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When my oldest was about 3, I couldn’t wait to start reading chapter books with her. I was a librarian by training, a homeschooler at heart, and a reader since… always. I had dreams of us reading a chapter a night from our book and was eager to get started. But, it felt very hard to find books that were suitable for someone so young. So many “early chapter books” dealt with school or friendship troubles or other things that were far outside of her experiences. Through some digging, research, and talking with other librarians, we found some great books that have gone on to be family favorites. And, as an extra bonus, having them in our home library means that they’re ready for her when she’s reading chapter books on her own!
Here’s what we found; I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments!
Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same by Grace Lin
A series of four very, very beginning chapter books (my library keeps them with the early readers). Ling and Ting are twins, but they are not exactly the same. In bite-sized stories, they have sweet daily-life adventures: playing, cooking, and observing the seasons. This series was perfect for my realistic fiction-loving, literal-minded eldest.
Mercy Watson (series) by Kate DiCamillo
This funny six-book series about a pet pig and her owners is so much fun to read aloud! Mr. and Mrs. Watson are convinced that Mercy is a porcine wonder. In one book, she inadvertently alerts the fire department to an emergency at the Watsons’ and saves the day. However, she does it by smushing her nose against a neighbor’s window looking for sugar cookies. The startled neighbor calls the fire department, which arrives in time to save the Watsons. This series features a lot of funny secondary characters that have inspired their own spin-off series for slightly older readers, Tales from Deckawoo Drive. And, I can’t talk about this series without mentioning the fantastic art by Chris VanDusen. The characters’ exaggerated features and expressions dial up the humor and make it as much fun to “read” the pictures as the words.
Magic Tree House (series) by Mary Pope Osborne
This series is hardly a secret, but I was surprised how much my three- and four-year-olds have loved it! The audiobooks are our family go-to for car trips. Jack and Annie discover a tree house in the woods near their home that can take them through time and space. Early in the series, they visit the dinosaurs, ninjas, and the moon. I think the series really shines in the later installments, which are a bit longer, when they visit specific historic events and figures – the 1889 Paris World’s Fair, Louis Armstrong, and many (many) others.
Twins Jimmy and Janet have four old-fashioned adventures in this lesser-known Beverly Cleary book. These simple stories are heart-warming and wholesome, inspired by Cleary’s own twins.
My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
This is one that showed up on nearly every list of “chapter books for preschoolers” I found, yet I never read it until my second daughter was ready for longer books. A boy sets off on an adventure to a mysterious, remote island. He must outsmart a series of animals before he reaches the mistreated baby dragon he is trying to rescue. It is fun adventure for kids who like a tiny bit of excitement. Originally published in 1948, it has an old-fashioned feel, from a time when there might have been undiscovered islands with unknown treasures.
Maybelle is a cockroach who lives under the refrigerator in a posh apartment. She and her friend Henry, a flea, get in over their heads as they seek a more exciting life (and diet) than crumbs dropped on the floor. Funny illustrations bring Maybelle with her big, floppy hairbow to life. In other installments, she spends a night in a hotel – with room service! – and visits an equally appetizing school cafeteria.
This quirky, slightly surreal series is laugh-out-loud funny and has added a few phrases to our family’s inside-joke vocabulary. Mrs. Noodlekugel is a funny old lady who lives with four blind cats in a Narnia-ish cottage hidden inside a big city. Nick and Maxine are put in her care and spend their time learning the ways of her unique visitors, including Drooly the Bear and a talking cat named Oldface. It’s reminiscent of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and I only wish there were more books in the series.
The longest of this batch, but arguably my family’s favorite. Diva is a little white dog who lives in an apartment building in Paris. Flea is a cat who doesn’t live anywhere in particular, but knows the city inside and out. They meet and each help push the other out of their comfort zone. Gorgeous illustrations by Tony DiTerlizzi and first-rate writing by Mo Willems, this makes a delightful readaloud.
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Source: I was not asked to review these books. I purchased some for my home library and borrowed some from my public library.
Laura Jewell is a mom to three young readers in Richardson. She was a children’s librarian at a public library before deciding to stay home with her girls.