Chapter Books for Elementary Grade Readers
Best Chapter Books for Independent Readers
Children's "chapter books" are written for independent readers. Early grade chapter books are targeted to readers aged seven to ten, though some may target readers as young as age 4. These books may still contain illustrations, but they are generally simple line drawings, and not usually the full-color type found in picture books or the vignette-style found in "early readers." Illustrations in chapter books are intended to interpret a character, action, setting or mood - a snapshot, if you will, of a moment in the story, designed to enhance the overall reading experience.
Graphic novels geared towards young independent readers are also an option. They appeal to both reluctant readers as well as eager readers with usual vibrant and engaging graphic illustration. Often with a humorous angle, graphic novels can also serve as a "bridge book" between picture books and traditional chapter books.
Middle grade books target an older reader, typically eight to twelve. Strong elementary grade readers will jump into middle grade books as they outgrow easy readers and younger-grade chapter books.
Below are some noteworthy chapter books to consider, including a few middle grade books that appeal to younger readers:
Down Girl and Sit - Lucy Nolan, illustrated by Mike Reed: This is a wonderful series for younger readers as young as four and up to about age eight or nine. These nicely illustrated books are written from the point of view of two dogs who explain life with humans in their own mixed-up and hilarious way. This is also a fun book to read with a child who can't quite read on his own, but wants something more "big kid" than a picture book.
Junie B. Jones series - Barbara Park: Some parents (and even children) find Junie B. Jones to be a bit of a brat, but most young children enjoy reading about this central character and her predicaments. The reading level of the Junie B. Jones series is on the lower end - age 4-8 - which makes it a good choice for beginning readers.
Nate the Great series - Marjorie Weinman Sharmat: Nate is a neighborhood sleuth called in to solve the unsolvable. When pictures go missing, call Nate. Can't find your cat? Put Nate on the case. Told in wry comic noir style, the Nate series is a perfect first chapter book that will ease kids into books with longer story arcs, and more complex plot points and characters. Nate the Great is great, especially for ages 4-8.
The Magic School Bus series - This incredibly popular series for ages 4-10 is essentially non-fiction that reads like fiction, or fiction with a strong nonfiction element depending on your point of view. Kids absolutely love going on adventures with Ms. Frizzle, who makes learning fun. This is a series that will take awhile to "outgrow" because the range of nonfiction information presented is quite vast, plus Scholastic has a website with additional games and interactives that go along with the books.
Humphrey Series - Betty G. Birney : A good choice for the child who has outgrown the Junie B series but isn't quite ready for Charlotte's Web. The Humphrey series is about a classroom hamster and his adventures with his classmates. The stories, told from the point of view of the hamster, have surprising depth. Each book delves into the lives of one or more of the kids in the classroom, as each gets to take Humphrey home for the weekend. Plenty of good hamster humor, fun, and just the right amount of pathos. Check out the back of the books for additional activities, such as crosswords, hamster care tips, and classroom activities. An especially good choice for ages 7-10.
Lunch Lady series - Jarret Krosoczka : A well-executed and humorous graphic novel adventure series that follows the antics of an action-hero lunch lady. Some Southern California kids who eat outdoors year-round and who attend schools with "food service" type carts instead of cafeterias may have difficulty in relating to the concept of a cafeteria lunch lady, but parents certainly can explain some of the nuances of the humor, such as hairnet-as-weapon. For ages 7-10.
Captain Underpants series - Dav Pilkey : This humorous series follows the adventures of best friends George and Harold , and the ever-strange Captain Underpants. Boys and girls with a penchant for poop jokes will find Captain Underpants to be hysterical. This series is highly illustrated and, at times, even interactive.
Knights of the Lunch Table series - Frank Cammuso: A graphic novel series that hits the sweet spot of middle grade, ages 8-12, with all the right notes. The series is a modern inspiration that riffs on the Arthur and the Round Table legend. Readers don't really need to know anything about Arthur, as the story stands on its own, but those who are familiar with the legend will especially enjoy the humor. Easy to read, but still with a detailed story arc appropriate for the age group.
Sarah Plain and Tall - Patricia MacLachlan: A farmer in the 19th century advertises for a wife. He is answered by Sarah, a New Englander who has never been away from Maine. She arrives to the farm and becomes mother and friend to children Anna and Caleb, who fear she may leave them one day. As Sarah grows more homesick for Maine, the children try hard to make her stay. This emotional story of loss, loneliness, and ultimately of joy is a good choice for a strong reader ages 8 - 12 who is ready to read a more complex and developed story, or as a book parents can read aloud to a child.
Frindle - Andrew Clements : At first glance, Frindle would appear to be another book about another trouble-causing boy and his battles with a staunch and unfunny teacher. But Frindle is about the power of a good teacher, and the life lessons children learn. The title comes from a word invented by main character, Nick, who calls a pen a "frindle" and gets his whole school to follow suit. The word catches on until the entire country has frindle fever. The ending of the story catches one by surprise, and is one of the most satisfying story endings you could imagine. Frindle is a good choice for middle grade readers ages 9 - 12.
Charlotte's Web - E.B. White : The classic tale of the spider, Charlotte, and the doomed pig, Wilbur. This is a story about the power of friendship, of life and death. Older readers, age 8 and up, will enjoy Charolotte's Web. Younger readers may find it too intense to read independently, although they enjoy having it read to them, and having the intense parts explained.
Dear Mr. Henshaw - Beverly Cleary : Two of the main reasons I like Dear Mr. Henshaw is its authenticity of voice, and the honesty of the story-telling. Through letters written by main character Leigh to his favorite author, and then through journal entries, Leigh's story is revealed: his parents are divorced, his mom struggles to get by, and his father really isn't involved in his life at all. Leigh gains an understanding of himself and of his world through his writing, which spans the course of several years.This is more upper-elementary-to-middle- grade, ages 9-12, but also appropriate for younger readers who are looking for something more challenging.