Early Chapter Books: what’s on my chicklets’ bookshelf?

With a seven and a nine year-old, our house is filled with piles of books ranging from picture books and early chapter books to middle-grade novels. Naturally, my seven year-old still loves the instant gratification and charm of picture books, while my nine year-old is getting into longer novels.        

What they have in common, though, is their voracious appetite for Early Chapter Books. I’m talking teetering stacks of MAGIC TREE HOUSE and JUNIE B JONES as well as onesies and twosies of other ECB series titles and stand-alones.        

Tip of the iceberg...

Early Chapter Books are perfect for those making the switch from early readers or picture books to longer middle-grade novels. These books are targeted to lower middle grade readers (7-9 year-olds); the reading level is usually controlled to a Grade 2-3 level, the chapters are short, the storylines are often linear and there are usually line-drawn pictures to complement the text.        

These ‘bridging’ books are often a newly-minted reader’s first foray into reading books broken into chapters and are designed to help kids gain reading confidence.        

So, what’s on my chicklet’s bookshelf? (and on their nightstands, and the foot of their beds, and on the coffee table…) Take a look!        

Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew by Carolyn Keene and Macky Pamintuan: Nancy, Bess and George may only be eight but they’re old pros at solving mysteries. A new spin on an old classic.  

Description from Indiebound: River Heights, here she comes! Eight-year-old Nancy Drew has never considered herself a detective before. But while solving her first case with her friends Bess and George, Nancy realizes this mystery stuff is fun. The girls decide to start the Clue Crew to solve cases. Young readers will enjoy the simple chapter book language and deductive reasoning in the Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew series. And once they read the Clue Crew, they’ll be hooked on Nancy Drew.  

 Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows and Sophie Blackall: Two unlikely friends are up to some friendly mischief.   

Description from Indiebound: The moment they saw each other, Bean and Ivy knew they wouldn’t be friends. But when Bean plays a joke on her sister, Nancy, and has to hide quick Ivy comes to the rescue, proving that sometimes the best of friends are people never meant to like each other. Vibrant characters and lots of humor make this a charming and addictive introduction to Ivy and Bean.  

Magic Treehouse by Mary Pope Osborne: Jack and Annie are up for any kind of adventure, who knows where that treehouse is going to end up next?  

Description from Indiebound: Morgan le Fay will make Jack and Annie masters of the tree house if only they can solve four riddles — which will take four books, of course! Dolphins at Daybreak begins the third set of four books in this magical (and increasingly popular) series!  Jack and Annie are off in the Magic Tree House again, this time to a whole new world under the ocean.  Complete with a giant octopus, a hungry shark, and dolphins to the rescue, this Magic Tree House book delivers an underwater adventure kids can dream about.    

Junie B Jones by Barbara Park: Junie with a B, and don’t you forget it!  

Description from Indiebound: What’s the bestest job ever? A beauty shop guy, that’s what! And Junie B. Jones is going to be one when she grows up. But first she needs a little practice. And a few volunteers. Like her bunny slippers. And her dog. And maybe even…herself?  Is Junie B. on her way to a great new career? Or is she about to have the worst hair day ever?  

Geronimo Stilton by Geronimo Stilton: How can a mouse be such a scaredy-cat?  

Description from Indiebound: The internationally bestselling book series that stars a mouse who runs the newspaper on Mouse Island–but whose true passion is writing tales of adventure–now comes to the United States. The first four titles in the series feature full-color illustrations on each page.

Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe and Alan Daniel: The scariest bunny on the block.  

Description from Indiebound: This book is written by Harold. His fulltime occupation is dog. He lives with Mr. and Mrs. Monroe and their sons Toby and Pete. Also sharing the home are a cat named Chester and a rabbit named Bunnicula. It is because of Bunnicula that Harold turned to writing. Someone had to tell the full story of what happened in the Monroe household after the rabbit arrived.   

Jigsaw Jones by James Preller: Pull up a chair and have a glass of grape juice; Jigsaw Jones is on the case!  

Description from Indiebound: Athena Parker has been slimed! And she doesn’t think it’s funny. Someone in Ms. Gleason’s class is playing practical jokes. And it’s up to Jigsaw and Mila to catch the clown. This could be their stickiest case yet.  

Encyclopedia Brown by Donald J. Sobold: Which case will Encyclopedia crack next?  

Description from Indiebound: A Civil War sword…A watermelon stabbing…Missing roller skates…A trapeze artist’s inheritance…And an eyewitness who’s legally blind! These are just some of the ten brain-twisting mysteries that Encyclopedia Brown must solve by using his famous computerlike brain.   

Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish and Lynn Sweat: She may shower a new mother with the garden hose or run all the way home from a baseball game but fresh cake and pie from the oven always smooth things over. 

Description from Indiebound: Amelia Bedelia brings her niece — and her literal-minded zaniness — to Miss Emma’s house for a day of work. It’s a good thing Miss Emma likes to laugh because Amelia Bedelia makes her usual merry mess! 

