Early Chapter Books {Friends and Families}

It’s already week 4 of my series of kids’ book lists featuring early and first chapter books for early readers! So far we’ve covered animals, girls (stand alone books and series) and today I’m giving you my recommendations for titles with groups of friends or families as the main characters.

List of first chapter books about friends and families for kids ages 5-9

As I’ve done in previous weeks I remind you that I’ve chosen these books for kids who have moved beyond easy readers but not yet feel ready for middle grade novels. The typical recommended age range for these books is 5-9, but of course you are the best judge of  your child’s reading level.

For those of you whose children use an e-reader like the Kindle, I am happy to report that most of these books are available on the Kindle and some of the older titles which are unavailable in paperback are now being released in digital formats! (Note: I use affiliate links in all my book lists. All titles chosen based on books I’ve read and loved.)

Cobble Street Cousins. Three cousins live with their aunt while their professional dancer-parents (all 6 of them!) are touring the world. Lily, Tess and Rosie have lots of wholesome neighborhood adventures like baking and selling cookies and putting on theatricals. For parents who want to avoid sassy characters, this is a good series; lauded author Cynthia Rylant has a talent for writing stories which are simultaneously modern and old-fashioned.

Appleville Elementary. This four-book collection covers a single school year in a first grade classroom. Nancy Krulik (Katie Kazoo) has written a number of series, and this one is good for the earliest chapter book readers. These were some of Kiddo’s first independently read chapter books; he read them all repeatedly and you can’t argue with that! We’ve had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Krulik several times at book fairs so we have a few autographed copies!

Ivy & Bean. A number of you wondered how I had left best friends Ivy +Bean off my list of series about girls (the most astute of you will have noticed they were in the collage – oops).  Of course I could never forget this very popular duo whose amusing adventures have created a legion of fans. Sophie Blackall’s black and white illustrations are just as good as the writing. Don’t miss these books; large font, illustrations and short chapters make them a high quality chose for beginners (and grown-ups like me).

The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo. Judy Blume’s 1969 short chapter book is a classic and still a wonderful read. (It was also her first published book!) Middle kid Freddie wants to stand out from the pack and takes a chance in a school play. It all pans out and Freddie scores a win for middle children everywhere. Terrific.

The Pain and the Great One. The first book reads as a long picture book with a larger format, chapter divisions and full-color illustrations. That makes it a nice introduction and will entice kids to pick up the more traditional early chapter book installments which continue the adventures of brother (the Pain) and sister (the Great One). The stories are told in alternating views. As the sister of a younger brother I completely relate to these books and I appreciate that Blume paints a realistic picture of sibling life!

Zigzag Kids. Ranging from kindergarten to 6th grade, the multicultural Zigzag kids come together for an after school program where they engage in fun learning experiences. Each book focuses on a different kid.

In addition to Zigzag Kids, prolific and award winning author Patricia Reilly Giff also wrote the extensive The Kids of the Polk Street School, the The New Kids of Polk Street School, and the Polk Street Mysteries! I like these books because although the characters learn realistic life lessons about things like how to be a good friend and student, the stories do not come off as preachy. Many of the titles are no longer available in print but fortunately they have been released as Kindle editions.

Riverside Kids is one of my favorite series. Set in an apartment building in New York City’s Upper West Side, groups of siblings live in neighboring apartments. The two main families consist of Nora and her brother Teddy, and Russell and his sister Elisa. The children have lovely big city adventures and, unlike in many series, the kids age up as the series continues. As far as I can tell, Busybody Nora is the only one still in print but I’m delighted to see that many of the books are being released as Kindle versions, including Russell & Elisa and E is for Elisa. You can see a list of the Riverside Kids books available on Kindle here.

Beans on the Roof. Newbery author, Byars wrote this cheerful book about a group of siblings and their parents who write poetry on the roof of their apartment building. (How many families can you say that about?) I really enjoyed the loving relationship between parents and children as George struggles with writer’s block and Anna suffers a disappointment..

The Elevator Family. This is a funny trio of books about a kooky family who takes up residence in the elevator of a hotel building. A bit odd, yes, but their cheerful dispositions and unfailing kindness are contagious to everyone they meet.

Mimmy & Sophie. Like The Pain and the Great One series, the first book is presented in a picture book format with full-color illustrations and separate stories, while the second is formatted like a traditional chapter book. I think this makes a nice transition for early readers. The stories chronicle the ups and downs of being sisters in 1930s Brooklyn and focus on family life in that era and a lot of  free play around the neighborhood.

Nikki and Deja. Karen English’s lovely series about two friends was a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book of the Year. It’s funny, sweet,  and all girls who have a BFF will be able to relate to Nikki and Deja’s friendship and the lessons they learn.

