Gentle Early Chapter Books for Voracious Readers

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.


Fifty Favorite Children’s Books

Picture Book Edition
Written by Irina Gallagher

Fifty Favorite Children's BooksMy kids and I love reading dozens of library books every week. We find books we like; sometimes books we disagree with – if characters are mean-spirited, the pictures are crude, or the words are impolite; books that we feel neutral about; and if we are lucky on a particular day, we find books that have the extraordinary juxtaposition of thoughtful, beautiful writing, and endearing illustrations. These books touch our hearts, remind us of something dear in our own lives, illuminate a spark of imagination, or just make us fall in love. This list is a partial collection of what we have found on the lucky days.

All the Way to AmericaAll the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel
written and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
A true story of an immigrant who came to the United States from Italy bearing not much more than a shovel which is passed down through the family from generation to generation – each bearer using the shovel for completely different purposes, each generation encapsulating something of their heritage to pass down to their children. It’s a wonderful immigrant tale.

written by Eve Titus
illustrated by Paul Galdone

Paris. Charming, anthropomorphic mice. Typewriters. Delightful illustrations. Cheese. This book has it all. An absolutely lovely, lovely classic about a mouse who becomes the premier cheese connoisseur in Paris. Anatole is featured by Eve Titus in several sequels, but of course, read this one first.

BabyTreeThe Baby Tree
written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall
If your young child is starting to ask “Where do babies come from?” – read this book. The story about a curious boy who is waiting for a baby sibling to arrive, is a wonderful, age appropriate (around ages 5-8), introduction to human reproduction. There is also an appendix for older children which provides more specific information on the mechanics of, ahem, things.