Chapter books. They are quite the jump from the easy readers and picture books that our youngsters have enjoyed for much of their life so far. In comparison, they have a lot more words and far fewer illustrations. The illustrations that are there are not even in color! Generally they come in paperback as opposed to hard cover and the pages look, feel, and even smell different. It’s no wonder they are eyed with suspicion by children who seem so far beyond Green Eggs and Ham but maybe not quite ready for The Magic Treehouse.
What kids want and need is some stepping stone literature…something like easy reader chapter books! Both Champaign and Urbana libraries have extensive beginning reader sections, but those also include books that are for emergent readers. What at broad range to have to sort through! But sort I did when I first started homeschooling because my oldest was right in that stage. Below you will find the fruits of my labor with the selection of books that earned my seal of approval for quality children’s fiction for first chapter books. It is especially good for early readers because the subjects are light-hearted and good clean fun. Both my boys give their two thumbs up too. They read these independently over and over again without coaxing, likely because all of these are silly and humorous. You will notice that the suggestions have recognizable counterparts. For our family’s purposes we referred them as being part of a series, because some chapter books are in fact part of a series and I wanted to introduce that idea. None of these books, however, require being read in a particular order to be understood. I tried to order them from easiest to hardest, so you can work your way through 1 through 6 and by that time have a child ready for real chapter books. All in these series can be found at either the Champaign or Urbana libraries, but they will likely become treasured memorable books for your children, so maybe buy some for your home library too.
1) Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel is one that many of us might remember from our youth. It is a great place to start for first chapter books because there is lots of repetition, few new words on a page and most have contextual clues in the illustrations. Arnold Lobel both wrote and illustrated four Frog and Toad books as well as many others, which makes his work very recognizable on the library shelf, even to children. Mouse Soup, Mouse Tales, Uncle Elephant, Owl at Home, Small Pig, and Grasshopper on the Road are all fantastic first chapter books and some are arguably funnier.
2) The Dragon Tales series is a must-add to your reading list if funny is what your child desires. Dragon is quite a simple-minded fellow with some great ideas and intentions, but less than stellar execution. Our family was first exposed to Dragon when Corban got Dragon’s Fat Cat as a gift from a family member. We could hear him reading it from the back seat of the car during the ride home, and even then it was pretty funny, but later seeing the illustrations with the story made it downright hilarious. You might recognize the author as the same one who wrote The Captain Underpants series, which I try not to let my kids know exists, because I’m mean like that.
3) George and Martha are not about the first president and his first lady, but two hippos that are best friends just trying to navigate their friendship and some funny circumstances. We just had to own The Complete Stories of Two Best Friends for ourselves and when we got it my middle child, Tey, read it cover to cover in one sitting. Both boys can still be found reading it independently or with each other and laughing at these two darling hippos. It’s also a delightful read-aloud as the lessons in friendship are good conversation starters. The chapters are really short too, so they are perfect for a quick read before bed if you are running late, but HAVE to read a story as part of your kid’s bedtime routine. So, I’m mean and I’m sneaky too.
4) Cork and Fuzz are another unlikely duo of friends. Though Cork is a muskrat and Fuzz is a possum they find friendship despite their differences. Together in nine books so far with maybe more on the way, they share both adventures and misadventures. The first time I heard Tey laugh out loud while reading to me was with the first Cork and Fuzz book. Cork was introducing himself to Fuzz, who then thought he was a duck. Cork had to clarify that he said “cork” not “quack.” These things are hysterical when you are sharing a book with your child snuggled up next to you. Ok, I guess you had to be there.
5) The Henry and Mudge series tells short stories of an only child and his huge pet dog who drools profusely and has an unexplainable affinity for crackers. Henry is an ordinary sweet boy, from a loving family with typical lives full of common, yet funny situations. This is a long series with 28 books in total, making it perfect for a summer reading list. Cynthia Rylant has had a prolific writing career with books of many levels and types. I’ve heard great reviews of her other series at this reading level, Mr. Putter and Tabby, which is supposed to be even better, but I have not read them. Girls might better connect with Henry’s cousin and her pet in the Annie and Snowball series, but again I have not read them.
6) Down Girl and Sit are humorous tales from a dog’s perspective, where canine is always right and human masters are the illogical and nonsensible ones. Young readers or those not exposed to dogs might not get some of the subtle dog humor, but that makes it fun to read over and over again or talk about with a parent or older sibling. This series is the most advanced series of any I have mentioned so far or at least it is seemingly so. Its pages are made of the typical non-glossy black and white paper of most chapter books, and there is more text on each page than the other books I’ve mentioned, but children will catch a break with pictures on every spread. By the end of this series, your child should be ready, comfortable, and confident to read chapter books from the chapter books section!
Celina Trujillo has lived in Urbana since 1998, when she started attending the University of Illinois. Three degrees and one job later, she recently decided to put it all on hold to start homeschooling and homemaking full-time. Her blog, Squawks of a Mama Bird,records the learning process of this unexpected new adventure for her family.