Top 10 (or so) Chapter Books for Transitioning Readers by Arika Dickens
As an elementary teacher-librarian and a mother of two young readers ages 6 and 8, finding entry-level chapter books that have both a kid-friendly design (white space, font size, spacing, illustrations) and engaging characters/plot has been daunting. But it can be done. Below are 10 sure-fire hits in my school and home for the transitioning readers in grades 1-3…plus a couple of bonus picks. The best part: these are books that kids like, not just books that adults think kids should like. The proof is in their quotes.
- Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon
Original and free spirited, Dory drives her family crazy with eccentric, imaginary characters that she brings to life like monster BFF Mary, gnome/fairy godmother Mr. Nuggy, and the villainous Mrs. Gobble-Gracker. First in a trilogy.
“I liked when Dory and Mary fought Mrs. Gobble-Gracker. It had lots of pictures so I could tell what was really happening.” – Harper, 2nd grade
- Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst
Having not received the pet brontosaurus she demanded for her birthday, Lulu packs her bag and sets off to find the elusive animal. First in a trilogy.
“I like that she sings the song about wanting a brontosaurus. There are two versions of it: one when she wants one, and one where she gets one. When she realizes that the brontosaurus wants her to be HIS pet, that was really funny.” – Lynzie, 1st grade
- The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes
Faced with realistic challenges like a destructive sibling and stage fright, 2nd grader Billy tackles the new school year with an honest – and ultimately courageous – heart.
“When Billy fell off the bridge and got a big bump on his head, his mom and dad were really worried. I liked that.” – Vaughn, 1st grade
- The Princess in Black by Shannon & Dean Hale
Princess Magnolia has a secret: when her glitter stone ring rings, she sneaks off to transform into her alter ego, the Princess in Black, who helps protect the kingdom’s goats from hungry monsters. First in a series.
“It’s not just for girls. It’s for boys, too. It has fighting and monsters and stuff.” – Henry, 1st grade
- Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman
As she encounters challenging scenarios and problems, martial-arts bunny Isabel utilizes clever thinking over muscle flexing in short, Zen-inspired stories. First in a series.
“I like how she (Isabel) was smarter than all the others by using her head and not smashing through things.” – A., 2nd grade
- The Haunted Library by Dory Hillestad Butler
Kaz the ghost is separated from his family and ends up in a library with Claire, a real girl who is able to see and interact with ghosts…and who may be able to reunite Kaz with his brother. First in a series.
“Well, I like the mystery of the library ghost. I thought it was a cool and fun book to read and not scary at all.” – Megan, 3rd grade
- Captain Awesome to the Rescue! by Stan Kirby
Eugene’s the new kid in Sunnyville who loves comics and superheroes. Inspired by his heroes, he solves problems and saves his town from “bad guys” by transforming into Captain Awesome! First in a series.
“Captain Awesome makes lots of funny jokes. Like in the first book, the baby has a really stinky diaper and he calls her Queen Stinkypants. The villains are funny, too. I like all the Captain Awesome books!” – Taye, 3rd grade
- My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
A wild adventure begins when Elmer, who hears of a captive dragon on Wild Island, runs away to free the dragon and claim the prize: a free ride. An oldie but goodie! First in a trilogy.
“I like how when Elmer found the dragon, he wanted to help the dragon find his family. Elmer was being really nice. It was cool how they took flights in the forest, because I’d want to ride on a dragon, too.” – Hutton, 1st grade
- Bink and Gollie by Kate DiCamillo & Allison McGhee
Eccentric Bink and sensible Gollie are the best of friends. Three short stories showcase how true friendship can include compromise, patience, and compassion. First in a trilogy.
“I liked when Bink went to the store where they had a bargain of socks. Bink was herself and chose the socks she liked, even though Gollie did not like them.” – Juliet, 3rd grade
- The Heroes in Training series by Joan Holub & Suzanne Williams
Action and mythology collide in this series, as Cronos and the rest of the Titans are wreaking havoc until 10-year-old Zeus discovers his exceptional powers and sets off to defeat the Titans alongside his fellow Olympians.
