November 28


Chapter Books to Middle Grade Novels: Stepping Up the Reading Ladder by Michele Knott and Victoria J. Coe

Imagine a newly-independent reader who’s ready for longer stories. Chapter books set them up for success, right?

Think about it. Chapter books feature appropriate vocabulary, simple sentence structure, appealing characters, and a predictable storyline with a satisfying outcome. And they’re presented in short chapters with lively illustrations.

Even better – they come in series! So once the reader has built confidence reading the first book, they can continue the fun and success with book after book. More confidence leads to more success. And on and on.

For sure, chapter books play a huge and vital role in a young reader’s journey.

Now imagine that same young reader is ready to step up to the next rung on the ladder – middle grade novels. And they discover a middle grade series starring the SAME CHARACTERS as the chapter books they’ve already read and loved.

What does this do to their interest level, confidence, and reading success?

See for yourself. Last spring, Putnam launched the Make Way for Fenway! chapter book series based on the popular Fenway and Hattie middle grade series.

This actual text thread happened between the young reader’s mom and Victoria (author of the books):

Oh, and maybe we should mention that this young reader is 10. (Are we the only ones getting chills right now?)

This reader’s success story happened because: 1) the chapter books were engaging and accessible; and 2) it felt natural for him to step up from the Fenway chapter books to the Fenway middle grade series. He wanted to spend more time with the characters and their adventures. What might’ve seemed scary before, felt achievable.

As his reading skills and maturity grew, he was able to follow a more advanced plot and subplots, more active secondary characters, and multiple foils of a middle grade book. He was ready for these advances. His familiarity helped him think, I can try this.

This 10-year-old is not alone. The recent pandemic is still affecting our young readers.

For years, children faced a lack of reading material. Libraries and bookstores were closed. Families found it difficult to get books into their homes.

Digital material was often easier, and it wasn’t always in the form of a book.  Stamina took a hit, and paying attention to sustained reading became a problem for people of all ages. 

These days, educators are rallying to find printed material to not only engage readers, but also to help them build stamina. Chapter books have become a go-to. And when readers are ready for that next step up the ladder, isn’t it amazing that their favorite characters can be there waiting for them?

Take a look at some of our favorite chapter book series that step up to middle grade along with their readers.

Make Way for Fenway! and Fenway and Hattie by Victoria J. Coe (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers)

The little dog with a GIANT personality gives readers a dog’s eye view of the world in these two hilarious and heartwarming series.

Humphrey’s Tiny Tales and the According to Humphrey series by Betty G. Birney (G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers)

Everyone’s favorite classroom pet takes young readers on bite-sized adventures as well as helping his human friends solve their problems.

Absolutely Alfie and EllRay Jakes is Not a Chicken! by Sally Warner (Viking Books for Young Readers)

This little sister and big brother duo each star in their own (equally) relatable and humorous series. 

The Aven Green and Life of a Cactus series by Dusti Bowling (Union Square Kids)

Aven Green shows readers the possibilities are “limb”-itless and is always ready to tackle mysteries, big and small in her series.

King & Kayla (Peachtree) and The Buddy Files (Albert Whitman & Co) by Dori Hillestad Butler

King the dog (later known as Buddy) is on the case in these two fun and funny mystery series.

The Masterpiece Adventures (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt) and Masterpiece (Henry Holt & Co) by Elise Broach

James and his friend Marvin the beetle offer readers sweet stories of cross-species friendship and a fast-paced middle grade mystery.

The World of Emily Windsnap and the Emily Windsnap series by Liz Kessler (Candlewick)

Half-mermaid Emily leads readers in underwater adventures in these two series.

Zara’s Rules and Zayd Saleem, Chasing the Dream by Hena Khan (Salaam Reads)

These companion books follow two young Muslim characters pursuing their interests and dreams.

This recent trend of chapter books and middle grade series featuring the same characters gives readers a helping hand up the reading ladder. It’s one we’d love to see more of!

Michele Knott is a literacy specialist and former classroom teacher. She blogs at Follow her on twitter @knott_michele.

Victoria J. Coe is the author of Fenway and Hattie- Global Read Aloud, Amazon Teacher’s Pick, and “One School, One Book” favorite. She’s also written 3 additional Fenway and Hattie middle grade novels, the chapter book series Make Way for Fenway!, and Ezra  & The Mouse: The Search for Lafayette, a stand-alone middle grade novel. Connect with her at and @victoriajcoe on twitter and Instagram.