Would your readers love these popular illustrated chapter and middle grade books for kids? Whether your kids are emergent readers or middle grade readers, here are good books with illustrations that will appeal to readers ages 6 to 12!
Illustrations offer picture support for children who are just learning to read as well as provide a sense of frivolity and delight for children transitioning out of beginning chapter books.
But illustrated chapter books and middle grade books can be just as enticing for tween readers as well. In fact, you might be surprised to know just how many middle-grade books for ages 9 to 12 also include illustrations. You’ll soon see just how many…
- Illustrated Books for Emergent Readers Ages 6 – 9
- Illustrated Chapter Books for Middle Grade Readers Ages 9 – 12
Narwhal Unicorn of the Sea by Ben Clanton
FRIENDSHIP / HUMOR
Pug Blasts Off (Diary of a Pug) by Kyla May
Narrated in diary format by a lovable pug named Bub with plenty of illustrations and large sized text, we learn that Bub is afraid of water but loves to craft just like his person, Bella. In fact, he’s going to help her invent the best craft project ever. Unfortunately, disaster strikes when a mischievous squirrel interferes. Bub must face his biggest fears in order to fix things for Bella. Luckily, he’s a brilliant problem solver!
Owl Diaries Eva’s Treetop Festival by Rebecca Elliott
This series pops with cute diary entries with colorful illustrations; it’s just right for beginning readers, particularly girls. In this book, Eva writes in a diary all about getting the Bloomtastic Festival put together and how she eventually learns to ask friends for help. (A few sentences per page, lots of picture support.)
Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot The Voodoo Vultures from Venus by Dav Pilkey, illustrated by Dan Santat
Kudos to Dav Pilkey and Dan Santat for creating such an action-packed, engaging new series for young readers. Plus, the full-color illustrations are marvelous. I predict that once your child reads this first book, he’ll want all the books in this series for emergent readers.
Bo’s Magical New Friend (Unicorn Diaries) by Rebecca Elliott
I’m giddy about this magical, sweet new series — this first book is absolutely enchanting, and not in a cheesy way at all. I love the diary format, we feel connected to the main character Bo (short for Rainbow) as he shares about his life in Sparklegrove Forest where he lives along with other magical creatures. I loved the plot about a new friend, disappointments, helping others, and figuring out what’s really important in life — friendship!
Pizazz by Sophy Henn
SUPERHERO / HUMOR
Illustrated with cartoons and fun fonts, this superhero story is perfect for 8 – 10-year-olds transitioning into middle grade! Our grumbly heroine is embarrassed by her name and her superpower–which she won’t tell us about. Also, Pizazz hates how her superhero duties of saving the world come at most inconvenient times AND even if she’s tired, she still has to go to school! (So not fair.) At school, she is assigned the job of eco-monitor which she dislikes until a classmate named Ivy helps her see that they might be able to save the park…without superhero powers. 100% fun, relatable, and entertaining.
Planet Omar by Zanib Mian
Meet Yasmin! by Saadia Faruqui, illustrated by Hatem Aly
Yasmin is an exuberant girl who is interested in everything from exploring to building to fashion. This book tells four short stories from Yasmin’s life, all in chapters with lively, full-color illustrations. Each story shows Yasmin as a creative problem solver even when things get hard. Her Pakistani American culture is embedded throughout the story such as the foods Yasmin’s family eats like naan or how she calls her father Baba. I LOVE the diversity, the gutsy main character, and the beautiful design of the entire book.
Princess in Black by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Princess Magnolia isn’t a regular royal — she’s also a monster-fighting “princess in black”. Not only are these books filled with girl-power, but they’re also funny and entertaining. (If you like The Princess in Black, you’ll also like these books.)
Zoey and Sassafras by Asia Citro, illustrated by Marion Lindsay
Zoey learns that like her scientist mother, she can see magical creatures. She also learns that her mother helps injured creatures. When her mom leaves town, Zoey listens for the special doorbell that indicates a magical animal needs her help. (With the help of her cutie cat named Sassafras.)
Dragon Masters by Tracey West
Too Small Tola by Atinuke, illustrated by Onyinye Iwu
Tola lives in Nigeria in an apartment with her sister, brother, and Grandmommy. Even though she is small, she helps her Grandmommy at the market and carries water in from the pump when their building’s water doesn’t work. (The electricity doesn’t work often either.) Readers feel the love in Tola’s close-knit family and experience her life in her Nigerian community with kind-hearted neighbors and diversity of religion (Eid and Easter) and see that even when you’re small, you can make a difference.