“The boys are adventurous, and I like adventures. When Zeus gets caught by half-giants, which are pretty much monsters, it was exciting.” – Ausby, 1st grade
…and a couple more:
- Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo
Mercy’s an outgoing porcine wonder who loves hot buttered toast almost as much as her owners, Mr. and Mrs. Watson, love their darling, their dear pet pig.
“I like Officer Tomilello. He talks to himself when something is not right.” – H., 1st grade
- The Notebook of Doom: Rise of the Balloon Goons by Troy Cummings
Upon moving to a new town, Alexander discovers that balloon goons are running rampant and stealing air…but no one else seems to notice. First in a series.
“I like the balloon monster people and how they were kind of everywhere, almost following you around. That was creepy.” – Brock, 3rd grade
Arika Dickens is an elementary teacher-librarian in the suburbs of Seattle who is passionate about finding that just-right book for every child. Outside of the school library, she’s often found playing outside, building Legos, and reading stories with her family. Find her online at www.librarianarika.wordpress.com or @librarianarika on Twitter.
My boys are the same ages and finding books they love can be a challenge! Thanks for the list.
Great list! I’m always looking for new titles to use with my Next Chapter Reading Club for grades 2-4. We’ve done a few of these but I’m going to use the others. Thanks!
Hi NBC peeps! Thanks for the love. Please comment with other books you think should’ve made the Top 10 list. The NBC is such a strong community: we learn when we share!
My boys LOVE the Kingdom of Wrenly series.
My students who like Captain Awesome also like the Dragon Breath series and Bad Kitty series.
Piper Green and the Fairy Tree
Love to see some “oldies” included, too. Always loved: TOAD FOR TUESDAY by Erickson, TEDDY BEAR’S SCRAPBOOK by Howe, BEARS ON HEMLOCK MOUNTAIN by Dagliesh (sp?), ROWAN OF RIN. Always want to motivate these emerging readers to KEEP ON READING and interesting, readable books will motivate them. Nice work, Arika! 🙂
Very helpful list, but please don’t miss Dragon Masters by Tracey West, a great beginners’ fantasy series and Kung Pow Chicken by Cyndi Marko, innocent crazy humor and puns, both in the Scholastic Branches series.
I’m surprised that you don’t include any nonfiction titles. When our older son was learning to read he was only interested in true stories.
Great suggestions, y’all! Just ordered Kung Pow Chicken for the library, and will look for Dragon Masters and Kingdom of Wrenly. Aline, a nonfic-specific list for transitional readers is a fab idea. I stuck with fiction for this list, as many of my students/parents/teachers are looking for “chapter books”.
Another great selection for 3-4th grade ages is Crystal Allen’s new MYA THE MAGNIFICENT series published by Harper Collins! Full of humor, but also poignant and pivotal events in friendship and family.
“My Father’s Dragon” is my go-to book when recommending for this age/reading level group. Another darling series is by Hillary McKay–the first book is “Lulu and the Duck in the Park”. (And can I just quietly add my own “Cody” series, book 2 coming this April? Thank you!)
Thank you for this
This is awesome !! Love you quoted the kids… That is the key!
Great list. 🙂 I also love Princess in Black/Mercy Watson because they have lots of pictures and are good for kids *just* starting to get the courage to tackle chapter books. I’d add the HILARIOUS series Good Crooks to this list. It’s about a brother and sister who just want to do good deeds but…their parents are crooks! A good throwback is The Stories Julian Tells.
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This post was just what I was looking for! My 8 yr old is getting tired of baby books… these would fit him perfectly.
Thanks for the suggestons. I am only familiar with four of the twelve. I am looking forward to reading some of the others.
This is a really great list! I’d add the Doreen Cronin books: Chicken Squad books and JJ Tulley books!
Thanks for the great list! I’ve been looking for recommendations for chapter books. ~ Rebecca
Have you ever heard of The Amazing Days of Abby Haze or The Princess School those are some really good books