, and contain more emotional complexity. As she is still on the younger end of the typical middle grade age span, we are looking for books that are heavy on adventure and light on emotional drama.



Disney’s Descendants School of Secrets books by Jessica Brody

Since some Disney early reader chapter books were flops with our daughters (see post from August 30, 2017), I was a little hesitant to introduce this series. We started with CJ’s Treasure Chase and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a big hit! The Descendants are the sons and daughters of famous Disney characters. In the case of CJ’s Treasure Chase, the main character CJ is the daughter of Captain Hook. She aspires to show her father that she is a successful pirate in her own right. With the help of Freddie, the daughter of Dr. Facilier from the Princess and the Frog, CJ unlocks the secrets of her father’s treasure map in the quest for enough riches to purchase a ship of her own and establish herself as a pirate. The book is full of suspense, with many cliffhangers along the way. The characters are more fleshed out than I found them to be in some of the Disney early reader chapter books. The book explores issues of a team vs. the individual, problem solving, and a person’s ability to change. However, note that as the daughter of a Disney villain, CJ is known as a VK, or Villian Kid, and displays some of the behaviors of a villain, such as name calling and putting others down. We have not seen the Descendants movies. Based on what little I’ve read about them, I don’t think they are appropriate for our daughters just yet. The books, on the other hand, were intriguing and engaging enough that we’d like to read others in the series.

Do you know of any middle grade books that would be well suited for kids who love to read about adventures? Please feel free to leave recommendations!

More (Not) Scary Books for Younger Readers

Happy Halloween! With Halloween season upon us, our daughters are once again asking for scary books. For the last couple weeks, the Notebook of Doom series has been at the top of their request list.

img_2672.jpgThe Notebook of Doom books by Troy Cummings

Alexander Bopp moves to the town of Stermont and discovers that it is filled with monsters. Many of his encounters with these monsters take place at his new school, Stermont Elementary School, which is housed in an old hospital. Alexander discovers an old notebook with descriptions of various monsters. The notebook has the mysterious abbreviation SSMP on the cover. Spoiler alert: SSMP stands for Super Secret Monster Patrol, a now defunct organization that used to protect the town of Stermont from monsters. He and his friends, Rip and Nikki, take up the mantle of the SSMP and have various adventures figuring out how to rid their town of new monsters. The monsters are so over the top that they achieve that elusive combination of being hilarious and creepy at the same time. Examples include balloon goons and meat-eating vegetables. Like other Scholastic Branches books (see post from June 21, 2017), the books are fast-paced and filled with black and white, cartoon style illustrations.

Our daughters have been so inspired by the Notebook of Doom books that they have formed their own branch of the SSMP, complete with their own Monster Notebook. My favorite of their entries into the notebook is the String Snatchers, monsters that eat string.

Which scary books do your readers enjoy? Feel free to leave recommendations!



The Power of Books

Most of the books I’ve included in this blog so far have been books that have entertained us. They have caused us to laugh out loud, transported us to magical places, and introduced us to new characters who now feel like friends. I was recently reminded of the power of books. Books can enlighten us, help us analyze issues, and inspire us. Books can serve as springboards for deep discussions about issues such as discrimination. Books can be tools for teaching our children.


I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis

Our older daughter recently borrowed this book from the school library. It is a powerful book about one girl’s experience at a Canadian residential school. One shameful part of Canada’s history is that approximately 150,000 First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children were taken away from their families and sent to residential schools in order to break the ties between the children and their cultures. For instance, students were punished for speaking their home languages. Abuse and neglect were present in many residential schools. Thousands of children died at residential schools. The practice of removing indigenous children from their families lasted for over a century, with the last residential school closing in 1996. The Canadian government has since issued a formal apology.

Our older daughter was deeply moved by the book. After talking about the book with her, I noticed that its author was coming to our local library to speak about the book. I decided to bring our older daughter to the presentation.

The author described her motivation for writing the book and how she overcame various obstacles she encountered while writing it. I was impressed by the extensive research that went into the writing of the book in order to ensure its accuracy.

Grownups will want to preview the book in order to determine whether it is appropriate for their readers. There are portions that might be better suited for older or more mature readers. Personally, I felt that our younger daughter was a bit too young for the book. For her, I felt that other books about the residential schools, such as Shi-shi-etko by Nicola I. Campbell and When We Were Alone by David Alexander, were more appropriate.


More Disney Princess Books (!)