Mac Undercover (Kid Spy #1) by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Mike Lowery
Dory and the Real True Friend by Abby Hanlon
Dory is one of my favorite book characters because her imagination is THE BEST! She has three imaginary friends: one monster friend, one fairy godmother that’s actually not a lady, and one bad lady nemesis. I love this series because Dory meets a real-life friend who understands all about imaginary friends and together, they’re the perfect match.
The Magic Treehouse by Mary Pope Osborne
A must-read easy easy chapter book series boxed set for boys and girls that combines mystery, history, magic, and adventure. Siblings Jack and Annie travel in their magic tree house through time to solve mysteries. I highly recommend this series and if you get a chance, listen to them on audiobook, they’re narrated by Mary Pope Osborne herself.
A to Z Mysteries by Rob Roy
This addictive (and wholesome) chapter book mystery series will keep your kids reading for days. My kids read the books more than once which to me is a sign of excellence! Friends Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose solve mysteries for every letter of the alphabet. We highly recommend this series, especially for second grade.
Monday into the Cave of Thieves (Total Mayhem #1) by Ralph Lazar
Wild and quirky, this un-put-downable adventure filled with illustrations is perfect for you if you like good vs. evil adventures where kid power saves the day! Dash Candoo’s Monday is one crazy adventure after another with Devil Cat attacks, a quadcycle pursuit, a math class secret tunnel, stolen perfume, and so much more. I’m a big fan of this exciting, readable new chapter book and look forward to more books in the entertaining new series. (P.S. And it’s funny with zero potty humor!)
Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel
In a word: hilarious. Kids think Bad Kitty is very naughty but, oh so funny. These chapter books are addictive to read and fun to reread. Plus, they’re illustrated with only minimal text on every page. What are they about? Bad Kitty –a cat with an attitude — and all her misadventures.
Mercy Watson to the Rescue by Kate DiCamillo
Mercy lives with Mr. and Mrs. Watson. They feed her buttered toast and take her for drives in their convertible. One night, Mercy gets scared and decides to sleep with Mr. and Mrs. Watson. Can you imagine what happens next? Hilarious and quirky, this is a fun illustrated series for emergent readers that is filled with many amazing adventures.
The Bad Guys #1 by Aaron Blabey
Olga and the Smelly Thing From Nowhere by Elise Gravel
Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Get ready to laugh along with these charming young friends who won’t stop until they find the best way to solve their perplexing troubles, no matter how many ideas they must try.
One-Third Nerd by Gennifer Choldenko, illustrated by Eglantine Ceulemans
Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman
If your kids like quirky humor, then this is your perfect book. You will never believe what happens when the kids’ father goes out to get more milk. He doesn’t even get the milk but he does run into pirates, aliens, and all sorts of incredible things! Totally hilarious and quite short–which is appealing to many readers — this is a popular illustrated chapter book for a good reason.
Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Brian Floca
Cress Watercress by Gregory Maguire, illustrated by David Litchfield
With delicious figurative language and deliberate word choice, this is a stunningly beautiful story about family, community, and grief. After the death of her father, Cress and her family move from their cozy burrow into the Broken Arms oak tree ruled by a cranky Owl with a noisy neighbor squirrel family. There, Cress helps her mom collect moths to pay their rent, leaving her mom time to work and gather ingredients for her sickly brother’s tea. As Cress navigates her new environment, the natural world, and the stories around her, it helps her understand her inner world, especially how grief waxes and wanes like the moon’s cycles.
Leeva at Last by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Matthew Cordell
Leeva’s horrible Matilda-like parents ask her sarcastically, What are people for? And Leeva, who isn’t allowed to go to school and does the chores, cooking, and other tasks to help her parents become rich and famous, decides to investigate the question. She discovers the library and books — but more than that, she discovers kind new friends, including the librarian and her grandson and two kids her age. She realizes that people help you not be lonely because they share life with you…and hugs are a nice bonus, too. I love the writing and the message of both kindness and good things from books!
Once Upon a Tim by Stuart Gibbs
Hilarious, illustrated, and perfect for fantasy and adventure fans! Tim and his sister Belinda are peasants who hope to improve their lot in life so they sign up as knights for a not-very-brave prince and his so-called magician sidekick to find and rescue Princess Grace from a monster. Helpful foreshadowing, a strong narrative voice, and humor throughout aren’t all that this book brings to readers, it also includes helpful life lessons from Belinda about the patriarchy and great vocabulary words (which are helpfully indicated so your parents will know the IQ benefits).
