Tag Archives: chapter books

In Between Books

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 and the dragon disasterOliver 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.

A Cheerful Post-Apocalyptic Tale for Kids

Okay, the post-apocalyptic thing is just implied.  But if there aren’t any more humans left, then I count that firmly as post-apocalyptic.

The Travels of Thelonious: The Fog Mound by Susan Schade and Jon Buller is a hybrid graphic novel.  Chapters alternate between comics and old fashioned text.  It’s a middle grades book, but short enough and illustration heavy enough for many chapter book readers.

The story is about a young, talking chipmunk named Thelonious (get it?) who accidentally gets swept into the ruins of a city and then on a journey to figure out what happened to all the humans, who have become no more than fairy tales to many of the animals.  The comics are well done, in blue and black with a sort of old fashioned, small detailed style.  The writing lies a little flat for me, honestly, but the concept is interesting enough, both in the format and the plot, that it kept me going reading it.  The story had a lot of elements that I think probably appeal to young readers.  There is the mystery of what happened to the humans, but also several other layers of mystery involving a crime boss dragon lizard and a missing bear.  The scenes of Thelonious figuring out how canned goods work and trying on Barbie clothes are imaginative and fun.

Even though it wasn’t the most literary of offerings, I asked BalletBoy if wanted to try it.  He flew through the first three chapters and declared it to be “great!”  So that’s an endorsement for you.  The story ends with most issues unresolved.  There are two more volumes that continue the tale.

More Boy Books

Having two boys, I’ve been on the lookout for boy books constantly.  About a year ago, I searched through a few options for early chapter books, which I posted about here.  Now that BalletBoy is reading chapter books himself, I thought I’d update with more options.  I’ve found even more than these, though some I haven’t read enough of to give any sort of review.

There’s an ongoing discussion, I feel, about boys and books and what makes a book more appealing to boys.  For some blogs focused specifically on boy books, you can check out Guys Lit WireThe Excelsior File or The Book Zone (for Boys).  You can also see Jon Scieszka’s website Guys Read, which isn’t updated too much, but has some good stuff.  But for now, here’s some boy early chapter books for your perusal…

Frankie Pickle series by Eric Wight
This series (which is only on its third title) features a sort of Walter Mitty-esque kid who constantly imagines himself in different, generally more exciting, circumstances.  Wight’s cartoony illustrations are cute.  The stories are simple but funny.  I’m not completely enamored of the writing, which jumped around a little as the author moved between Frankie’s imaginary world and the real world.  However, the concept is so good and BalletBoy, who has turned out to be a very picky reader, gives it a thumbs up.

Melvin Beederman, Superhero series by Greg Trine
BalletBoy passed on this series, but I sat and read the first one and found it very amusing so I’m giving it my recommendation.  Melvin is a slightly inept kid superhero who fights off some very silly villains.  It’s definitely got a lot of the sort of irreverent boy humor that appeals to fans of really silly books like Captain Underpants.

Horrid Henry series by Francesca Simon
Henry is truly a villain.  He can’t do anything nice – not for his friends, his teachers, his parents and certainly not his detested little brother.  The writing is solid and the stories are very funny, but at first glance, Henry is almost too horrid.  His villainy is really only funny after you’ve read a number of these and understand how completely unrealistic both he and his “perfect” brother are.  I enjoyed these a lot and Mushroom is actually keen to read them once he’s able to.

Herbie Jones series by Suzy Kline
I’m not sure exactly what I want to say about these.  The writing is just above Junie B. level (and I really dislike Junie B.), so this isn’t a strong recommendation.  However, BalletBoy discovered some of Herbie Jones’s second grade series and really liked them.  Herbie is a mostly average, if lazy, kid. The series focuses on school and friends.  I think BalletBoy must like the sheer normalcy of it.  Suzy Kline is also the author of the Horrible Harry books (not to be confused with the Horrid Henry books above!).  I can’t even give those a mild recommendation.  Seeing that they were easier than most of the Herbie books, I gave one a try, but I was sorely disappointed.

