There are more and more little niches the publishing industry has come along to fill in recent years. One place there are more books coming out is that narrow gap between early readers like Frog and Toad and chapter books like The Magic Treehouse. Some kids jump from one to the next pretty effortlessly, but other kids need an in between step to build up their reading stamina.
Here are some suggestions, both new and old, for super short early chapter books, those books that sit in between the readers and the longer series books. For kids who think Henry and Mudge is too babyish but the A to Z Mysteries looks dauntingly long. I don’t know that Mushroom thinks Henry and Mudge is too babyish, but he is definitely entering this in between stage.
Ricky Ricotta’s Giant Robot series by Dav Pilkey
I’ve mentioned this series before because it’s the one that vaunted BalletBoy into independent reading and it’s currently doing the same thing for Mushroom, a year later. It’s not high literature, but parents cringing about Pilkey’s better know Captain Underpants series can breathe easy. This one is boyish and silly, but basically just a fun adventure story (which is to say, there isn’t a fart joke on every page). Ricky is a young mouse whose best friend is a giant robot from outer space. Together they fight bad guys from outer space. The amount of text per page is incredibly short and the illustrations are bold and appealing. The “flip-o-rama” is also just kind of fun.
The Twin Giants, The Nine Lives of Aristotle, or others by Dick King-Smith
Dick King-Smith wrote more than a hundred books for children. Most of them, like his famous book Babe fall into the chapter book or early middle grades category. However, he had a few that were shorter, such as The Nine Lives of Aristotle about a cat who keeps suffering accidents. Almost all his books center on animals. One nice aspect of reading King-Smith’s works is that he was simply a better writer than most authors writing for younger readers.
Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo
Mercy is a butter loving pet pig who occasionally solves crimes and always gets in trouble. The illustrations in these books are delightful and in color, which is a nice bonus. There’s not much I can say about this series except that’s it’s excellent. They also make a nice read aloud for younger kids who want slightly longer books. However, they’re best as a “first chapter book.”
The Lighthouse Family series by Cynthia Rylant
This series is about a cat and dog in a lighthouse. With a cast of other animals, these are great for animal lovers. Cynthia Rylant brings her wonderful writing to readers ready for chapters. She is one of the writers who always respects her readers with quality writing and stories. This series is no exception. The gray toned artwork matches the sweet feel of the stories perfectly.
Lulu the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst
This is a recent book about a girl who wants a pet dinosaur. No one will give her one so she runs away. Unfortunately, she ends up the pet. The format of the book is tall and thin and the illustrations, by the wonderful Lane Smith, are printed in green and black. It was funny and unique. Somehow I couldn’t convince either of my kids to read it, but I’m seriously going to give it another try. I don’t know what’s wrong with them sometimes. Picky readers!
Nate the Great series by Marjorie Sharmat
This is the classic first chapter book for boys. The text and sentences are practically easy reader level, but the format makes kids feel just a little grown up. Nate is a detective who, along with his dog Sludge, solves cases for his friends and eats pancakes when he needs to think. This is one of those book series, like Henry and Mudge or Frog and Toad, where the author manages to make the characters come to life with just a few words. Nate’s irritability and love for his friends jumps off the page.
Oliver Moon series by Sue Mongredian
This series from the UK is about a young boy who happens to be a wizard. These are recent books, clearly meant for Harry Potter fans who are far from ready to actually read Harry Potter. They’re light and mildly funny. Oliver is well meaning but typically gets into trouble or makes a mess that has to be cleaned up. References to broomsticks, ghosts, cauldrons and other witchy things abound. The pictures are bright and colorful.
Boo’s Dinosaur and others by Betsy Byars
Byars is better known for her middle grades and YA fiction, but she has several for younger readers, including a few very early chapter books. We checked this one out and it was just the right length for an in between book. It’s the story of a girl and her pet dinosaur. A totally different, sweeter take on what is obviously a well-trod premise in children’s books than Lulu, which I mentioned above.