Dear Dumb Diary by Jim Benton: By the power vested in me, you’ll get lost in these diary’s pages. If you dare. 

Description from Indiebound: Dear Dumb Diary,  Here’s the thing about Angeline. I know that she shouldn’t really bother me that much. I mean, Angeline has even done nice things for me in the past, although I have come to believe that these were probably accidental. There’s just something so infuriating about perfect people. When she’s nice, it makes me mad. When she’s pretty, it makes me mad. It never changes. I guess the only good thing about Angeline is that she can never bother me more than she does right now. Perfect people make me perfectly ill. 

 Franny K. Stein by Jim Benton: Girl genius. Explosions. Plans to rule the world. What’s not to love? 

Description from Indiebound: Franny K. Stein is not your average girl — she’s a mad scientist. She prefers poison ivy to daisies and piranha to goldfish, and when Franny jumps rope, she uses her pet snake. 

Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry and Middy Thomas: A story about storytelling: brainwarmers included. 

Description from Indiebound: There’s never been anyone like Gooney Bird Greene at Watertower Elementary School. What other new kid comes to school wearing pajamas and cowboy boots one day and a polka-dot t-shirt and tutu on another? Gooney Bird has to sit right smack in the middle of the class because she likes to be in the middle of everything. She is the star of story time and keeps her teacher and classmates on the edge of their seats with her “absolutely true” stories. But what about her classmates? Do they have stories good enough to share?

Rainbow Magic Fairies by *koff* Daisy Meadows: These fairies are like mini-winged rockstars to the 7/8 year-old set. 

Description from Indiebound:

A big bash for King Oberon and Queen Titania is underway in Fairyland. The Party Fairies keep everything running smoothly, until Jack Frost’s goblins steal their magic party bags.
Bailey School Kids by Debbie Dadey and Marcia Thornton Jones: Unicorns, ogres, monsters, vampires–roaming the school, serving you lunch and teaching you math. Yikes!       

Description from Indiebound: There are some pretty weird grown-ups living in Bailey City, but could the new gymnastics teacher really be a witch? 

And here are others, which we’ve read and enjoyed:        


Your turn! Do you have a favorite early chapter book; series or otherwise? Please add your picks in the comments.    

Hélène Boudreau writes fiction and non-fiction for kids and teens. Her eco-mystery early chapter book series ‘Red Dune Adventures’ debuted with its first volume this past spring (KEEP OUT!) with the second (WATER HAZARD), forthcoming in spring/2011. You can visit her at www.heleneboudreau.com  

Helene Boudreau
  1. Ann Cameron’s Julian books (More Stories Julian Tells, etc.) are wonderful.

  2. Alvin Ho
    The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda
    How to Train Your Dragon

    All winners with my 9 year old son!

  3. What a great collection! I remember the Bunnicula book and especially Amelia Bedelia – we used to get a kick out of her adventures, my sister and I. And I enjoyed Encyclopedia Brown a lot too.
    Hmm, other ideas… Anything by Margaret Buffie, for one [s]
    The trouble is I don’t even know if all the MG I read back then is still available. I read quite a few ghost ones, for some reason like A Ghost in the Window by Meg… something. Or The Ghost in the Picture by Ben Schneider. Not very helpful, huh? Will go take a look on my bookshelves…

  4. great post! my daughter’s a big Clue Crew fan too, and loves Dragonslayer’s Academy and Cobble Street Cousins. She’s also recently enjoyed the Ruby Lu books, Abby Hayes, Ellie McDoodle, Third Grade Detectives, and The Lighthouse Family. We have friends who are big fans of the Vet Volunteers and Adirondack Kids series too.

  5. My Father’s Dragon was my first chapter book. Very sentimental.

    I’ve been planning to study early chapter books and have quite a few, so this is perfect to round out my study list.

    There’s a new series that just came out this month, called Circle C Beginnings: http://www.andiandtaffy.com/

  6. Some more favorites:
    The Cobble Street Cousins by Cynthia Rylant
    My Father’s Dragon series
    The Pain and the Great One by Judy Blume (my middle daughter’s favorite as she has a younger brother also who is a pain to her)


    What a great list and this is a genre that one must search to find a great series to match the child! and it’s such a critical time period in literacy when kids are on the fence about loving to read independently! Thanks for such a great post! I just tweeted about it too!

  7. OO and Bailey School kids! Can’t forget teachers who are Vampires and Werewolves!

  8. Along with most of these delicious titles listed here, my son loved The Magic School Bus series, also the Secrets of Droon, and Hank the Cowdog. Now my daughter is getting up to reading these books and I’m just delighted to find the series that gets her ‘hooked’ as a reader – for my son, it was the Magic Treehouse – but he’s a ‘fact man.’ I’m going to try some of these other series – thanks so much!

  9. We used to enjoy many of your suggestions when my daughter was younger–Junie B. Jones, Amelia Bedelia, Magic Tree House, Frannie K. Stein, all of the Jim Benton books.