At around the age of 7, independent readers will begin to delve into the world of chapter books. Most flock to early reader chapter books, the majority of which tend to be formulaic series with some illustrations that help bridge the gap from picture books. The formulaic nature of these series breeds loyalty, as children are quickly able to identify with the characters and their capers. Once addicted, readers tend to want to breeze through the whole series, which is the beauty of this genre. The good news is that these books are mostly in paperback format, which will save you a few dollars over the hardcover versions.
Though a great series can breathe life into a reluctant reader, parents should not be quick to run away from picture books (see “Building Your Home Library: 20 Great Picture Books”). The illustrations and associated text of picture books are important for children in developing the ability to practice imagery, among other vital skills. Though some see independent reading as a badge of honor, in truth picture books can be more complex than chapter books. Reading levels vary greatly in any grade and children who are not ready to jump into chapter books can get discouraged, especially if they see their peers jumping forward. Usually, these early reader chapter series are fairly short and humorous. If your child is not ready to read independently but is eager to get into chapter books, try reading a few together.
Here is a selection of 20 early reader chapter book series that might interest your independent reader. If you’re curious about reading levels for these series (i.e., grade level equivalent, lexile level, guided reading level), they can be found by entering the book title at Scholastic Book Wizard (http://www.scholastic.com/bookwizard).
1.Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Sal Murdocca, Random House Kids
Jack and Annie are a brother and sister who discover a magical tree house filled with books. They travel on adventures through time in this world and in mythical worlds. In addition to great storytelling, Osborne introduces readers to different cultures and times in history. Blending magic, mystery and adventure, this series appeals to all genders and ages.
2. Cam Jansen by David A. Adler, various illustrators, Penguin Group USA (Viking Children’s, Puffin)
This clever series follows a 5th grade girl with a photographic memory, nicknamed “Cam”, as she solves mysteries with her best friend Eric. A great emerging reader series to transition from easy readers to chapter books. And for those not quite ready for Cam Jansen, David Adler has also penned a Young Cam Jansen series for beginning readers.
3. Encyclopedia Brown by Donald J. Sobol, Penguin Group (USA)
Another fantastic mystery series that challenges readers to be their own detective as Leroy Brown, nicknamed “Encyclopedia” for his intelligence, helps his Chief of Police father solve cases in their hometown of Idaville. Each book is comprised of approximately 10 mini mysteries.
4.Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows, illustrated by Sophie Blackall, Chronicle Books
Ivy and Bean are neighbors with opposite personalities who could never see themselves playing together, especially since their parents keep nagging them about it. However, they realize that differences between friends can be good and quickly become best friends in this endearing series about two 8 year olds and their related misadventures. Both boys and girls will be able to relate to these girls and their capers.
5.Humphrey by Betty G. Birney, Penguin Group USA
Humphrey is Room 26’s class pet hamster and the whole series is narrated from his point of view. Aside from instantly falling in love with his humor and general cuteness, readers will be engaged by and relate to Humphrey’s classroom observations and adventures.
6.Geronimo Stilton (Scholastic Corporation)
There is some debate about the validity and legitimacy of graphic novels as good literature for kids. However, the bright illustrations and humorous nature of graphic novels can hook even the most reluctant readers, the value of which is unmeasurably wonderful. Geronimo is a captivating series about a sometimes naïve journalist mouse who finds adventure and mystery in his day to day life in New Mouse City. There are various books in the series, including chapter books and graphic novels.
7.Mercy Watson by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen, Candlewick Press
Award winning author Kate DiCamillo shares the story of Mercy Watson, a buttered toast loving porcine wonder. Children will love to read about Mercy as she gets into all kinds of hilarious trouble and ruffles the feathers of grumpy neighbors.
8.Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown, illustrated by Macky Pamintuan, Harper Collins Children’s
Stanley Lampchop’s adventures after being flattened by a bulletin board makes for a great story and has inspired countless school projects involving letter writing and geography. This series teaches readers about the various worldly destinations Stanley travels to children will enjoy imagining what life would be like if they were flat as pancakes.
