Books That Help Kids Take the Leap Into Middle-Grade Novels

In my last post, I interviewed author Laurie Friedman and mentioned that her Mallory books help kids make the important (and sometimes scary) transition into novels.  Not only is Mallory a fun character kids love, but she starts off as an eight year-old in the series and finishes at age ten, so she takes the leap into middle-grade along with readers. My pup, Lolly, loves listening to chapter books and middle-grade novels.  She can’t wait until she can chew…um, I mean read them along with her favorite picture books.  Longer books can seem scary at first, but there are so many amazing characters and worlds to discover.  I especially love funny books that have a quirky main character with a voice that jumps out at you and put together a list of fun books that can help kids make the transition from picture books and early chapter books into middle-grade novels.

Ellie McDoodle Have Pen, Will Travel by Ruth McNally Barshaw (there are two other great books in this series).

I laughed my way through this book that’s loaded with funny and creative pictures, plus instructions for games you can play.

Description from Indiebound:

When Ellie’s family moves to a new town, she’s sure she won’t fit in. Nobody else likes to read as much as she does, the other kids tease her, and even the teachers can’t seem to get her name right. But when the students need someone to help them rally against unfair lunch lines, it’s Ellie to the rescue! And if shorter lines and better food prevail, can friendship be far behind?

And for the second book: Just in time for the back to school season, Ellie McDoodle takes pen in hand again as she chronicles the woes—and the happy surprises—of being a new kid. Chock-full of cartoons, diagrams, lists, games, and plenty of witty asides, this charming follow up to Ellie McDoodle: Have Pen,Will Travel will ease the new kid blues–and perhaps inspire some creative doodling, too.

Geek Chick: The Zoey Zone by Margie Palatini

Imagination, illustrations, and fun word fonts pop from the pages of this funny, quirky book.

Description from Indiebound:

Meet Zoey.  She’s eleven. Well, almost eleven. Okay—halfway to eleven. And Zoey’s got a few problems: She has the lowest possible score on the coolability meter, a  bad     hair situation, and growing earlobes. What Zoey needs is a fairy godmother who can give her a very chic makeover and a seat at the primo lunch table. Will Zoey be able to pull it all off? Tune in!

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Marla Frazee (there are several more in this fun series).

Between the amazing voice and illustrations, it’s easy to immediately connect with Clementine’s spunky, larger than life personality.

Description from Indiebound:

Clementine is having not so good of a week.

  • On Monday she’s sent to the principal’s office for cutting off Margaret’s hair.
  • Tuesday, Margaret’s mother is mad at her.
  • Wednesday, she’s sent to the principal…again.
  • Thursday, Margaret stops speaking to her.
  • Friday starts with yucky eggs and gets worse.
  • And by Saturday, even her mother is mad at her.

Okay, fine. Clementine is having a DISASTROUS week.

Amber Brown Goes Fourth by Paula Danziger, illustrated by Tony Ross (check out all the other fun Amber Brown books)

Amber’s quirky personality makes me laugh (and feel for her when things don’t go her way).

Description from Indiebound:

Amber Brown isn’t entirely ready for fourth grade. She has her pens, pencils, new clothes, and new shoes. But the one thing she doesn’t have is her best friend, Justin       Daniels. Justin has moved away, leaving Amber utterly best friend-less. Amber knows Justin can’t be replaced, but she is on the lookout for a new friend. Brandi seems a likely choice–but does Brandi want to choose Amber in return? Will Amber Brown go fourth, and go forth, with a new best friend?

My Last Best Friend by Julie Bowe (look for the other great books in this series)

I had fun reading the secret notes, and couldn’t wait to see things work out for Ida May.

Description from Indiebound:

As Ida May begins fourth grade, she is determined never to make another best friend–because her last best friend moved away. This is a doable plan at first. Thanks to bratty, bossy Jenna Drews who hates Ida, no one in class has ever really noticed her before.  It’s when the sparkly Stacey Merriweather comes to her school that her plan goes awry. Ida reaches out despite her fear, but doesn’t say hello—instead she writes Stacey anonymous notes. Soon their friendship develops without Ida ever having to reveal her real identity. Until she has no choice. And that’s when the true friendship begins.

* If you’re looking for books boys will love, I bet you’ll find some amazing ones below (and I think they’re great for girls, too).

Bobby Vs. Girls (Accidentally) by Lisa Yee, illustrated by Dan Santat–also check out Bobby the Brave (Sometimes)

I laughed so much (and okay, a few tears escaped during one scene).  I love Bobby, the fish named Rover, and the static cling scene was one of the funniest things I’ve ever read.  The expressions of the characters are amazing—the illustrations just leap off the page!

Description from Indiebound:

Meet Robert Carver Ellis-Chan — a perfectly normal fourth-grader who gets into perfectly crazy situations! Like when he was running for class president and discovered his big sister’s panties (static-)clinging to the back of his sweater. Or when he got stuck to the rare sticky (and stinky) Koloff tree on a field trip. . . . Then there’s his family — busy mom, ex-pro football player dad, a bossy older sister and an adoring younger one — and best friends (one of whom is a secret, because she’s a *girl*). Life may be complicated for Bobby, but it’s going to turn out just fine.

Prince of Underwhere by Bruce Hale, illustrated by Shane Hillman (check out the rest of this funny series)

Zeke’s quirky sense of humor immediately hooked me, and I love that this is such an unusual format—half novel, half graphic novel.

Description from Indiebound:

It’s tough to be Zeke.  He’s got his hands full: There is his prissy, know-it-all twin sister; his mean cousin Caitlyn, who’s house-sitting for his missing parents; and a bully making life tough at school (as though it wasn’t hard enough already). And now, thanks to a stinky, scruffy, good-for-nothing talking cat, he’s also got to cope with zombies, midget freedom fighters, devious spies, superstar rappers, and a whole weird world beneath our own where people wear their underwear on the outside of their clothes.