Our younger daughter is still in the thick of her Disney princess phase. Three guesses as to what she wants to be for Halloween this year. Yep, she wants to be Elsa for Halloween! We recently started on the Disney Princess Beginnings books and she’s gobbling them up.


img_2018.jpgDisney Princess Beginnings books by various authors

Each book of the series focuses on the childhood of a different princess. In the books, the main character solves a problem, learning something about herself in the process and providing a glimpse of the adult she will grow up to be. For example, Belle develops a plan to save the village bookstore from being converted into a meeting place for socialites. In doing so, she learns that she does have something in common with the others in her village after all. In true Disney fashion, the illustrations are striking, but there are usually only one or two per chapter. As with the Disney Princess chapter books (see post from August 30, 2017), I have found that the characters tend to be one-dimensional. For example, Ariel is adventurous while Belle is smart and bookish. Despite this and the relative slow pace of the storylines, our younger daughter has been delighted with them. She can’t wait until the Tiana book is released in January!

Any other recommendations for a princess-loving reader? Please feel free to pass them along!

Mischief Makers Starring in Chapter Books for Early Readers

Our two daughters both have big imaginations. One tends more toward storytelling and directing scenes with dolls and stuffed animals, while the other gravitates toward creating games and contests. When they entertain themselves, they sometimes get into mischief. Thankfully, usually the mischief they cause is relatively tame! I was hesitant to introduce our daughters to the mischief makers included below, worried that they would be inspired to wreak havoc and copy behaviors I’d rather not have them learn. My fears proved to be unfounded. Instead, we’ve found that our daughters enjoy living vicariously through the characters in these books and that reading about the adventures of the characters has stimulated their own imaginations!




Ivy + Bean books by Annie Barrows 

Ivy and Bean are unlikely friends. Together they come up with unconventional solutions to their problems, such as being left with a babysitter or avoiding a ballet recital. Our daughters find them hilarious, even upon multiple readings. One of their favorites is Ivy + Bean: What’s the Big Idea?, where Ivy and Bean test multiple solutions to climate change. Ivy + Bean Make the Rules runs a close second, where Ivy and Bean develop their own summer camp. While I am all too glad that the disasters Ivy and Bean create remain confined to the pages of a book, the pair never fails to entertain all of us.




Dory Fantasmagory books by Abby Hanlon

Dory is the youngest of three children whose behavior has earned her the family nickname of Rascal. She longs for the friendship of her two older siblings, but they often refuse to play with her, leaving Dory to entertain herself. Dory has an active imagination and a rich fantasy life, so much so that the lines between reality and fantasy often become blurred. Our daughters were captivated by Dory’s adventures and begged for us to track down all of the books after reading the first one. My husband often chuckles while reading these books aloud to our daughters. Most two-page spreads in the books feature at least one black-and-white illustration. We are all eager for the publication of the next one!

Also on the to-read list for us are the Junie B. Jones books and the Ramona Quimby books. Do you have any favorite mischief-making characters? Please feel free to leave recommendations!

Laugh Out Loud Chapter Books for Early Readers

Sometimes people read to experience different worlds, cultures, and time periods or to learn and grapple with new ideas. Other times people read just for entertainment. This quirky series of books fits squarely in the realm of entertainment, producing giggles and laughter.

img_1823.jpgAdventures of Arnie the Doughnut books by Laurie Keller

Arnie is a walking, talking doughnut with sprinkles who has absurd adventures. His best friend is a walking, talking piece of pizza named Peezo. The books are full of word play and silly humor, making them a good fit for when your reader is looking for a goofy read. Our older daughter laughed out loud when a rival competitor named Pikyor Pocketo escaped with nickels collected during an event of the Spinny Icky Showdown. And you can probably guess what the response was when Heeza, one of the Schmelly twins, got married to Carl Caveman and decided to hyphenate her last name. The books are written and illustrated in a cartoon-like style where the text and the illustrations often merge for greater effect. Arnie the Doughnut’s adventures begin with a picture book by the same name that our older daughter enjoyed as much as she enjoys these chapter books.

Which books have made you laugh out loud? Please feel free to leave recommendations in the comments section!


Detective Books for Early Readers


Growing up, I loved to read mysteries: Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and Encyclopedia Brown. Mysteries have built-in suspense and drama. As a parent, I appreciate how often mysteries for early readers can do this without incorporating violence. Mysteries also encourage reader participation as readers race to solve the mysteries before the characters in the books do.  Who doesn’t enjoy finishing a mystery and confirming that his or her answer was correct? Looking at the shelves of local bookstores and libraries, we’ve found more options for our daughters than the mysteries I read as a kid, many even better suited for early readers. Enjoy!



