Tag Archives: easy readers

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.

Early Readers for Boys

I gave so much attention to all the chapter books that I’ve been digging around for BalletBoy, that I thought Mushroom’s reading efforts deserved a similar listy post.  One of the nice things about early readers is that, unlike chapter books, many of the best offerings are less stereotypically gender segregated.  After all, any kid can appreciate most of Dr. Seuss, Elephant and Piggie, and the like.  And girls can probably appreciate these too, but I think they’re especially good for boys.

The Commander Toad series by Jane Yolen
Commander Toad’s ship is the “Star Warts.”  On some level, that little piece of information sums up exactly what makes this series appealing.  Yolen tells the silly space epic story of toads in space with pretty much the same attitude as the old Muppet Show sketch “Pigs in Space.”  BalletBoy enjoyed these and soon Mushroom will be able to as well.

The Henry and Mudge series by Cynthia Rylant
All the Cynthia Rylant series are excellent, but this one is the sweetest.  Henry is a boy and Mudge is his oversized, slobbery dog.  The stories are very simple, but they have that depth that you want from a little story.  Rylant doesn’t ever condescend to her readers.

The Cat on the Mat is Flat and The Big Fat Cow That Goes Kapow by Andy Griffiths
This is a easy reader that was formatted like a chapter book.  Each volume contains several extremely easy, almost phonics-based stories full of rhymes.  They’re very silly.  The drawings look like Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants kids drew them.  The pages play with type by making the words bigger or smaller or even changing the font.  It’s an innovative little idea, obviously targeted to reluctant boy readers (though my less reluctant Mushroom still enjoyed it).  Basically, I really liked this new discovery.

The (early only!) Berenstain Bears by Stan and Jan Berenstain
You all know I loathe the new, moralistic Berenstain Bears, right?  But the really early readers like Bears in the Night and Inside, Outside, Upside Down are classics.  And the slightly harder titles like The Bear Scouts, The Bears’ Vacation, The Bears’ Picnic, and others are also amusing and funny.  Small Bear knows all while Papa makes mistakes.  The rhymes are cute, the language is simple, but the stories are actually pretty funny.  I think there’s something sort of boyish about all the trouble Papa Bear leads Small Bear into.  But watch out for the newer ones, which are not as well written.

The Fly Guy series by Tedd Arnold
These are super short, yet the stories are very amusing.  A boy named Buzz has an unusual pet, a housefly called Fly Guy, who can say the boy’s name (no surprise there!).  Together, they have adventures.  Both my boys like them well enough to read them over and over again.  Only Elephant and Piggie get more love in our house among the early readers.

Mouse and Mole

I felt the need for a book review, but I’ve been nose deep in grown-up books lately, so I turned to something new I read from BalletBoy’s library pile.  In the grand tradition of Frog and Toad, I bring you Mouse and Mole, an early reader series by Wong Herbert Yee at a slightly higher level than their amphibian cousins.  Mouse and Mole are neighbors and friends.  Each book contains a series of interconnected stories about their everyday lives.  Mouse is exuberant and Mole is slightly gloomy.  These books are a little below BalletBoy’s reading level, but he checked them out and devoured them then re-read them, so I figured there had to be something to them.  The stories themselves are sweet and mildly amusing.  However, I adore the illustrations.  They’re just little pen and ink drawings with watercolors, but they’re very vibrant and illustrative.  Toss this series in with your Cynthia Rylants and your Cowgirl Kate and Cocoas as another solid early reader offering that isn’t just biding time until you get to the “real” books.

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.