There are no words to express the joy we felt when our 6-year-old son learned how to read on his own last year. Books have always been important in this house. (With a writer mother and an editor father, it's no surprise.) The Youngster has been read to since he was in my belly, and the nightly story time is still going strong.
We've gone through tons of books with this kid, on everything from taco-loving dinosaurs to spaceships cruising by the stars. And now that he's an official Big Boy in the first grade and everything, his interest in chapter books -- more words, less pictures -- has grown. Big time.
This shiny enthusiasm has sent me looking for the best early chapter books for new readers. And I found a lot of good stuff! The list below is in no way complete, but it's a very good start for other parents looking to fill their young readers' libraries with wonderful, sparkling, fun stories.
This New York Times bestselling series of children's books, about a brother and sister names Jack and Annie who discover a magical tree house loaded with books, debuted back in the summer of 1992. Since then, Jack and Annie have had many adventures, traveling the world -- as well as through time and to mythical worlds -- in 53 books. The 54th Balto of the Blue Dawn, which sends the siblings back in time to Alaska in 1925, will be out in January. (Ages: 6 to 10 years old)
It's a cute, fun series starring a plump pig named Mercy Watson, who belongs to Mr. and Mrs. Watson. But Mercy's not your average porker. She eats human food (toast is a fave) instead of slop and sleeps in a regular bed. Basically, it's hi-jinks and shenanigans following this little piggy all the way home. (Ages: 5 to 8 years old)
The title character is like a tiny Sherlock Holmes. With the help of his trusty dog Sludge, Nate is a kid who solves crimes, and has been doing so in this charming series for over 30 years. The newer versions of the books include riddles, jokes, crafts, and even recipes -- both Nate and his right-hand dog love them some pancakes. (Ages: 6 to 9 years old)
Dahl is one of those master storytellers whose tales stay with you for years and years. Although his popular books are longtime faves of parents (from when they themselves were kids), not all of them are necessarily age-appropriate for young readers, so be sure to do a bit of research before handing over certain titles to youngsters. Even Dahl's "younger" children's books skew a bit older; third grade and up. (Ages 8 to 17 years old)
He's an 8-year-old African-American boy who happens to be the smallest kid in his class, but that doesn't stop EllRay Jakes from getting into big trouble. It's refreshing (and so necessary) to see a Black boy not in the background or on the sidelines, but front and center in a children's book series. Many reviewers of the series point out how relatable young Jakes is to readers -- especially boys -- thanks to his keen sense of humor. (Ages: 6 to 8 years old)
This funny series follows Arlo Jervis, a.k.a. "A.J.," a boy who is not too fond of school. He goes to Ella Mentry School (get it?), which is filled with wacky teachers and students, plus A.J.'s archenemy, Andrea Young. There are over 20 book in the easy-to-follow series, so your young reader can keep coming back for more fun and crazy antics. (Ages: 6 to 10 years old)
The popular, easy-to-read series gives early readers clear, concise information about some of our world's most complex and interesting people -- heroes, innovators, artists, and legends from both the past and present-day. From Martin Luther King, Jr., and George Washington to Sally Ride and Harriet Tubman, the well-written, illustrated biography series is loaded with brilliance. And be sure to check out the newest Where Is ...? series, that gives kids intel on famous landmarks and locations around the world. (Ages 8 to 12 years old)
The series follows the funny adventures of Judy Moody, a third-grader with loads of spunk. Young kids can't seem to get enough of Judy and her friends, and keep asking parents for more. Good thing there are 14 books to dive into. Plus, there's a spin-off series that stars Judy's younger brother Stink (his nickname) and a shorter series of Judy and Stink books, too. (Ages: 6 to 9 years old)
Set in Boston, this sweet series is about even sweeter protagonist named Clementine. She's a third-grader with lots of charm and red curly hair, who often finds herself marching to the principal's office at school. She's not "bad," just impulsive and always eager to let her artistic talents loose. The books are often picked by teachers for read-aloud in class, and just scanning through a few pages it's clear why it's a favorite: Clementine, of course. (Ages: 7 to 10 years old)
I used to devour these books as a kid! The series stars Leroy Brown, a.k.a Encyclopedia Brown, a 10-year-old neighborhood detective -- with his own agency, yo. He's not messing around. EB has this sponge for a brain when it comes to trivia, and it helps him solve local mysteries as well as helping his dad (the town's police chief) crack a few cases, too. Plus, the reader also has a chance to get in the mix and solve the mysteries using all the clues. (Age: 7 to 11 years old)