Powerhouse Chapter Books for Early Readers

When I first started venturing out of the picture book sections of our local libraries and bookstores into the chapter book sections, these were the books that jumped out at me, mostly due to their sheer numbers. They take up multiple shelves in many of the libraries we use: the local public library, the school library, and yes, you guessed it, our home library. Enjoy!

 

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Geronimo Stilton books published by Scholastic

Geronimo Stilton is a mouse who is a big-city newspaper publisher. Being timid and anxious, he would like to live out a quiet life—reading, writing, and drinking cheese milkshakes. However, he is also always willing to help out anyone in need, which leads him into adventures all over the world. His relatives feature prominently in the books as well: daring sister Thea, annoying cousin Trap, strict Grandfather William, and sweet nephew Bugsy. The books are fast-paced and funny, making them useful for both independent reading and as read alouds. Note that those learning to read may be tripped up by made-up words, such as “enormouse,” or the different fonts used for select words and phrases. Once we were familiar with the major characters, we started picking up whatever looked appealing at the library since it isn’t essential to read the books in order.

There are multiple spin-offs from the original series, including Creepella Von Cacklefur, Mice Kings, Space Mice, Thea Stilton, and Kingdom of Fantasy. The Thea Stilton books describe the worldwide adventures of a group of young mice who call themselves the Thea Sisters. Thea Stilton books are longer than the Geronimo Stilton books. Even longer are the Kingdom of Fantasy books. In them Geronimo has elaborate, lifelike adventures in the Kingdom of Fantasy as he dreams that involve typical fantasy characters, such as fairies, dragons, and wizards. Truth be told, I think we all love the Stiltons in our household!

 

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Magic Treehouse books by Mary Pope Osborne

The Magic Treehouse series opens with a pair of siblings, Annie and Jack, exploring a treehouse filled with books. The treehouse magically whisks them away on adventures all over the world and through various historical time periods. Each book weaves in facts related to the place, time period, or subject of its adventure. The mystery of M builds over the course of the series.

I remain optimistic that one of our daughters will love this series as so many friends have recommended it to us. Our older daughter will happily select and read a book from the series at random from time to time, but has little interest in reading them in order and doesn’t request Magic Treehouse books to be read aloud to her. I’ve tried introducing  the series to her multiple times, and each met with a similar response. Maybe our younger daughter will be the one to fall in love with this series?

 

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Rainbow Magic Fairies by Daisy Meadows

Rachel and Kirsty are best friends who share a magical secret: they are friends with the Rainbow Magic Fairies! Their adventures with the Rainbow Magic Fairies typically involve helping them retrieve magical items that Jack Frost and his goblins have stolen or are trying to steal. Most come in sets of 7, such as the Fun Day Fairies or the Jewel Fairies, and there are special editions that are essentially three books in one, such as the Selena the Sleepover Fairy or Brianna the Tooth Fairy. The books tend to be predictable in their plot. For example, in most books the first attempt to retrieve the missing magical item will fail and at some point in the book Kirsty and Rachel will be turned into fairies. Our daughters enjoyed being able to predict what was going to happen next, though we as grownups found the predictable nature of the books to detract from our enjoyment of them. Any violence in the books tends to be mild and many times Jack Frost sees the error of his jealous or greedy ways. With over 200 books in the series, it is more likely that your readers will lose interest in the books than you will run out of books to read!

 

Sunny Books for Sunny Weather

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Super Happy Party Bears books by Marcie Colleen

“Slide to the right. Hop to the left. Shimmy, shimmy, shake. Strike a pose.” If you recognize this dance sequence, I’m betting that your household has also been introduced to the Super Happy Party Bears! Both of our daughters have fallen in love with this group of optimistic, upbeat group of bears. The Super Happy Party Bears love to have fun, throw parties, and want to make friends with the other residents of the Grumpy Woods. As you may have guessed, all of their neighbors are grouchy by nature and resist the efforts of the Super Happy Party Bears to befriend them. The Super Happy Party Bears don’t let this deter them, interpreting every rejection as a positive reaction from their neighbors. They solve problems that arise in the Grumpy Woods through the power of their optimism and upbeat nature, and often with a party of some sort. Our older daughter scolded our normally sunny and bubbly younger daughter out of a pouty mood one morning by saying, “You need to have a positive attitude! Be like a Super Happy Party Bear!”

