Oh, Junie B. Jones (don't forget the "B"!). Do you love her because your child enjoys reading, or do you hate her for her annoying, sassy behavior and horrid grammar? Whether you like Junie or wish you'd never met her, we all need suggestions for alternative books to Junie B. Jones.
The series on this list are books similar to Junie B. Jones in reading level and format, and they are all appealing, funny books that kids ages 5-9 will like.
It's true that these are mostly books about girls, but they are not for girls because... well, ugh, there is no such thing "girl books" and "boy books." I've included titles with boy protagonists and a few books that feature animals. Boys and girls will enjoy all of these beginning chapter book series.
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JoJo Makoons (series) by Dawn Quigley, illustrated by Tara Audibert. JoJo is a clever, spunky Ojibwe heroine and she makes lots of mistakes–but she's learning! JoJo's narrative voice is irresistible, and Quigley includes wonderful word play and sly humor throughout. The story centers around JoJo's experiences at school and her relationship with her friend, Fern.
Clementine (series) by Sara Pennypacker. Clementine might be my favorite 21sh century heroine. She's super-spunky and determined to enjoy life despite constantly getting into scrapes. She's been compared to Ramona many times, but I think I like her even better (gasp!).
Meet Yasmin (series) by Saadia Faruqi, illustrated by Hatem Aly. Meet Yasmin is a very early beginning chapter book series about a charming Pakistani-American girl. Each book is divided into four separate stories in which Yasmin uses her creative energy and high imagination to solve problems. Delightful and a good choice for very young readers.
Sofia Martinez (series) by Jaqueline Jules, illustrated by Kim Smith. This early chapter book series with a spirited Latina heroine is very easy to read, with color illustrations, and large type with lots of white space. Some words are Spanish (there is a glossary, but their meaning is easily gleaned from the text). Sofia is an appealingly clever (and not annoyingly sassy) girl who enjoys life, likes to help others and make an impact on everyone she meets.
MORE: For tons more great funny early chapter books, this list funny beginning chapter books has tons of suggestions!
Katie Kazoo, Switcheroo (series) by Nancy Krulik. There are, to date, 35 Katie Kazoo books. So, if your child likes them, they will be reading for a while. I can't say I've read all 35, but I've read a few. Katie is a third grader who has a knack for switching places with other people, past and present. It would also have been a great book for my Alternatives to Magic Tree House list.
Ivy & Bean (series) by Annie Barrows. Bean and Ivy are best friends with highly creative imaginations and a flair for inventing complicated games and finding convoluted solutions to problems. Both girls are intensely likable and their adventures will have your kids in stitches. Don’t miss these books; large font, illustrations and short chapters make them a high quality chose for beginners.
MORE: Books like Ivy and Bean
Judy Moody (series) by Megan McDonald. Judy is a likeable character who has real feelings and moods that kids will readily recognize. Fortunately for readers, the imaginative, clever Judy finds creative and humorous ways to always make the best of her situations.
Sassy (series) by Sharon Draper. Fourth grader Sassy is annoyed that her family calls her “Little Sister”. In fact, she doesn’t like much that comes with being the youngest child. She is determined to change things and the contents of her sparkly handbag that her grandmother gave her come in handy on that quest.
Dory Fantasmagory (series) by Abby Hanlon had my son in stitches as we were reading it together. Dory is a highly imaginative 6-year-old. Her older brother and sister invent the Mrs. Gobble Gracker in order to scare Dory into "not behaving like a baby," but Dory grabs onto the idea and her imagination runs away. It's hard to describe the whole intricate plot here, but the way Dory's imaginary world and real world overlap is hilarious.
Heidi Heckelbeck Has a Secret (series) by Wanda Coven. Heidi comes complete with a glitter-covered cover. Heidi, home-schooled until now, is starting second grade. Her discovery that she is a witch doesn't come until the end of the book, which means your child will demand, "Next book, please!" And that is always a good thing. The large font and illustration-heavy pages make this series a good choice for emergent readers who want to feel like they are reading “real” chapter books.
