Written by Irina Gallagher
The books children read set a major tone for the way in which they view the world – especially when they take the enormous leap into independent reading. I don’t take this fact lightly and, because of this, I find it a bit difficult to scope out reading material for my 8-year-old who spends hours each day with her nose in a book. I rarely follow book recommendations without pre-reading at least the first book in a series. I’m cautiously optimistic about children’s literature and I believe that children can handle more sustenance than rude, snarky characters, and frivolous story lines. At the same time, just because a child has the capability of reading something, doesn’t mean that their hearts and minds are ready for certain content. I prefer first independent books to be a place of gentle solace for young readers rather than action-packed works of conflict laced with intermittent rudeness. I have also found that my daughter is much more engaged when reading series of books rather than stand-alone fiction. With all of that in mind, I have compiled this list for anyone with similar philosophies. Below is a compilation of our very favorite early chapter books (books composed of no more than 150 pages generally, that are geared towards early elementary grades). This list contains only books with which both my 8-year-old and I have fallen in love over the past few years (there is a slew more that one of us has liked a lot and the other has not).
The Adventures of Miss Petitfour by Anne Michaels
This is not part of a series, but my goodness how I wish it was. Just look at the cover art. It matches the whimsical feeling of its contents perfectly. Miss Petitfour has sixteen cats (prepare yourself to say the cats’ names many, many times). On windy days, she likes to take her cats out in one kite-like string that travels through their city on many adventures. The frequency at which the main characters consume tea and jam certainly doesn’t hurt the lovely atmosphere this book evokes. Due to some skillful alliteration acrobatics on Anne Michaels’s part, Miss Petitfour is a perfect book to read together alternating readers at each paragraph. We read it together first before my daughter read it independently.
The Adventures of Sophie Mouse by Poppy Green and Jennifer A. Bell
The charming quick tales follow a mouse named Sophie and her woodland friends on many wonderful adventures. This easy-to-read compilation is great for children who like nature, animals, and exploring.
Animal Ark Pets by Ben M. Baglio
(61 books) Average level N-O
This series follows Mandy Hope and her friend James Hunter in their quests to helps animals of all sorts. Mandy’s parents are both veterinarians and her grandparents live down the road in a little English cottage. Young animal lovers will happily read these pleasant books. The series has dozens upon dozens of volumes as they are written by multiple authors under the name Ben M. Baglio – this will surely keep the littles busy for a while.
For older readers, there is also a follow-up series called Animal Ark. The concept is the same, but the content is much more mature and at times deals with the death of animals in different circumstances. If your child is sensitive, wait a bit to start the Animal Ark series – Animal Ark Pets, however, is very mild for young hearts.
Burgess Animal Books by Thornton Burgess
(too many to count, seemingly close to 100)
This is a series which we read together before my daughter read the series in its entirety. I would encourage you to do the same as the dialects of certain animals can be challenging at times. The series follows animals from The Green Forest, the Laughing Brook, and the Smiling Pond as they go about their day-to-day lives, build nests, prepare homes for hibernation, escape the nearby farmer’s son, etc. If your family loves nature and learning in-depth details about various animals, these books are a must read. Thornton Burgess published the series between 1905 and 1965, so prepare yourself for some interesting verbiage coming out of your children’s mouths. Because the books were published before copyright laws were in place, you can readily find free e-books of this series.
Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker
(7 books) 690 Lexile average, Levels O-R
This is what I mean by sustenance. You can have a fiery, tenacious protagonist in children’s literature without turning the book into series of rude dialogues. Clementine is such a well-rounded character. I’m hoping we hear more from her in the future.
Cobble Street Cousins series by Cynthia Rylant
(6 books) 460-650 Lexile, Levels L-M
Another Cynthia Rylant addition here about three cousins who spend the summer living together with their aunt Lucy while their parents are touring the globe as dancers. This is a sweet series about friendship and “cousinly” love.
The Dragons of Wayward Crescent by Chris d’Lacey
(4 books) 670 Lexile average, Level O-P
This series is a bit hard to find and quick to read but well worth the effort. Friendly ceramic dragons coming to life, anyone? Yes, please!
The Lighthouse Family series by Cynthia Rylant
(5 books) 670 Lexile average
I cannot say enough about Cynthia Rylant books for young children. Rylant had us hooked with her series of Easy Readers including Poppleton and Mr. Putter and Tabby. Her works for independent readers are equally as wonderful, but The Lighthouse Family is my favorites of all. I haven’t read more endearing stories of love and friendship.
My Father’s Dragon series by Ruth Stiles Gannett
(3 books) 810-990 Lexile
My daughter and I read the series together before she read and reread and reread the stories of the incredibly clever and resourceful boy Elmer and his unlikely friendship with a young dragon. This series should appear on must-read lists much more often than it actually does.
Piper Green and the Fairy Tree series by Ellen Potter and Qin Lang
(4 books) 530 Lexile average
There should be at least 20 books in this charming, quick-to-read series about a girl named Piper who lives on the Island off the coast of Maine and travels to school in a lobster boat.
The Puppy Place series by Ellen Miles
(42 books) 570-750 Lexile, Levels M-Q
Since reading this series, my daughter doesn’t pass a dog without trying to identify its breed. This is a sweet series for dog lovers about a family who fosters puppies. Each book focuses on one puppy (or, at times, multiples from the same litter) and predicaments such as finding the dogs forever homes or training ill-behaved little canines. It’s a must read for little blossoming dog lovers. Ellen Miles also has a similar series entitled Kitty Corner for cat lovers.
Tales from Pixie Hollow series by Disney
(26 books) 550 Lexile average
I am not generally a huge fan of Disney books, however, this series is a real gem. If your child enjoys stories of fairies and their magical lands, this is great. We read it in its entirety together before my daughter read them by herself. Since finishing the series, we have spent countless hours picking our fairy talents and pretending to be residents of Pixie Hollow.
If your child enjoys The Tales from Pixie Hollow, a great read-aloud series is Fairy Haven by Gail Carson Levine. The characters are familiar, but the writing and details are a bit heartier and more mature. Another follow-up for slightly older readers is the Never Girls series, which brings a group of human girls into the mix.
Thimbleberry Stories by Cynthia Rylant
720 Lexile, Level M
Again, Cynthia Rylant with her incessant charm. Supreme coziness, that’s what this is. This is a nice book which includes many pictures throughout. Super for cuddling under fluffy blankets and reading together.
Welcome to the Bed & Biscuit series by Joan Carries
(3 books) 610-670 Lexile, Level M-Q
Why oh why are there only 3 books in this series? Anthropomorphic farm animals going about their daily business with great fun and humor, what more does one need really?
I hope this list contains a book which will soon become your young reader’s favorite. Happy reading!