Stuntboy in the Meantime by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Raul the Third
Portico wants to be a superhero and he dubs himself Stuntboy, which means doing cool things to help other people in his community, including other superheroes like his best friend Zola. But his parents are separating and fighting all the time and it makes Portico anxious. Not to mention, his neighbor kid Herbert is the worst. Relatable, funny, and adventurous, this is an amazing book that tackles big issues with humor and heart.
Dungeoneer Adventures by Ben Costa, illustrated by James Parks
Coop is the only human at the Dungeoneer Academy. He feels alone and fears failure but it’s his lifelong dream to be an explorer. Luckily, his best friend Oggie (a bugbear) and two other new friends on his team stick together to survive the bullying Coop faces at school and the life-or-death jungle trial in which they experience trouble with their team, unexpected attacks, and a monster spider. The stakes are high–if they fail the trial, they’ll be kicked out of the school forever. It’s a fun-to-read, illustrated, and fast-paced fantastical adventure!
The Mona Lisa Vanishes: A Legendary Painter, a Shocking Heist, and the Birth of a Global Celebrity written by Nicholas Day, illustrated by Brett Helquist
You will love the incredible writing, the fun illustrations, the biographical information about the curious, brilliant, and distractable Leonardo Da Vinci, the other art heists from the poorly guarded Louvre (one involving Pablo Picasso), the burgeoning science of fingerprints to replace France’s ear-measuring methodology and the surprising, eventual discovery of the Mona Lisa. Interestingly, the Mona Lisa wasn’t a well-known painting until this art heist in 1911. And the Louvre wasn’t well-attended until after this dramatic theft. The theft was dramatic because the thief simply walked out with the stolen painting tucked under his shirt. Remember, this was long before decent security and video surveillance. Highly recommended!
The Little Match Girl Strikes Back written by Emma Carroll, illustrated by Lauren Child
FAIRY TALE REBOOT / HISTORICAL FICTION
With stunning black, white, gray, and red illustrations, this is a quick but compelling read set in Victorian England that improves upon the famous Hans Christian Anderson story about a little matchgirl. In this story, Bridie lives with a loving little brother and mother. She sells matches to help feed the family while her mother makes them at the match factory. The factory’s conditions aren’t just awful; the phosphorous fumes are toxic to the workers. Starving and hoping for a better future, she blows her last three matches, wishing as she does. Her wishes help her find the courage to get a reporter involved and organize a worker’s strike.
Beneath the Swirling Sky (The Restorationists) written by Carolyn Leiloglou, illustrated by Vivienne To
Sent to his great-uncle’s house for the summer, Vincent learns his mom’s greatest secret when his little sister Lili wanders INTO a painting–and doesn’t come out! His cousin Georgia leads him through paintings, corridors, and museums to find Lili. At the same time, she explains their family’s talent –they travel into paintings to protect the art from other nefarious travelers. They track Lili to where she’s been kidnapped by a mysterious Lady. But they are captured, too. Forced to attend the Lady’s training, it becomes clear that the Lady is using stolen children and art to gain power and wealth. Even still, Vincent never expects the horrifying truth of who the Lady really is! Fast-paced and exciting with unique world-building, this art-filled, faith-implied, illustrated adventure will captivate readers from cover to cover.
Middle School: The Worst Years of my Life by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts, illustrated by Laura Park
Rafe’s goal in middle school is to break every single rule. You can imagine how his plan will go, right? Filled with cartoon-like illustrations, this chapter book series will crack you up. BOX SET HERE.
The Last Kids on Earth by Max Brallier, illustrated by Douglas Colgate
This hilarious story makes the zombie apocalypse sounds like a fun adventure. Jack and his best friend, Quint, live in an upgraded, well-defended treehouse where they plan to first rescue his crush June (she doesn’t need rescuing being quite capable) and then fight zombies. Illustrations throughout make this even more appealing to read and imagine. Delightful. Who would have thought?! BOXED SET HERE.
Way of the Warrior Kid by Jocko Willink, illustrated by Jon Bozak
The Way of the Warrior Kid is a self-help book of sorts wrapped in a fictional story that is engaging and interesting to read. Marc’s Navy SEAL Uncle Jake stays for the summer and in that time, transforms Marc’s life in three months. Marc starts out as a discouraged bad-at-math, weak, average kid who gets picked on by a bully but he decides to take his uncle’s advice and try a different approach. Marc learns discipline, persistence, daily habits, and even how to learn — and it transforms his life.