King & Kayla books by Dori Hillestad Butler 

The King & Kayla books are written from the perspective of Kayla’s dog, King. King helps Kayla solve mysteries, such as finding missing dog treats or decoding a set of secret messages. Kayla models a step-by-step approach to solving problems that readers can use to analyze issues in their own lives. The books have colorful illustrations on each page. The chapters are relatively short and the text is written in a straightforward style. Our daughters enjoy solving the mysteries, as well as the way Kayla often misinterprets what King is asking her for.



Cam Jansen and Young Cam Jansen books by David A. Adler

Jennifer, better known as Cam, solves mysteries. She obtained the nickname Camera due to her photographic memory, which was then shortened to Cam. Eric, her best friend, sometimes helps to solve the mysteries, but more often provides comic relief. Clues are scattered throughout the books in such a way that observant readers can often piece together the solutions for themselves. Younger readers might want to choose the Young Cam Jansen books, which are shorter than the Cam Jansen books.

We have also placed a hold at our library for the first of the A-Z mysteries by Ron Roy (thanks for the recommendation, Kristin!) and are eager to start on this series. Please feel free to send any other recommendations our way!

Disney Chapter Books

I grew up about a 20-minute drive from Disneyland and my parents still live where I grew up. During a recent trip to visit relatives in California, our family spent three fun-filled (but exhausting!) days at Disneyland, so I have had Disney on my mind lately.



Anna & Elsa books by Erica David

Anna and Elsa, the sisters from Frozen, have adventures together. Other characters from Frozen, such as Olaf and Kristof, often make appearances as well. Although we have found some adventures to be more exciting and interesting than others, the plots are all straightforward and easy to follow. There are black and white illustrations scattered throughout the books. Our daughters went through a Frozen craze a while ago, so I expected these books to be much more popular than they have been.




Disney Fairies books by various authors

The Disney Fairies books have been much more popular in our family than the Anna & Elsa books. These books describe the lives of Tinker bell and her friends in Pixie Hollow. Each fairy or sparrow man has a special talent, such as tinkering, flying fast, manipulating water, gardening, communicating with animals, or baking. Although I have not been the biggest fan of the Rainbow Magic Fairy books (see post from July 27, 2017) or fairies in general, the Disney Fairies books have grown on me. The authors have created detailed world where each fairy and sparrow man has a distinct personality. Pixie Hollow and its inhabitants come alive in these books. The conflicts and problems that arise are sometimes internal, such as the queen’s crown going missing, and sometimes external, such as fighting between chipmunks and birds. With only one or two illustrations per chapter, there are fewer illustrations than in many other books for early readers, but they are detailed and eye catching. Although the books are out of print, they are well worth the effort of tracking them down!



Disney Princess books by various authors

Each of the Disney Princess books focuses on a different princess. Familiar characters are faced with new challenges, such as Jasmine figuring out why there is no produce available or Ariel tracking down a friend who has gone missing. Like the Disney Fairies books, there are one or two beautiful and eye-catching illustrations per chapter. Both of our daughters have gone through phases where they loved the Disney princesses, so I expected these books to be more popular than they have been. A related set of books, the Disney Princess: Palace Pets books by Tennant Redbank have been more requested than the Disney Princess books.



The Never Girls books by various authors

Four friends have adventures in Neverland with Tinkerbell, Rosetta, and other fairies from Pixie Hollow. The friends travel back and forth between Neverland and the everyday human world, sometimes together and sometimes alone. Like the Anna & Elsa books, the illustrations are in black and white. Part of the magic of the books that makes them enjoyable is the idea that there are connections between our everyday world and Neverland and that humans can be whisked off to Neverland.



Whisker Haven Tales with the Palace Pets books by various authors

The Palace Pets are the favorite pets of the Disney princesses, such as Cinderella’s puppy,  Pumpkin, or Snow White’s bunny, Berry. The pets usually have to work together to solve problems and learn valuable lessons while doing so. These books are well suited for readers just starting out with chapter books because the text is less dense and the books are shorter than the other Disney chapter books.

Trying to choose a Disney series? Our favorites by far are the Disney Fairies books. They more successfully build suspense and tension than the other sets of books. The characters are also more vivid, with real-life personalities. I think that part of why the Disney Princess and Anna & Elsa books have not been as popular in our family as I had anticipated is that the characters are more one dimensional than those in the Disney Fairies books even when the adventures are as exciting. Our next choices would be the Never Girls books or the Disney Princess: Palace Pets books for similar reasons.

Note: I’ve just heard about the Disney Princess Beginnings books, which sound like they are well suited for readers just starting out with chapter books. More to come!