Whether your child laboured over their phonics lessons, or took to reading like a fish to water, at some point, they are ready for more than levelled readers but not able to handle the more mature, lengthy, and challenging literature selections. While it is extremely beneficial for you to read those books to your children, what can they read to themselves to help them build fluency, enjoy books, and build an appetite for reading that will last a lifetime?
If your public library is anything like mine, it is FULL of these early chapter books. There are rows upon rows of short, illustrated chapter books for young readers. Some of these books are complete rubbish, and most I would qualify as “brain candy” with short, uncomplicated sentences, easy vocabulary, and flat plots. These books will do little to help your child develop an appetite for good books.
So what’s a book loving mama to do? Luckily, there are some good and better choices hidden among all the wimpy fairy princess underpants books. My children have enjoyed their share of Mary Pope Osborne’s books, Ivy & Bean, and Nancy Clancy type books over the years.
Not only are there some decent, low twaddle-ish books out there, but there are even some excellent early chapter books available that are perfect both for developing a love of reading AND building the fluency that is so important at that age.
All of these books meet the necessary early chapter book requirement of being around 150 pages or less in length, are engaging and relatable to young children, and most are illustrated with simple, beautiful pictures. And they all have a similar Lexile score to other popular early chapter books and fall into the same 600-900L range as the Magic Treehouse, Ivy & Bean, and Magic Fairy books.
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My Top10 Choices for Excellent Early Chapter Books
1. Sarah Plain & Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
Historical fiction lovers will enjoy this sweet story! It tells of Anna and her widower father who advertises in the paper for a new wife after the death of Anna and her brother’s own mother. They await the arrival of Sarah, a young woman from Maine, who responds to his advertisement. What will she be like? Will she like their prairie home? Will she stay? If your young reader likes this one, there are two more in the series to enjoy – Skylark & Caleb’s Story.
2. Billy & Blaze by C. W. Anderson
A great book for boys (my daughter enjoyed it too!) about a boy and his horse. There are 11 books in the series altogether, so you can join Billy in his many adventures with his beloved horse, Blaze.
3. Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace
This absolutely darling book is actually based on the author’s own childhood. It is a wonderful story of a friendship that occurs when Tacy, a little girl Betsy’s own age moves in across the street. There are 10 books in all in the series, so your child can grow up along with Betsy, but the only the first 4 books will be appropriate for this age group: Betsy-Tacy, Betsy-Tacy & Tib, Betsy & Tacy Go Over the Big Hill, and Betsy & Tacy Go Downtown. These books are illustrated by Lois Lenski and are a real treasure!
4. Socks by Beverly Cleary
This is a cute little story about a cat named Socks whose life is turned upside down when his loving owners become parents. Your child will laugh at Sock’s many antics as he tries to regain the affections of his owner! Beverly Cleary has many other short and sweet books that will meet your young reader’s need, try The Mouse and the Motorcycle next!
5. Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski
While Strawberry Girl may not be a great fit for a really young reader in this category, it is a good option for children who have reached this stage of reading at a slightly older age. It is the story of a Birdie and her family as they struggle to start farming in the Florida backwoods. It is not a completely pleasant story, and it does contain some more complex and negative themes, so parents should preview this one to assess whether it is a good fit both for their child and their family.
6. Milly Molly Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley
Very short & sweet chapters in this delightful book about the adventures of a young girl — deciding how to spend her first penny, going on her first night away from home, and more. The illustrations even include a map of the countryside where she lives.
7. In Grandma’s Attic by Arleta Richardson
This character building book is really a book of short stories, as told by a grandmother to her grand-daughter about her years growing up on a farm. There are 10 books in this series, and the first 4 meet this early chapter book category perfectly.
8. All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
Whether or not you give this book to your child to read independently, or chose it for a read aloud, this book is a MUST READ in my books! The whole series is full of old fashioned charm and values, and through it we learned so much about life growing up as an poor immigrant family at the turn of the century.
9. My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
This action pact story of a boy who runs away from home to rescue a baby dragon is funny, short (80 pages), and perfect for a first chapter book. This book, along with the next two books in the trilogy, Elmer and the Dragon and The Dragons of Blueland, will get your young reader hooked on reading!
10. Old Mother West Wind by Thornton W. Burgess
This book (and dozens of Burgess’ others) is full of whimsical stories about Jimmie Skunk, Reddy Fox, and many other animals as well as Mother West Wind and her children, the Merry Little Breezes. Your children will stretch their imaginations as well a learn all about nature in these sweet little books!
Be encouraged mama! There is quality out there, waiting to be found, hopefully at your own public library! This is certainly not an exhaustive list, only a few wonderful finds I came across while exploring this challenging stage with my first reader. And considering that most of these book are a part of a series, this list actually represents more like 50+ excellent early chapter books! I’m excited to continue the search for great books with my next little reader hopefully soon!