Lin Oliver writes incredibly funny series with voices that pop off the page.  I’ll list two of them below.

Hank Zipzer #1: Niagara Falls, Or Does It? (Hank Zipzer, the World’s Greatest Underachiever) by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver.

Description from Indiebound:

For Hank, fourth grade does not start out on the right foot. First of all, he gets called to the principal’s office on the very first day of school. Then the first assignment his teacher gives him is to write five paragraphs on “What You Did This Summer.” Hank is terrified-writing one good sentence is hard for him, so how in the world is he going to write five whole paragraphs? Hank comes up with a plan: instead of writing what he did on vacation, he’ll show what he did. But when Hank’s “living essay” becomes a living disaster, he finds himself in detention. Strangely enough, however, detention ends up becoming a turning point in his life.

Attack of the Growling Eyeballs (Who Shrunk Daniel Funk?) by Lin Oliver, illustrated by Stephen Gilpin

Description from Indiebound:

Meet Daniel Funk, a regular guy who’s stuck living in a house full of girls. Why couldn’t he have a brother instead of all those sisters? That would be so cool. When Daniel shrinks to the size of the fourth toe on his left foot, he discovers that he actually does have a brother. A little brother. A very little brother. He’s Pablo Funk, Daniel’s tiny twin, who is a toeful of trouble.

Wow, I could go on and on—there are so many fantastic books to help kids make the transition into middle-grade novels.  Here are a few others to check out (click on them for more info):

Author Laurie Friedman thinks that finding a character they like is what helps kids take the leap into more substantial middle-grade books.  Here are some of the series she thinks can help kids make this transition:  Junie B. Jones, Judy Moody, Ivy and Bean, and Captain Underpants.

Which books do you think help children take the leap from picture books and early chapter books to middle-grade novels?

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle-grade novels and is constantly inspired by her ten and twelve year-old daughters, adventurous sock and underwear munching puppy, and two stinky but adorable ferrets. Visit her blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.

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Mindy Alyse Weiss
Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle grade novels with heart and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her two daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix who was rescued from the Everglades.
  1. I liked the Ramona books and also those Rainbow Magic books by Daisy Meadows. My parents got ALL of the Rainbow Magic books that were out at that time from England on ebay. There must have been over 40 books. I read them all over and over.

  2. i think Clarice Bean by Lauren Child are fantastic, visually fun, and while humorous, they have a lot of heart.

  3. My son enjoyed the Time Warp Trio books, as well as (and I know this might make some of you groan, but I thought they were funny) Capt. Underpants. In fact, Cpt U led my boy to read all of the Diary Of a Whimpy Kid books. I think the combination of illustrations along with chapters is a formula that can help some kids make the transition. And of course poop jokes. Nothing like a good poop joke to get a kid to want to turn the page.

  4. I’ll have to look for SPY MICE too — those sound like winners. A friend recently recommended the CALVIN COCONUT books as well, still have to check them out. We like NIKKI and DEJA, and there are also some great books from Just Us Books, like the Kid Caramel series. (Both of those may be closer to chapter books.) Just wanted to add that some wonderful newer narrative nonfiction works so well for this level too, like Audrey Vernick’s SHE LOVED BASEBALL: THE EFFA MANLEY STORY and Chris Barton’s DAY-GLO BROTHERS. Both really versatile in terms of age and reading level appropriateness.

  5. Thank you so much for including the BOBBY books on your list!

  6. Thank you all so much for stopping by. I hope these books help make the transition a fun and easy one! And thanks so much for the book suggestions.

    Rosanne–The Spy Mice books are adorable! I read them so long ago, I’ll have to read them again. I never heard of Catwings before–it sounds adorable!

    Diana–I love Lisa Yee’s books, too. I didn’t list them here, but I really enjoyed reading the Millicent Min books, and thought it was amazing to see things from a different angle when Stanford Wong and Emily Ebers revealed their side of the story.

    Gbemi–I’ll definitely look up Lenore Look’s books. There’s such a fine line between the more advanced chapter books and early MG, and I think those books closest to the line with a great voice and fun plot help kids make this transition. Ellie does have a fantastic voice, and I love how the illustrations show how she really sees the world and people in her life, like her cousin Eric. I haven’t read Mitali Perkins’ book yet, but I just added it to my must-read list.

  7. This is a post many librarians doing reader advisory would find immensely useful. Thanks!

  8. Oh, and Mitali Perkins’ Rickshaw Girl — she’s hoping for a sequel. 🙂

  9. Love this list! My almost 7 year old loves Ellie — that is such a fantastic series, with so much heart. She’s also a big fan of Lenore Look’s books (I’m not sure if they are considered chapter books or almost-MG), those are wonderful.

  10. Looks like some good choices for my son who’s still suspicious of all those words but loves funny.

  11. Lisa Yee is one of my favorites. I think all the books you’ve highlighted have incredible voice. From the mom perspective, I remember this transition from easy readers/chapter books to novels with more complicated plots as a time of glorious adventure. Nice post, Mindy!

  12. Ooh, some new books to add to my list!

  13. The Spy Mice Books by Heather Vogel Frederick were a big hit in my house when I had transitioning readers. Think James Bond for 9 year olds. Very fun!

    A good choice for animal lovers is the Catwings series by Ursula LeGuin. Lovely gentle tales about cats who can fly with just enough suspense to make them seem like a big kid book without overwhelming the tender-hearted reader.

  14. Thanks for these suggestions! My daughter is 7 as well, and ready to move from chapter books to novels.

  15. great post mindy! my 7 year old is a “high” reader and i think these are books that she’ll definately enjoy!