My primary goal as an educator of my children is to cultivate a love of reading in their souls. If they become strong readers, they'll be on their way towards becoming lifelong learners. It can be challenging to capture their attention when reading is still a chore. When you find a good book series that your student loves, you can work on building those reading muscles quicker because their desire to find out what happens next will carry you beyond those basic fifteen minutes a day.
When I'm looking for books to share with my kids, I have a few basic criteria:
ease of vocabulary - I don't want to have to explain every other word
quality of characters - If they're hooked to these books, I want them to be choosing good friends to share their time with!
promotion of virtue - I want books that celebrate the good, true, and beautiful even in their simplest form. Disrespecting adults, constant complaining, or inappropriate humor does not fall into that category.
The good news is that there are plenty of great books to choose from while avoiding others. Most of these were readily available at my local library, so that is also a benefit. Here are twenty good options for beginner series:
What kid doesn't like an animal story? There are a great mixture of tales built around animals acting like people and animals acting like animals. They're so imaginative and engaging when done right, and these series are sure to hook your budding reader.
1. Houndsley and Catina
Readers who are just branching out into chapter books will love James Howe's Houndsley and Catina series by Candlewick Publishing. These two unexpected friends learn lessons together in unpredictable ways. With full color illustrations sprinkled throughout the book, budding readers will not get overwhelmed by the amount of reading on each page. When I read the whole story to my daughter, it took us about fifteen minutes to make it through the whole book. You definitely need books like this to build confidence and enjoyment in reading! If you enjoy this author, check out Pinky and Rex as a follow up series.
2. Bramble and Maggie
The Bramble and Maggie series is about a girl and her horse. If you have a horse lover, these books are a must read. What makes these books stand out are the incredible illustrations. The author does a masterful job of switching between the narrative of the story and Bramble's reactions to what's happening. You really get a sense of the emotions of the horse, and they are hilarious! My daughter didn't want to put these sweet books down.
3. Hamster Princess
I'm not usually drawn to the books that look like they're appealing to "modern kids," but this series is a win for me because it takes classic fairy tales, borrows the plot, and makes the hamster the princess. My daughter couldn't stop giggling as she read these part chapter books, part graphic novels. Nothing goes quite as you might imagine, and that's what keeps you reading. There are three books in the Hamster Princess series so far, but I imagine there will be more added in the future.
4. Tales from Dimwood Forest
I am in love with this sweet mouse series by Avi. It's a step up as far as reading levels go, but it is a great animal tale that incorporates adventure, danger, and mice. Young Ragweed wants to move out of the comfort of his forest home and experience life in the city. Of course the city brings new challenges that test Ragweed's character. The best part about this series is that book 2: Poppy is just as engaging and brings in new and exciting characters. You'll want to read all six books in the Tales From Dimwood Forest series.
5. The Adventures of Wishbone
My son loved the PBS show Wishbone when he was little. Surprisingly, this was one children's show that I loved to watch with him. I love how the classic stories are woven into the life of an ordinary boy and his dog. This year, my 16 year old read Be A Wolf before he read Beowulffor his British Literature class. He was surprised at how well it stuck to the story, and what a great introduction to the classic work it was.
Undeniably the most brilliant feature of mysteries is that they are naturally page turners! If you're looking to get your curious student engaged in a good story, give them one they won't want to put down.
6. Nate the Great
The Nate the Great series can't actually be considered a chapter book because there is only one chapter. However, the length of the stories feel like a great achievement for new readers. Since there isn't a clear stopping point, keeping kids turning pages in these books are simple.
7. Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew
I was a serious Nancy Drew fan when I was in middle school. Even though I loved those books, they're not the best thing to give my second grader who's looking to sink her teeth into a good story. I love this junior version of the Nancy Drew series, and so do my girls. Each of the stories in the Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew stories starts with a teaser into the action. At the end of each book there is an activity or craft idea. It's a great series.
8. Cam Jansen Mysteries
The Cam Jansenseries was my middle daughter's favorite series when she first entered the world of chapter books. They are simple mystery books with short chapters and pictures sprinkled throughout. I like that they're not too scary, but rather follow a curious girl and mysteries that pop up in her life. My daughter's favorite thing about Cam Jansen is that she had a photographic memory. She's just a character that makes an excellent book friend!
