When emerging readers are ready to move beyond easy "the fat cat sat on the mat" style readers, you want to find the perfect beginning chapter book to encourage them to keep reading. The best way to do this is to match early chapter books to your child's interests!
You also want to make sure the books have engaging stories with clever humor, illustrations on nearly every page and large text that is easy to read, which is where this book list comes in handy.
The term "early chapter book" always includes books in a range of reading levels. They can be suitable for kids as young as 5 up to kids ages 9 or 10. Many of these books are part of a series and if you are giving them as gifts, go for the box set, if available!
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Chapter Books by Interest Category:
Strong Girl Protagonists
Too Small Tola by Atinuke, illustrated by Onyinye Iwu
Atinuke, author of the marvelous Anna Hibiscus series, has created another winning character! Tola lives with her older siblings–a soccer-crazed brother and book-smart sister–and her grandmother in a run-down apartment building modern day urban Nigeria. In three episodic chapters, Tola's wit and intelligence help her to solve problems that pop up in the loving family's daily life.
JoJo Makoons (series) by Dawn Quigley, illustrated by Tara Audibert
JoJo is a clever, spunky 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 with her friend, Fern, with whom she's having some difficulties. A wonderful new series!
Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Brian Floca
Princess Cora is bored! As heir to the throne she is supposed to follow all sorts of boring rules and regimens, but what she really wants to do is get dirty and have wild adventures. She writes a letter to her fairy godmother and the result is the appearance of a very un-well-behaved crocodile! Loads of great illustrations, big text and humor make this a great early chapter book for beginning readers.
Lola Levine Is Not Mean! (series) by Monica Brown, illustrated by Angela Dominguez
Jewish-Peruvian Lola loves soccer, but when she accidentally hurts another player on the field, her classmates call her "mean!" Lola knows she has a big heart and wants others to know it too, so she uses her love of writing to change others' opinions. I love the way author Monica Brown integrates aspects of Lola's duel heritage throughout the book.
Strong Boy Protagonists
J.D. and the Great Barber Battle (series) by J. Dillard, illustrated by Akeem S. Roberts
This is a sweet and very funny series. J.D.'s mom has given him a terrible haircut, and when J.D. tries to remedy the situation he discovers that he is actually a hair-cutting genius! But when the town barber gets fed up with losing all his clients to J.D., it's time for a show-down!
Hockey Night in Kenya by Danson Mutinda and Eric Walters, illustrated by Claudia Dávila
Set in modern day Africa, this book about boys dreaming of playing ice hockey is an inspiring read for your sports-crazy kid. Two boys, Kitoo and Nigosi, learn about Canadian ice hockey from a book they check out from the library. They are determined to play this intriguing sport, despite the lack of snow and ice in their home country. It's a wonderful, positive story about friendship and perseverance.
The Best of Iggy (series) by Annie Barrows, illustrated by Sam Ricks
Iggy Frangi is a good kid. Well, he tries very, very hard to be good–except he is just so impulsive! He often doesn't realize he's made the wrong choices until he is in the thick of things! Iggy is a funny, relatable, and very likable character who deserves to share space on a bookshelf alongside Henry Huggins, Stink Moody, and Fudge Hatcher.
Ranger in Time (series) by Kate Messner, illustrated by Kelley McMorris
This series centers around a time traveling search and rescue dog. Ranger, an intelligent golden retriever, journeys back in time and around the world to places like Ancient Rome and the Oregon Trail in order to help kids in peril. My son declare the book, "Good, with nothing scary," and "sort of like Magic Tree House, but maybe better."
Time Warp Trio (series) by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith
With the help of a special and mysterious book, three Brooklyn boys travel through time and space to far-off places like Camelot, Ancient Rome and Revolutionary America. They meet neanderthals, vikings, gladiators and even their distant relatives. With Sciezka's quirky humor, this early chapter book series makes for entertaining reading.
8 Class Pets + 1 Squirrel ÷ 1 Dog = Chaos (series) by Vivian Vande Velde, illustrated by Steve Björkman
This is one of the funniest books we've ever read aloud, but it's a great choice for kids on the advanced end of early chapter books. The story begins when a dog chases a squirrel into a nearby elementary school. The squirrel runs from classroom to classroom leaving chaos in its wake. Each chapter is narrated in the first person by the various class pets that inhabit the classrooms. The pets range from hamsters to snakes to fish to birds. Reading the pets' different perspectives on the ruckus is extremely entertaining!
Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face and the Badness of Badgers (series) by John Dougherty, illustrated by Sam Ricks
If your kids love over-the-top humor, weird and crazy action, this British import is for them! Stinkbomb and his sister, Ketchup-Face, are certain that badgers are responsible for their missing money. They head out to meet King Toothbrush Weasel to foil the evil, treacherous bad-news badgers. This series is incredibly silly and kids will LOVE it.
Dory Fantasmagory (series) by Abby Hanlon
Dory is a highly imaginative 6-year-old. Her older brother and sister invent a "Mrs. Gobble Gracker" in order to scare Dory into "not behaving like a baby," but Dory grabs onto the idea and her imagination manifests Mrs. Gobble Gracker in all sorts of scenarios. The way Dory's imaginary world and real world overlap is hilarious. It's a real winner, as is the whole series!
