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!

First Books to Read Independently

Learning to read is hard work and our younger daughter has been working hard at it all summer (see post from June 14, 2017). She recently read her first book independently! Our younger daughter easily identifies letters, matches them to the sounds they make, and recognizes common consonant blends. Her sight word vocabulary also continues to grow. However, reading is still hard work for her and she often runs out of steam before the end of a book. Right now we are focused on building her stamina and confidence with reading.

Easy Readers labeled with levels are one place to start, such as the I Can Read! books published by Harper Collins or the Step Into Reading books published by Random House.  However, I sometimes find that the books are still a bit too difficult for her right now (ask me again in a couple of months!) and that there can be a lack of consistency across books labeled as being at the same level. Instead, in our household, we’ve found Mo Willems to be a great source of books for this stage of learning to read.



Cat the Cat books by Mo Willems

Over the course of four books, Cat the Cat makes new friends, encounters various animal sounds, discusses getting ready for bed, and explores flight. There is limited text on each page, usually one to three sentences, with a lot of repetition built in, making them well suited for those just learning to read. The illustrations are bright and funny, and there is usually a bit of a surprise waiting for you at the end.



Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems

Ready to move on from the Cat the Cat books? Try the Elephant and Piggie books, my favorite books for kids just learning to read. Gerald is cautious and skeptical, while Piggie is optimistic and enthusiastic. Despite their differences, Gerald and Piggie are the best of friends. They have fun adventures together, support each other through difficult times, and work through disagreements. Early readers will be able to relate to many of the issues dealt with such as broken toys, being afraid of losing your best friend, coping with a melting ice cream cone, and wanting to cheer up a sad friend. Again, there is limited text on each page and hilarious illustrations. The facial expressions of Piggie and Elephant, along with the varied use of fonts for emphasis in the dialogue, have even allowed our younger daughter to start reading aloud with expression.

Mo Willems also has a series of books about Pigeon that are well suited for those just learning to read. While I personally find the Pigeon’s personality irritating, they may be a good fit for the reader in your life!



Any picture book by Jan Thomas

While not technically a series, Duck, Cow, and Pig make an appearance in multiple books, while talking dust bunnies are the focus of a few others. The humor often comes from characters misinterpreting others or one character having a distinctly different opinion than the rest of the group. Our favorites are A Birthday for Cow, Pumpkin Trouble, Is Everyone Ready for Fun?, Is That Wise, Pig?, and Let’s Sing a Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy. Like the Elephant and Piggie books, there is limited text on each page and bright, hilarious illustrations.

A note for all of the books discussed above: Even with such limited text in these books, we sometimes come across words that are not common sight words or easy to sound out, and need to provide our younger daughter with help.

Which books you would recommend for those just learning to read? Please leave a comment!


Unconventional Princesses for Early Readers

Both of our daughters went through a phase where they loved the Disney princesses. (To be honest, it’s still going on with our younger daughter!) In the hopes of broadening their ideas about what a princess can be, I’ve searched for books about unconventional princesses. One of my favorite stand-alone books is the Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch. However, finding a series of books about unconventional princesses has been a little more difficult. While Princess Pink is the main character in unconventional fairy tales (see post from June 21, 2017), she’s technically not a princess. As she explains to others, her first name just happens to be Princess. However, there are two unconventional princesses who have become favorites in our household!



Hamster Princess books by Ursula Vernon

Despite her mother’s best efforts to make her into a typical princess, Princess Harriet Hamsterbone loves to cliff-dive, sword-fight, and ride her faithful battle quail, Mumphrey. She is known throughout the land as a fierce fighter and has adventures rescuing others from magical creatures. Comic relief comes in the form of the dialogue between Harriet and her best friend, Prince Wilbur. There is some violence in the books due to Harriet fighting magical creatures. However, the descriptions are not detailed and Harriet often finds unexpected ways to defeat her foes. We love the Hamster Princess books so much in our household that we have started on the Dragonbreath series, also by Ursula Vernon, hoping to find yet another character or two to love.



Princess in Black books by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale

Princess Magnolia is a typical princess who wears fancy clothes and lives in a castle. However, when the monster alarm sounds, she sheds her fancy clothes in favor of a black, superhero outfit to become the Princess in Black. Blacky is the alter ego of her trusty steed, Frimplepants. Together they defend their land from monsters, especially those who like to eat goats. The books are filled with funny illustrations and fast-paced action. The descriptions of fighting in the books are mild, as are the illustrations of the Princess in Black’s fighting moves.


Trying to decide between the two? The Princess in Black books are better suited for younger readers. The books are shorter, contain more illustrations, and have a straightforward, fast-moving plot. At over 200 pages each, the Hamster Princess books are much longer, the humor tends to be more subtle and ironic, and the pages are more text heavy. However, Harriet Hamsterbone is a clear winner in our household for their humor and richly drawn characters.

Do you have any unconventional princesses to recommend? Please leave a comment!


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!



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!



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?



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


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!”


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!



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.



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!



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.



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.



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!



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!



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.



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!



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!).



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.



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.



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.