The Time Warp Trio series by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith
Not to end on a mediocre note, these books are slightly on the harder end of the books I listed here, so BalletBoy hasn’t made it to them quite yet, but they’re so much fun.  They’re not as wholesomely educational as the jaunts through history taken in a certain treehouse, but they’re more fun and the writing is peppered with jokes.  The three boys have to figure their way through a number of time travel scrapes.

In the Reading Box

It’s a constant quest to get the books organized and reorganized around here.  They’re constantly changing.  Here, I made a reading box with some of the current titles the kids can pick up and read independently.  Facing front are BalletBoy’s books and facing sideways (mostly) are Mushroom’s.

In Mushroom’s reading pile: BOB books, I See Sam Books, a couple of Real Kids Phonics readers, Ten Apples Up On Top, See Pip Point, and Polo and the Runaway Book.

In BalletBoy’s reading pile at the moment: a couple Nate the Greats, a couple Tashis, Frog and Toad are Friends, Poppleton Everyday, a Magic Treehouse, Commander Toad and the Voyage Home, Way Out West with Pirate Pete and Pirate Joe, and Angelina on Stage, which is sticking up in back along with the Polo book.

On the one hand, you want the books to stay where they should so they’re not scattered all over the house.  On the other hand, you don’t.


There I was, wondering what to give BalletBoy to read now that he’s finished (and almost completely reread) all the Ricky Ricotta books, when the most wonderful little series suddenly popped out at me from the chapter book shelves.  They were books with thin covers and a foreign looking design.  I immediately had to know what they were.  Then I opened one up and discovered they were perfect for BalletBoy.

In some ways, they are the complete antithesis of Ricky Ricotta.  Both series are fantasy, but the Tashi books are all about imagination, not about robot battles.  However, both series have illustrations on every page and short text, which seems to be a must for BalletBoy in this moment in time.

The series centers on a boy named Jack and his friend Tashi.  Tashi is drawn as if he’s an elf whereas Jack is clearly an average boy.  In each book, Tashi tells Jack stories of his adventures, which he then relays to his parents, who always ask the wrong sort of questions.  The books are simple, but very well-written.  I love how they play on the idea of storytelling with multiple layers.  The artwork is lovely.  The ink drawings are light and imaginative, with loads of details.  Apparently the series is well known in Australia, but I’ve never heard of them before now.  It was a welcome discovery in our house.  Not only would they work for a child reading those stories in the chapter book aisles, but they are good enough to be read alouds for younger children as well.  They’re short enough to be read in a single sitting, or if you’re BalletBoy, in a few sittings.

Dav Pilkey Is All Right By Me

The other day, as I drove home from North Carolina, I suddenly realized that the blips and tings from the kids’ brand new birthday DS’s had stopped.  Looking in the rearview mirror, I saw they each had out Ricky Ricotta books are were happily plowing through them.  Mushroom can’t actually read them, but he’s trying in a persistent and unfrustrated way to read some of the words because he loves them so much.

In case you don’t know Dav Pilkey, he’s an author who has probably done more to bring young boys to books than any other author (as I wrote that sentence, I paused, thinking about Jon Sczieska’s Trucktown books…  but no, Dav Pilkey gets more love from me on this topic).  He’s best known for the extremely silly Captain Underpants series.  However, he also wrote the Ricky Ricotta series about a young mouse and his Mighty Robot who fight bad guys from outer space.

The format of the Ricky Ricotta books is pretty unique.  They’re probably not much longer than an easy reader, but they’re packaged like chapter books.  Every single page contains art.  In fact, in the middle of each story, there’s a “flip-o-rama” where you can flutter the page like a flipbook and see the pictures move.  The text on each page is minimal.  Some pages have as little as one or two sentences.  Having pages with so few words is so key for some kids.  BalletBoy is completely capable of reading every single word in a book like Frog and Toad, but the fact that there are pages of all text makes him feel intimidated so he often doesn’t want to.  Having a book with a similar length but formatted differently, and with a such an exciting storyline, has helped him gain confidence to pick up the book when I’m not around and read for pure pleasure.