Sophie Simon Solves It All by Lisa Graff, illustrated by Jason Beene
I adore this "humorously brusque" heroine who is a genius in spite of her parents who aren't quite sure why she would want to learn about calculus at the tender age of eight. Sophie, on the other hand, is still learning all about what it means to have friends. A wonderful book.
Phineas L. MacGuire...Erupts! (series) by Frances O'Roark Dowell, illustrated by Preston McDaniels.
Phineas (aka "Mac") is a fourth grader who goes through life looking at everything from a scientific angle. He observes, collects and applies data, but when he is paired with the new kid at school for a science experiment the pair have to figure out how to work together. The writing is funny and clever and kids will easily relate to the characters. The book even includes several experiments for readers to try at home.
Zoey and Sassafras: Dragons and Marshmallows (series) by Asia Citro, illustrated by Marion Lindsay
Zoey is a can-do girl scientist who learns she has a super secret skill: she can see magical creatures. Her not-so secret skill is applying the scientific method to taking care of these creatures when they are injured. This charming early chapter book series that teaches kids scientific concepts with a fantasy twist is a welcome addition to a growing body of STEM literature.
Freddie Ramos Takes Off (series) by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Miguel Benítez
I have a great love for Freddy Ramos. After all, he and his mom love to read together. One day Freddy receives a mysterious pair of shoes which turn out to have magical powers and Freddy, being the kind of boy he is, uses their power for good.
The Princess in Black (series) by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
When the local monsters harass the shepherd's charges, Princess Magnolia dons her secret identity and springs into action. Tongue in cheek humor, color illustrations, spare text and a bit of action make this a great book for early readers. In case you are thinking this is a "girl book", my then-6 year-old son LOVED these books and read them over and over.
The Magician's Boy by Susan Cooper, illustrated by Serena Riglietti
A young magician's assistant waits patiently for the time when his employer will tell him he is ready to learn magic. When the magician's Saint George puppet disappears, the magician throws the boy into the "Land of Story." On his hunt to find Saint George, the boy meets familiar story book and nursery rhyme characters.
The Fabled Stables: Willa the Wisp (series) by Jonathan Auxier, illustrated by Olga Demidova
Willa the Wisp is the first title in The Fabled Stables series. Auggie lives on an island and has a job taking care of one-of-a-kind animals. His sidekick is a shape-shifting stick-like creature called a "Stick-in-the-Mud," named Fen. When a new stall magically appears in the stables, Auggie knows there is a creature who needs rescuing. Thus begins his quest to find and save a will-o'-the-wisp. This is a truly magical series, perfect for kids who love magic and mythical beasts.
Grasshopper Magic (series) by Jynne Jonell, illustrated by Brandon Dorman
Find it: Amazon
In each book in the Magical Mix-up series, four siblings encounter a bit of magic, whose source is beneath their lawn. The magic causes some sort of chaotic effect on the children and they rally together to undo the magical mix up.
Mysteries and Detectives
West Meadow Detectives (series) by Liam O'Donnell, illustrated by Aurélie Grand
This series features two neurodiverse kids who bond over a mystery at school. Myron, who is autistic, is starting a new school. He earnestly narrates the story, describing his unique way of seeing the world, his need for structure and how his ability to focus on details makes him the perfect sleuth. His energetic friend, Hajrah, who has ADHD, becomes his partner in mystery-solving.
The Chicken Squad (series) by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Kevin Cornell
In this very funny series, Dirt, Sugar, Poppy, and Sweetie are chicks with varying degrees of intelligence. They solve backyard crimes that inevitably involve the squirrel population, a friendly dog, and a lot of laughs.
Clubhouse Mysteries (series) by Sharon Draper, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson
A diverse group of four boys, who call themselves the "Black Dinosaurs," build a clubhouse, decode secret messages and solve mysteries. This is a solidly written series from Sharon Draper that kids will like. There's a bit of humor, appealing characters and, of course, some mystery.
For Kids Who Love Animals
The Story of Diva and Flea by Mo Willems, illustrated by Tony DiTerizzi
In Paris, the adventurous Flea convinces the easily intimidated Diva to take a trip around the city to explore the wonder of life outside and on the streets. Afterwards, Diva assures Flea that inside an apartment isn't so scary and the two friends embrace how much greater their world is now, for knowing each other.
Down Girl and Sit (series) by Lucy Nolan, illustrated by Mike Reed
This funny, charming series is told from the point of view of two dogs, who are not exactly the brightest canines on the block. They interpret their humans' actions and intentions in unexpected and laugh-out-loud ways. Very clever and great fun.
Bunjitsu Bunny (series) by John Himmelman
Bunjitsu Bunny one of my favorite series on this list! Each book is composed of short vignettes about Isabel and her friends who all study martial arts. Each clever and funny story conveys a zen-like lesson without being at all preachy. My then-6 year old was very into the idea of battles and fighting so he of course loved reading a book in which the first action sequence involved the possibility of one character head-butting a door (they don't actually get that far...). I, however, was delighted with the "sneaky" lessons in non-violence, friendship, compassion and self-discipline!