The Doll People by Ann M. Martin & Laura Godwin, illustrated by Brian Selznick
After discovering her missing aunt’s diary, Annabelle Doll can’t stop wondering about what happened to her aunt and is determined to find out — even at the risk of becoming “Permanent.” Will she leave the safety of her family’s dollhouse to find her aunt? Kids love this enthralling illustrated chapter book adventure of the dolls in a dollhouse that are real and do come to life when we’re not watching. (Just like you thought!)
Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones, illustrations by Katie Kath
We loved this illustrated chapter book so much, it’s one of our favorites. The book is written as letters from a girl named Sophie, who is newly living at the farm of her deceased great-uncle Jim. She writes to her dead abuelita, her dead great-uncle Jim, and Agnes of the Extraordinary Chickens catalog. While her parents are figuring out their new lives, Sophie figures out the farm. Specifically, the magical chickens who seem to have telekinesis, invisibility, and carnivorous chicks. What!? Unfortunately, a neighbor chicken thief is also interested in Jim’s magical chickens, too — and Sophie must use her wits to stop her. Exceptional writing, characterization, and plot!
The Wild Robot by Peter Brown
Roz is a robot alone on an island with only animals. To survive, she figures out how to live in the wild despite the animals seeing her as a monster. That changes when Roz adopts a gosling and makes a nest. It’s a meaningful story of family, love, and community that consistently garners passionate readers.
Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret by Trudi Trueit
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
Parallel stories about two different people — Ben and Rose — who each secretly wish their lives were different. Ben longs for the father he has never known. Rose dreams of a mysterious actress whose life she chronicles in a scrapbook. When Ben discovers a puzzling clue in his mother’s room and Rose reads an enticing headline in the newspaper, both children set out alone on desperate quests to find what they are missing. One story is told completely in illustrations.
The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett and Jory John, illustrated by Kevin Cornell
SO funny and a quick read! Learn some valuable cow trivia in this hilarious adventure of two pranksters who (eventually) work together to pull off the biggest prank of all time — a prank that will ensure they get April Fool’s Day off from school. The entire series is great. Your kids will zip through them, laughing all the way.
Anyone But Ivy Pocket by Caleb Krisp, illustrated by Barbara Cantini
Ivy’s totally clueless, lovable, and so very quirky. Before we read this book together, I read many parts out loud to my kids while I was previewing this book because it was just so funny!! Now my kids are addicted, too. Ivy’s adventures involve a sinister ghost, a mystical jewel, and a surprising destiny.
Harry Potter Illustrated Editions by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter’s rich fantasy hero’s journey story is now in an oversized, illustrated chapter book format. Readers who haven’t yet read this series, or who want to read it again, completely adore the magical illustrations. Don’t miss this new format! (Also read: Harry Potter Potions Class, Harry Potter Spells, and Good Books Like Harry Potter.)
Treasure Hunters by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein, illustrated by Juliana Neufeld
The life of the four Kidd siblings isn’t typical — they live on a boat and their parents are treasure hunters. Unfortunately, not only is their mom missing but their father went overboard in a bad storm. Now they’re on their own and need money to survive. The only way they know is to find a treasure and sell it. But danger is around every wave; they’re not sure who to trust. This is a fast, action-packed adventure that sets the tone for more books to come.
The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris and Alec Azam, illustrated by Lissy Marlin and Kyle Hilton
Carter’s had a rough life, even now after he runs away from his crook of an uncle and lands in a New England town. There he encounters unsavory carnival people who remind him of his uncle. At the town’s magic shop, Carter meets a young girl and her fathers who love magic just like him. He and his new kid friends set out to thwart the carnie’s plot to steal the world’s biggest diamond. And maybe in the process, his luck will turn around. Through the book are ciphers, codes, and tricks giving this already delightful story extra oomph.
Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai
REALISTIC / IMMIGRATION
Pie in the Sky is an insightful, funny, and poignant look at the struggles of immigrating to a new country (Australia) and the difficulties of learning English along with growing up and grieving the loss of a father. Jingwen’s observations and wit make him a likable main character and the illustrations capture the depth and flavors of his experiences. He likens learning English with becoming human. After school with his brother, he bakes the cakes that his father wanted to include at his dream Pie in the Sky bakery. It’s a coming of age story that is both salty and sweet, the perfect blend, and possibly my favorite middle grade book of the entire 2019 year. (Sensitive readers, the main character says cr#p but it makes sense in context.)