Digby O'Day in the Fast Lane (series) by Shirley Hughes and Clara Vulliamy. Canine best friends, Digby and Percy enter a race which proves to be more of a twist-y turn-y adventure than they expected. With a nod to the tortoise and the hare fable, this is a book full of great fun and humor. It also makes a great read aloud.
Nancy Clancy, Super Sleuth (series) by Jane O'Connor. The Fancy Nancy franchise is branching out into early chapter books. In each book she must solve a mystery.
Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid (series) by Megan McDonald. The younger brother of popular series girl, Judy Moody, has an unfortunate nickname. He’s also short and tired of being bossed around by his older sister. My son's favorite was #4: Stink and the Great Guinea Pig Express; while he read it he could not stop laughing. A kid who finds reading fun is a kid who will read more.
Princess Posey (series) by Stephanie Green. Confession time: I expected not to like this series for the simple reason that it has glitter on the cover. In my opinion, glitter on the cover is a book publishing marketing ploy based on a girly-girl culture for which I have a particular revulsion. However, never judge a book by the cover. In each book, first-grader Princess Posey, who has a “security tutu,” discovers the strength within her to face down her fears. I’ve found the age of the protagonist is a good indication of reading level, making this a good first chapter book after when transitioning out of easy reader books.
MORE: Books like Mercy Watson
Nate the Great (series) by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat. This classic series is a very, very, early chapter book (it’s actually in the early reader section of our library) so it’s good for younger kids. There are a ton of books in the series to satisfy your kids and keep them reading should they take a liking to good ol’ Nate.
Let's Get Cracking! (series) by Cyndi Marko. The Kung Pow Chicken series straddles the line between graphic novel and chapter book. My then-6 year old LOVED this series and demanded I check all of them out of the library. I admit, the puns had me giggling. A young chicken gains superpowers when he accidentally falls into a mysterious vat in his uncle's lab in their home town of Fowladelphia (see what I mean?). In this first adventure, he and his sidekick must figure out what is causing the local population to lose their feathers. Silly and fun.
Franny K. Stein, Mad Scientist (series) by Jim Benton. Franny is a young mad scientist (yes, for real!) but I love how her problems are that of a normal kid. She just wants to fit in with the other kids at school. Since she is a scientist she makes observations about what the other kids are doing (playing with dolls, dressing "cute") and eating (squishy white bread sandwiches instead of pumpkin ravioli) and then conducts experiments to see how best she can adapt. It turns out, however, that her uniqueness is what helps her be accepted and appreciated by her classmates. This very clever series is lots of fun for both boys and girls.
Ruby Lu, Brave and True (series) by Leonore Look. Ruby Lu’s Chinese heritage is an important part of the stories, especially when her cousin, Flying Duck comes to stay. I love the fun little flip book built into the first book as well as Ruby’s unique way of describing the world around her.
Lulu and the Duck in the Park (series) by Hilary McKay, has received good reviews. I really loved this sweet and funny story about Lulu, an animal lover who, unable to leave an abandoned duck egg in the park, hides it under her sweater and brings it to school.
Nikki and Deja (series). 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.
Gloria's Way (series) by Ann Cameron. The short stories about Gloria contain follow the typical story lines about school and family. They are well-written, charming and I particularly like the emphasis on the relationship between the parents and their children.
Horrible Harry in Room 2B (series) by Suzy Kline. Harry’s best friend, Doug, narrates these fun stories. Most of the action centers around school life and although Harry does get into a bit of mischief, he is a good friend and is very likable. There is also a spin-off series about Song Lee, the “nicest girl in Room 2B.”
Bad Kitty Gets a Bath (series) by Nick Bruel. This is a popular series and I didn't think I would like it.. until I actually read it and laughed quite a few times! It’s garnered all sorts of praise from professionals. It’s heavy on the illustrations, making it a good choice for reluctant readers and includes lots of facts woven into the text, which will appeal to non-fiction lovers.