Enjoy!

Hamsters as Classroom Pets: Humphrey vs. Turbo

Do you know a hamster-loving reader? I happen to live with one! Our older daughter has been asking for a hamster for years. For now, the closest we can get is to read about the adventures hamsters have as classroom pets in the following two sets of chapter books. Both are suitable for early readers and for reading aloud. Enjoy!

 

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Humphrey’s Tiny Tales books by Betty G. Birney

Humphrey the hamster is the classroom pet of Room 26 at Longfellow School. Unbeknownst to the teacher and students of Room 26, the lock on Humphrey’s cage is broken, allowing him to escape and have adventures when no one else is around. Another classroom pet, Og the frog, provides comic relief.

 

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Super Turbo books by Lee Kirby

The Super Turbo books are a spin-off of the Captain Awesome series by Stan Kirby. Turbo is the classroom pet of Sunnyview Elementary School Classroom C. His superhero alter ego, Super Turbo, joins up with the other superhero classroom pets of Sunnyview Elementary School to fight evil in their school. The humor in these books never fails to delight both the kids and the adults in our house! The Super Turbo books have more illustrations and less text than the Captain Awesome books, but a similar look and feel.

 

Which is right for my reader?

While both sets of books are humorous, the Super Turbo books are the clear winners in our household. In the Super Turbo books, the plot tends move at a faster pace and build more suspense. However, the adventures in the Humphrey books usually involve a problem or issue to resolve, rather than a villain or villains, making them appealing for younger readers or those who prefer gentler books.

Starting Out with Graphic Novels

Our younger daughter’s radar for equity and fairness often focuses in on comparing which books she and her older sister have. Luckily, most books are relatively easy to share! However, not all of the graphic novels our older daughter is reading are both appropriate and interesting for our younger daughter. Babymouse and Lunch Lady have been winners for both girls, Super Agent Jon Le Bon and Plants vs. Zombies not so much. I’ve included some of our favorite graphic novels for even younger readers, with special thanks to my brother for introducing us to them. Enjoy!

 

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Benny and Penny books by Geoffrey Hayes

Benny and Penny are young mice who work through typical elementary school issues and sibling squabbles, such as not being in sync about how and when to play together or not wanting to play with someone who breaks toys. The brother and sister pair always resolves their issues in ways that young readers will relate to and appreciate.

 

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Bird & Squirrel books by James Burks

The two friends Bird and Squirrel follow in the tradition of Elephant and Piggie, Frog and Toad, and other unlikely friends. Bird is daring and optimistic, while Squirrel is cautious and fearful. The friendship persists through danger and adventures (even resulting in a theme song!) Adventures often require Squirrel to find a reserve of bravery deep within himself. Note that the pair is often chased by predators, which very young children may find scary.

 

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Owly books by Andy Runyon

These books describe events in the everyday lives of Owly and his friends. They grapple with issues such as rain and mean insects or birds. The books are gentle, making them well suited for very young children, but perhaps not as interesting to older children. The stories are told with few words, providing young readers with an opportunity to learn about the structure of graphic novels and to make up their own narratives.

 

Graphic Novels for Younger Readers

Our older daughter has recently surprised me with a passion for graphic novels. Thanks to my brother, who often gives us graphic novels as gifts, we have a solid start at building a collection. Graphic novels are sometimes criticized for the level of violence in them and the way they depict women. However, my brother is well-versed in the range of graphic novels available and avoids giving us any that may fall into either of those categories. I’ve listed some of our favorites below. Enjoy!