Über-popular Magic Tree House is the granddaddy early chapter book series of them all. At last count I believe there were 54,894 (no, I’m joking — “only” 50!) installments which is good news because kids who love to follow the adventures of Jack and Annie as they repeatedly cross the time-space continuum to experience and learn about important historical events will read and read and read. For kids who love facts, there are numerous non-fiction companion books.

Double Trouble. This new series (well, 2012), chronicling the adventures of twins Kelly and Kasey is a spin-off of the popular Ready, Freddy! books. Twins are not as rare as they used to be, and the comedy will appeal to a lot of young readers. The books end with an activity page.

Got any books to add to the list? Perhaps I’ll feature them in the future!

Disclosure: Don’t forget! This post contains affiliate links.

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  1. Stacey says

    Wow! What a fantastic list! All of my favorites and some new ones too- can’t wait to head to library to check out some I don’t know yet like The Elevator Family and Mimi and Sophie. I am also thrilled to hear your thoughts about more of these books appearing in digital format. As much as I love ‘real’ paper books, I know that there are many, many kids who prefer reading on Kindles and I love the fact that there are more quality books appearing in that format each day.

    • Mom and Kiddo says

      Thanks for your comment, Stacey. We don’t have a kindle yet. My son isn’t a reluctant reader but I would get one in a second if I thought it would help him read more. I think my favorite thing about the digital format is that it is encouraging publishers to “re-release” books in an e-format. I can’t tell you how happy I was to see The Riverside Kids in e-versions. That series is so wonderful and if it takes an e-reader to convince publishers to make it available than that is a really good thing.

  2. says

    Great list as always! We LOVE The Riverside Kids (our library still has a bunch of the out-of-print ones) and Mimmy and Sophie, which we learned about from you. My daughter loves Ivy and Bean and Nikki and Deja. I didn’t realize the Elevator Family was a series – she loved the first one. The Pain and the Great one series is good but not, ironically, great, in my opinion, although I love the picture book that started it all. Zigzag Kids and Cobble Street Cousins don’t quite do it for me, although my daughter’s been bringing home a lot of CSC books from school.

    • Mom and Kiddo says

      I didn’t realize the Elevator Family was a series when I picked up the first book, either. And it’s so strange that the cover art is so different! The thing I like most about The Pain and The Great one is the alternating viewpoints, which is rare in this type of book.

  3. Jen says

    These look great – my older boy loves books about kids at school so I think the Appleville series will be just his thing. BTW I think my kids must be the only ones in the world who don’t like the Magic Treehouse series. I’ve tried it several times – even as an audiobook – and they just aren’t interested. I was hoping they would go for it as the idea of them having 50 books to get through before I have to find some new ones was definitely appealing!

    • Mom and Kiddo says

      Depending on your son’s age Appleville might be too easy, but the Zigzag kids and Polk Street series are also set in schools so those might be good choices. Has he ever read the Wayside School series? Maybe those are still too advanced for him, but they would make really great read alouds since from your previous comments I take it he likes silly stuff.

      • Jen says

        Yup – the sillier the better! He’s 6 but not a very advanced reader (although very keen) so I don’t think the Appleville series will be too easy. He’s reading the Roscoe Riley books at the moment (another one of your recommendations!) and he can just manage them. He hasn’t read any of the other ones you recommend so I will get them for him – I still do lots of reading aloud to him so if they are too advanced it won’t matter.

        • Mom and Kiddo says

          It sounds like Appleville will work well for him. Be sure to tell me if he likes it! I always wonder if people try out and enjoy the books I share.

          • Jen says

            We read lots of the books you recommend and love almost all of them – I never get around to telling you though, sorry! Tonight we read ‘8 class pets + 1 squirrel etc’ Had both boys HOWLING with laughter at the jokes – my 6 year old even picked up some of the subtleties of the different points of view of the animals (“the fish think that being in the water is normal and being in the air is weird but the other animals think the opposite because normal just depends on what you are used to”)

  4. Jenny says

    Another fabulous list! Claire still doesn’t read a chapter book cover to cover, so I love lists like this so I have lots of options to tempt her with. I keep meaning to blog about a book so I can link up here, and somehow I keep forgetting…

    • Mom and Kiddo says

      Thanks, Jenny. Sometimes I’m the only mom who has to say “put that book down so we can go!” He never wants to put a book down until he has read the whole thing.

  5. says

    I really liked Riverside Kids too. We read some of the series on this list, and now I loaded up on your earlier recommendations and can’t wait to see which ones Anna likes best.

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