A lot of parents like to complain about Pilkey’s wisecracking, potty-centric humor in the Captain Underpants series.  However, I’ve got no beef with anyone who gets my kids to pick up books and put down their DS’s without even a suggestion from me.

Boy Books Found!

A couple of weeks ago, in a post about the delightful Ivy and Bean series, I complained that the chapter books shelves were row upon row of girl series with nary a boy title in sight.  Now, I’m back to report that we found a few of these elusive boy chapter books.

First, an oldie but goodie.  Mushroom and BalletBoy adore the Flat Stanley books, which we started reading more than a year ago.  For anyone who doesn’t know them, Stanley is a kid who turns flat and has adventures using his new special flat skills.  At the end of the book, he re-inflates, but later books tell about more adventures he has.  I think Stanley in Space is my kids’ favorite.  Stanley’s adventures are always silly and they usually give me a chance to do my silliest reading voices.  For some reason, I imagine Stanley’s mother with a Minnesota accent.

I have to warn that there are new editions of these that have just been issued in the last year or so with new illustrations, along with a new series called Flat Stanley’s Adventures, which is not written by Jeff Brown.  The new books are borderline horrible and the new illustrations just make me sad.  They aren’t so bad on their own, but the original illustrations, with the cut out of Stanley that kids took all over the world, seems like a deeply ingrained part of the story.  You can re-illustrate some classics, but not others.  What would Green Eggs and Ham be if you got someone else to draw Sam-I-Am?  Sure, some other clever illustrator might come up with something amazing.  But would it be right?

Next, I don’t know how it missed my attention for so long that Judy Moody’s brother has his own series.  We even caught the tail end of Megan McDonald at last year’s National Book Festival.  Well, now that we’ve discovered them, we’re fast on our way to finishing all the Stink books.  As read alouds, they only take a couple of nights, which is even quicker than most chapter books, but will be a nice starter length when BalletBoy grows into reading chapter books on his own.  Stink is just a normal kid with a funny name.  The books are filled with cute facts and silly, simple stories about smelly sneaker contests and free candy.  Also, I appreciate that the stories aren’t completely centered around school, as so many series for this age seem to be.

The first Andrew Lost book by J.C. Greenburg found its way into my hands recently.  Andrew is an inventor who can shrink himself down and have adventures at the microscopic level.  The science of the shrinking is very Phineas and Ferb, but the science of what he sees while shrunk is more like The Magic Schoolbus.  This is a hesitant recommendation.  I read the first bit and thought the kids would really like it.  There’s a cute robot and a lot of gadgetry, but it’s also pretty educational.  However, when the husband finished it as the bedtime read aloud, it was with a lot of frustration because it ended on a cliffhanger, something I don’t really expect from books these days, even series.  When I read a little more, I was also a little disappointed by how the book seemed like it was all action and very little characterization of Andrew or his cousin, Judy.  Still, the kids may want to give them another chance.

Finally, I read the first in the Roscoe Riley Rules series by Katherine Applegate.  This is on the shorter end of chapter books.  Roscoe is a well-intentioned first grade troublemaker.  In the first volume, he glues his whole class to their chairs to help the teacher keep order and not look bad in front of the parents and the principal.  It works until all the kids have to get their pants cut off in order to stand up.  I think this would appeal to younger kids, like mine, who also like Stink.  I didn’t love it as much as the Stink books, but this was a funny, very easy to read title.  The kids especially liked the structure of the story, where Roscoe, who has already gotten in trouble for the glue incident, tells the reader he can explain it and then unfolds the rest in a flashback.  This piqued their interest and made them immediately want to hear the details.