 

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Babymouse series by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

The Babymouse books were our first foray into graphic novels. These books tackle everyday tween issues, such as trying to fit in, struggles with schoolwork, coping with “mean girls,” and wanting to be popular, in a humorous way. Babymouse’s rich imagination and solid set of friends helps her survive many of the trials of growing up. Note that Babymouse is often taunted and called names by her nemesis, Felicia Furrypaws, but finds ways to cope with it. The Holm siblings have also created another graphic novel series, Squish, which is about an amoeba. While it didn’t resonate with our daughters as much as the Babymouse series did, it might be a great fit for your reader!

 

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Lunch Lady series by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Lunch Lady and her sidekick, Betty, work together in the school cafeteria serving up meals to students until a villain comes onto the scene. They then fight back with gadgets invented by Betty, such as the spork phone and fish-stick nunchucks. The Breakfast Club, three students named Hector, Dee, and Terrence, often work with Lunch Lady and Betty against the villains. The books are fast paced. Like many superhero books, these books do contain physical violence, but the comical nature of the weapons and lack of gore keep the violence relatively mild.

 

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Babysitters Club series by Raina Telgemeier

Based on the series by Ann M. Martin, the Babysitters Club graphic novels update a favorite from a few decades ago. A group of friends forms a club that offers babysitting services. These books navigate issues of friendship, work, health, and growing up in a relatable way. I was particularly impressed with how a diagnosis of diabetes is handled in #2 The Truth About Stacy. (Our older daughter also loved the graphic novels Smile and Drama, both by Raina Telgemeier, even more than the Babysitters Club books. Some of the themes in both of these would be best suited for more emotionally mature readers.)

 

 

(Not) Scary Books for Younger Readers

Our older daughter recently announced that she loved “scary books.” Since she has been known to stop reading books or watching movies midway through that she deems too scary, this was a bit of a surprise.

So began the search for a scary series just scary enough for her (i.e., not scary enough to produce nightmares, but scary enough to give her a thrill). As she is a full-fledged chapter book reader now, there are many options out there, the most obvious being Goosebumps. But just because she’s able to read something, doesn’t always mean I think she should read it just yet.

I’ve listed some of the books we’ve found that have fulfilled her “scary book” request. Enjoy!

 

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Franny K. Stein series by Jim Benton

The main character is a mad scientist named Franny who is constantly designing and building intricate projects, such as the Shrinkerizer, the Time Warper, and Franbots. She struggles to fit in with her family and at school, with some surprising and comical results, but stays true to herself. Some of the topics and illustrations are creepy, but none are too graphic or gory. Additional comic relief comes in the form of her laboratory assistant, a dog named Igor. These books seem to have staying power, as our older daughter has returned to these books repeatedly, ignoring other new books on her shelves (or in the piles of books on her bed!).

 

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Zac Power series by H. I. Larry

Zac is an undercover spy who has secret missions to carry out, alongside household chores assigned by his mother. He uses cool techy spy gadgets on each mission while narrowly dodging danger. The scare factor comes in the way the books successfully build suspense and keep the reader on edge. A note of caution: the books have been criticized for their gender division. In this series, male characters tend to be exciting and cool, while female characters tend to be villains or damsels in distress.

 

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Scooby-Doo Mysteries by various authors, published by Scholastic

Scooby-Doo and the gang encounter creepy characters, such as ghosts, vampires, and werewolves while solving mysteries. The formula used for the TV show is also used in the books. In case you’re unfamiliar with the Scooby-Doo formula, spoiler alert: the creepy characters end up being people in disguise who have been scaring others, often in hopes of financial gain. The formulaic nature of the books also helps to keep the scare factor manageable. For readers looking for slightly less text, there are Scooby-Doo Comic Chapter Books published by Stone Arch Books.

 

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Adventures of the Bailey School Kids by Marcia T. Jones and Debbie Dadey

A group of friends suspects that their everyday interactions are actually encounters with mythical creatures, such as having a vampire for a teacher. Some of the subjects are scarier than others, such as angels or Santa Claus versus zombies and werewolves. Our daughter found the first few she read interesting, then opted for other books. My impression was that this was due to the repetitive nature of the books and the low-level of scare factor.

 

 

Here’s More on Scholastic Branches

In a previous post, I mentioned a line of books published by Scholastic called Branches. These books are geared toward readers transitioning to chapter books. The books have short chapters, lots of illustrations, straightforward plot lines, and each is part of a series.