9. The Box Car Children
The Boxcar Childrenwas my son's first favorite series. These stories follow the lives of four young orphans who make their home in a boxcar. My son loved the mysteries that fill the pages of the books that follow, and my daughter loved the creative ways that the kids learn to live with very little supplies. I found the whole series at a garage sale once. Best $7 I ever spent!
Sometimes you find kids really struggle with reading fiction. It doesn't appeal at all to their interests. Thankfully, there are some excellent options that are centered around education that might woo your young learners.
10. The Magic School Bus Chapter Books
I was reacquainted with this series recently as I listened to my 2nd grade niece read to me. Since she was familiar with the show, reading these books were engaging and entertaining. Interspersed throughout the story were student's science reports and pictures. This kept the reading light and fun while highly educational. Each chapter took around fifteen minutes to read (with a bit of giggling and chatter interspersed). This is a perfect amount for a beginner reader's daily reading practice.
11. Who Was/What Was...Biographies and Histories
If you're looking for a beginner biography series that will grow with your children, check out the Who Was or the What Wasbook series. While walking you through the featured life or event, these books offer additional information on people or events going on at the same time. Each book runs about 100 pages, and the sentence structure is varied making these books great for young readers, or older readers who are looking for sources in their research. We have a small collection of these, and I find them fascinating.
12. The Imagination Station
If you're an Adventures in Odyssey fan, you'll love the Imagination Stationseries. In these books, students travel in time to historical points of interest. While they are there, they learn about the time, culture, and people they encounter. It's a great series from Focus on the Family, and similar to my next series, just minus the magic and wizardry.
13. My America
If you have a reader that loves journals, the My America series is an excellent start. These simple biographies follow different characters through important historical time periods. Each character has several books, so if you find one you like, you can continue reading their story. The short journal entries are not overwhelming for new readers.
14. Amelia Bedelia Chapter Books
My kids have been in love with Amelia Bedelia stories for as long as I can remember. Her crazy way of interpreting the world around her keeps us laughing as we read. I find that anything that is fun can be enjoyed for longer periods of time.
15. Wally McDoogle
I am generally not a fan of books that feature a wimpy, the-world-is-against-me main character. However, Bill Myers (creator of McGee and Me for you old-schoolers out there) does a fantastic job in these zany books of transforming character through the renewing of the mind. Kids will get hooked as they relate to the challenging life of Wally, but will learn valuable life lessons of virtue by the end. I love when people use humor for good purposes!
16. Princess Tales
Gail Carson Levine's Princess Taleswere the books that broke my fearful reader out of her shell. She listened to these on audible over and over, giggling all the while. Once she decided she was deeply in love with the story, she picked a book up to read along and found that she could read these. I have read several of the books in this series five or six times myself, and I've enjoyed it every time.
17. Doll Hospital
In the first book in the Doll Hospitalseries, a young girl goes to stay with her aunt who fixes dolls. Each doll she fixes has a unique story to tell. Filled with historical adventures, these stories are sure to capture the hearts of doll loving girls everywhere. The version we purchased had a collector paper doll inside.
18. A Little House Chapter Book
The Little House on the Prairie series is a classic read aloud series, but for beginner readers can take a really long time to get through. This sweet beginner version involves the same familiar characters, but with shorter stories. There are fourteen books in the Laura series, and then you can also read the Rose series, and Caroline series.
19. Tales From Maple Ridge
These sweet beginner chapter books are like Little House on the Prairie, but feature a male main character. Set on a farm in Illinois in 1892, the Tales from Maple Ridge series follows a small town community and brings readers back to the hard working men and women who founded our country. With short chapters and illustrations sprinkled throughout, beginning readers will find success with this series.
20. The Cobble Street Cousins
While the time period is not directly given, these timeless tales are set during the era when young girls would be sent to boarding school when their parents took off to tour the world with their dance company. These stories are modern yet wholesome. When the three nine year old girls move in with their 90 year old aunt for the summer, they find adventure, intrigue, and friendship. It's a time period worth remembering.
Thanks for the list, Betsy! Just ordered several of your selections. Keep up the great work….
Thanks Dee Dee! I appreciate your encouragement!
Thanks so much. This was JUST what I needed!!
Wonderful! So glad it helped!
Wanted to let you know the Hamster Princess link is taking me to Bramble and Maggie instead
Thanks! All fixed!