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Good Early Chapter Books

Deborah Steinig
The list author says: "Parents often ask for good books for advanced young readers who still need age-appropriate content. Below, arranged roughly from simpler to harder reading level, are some chapter books that my 6-year-old has enjoyed over the last few years, plus a few of my own childhood favorites. Some of these have more literary value than others, but all are reasonable selections. (I try to avoid anything too violent or bratty, as well as anything with confusingly tween-y social dynamics.) The settings range from home (pleasingly familiar) to school (perhaps challenging for a preschooler) to fantasy/sci-fi settings (pleasingly unfamiliar). I've typically listed only one book by each author, but most of these are prolific writers -- if you find something your child likes, there's plenty more."
The Three Little Witches Storybook
The Three Little Witches Storybook
""The Three Little Witches" and its companion volumes, "The Three Little Pirates" and "The Three Little Princesses," are all favorites in our house.  They are early chapter books with a lot of pictures (or else, picture books with a lot of chapters).  The language is playful and there are many elements of fantasy."
Stuart's Cape (pb)
Stuart's Cape (pb)
"Sara Pennypacker rocks.  "Stuart's Cape" is a clever, quirky, and funny tale of a boy who already tended to worry even before he moved to a new town and acquired a magic cape."
Dolphins at Daybreak (Magic Tree House, No. 9)
Dolphins at Daybreak (Magic Tree House, No. 9)
""Dolphins at Daybreak" is a good place to start as one of the shortest and simplest books in the series; they get more complex later on.  They're a bit formulaic, but my child has learned a ton of history, science, and culture from these books.  They also model great values without being preachy: the sibling protagonists bicker, but work together to help others."
In Aunt Lucy's Kitchen (Cobble Street Cousins)
In Aunt Lucy's Kitchen (Cobble Street Cousins)
"The Cobble Street Cousins series are like a little-girl fantasy: three cousins live in their aunt's attic for a year while their parents tour the world with a dance company.  The cousins entertain themselves by running a cookie business, putting on a show, and matchmaking for their aunt.  If you liked "Betsy, Tacy, and Tib" as a child, this is in a similar vein (but shorter & a bit simpler)."
The Stories Julian Tells
The Stories Julian Tells
"I love Ann Cameron's books about Julian, his brother Huey, and their friend Gloria.  You know an author's good when other grown-ups in the house linger in the room at story time."
Elisa Michaels, Bigger & Better (Riverside Kids)
Elisa Michaels, Bigger & Better (Riverside Kids)
"This is one of many Johanna Hurwitz books about Elisa, her brother Russell, and their neighbors in their Riverside apartment building.  The books have simple plots, yet are surprisingly witty and sweet.  My child and I both laughed out loud during the chapter where second-grade Elisa takes over from the do-nothing babysitter."
Kate Larkin, the Bone Expert
Kate Larkin, the Bone Expert
"Who knew that a broken arm could make for such a compelling plot?  This book had my daughter riveted."
Uh-oh, Cleo
Uh-oh, Cleo
"The ER theme strikes again.  My daughter loved "Uh-Oh Cleo," in which the protagonist receives a bad cut and gets stitches."
Your Very Own Robot (Choose Your Own Adventure - Dragonlark)
Your Very Own Robot (Choose Your Own Adventure - Dragonlark)
"Remember how much fun Choose Your Own Adventures were?  Now they have a few specifically for younger readers -- still gimmicky-but-great fun, a little shorter than the originals, and nothing too scary."
Flat Stanley: His Original Adventure!
Flat Stanley: His Original Adventure!
"Jeff Brown's "Flat Stanley" series has also spawned a popular school project.  When my first grade nephew's Flat Stanley got mailed to us for a visit, we read the book that inspired it all."
The Dragon of Doom (Moongobble and Me)
The Dragon of Doom (Moongobble and Me)
"This is a fun first fantasy series, with a classic quest format but a little added dose of humor for the young set."