Even within the Branches line, some books are more suited for earlier early readers and others for more sophisticated readers. In some, the illustrations almost cover the page accompanied by little text, often in the form of dialogue. In others, the illustrations take more of a back seat to the text.

We’ve sampled many of the Branches books and have included our favorites below. Enjoy!

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Princess Pink and the Land of Fake Believe by Noah Z. Jones

Our younger daughter loves the Princess Pink and the Land of Fake Believe books, even though Princess hates pink and frilly clothing, while she wears almost nothing but pink and frilly clothing these days. (The fact that Princess loves bugs and adventures wins her extra points in my book.) The Princess Pink books put a wacky spin on timeless fairy tales, such as Jack and the Beanstalk and the Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Our younger daughter loves them so much that she requested a Princess Pink themed birthday party. Even after multiple readings, they come up often in the bedtime books rotation. Her only gripe with the series is that there are only four books in it! As with many fairy tales, there are scenes of physical conflict, but they are largely mild and softened by their comical nature, such as karate chopping the door of a house made of fish sticks and giving a giant a “knuckle sandwich.”

 

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Olive and Beatrix by Amy Marie Stadelmann

Olive and Beatrix are twin sisters who approach life in polar opposite ways. Olive loves science, while Beatrix is a witch and loves to use magic. Arguments between the two get them into trouble, but the girls work together to resolve their predicaments through a combination of science and magic. Olive’s friend Eddie provides comic relief through his silly songs. I wish there were more than two books in this series!

 

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The Amazing Stardust Friends by Heather Alexander

Ever thought about joining the circus? I suspect our younger daughter has because she was immediately drawn into the world of the Amazing Stardust Friends. After we finished the two books in the series, she assembled “Amazing Stardust Friends” outfits every day for weeks. These stories of life in the circus describe how group of girls eats, performs, and attends school in the circus. I think our daughter was intrigued by the similarities and differences between her life and circus life. The books also tackle issues of friendship, which is easy for this age group to identify with. The Amazing Stardust Friends books were the first books our younger daughter liked where there was more text on the pages than illustrations.

 

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Kung Pow Chicken by Cyndi Marko

Truthfully, these books are not my favorite of the Scholastic Branches books, but they are big hits with both of our daughters. The Kung Pow Chicken books describe the adventures of two brothers: Kung Pow Chicken, a crime-fighting superhero, and his sidekick, Egg Drop. The boys work together to save others from dangers such as the loss of feathers and a supersonic weapon made from an opera singer’s voice. As with many superhero books, there is violence in these books, but it is largely mild and comical.

Update July 18, 2017 with a spoiler alert: We just read the third Kung Pow Chicken book (yes, we often read them out of order) and our younger daughter was terrified by the zombies in the book. The zombies did not act violently, but the concept and illustrations were enough to scare her. Our older daughter, on the other hand, was completely engaged throughout the book and wanted to read it again immediately after we finished it.

 

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Owl Diaries by Rebecca Elliott

The first time I caught our older daughter staying up late to finish a book she was reading an Owl Diaries book. As suggested by the name of the series, these books are written in the form of a diary written from the perspective of Eva, a young owl living in Treetopolis. Eva worries about school, family, and friendship issues, all of which are easy for younger readers to relate to. Note that some readers may struggle with the way made-up words such as “flap-tastic” and “anyhoot” are sprinkled throughout the book.

 

 

A final thought

Even though the Boris, Stella and the Night Sprites, Haggis and Tank Unleashed, Looniverse, Missy’s Super Duper Royal Deluxe, Monkey and Me, and Lotus Lane books didn’t resonate as much with our daughters as I had hoped, they might be the perfect fit for the younger reader in your life!

Learning to Read

Our younger daughter is on the cusp of reading independently. She is able to sound out simple words and her sight word vocabulary is expanding by the day. However, she often grows impatient with the speed at which she can read. She’s used to the pace and flow of being read to out loud, but also desperately wants to be able to read more fluently on her own.