Snow & Rose by Emily Winfield Martin
Snow and Rose are two sisters who with their mother live in the woods after their father disappeared in those same woods. The girls befriend both a young boy from a mushrooming family and a large bear. Danger comes from the Huntsman and the sinister Little Man who seeks to enchant them or kill them. Surprisingly, this is a Grimm story with a happy ending . . . which I won’t spoil. Marvelous storytelling!
Becoming Muhammad Ali by James Patterson and Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile
Masterfully plotted and beautifully written, Becoming Muhammad Ali, is the stunning new middle-grade biography of Muhammad Ali from superstars James Patterson and Kwame Alexander. Alexander writes Cassius’s life in first-person verse, alternating with Patterson who writes in prose from the point of view of Cassius’s good friend, Lucky. Enthralling from the first page, this book gives readers the perfect details to set the stage for the man that Cassius becomes, the boxer and the activist. His parents don’t encourage boxing, preferring academics, but Cassius is terrible at school. When he finds boxing, it becomes a powerful outlet not to mention, something at which he finally excels. The poetry is Alexander at his best — vivid figurative language with an ideal cadence and an accessible narrative. Readers will zip through this page-turning biography; it’s both informative and inviting. I could NOT put it down.
Warren the 13th and The All-Seeing Eye: A Novel by Tania Del Rio, illustrated by Will Staehle
Voyage of the Frostheart by Jamie Littler
Voyage of the Frostheart is a fantastic, illustrated adventure chapter book story about an orphan boy with forbidden musical powers. After Ash’s Pathfinder parents disappear, Ash moves in with a strict guardian Yeti named Tobu. Unfortunately, they’re banished from their home when Ash uses his forbidden Song Weaver magic. They leave the village with a Pathfinder crew, a ship that sails over the snow. On their journey, Ash realizes that he can find his parents using the words in his childhood lullaby. But he’ll be tried, tested, and tricked. Who will he trust? And which side will he choose — light or dark?
Winterhouse by Ben Guterson, illustrated by Chloe Bristol
Elizabeth, an orphan, is unexpectedly sent to a large, stately hotel with a kind, grandfatherly proprietor for Christmas vacation. There, she discovers a magical book, a sinister couple, a family mystery, and a new friend who loves puzzles as much as she does. The writing is mesmerizing, the mystery fascinating, and the characters, enchanting. This is a delightful, atmospheric read.
The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly
ADVENTURE / HISTORY / FANTASY
This is the story of three children in medieval France and tackles big issues such as faith, God, prejudice, friendship, and family. The writing, the story, the characters, and the themes all pack a big punch adding up to a compelling novel that will make you think deeply and leave you changed. (Sensitive readers: there are a few swear words and two scenes with a lot of blood.)
The Thrifty Guide to Ancient Rome by Jonathan Stokes, illustrated by David Sossella
If Ancient Rome is your preferred destination, you’ll need your handy handbook close by to make sure you survive — which seems to be unlikely since, since as the book says, “Rome is an absolute deathtrap.” Filled with tongue in cheek hilarity while also being boldly informative about the historical topic! These are my new favorite history book series.
Timeless Diego and the Rangers of the Vastlantic by Armand Baltazar
DYSTOPIAN / FANTASY
Lush, full-color illustrations (over 150!) fill this dramatic science fiction adventure in one of the most uniquely imagined worlds I’ve read. 13-year old Diego lives in New Chicago post-Time Collision. Now, in the present, the Steam Timers, the Mid Timers, the Elders, and other groups coexist peacefully after a terrible world war. But it’s a fragile peace. When Diego’s dad, the leading engineer for the territories, and his colleague are kidnapped by a splinter group, Diego and his friends set out on a rescue mission where they’re immediately captured by pirates. The action is non-stop, the plot is skillfully crafted, and the characters, both boys and girls, are interesting.
Saucy by Cynthia Kadohata, illustrated by Marianna Raskin
REALISTIC / ANIMAL RESCUE
Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake
The Beast and the Bethany by Jack Meggitt-Phillips, illustrated by Isabelle Follath
FANTASY / FUNNY
If you like snarky illustrated books that make you laugh, don’t miss this entertaining fantasy. Ebenezer, a man over 500 years old, is kept alive by a monstrous Beast who gives him youth cream in return for exotic foods…and now the Beast wants to eat a child. Still wanting to be youthful, Ebenezer adopts the rudest girl at a local orphanage, Bethany, and begins to fatten her up. She is horrid for a while until she’s not…and Ebenezer feels so bad that he confesses his evil plan. Together, find a solution to get rid of the Beast and get a happy ending! (Or do they?)
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