I’ve been reading early chapter books like crazy to whittle down the list of top 5 early chapter book nominations for the Cybils Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literaray Awards. Since I’m a first round judge, it’s my job to work with my fellow judges to pick our favorites for the second round judges. I still haven’t read all the nominated books but I’m close! (Nor have I narrowed down only 5 picks.)
Early chapter books do range in difficulty and amount of pictures and text. I’ll indicate when the challenge level is very easy in my reviews. I also recommend looking in the book to see for yourself if it looks like a good fit for your child’s reading level. Have your child do the 5 Finger Test with a page in the book to get a more accurate idea if it’s a “just right book.”
Early Chapter Books
The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Princess Magnolia has a secret. She’s really the Princess in Black who fights Monster Land monsters even when having tea with the stuffy Duchess Wigtower. (She just takes a short break.) It’s a wonderful, age-appropriate early chapter story with gorgeous eye-popping illustrations mixed with a good ratio of large text and white space on the easier side.
Marty McGuire Has Too Many Pets! by Kate Messner, illustrated by Brian Floca
Just like her mother, 3rd grader Marty loves animals. She wants to “adopt” a chimp in the chimp sanctuary. To raise money, she decides to pet sit. Soon she gets more pets than she and her friends can handle including a trash talking parrot, a python who escapes, and a gerbil who might just be that big bulge in the snake. Luckily, Marty’s cool grandma helps save the pet-sitting business from total disaster. A well-paced adventure that kids will enjoy.
The Philly Fake Ballpark Mysteries by David A. Kelly, illustrated by Mark Meyers
Not only is this a well-written mystery, I loved how the author included so much history within the story. I really enjoyed reading it and thought the mystery had a great hook. One of my top picks for early chapter books!
Charlie Bumpers vs. The Squeaking Skill by Bill Harley, illustrated by Adam Gustavson
This beginning chapter book is about friends, not-so-good friends, scary movies, and Halloween costumes. Charlie, the main character, deals with disappointment, fear, and empathy, in a very relatable story that could easily happen to any child at this age.
Lulu and the Rabbit Next Door by Hilary McKay
This is one of my favorite early chapter books this year! I loved this story of how Lulu and her cousin help their neighbor Arthur learn to love and care for his rabbit. She does this by writing George the rabbit notes and giving him gifts — not from her but from her pet rabbit named Thumper. (I also appreciate that the main characters are diverse – Lulu and her family have brown skin!!)
Jessica Finch in Pig Trouble by Megan McDonald, illustrated by Erwin Madrid
Jessica Finch is a delightful early chapter book with exceptionally pleasing and colorful illustrations. Jessica wants nothing more than a pig for a pet. For her birthday. When a misunderstanding happens with her best friend, Judy Moody, she learns a valuable lesson about not making assumptions and calling people names. This is one of my top picks for an early chapter book, I loved it!
Kung Pow Chicken Let’s Get Cracking! by Cyndi Marko
Open this early chapter book and you’ll think you’re reading a comic or picture book, it’s that colorful and also full of speech bubbles. Gordon Blue, an ordinary second grade chicken accidentally developed superpowers in his uncle’s laboratory. (It happens.) When chickens start loosing their feathers all in one POOF!, it’s up to Gordon, aka. Kung Pow Chicken, and his little brother, Egg Drop, to solve this catastrophe before everyone in town ends up feather-less. It’s funny, easy-to-read, and an entertaining story.
Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon
Dory’s family calls her Rascal (and a baby) because, well, she is. And proud of it. Especially when she’s playing with her invisible monster friend, Mary. Dory’s brother and sister invent a baby-stealing robber named Mrs. Gobble Gracker to try to scare Dory only it backfires. Dory is sort of scared and sort of fascinated, has a million questions about the robber, and excitedly asks her fairy godmother (who is really a gnome-like man) to turn her into a dog so the robber lady won’t see her. This book is totally hilarious and I love the child-like illustrations – it’s a favorite early chapter book for sure.
Space Taxi Archie Takes Flight by Wendy Mass and Michael Brawer
It’s an exciting night for Archie – his first ride in his dad’s taxi all night! What he doesn’t expect is that his dad is a SPACE taxi driver who drives around aliens. And, it turns out that Archie has inherited his grandfather’s map reading skills so he’ll be able to copilot his dad’s space taxi in the future. But this is a night of more surprises. Archie helps the Intergalactic Security Force cat catch a criminal who just so happened to be riding in Archie’s dad’s taxi. What a night! I like the story alright but wish there were more illustrations.
Princess Posey and the First Grade Boys by Stephanie Greene, illustrated by Stephanie Roth Sisson
Posey gets annoyed about those crazy first grade boys and makes up a mean song about Henry. All her friends laugh but not Henry. When Posey’s teacher, Miss Lee, says to stop and that Posey was bullying Henry, Posey feels very mad. And she stays mad for awhile. Until her neighbor boys make fun of Posey’s little brother and suddenly Posey realizes the truth. I loved the life lesson, the relatable characters, and the excellent pacing. Great white space to text to picture ration, too!