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Usborne Very First Reading set by Usborne Publishing

When our older daughter was learning to read independently, I ran across this set of books at a local bookstore. The Usborne Very First Reading set consists of lively books with lots of illustrations that are designed for kids who are learning to read.  What made these a hit with her was the shared reading structure, where the adult reads the left-hand page and the child reads the right-hand page. The amount the child reads and the complexity of what is read increases with each book of the set. This creates success for the child while also keeping the story moving along. Our set came with a parents’ guide to help us use it successfully. These days our younger daughter is eager to read from the Usborne Very First Reading Set!

 

Just Starting Out with Chapter Books

Our older daughter recently began reading chapter books independently. Although able to decode the text in most children’s books, many of the books I remember from my childhood are still a bit too difficult for her in terms of length, emotional complexity, or subject matter. Luckily, now there is a wealth of easily accessible chapter books for newly independent readers. (Just take a peek at your local library or book store!) I’ve focused on books that come in a series because our daughters enjoy reading about familiar characters and because it simplifies the search for books for them. Some of our favorites are included below.

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Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo

Tales from Deckawoo Drive series by Kate DiCamillo

Mercy Watson is a pig who is treated like a member of the family by the couple she lives with. She has comical adventures that often end up annoying her neighbors, requiring the fire department, police officers, or both to make a visit. Buttered toast, one of Mercy’s favorite foods, usually makes an appearance at the end. Even after multiple readings, our daughters still laugh out loud at these books. Selected characters featured in the Mercy Watson books become stars in the Tales from Deckawoo Drive books. Bright, funny illustrations by Chris Van Dusen fill these books. (My girls also enjoyed his picture books If I Built a Car, If I Built a House, and A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee.)

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Captain Awesome series by Stan Kirby

Super Turbo series by Lee Kirby

A group of superhero-loving friends have secret identities as part of the Sunnyview Superhero squad. The scenarios are familiar for kids (e.g., a field trip, soccer game, birthday party) but each somehow requires the kids to don their alter egos along the way. The comedy has never failed to delight in our house, and as an added bonus in later books of the series, one of the members of the Sunnyview Superhero squad is a girl. Superhero books often contain violence, but the Captain Awesome books keep it mild (e.g., spraying cheese from a can at someone). Same can be said for the name calling (e.g., Queen Stinkypants). A spin-off series called Super Turbo based on Captain Awesome’s sidekick has recently been released. If anything, the Super Turbo books are funnier than the Captain Awesome books!

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Annie and Snowball series by Cynthia Rylant

Henry and Mudge series by Cynthia Rylant

Henry is a boy who has a pet dog named Mudge. Annie, his cousin, is a girl who has a pet rabbit named Snowball. These books feature quaint, everyday adventures. Our girls loved these as read alouds when they were in the 2- to 4-year-old range, but the books would also work as beginning chapter books.

Scholastic Branches by various authors

Scholastic has devoted an entire line to readers just starting out with chapter books. The range of Branches books means that you are liable to find something to fit the taste of every child. The books are filled with illustrations, which is something we found to be important in our transition to chapter books, as the girls were ready for more complex storylines and characters, but didn’t want to give up the fun of illustrations. In some, the illustrations almost cover the page with little text, often the form of dialogue. In others, the illustrations take more of a back seat to the text. In our house, Princess Pink and the Land of Fake Believe with her wacky versions of timeless fairy tales are favorites. (Note that Princess hates pink and frilly clothes, but loves bugs and adventures.) Our pink-loving, frilly clothes obsessed younger daughter even requested a Princess Pink themed birthday party! Olive and Beatrix, Owl Diaries, Kung Pow Chicken, and the Amazing Stardust Friends were also well received. (More to come on Scholastic Branches books.)

Why this Blog?

One of my roles in our home has been Gatherer of Books. This role has brought me much joy, which I’d like to share with others. As my daughters grow and change, so do their preferences in books. It’s been fun to help them discover new titles, types of books, characters, and genres. I’d also love to get some book recommendations from others to stay ahead of the curve!