9.Who Was Series Various Authors and Illustrators, Penguin Group USA (Grosset & Dunlap)
This illustrated biography series has taken the children’s non-fiction category by storm. The covers are eye catching, which instantly creates interest, and the content is chock full of interesting facts and is also well written with the audience in mind through short chapters and illustrations. From Babe Ruth to Steve Jobs, it’s a brilliant way to get children to read non-fiction.
10. Frankly Frannie by AJ Stern, illustrated by Doreen Mulryan Marts, Penguin Group USA (Grosset & Dunlap)
Calling all mini adults! This series is perfect for boys and girls who are fascinated with growing up and getting a job. Follow Frannie as she gets into some hot water from time to time as she tries out different careers.
11.The Stories Julian Tells by Ann Cameron, illustrated by Ann Strugnell, Random House Books for Young Readers
Julian is a habitual fibber and great storyteller which when combined with a gullible little brother, equals an entertaining series for children. Cats do come in the mail, right?
12. Agatha: Girl of Mystery by Sir Steve Stevenson, illustrated by Stefano Turconi, Penguin Group USA (Grosset & Dunlap)
Fans of the Cam Jansen looking for a similar series will enjoy Agatha: Girl of Mystery. Follow the headstrong and fearless Agatha as she solves mysteries around the world with her sidekick camel, Watson.
13.Keena Ford by Melissa Thomson, illustrated by Frank Morrison, Penguin Group USA (Puffin)
2nd grader Keena Ford always tries to do the right thing but sometimes, even the best intentions can lead to trouble. Keena is relatable and readers will enjoy the humorous situations she gets herself into and learn from how she resolves these predicaments.
14.Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, Disney Publishing
Clementine is a darling 3rd grade protagonist with big ideas and astute observations. Reminiscent of Beverly Cleary’s Ramona, Clementine narrates this series in a particularly funny and unfiltered kind of way. Clementine is often a teacher’s favorite for class read alouds, which demonstrates her appeal across both genders.
15.Bink and Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Allison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile, Random House
Bink and Gollie are two undeniably adorable girls, one tall and one tiny, who like to be eclectic together while engaging in normal activities that end up be hilariously charming. The illustrations are particularly fantastic and do a great job capturing the personalities of each of these girls.
16.Roald Dahl Stories illustrated by Quentin Blake, Penguin Group USA
Roald Dahl wrote 17 children’s fiction stories, some more well-known than others. And while not all of the 17 are suitable for this age and reading level, there are a couple that should be mentioned as a good introductions to Dahl’s prolific story telling talents. In particular, The Vicar of Nibbleswicke and Fantastic Mr. Fox.
17.Owly by Andy Runton, Top Shelf Productions
Owly is another great graphic novel series about a kind hearted, gentle and sometimes lonely owl who navigates through life in an equally kind hearted, simple and loving way. While this series is nearly wordless, the expressive illustrations easily tell Owly’s beautiful story.
18.Jake Maddox Sports Stories Series (Capstone Publishing)
This easy to read sports series is packed with adrenaline and includes pertinent lessons about sportsmanship and overcoming mental and social challenges. Although it appears heavily geared toward boys, girls also will enjoy the actioned packed stories, which feature both male and female athletes.
19.My Weird School by Dan Gutman, illustrated by Jim Paillot, Harper Collins Children’s
Who could resist a book with a title like Ms. Hannah Is Bananas! Gutman has written over 20 books in this series about the students and staff at “Ella Mentry School”. Although it is a simply written series, the humor and antics of the school will hook readers.
20.The Boxcar Children created by Gertrude Chandler Warner, Albert Whitman & Company
Warner’s distinct tale of 4 orphaned Alden children living in a boxcar until discovered by a rich grandfather is a timeless classic. Subsequent books in the series follow the Aldens as they solve mysteries during various vacations around the country. Though their story and the mysteries they solve are somewhat implausible, Warner’s mastery in developing the characters of the 4 orphans easily engage readers of all ages.
(Written by The Children’s Blog, this article was originally published by The Charlotte Observer on March 31, 2014.)