Martin Bridge: Ready for Takeoff!
Martin Bridge: Ready for Takeoff!
"These stories about eight-year-old Martin Bridge have simple, humorous plots and surprisingly deep themes.  For example, after a neighbor's parents lie to her about her hamster's death, Martin starts wondering whether his own parents can be trusted."
The Littles
The Littles
"The gender roles in the Littles series are a little dated, but the books are still fun.  The premise is that mouse-sized people inhabit a "big people" home, inventively adapting the big people's leftovers for their own needs.  In a later book in the series, we learn about the different habits of house tinies, wood tinies, and underground tinies."
Gooney Bird Greene
Gooney Bird Greene
"Delightful tale of a non-conformist who transfixes her classmates with her surprising yet "absolutely true" stories."
Cinderellis and the Glass Hill (Princess Tales)
Cinderellis and the Glass Hill (Princess Tales)
"This sweet fairy tale -- full of golden horses, magic powders, and lonely people finding friends -- has humor, adventure, inventiveness, and a warm human touch."
Cal and the Amazing Anti-Gravity Machine
Cal and the Amazing Anti-Gravity Machine
"Fun early sci-fi book."
December Secrets (The Kids of the Polk Street School)
December Secrets (The Kids of the Polk Street School)
"This is a story of holiday-season "secret friends" in a second grade class.  The social dynamics take a little inference -- but this could be a good one to discuss with a little one whose social skills aren't quite as precocious as her reading skills."
Clementine
Clementine
"This is a wonderful book about a well-meaning but not always well-behaved child.  Large chunks of the book take place in school, so the plot will be more accessible to a school-age child."
The Adventures of Reddy Fox
The Adventures of Reddy Fox
"Thornton Burgess's classic animal tales are good old-fashioned fun."
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
"Who doesn't like reading about chocolate??  This book became such a big favorite that my daughter chose it has the theme for her 6th birthday party.  It sounded so literary to me...I didn't realize I was being duped into throwing a huge sugar-fest!  This is also a great choice for reading aloud to siblings of different ages.  (Other good Dahl titles are "The BFG" and "The Witches.")"
All-Of-A-Kind Family
All-Of-A-Kind Family
"This old classic has aged well.  Five Jewish girls grow up in New York's Lower East Side in the early 1900s.  Each chapter stands on its own, telling stories of lost library books, dreaded chores, bedtime antics, and Jewish holidays."
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
""Mrs. Piggle Wiggle" definitely seems dated in some of its particulars, but the basic premise rings true: Mrs. Piggle Wiggle saves hapless parents with humorous tough love cures to common bad behaviors."
Mr. Popper's Penguins
Mr. Popper's Penguins
"Great premise: what happens when a penguin (and its mate) mysteriously get delivered to your door?  A favorite of mine as a child."
Ramona the Pest
Ramona the Pest
"I suspect Ramona Quimby needs no introduction!  If you're looking for a Cleary title with a male protagonist, try "Henry Huggins" or "The Mouse and the Motorcycle.""
Stuart Little
Stuart Little
"E.B. White is great, especially if you're looking for more challenging vocabulary & syntax than contemporary early readers.  "Stuart Little" is probably the easiest of his children's books (the others are "Trumpet of the Swan" and "Charlotte's Web")."
The Cricket in Times Square (Chester Cricket and His Friends)
The Cricket in Times Square (Chester Cricket and His Friends)
"Haven't read this one with my daughter yet, but may soon -- this was another childhood favorite of mine."
The Invention of Hugo Cabret
The Invention of Hugo Cabret
"Talk about multi-age appeal!  This was a hit with my fifth grade students, my daughter in kindergarten, and my 80-year-old uncle.  This chapter book is told half in pictures, and won the Caldecott Award for best illustrated book.  It takes place in a train station in France in the 1930s, and involves a toymaker, an assistant clock-winder, a mechanical man, and the history of cinema."