As I mentioned last week, here is a sequel to my list from a couple years ago featuring about 50 books that are 100-ish pages or less. Today’s list features 50 more, most of which are part of a series so if you like one, it’s easy to find more.
Short chapter books suit many kinds of readers — those just moving beyond leveled readers, reluctant older readers, parents looking for a short read-aloud, travelers needing a slim book to tuck in a satchel, and gobs of readers in-between. If your student has been assigned summer reading pages, these could fit the bill nicely.
So, consider the various readers in your life as you scan through today’s list.
I’ve tried to arrange them somewhat in ascending order of difficulty…thought that’s not an exact science!
Sophistication of vocabulary and humor definitely increases as I go so if you’re looking for titles for older readers, keep that in mind.
Meet Yasmin!, written by Saadia Faruqi, illustrated by Hatem Aly
published in 2019 by Picture Window Books, Capstone
It’s been deeply satisfying to see early chapter books and easy readers continue to diversify their characters. Yasmin comes from a Pakistani-American, Muslim family and she’s a fantastic, effervescent bridge for all children into a multicultural world.
In four separate stories, second-grader Yasmin bounds her way into map-making, enters an art contest, builds a cardboard city with her classmates, and plays dress-up with her grandmother. Strewn into the stories are a few Urdu words, some of which are in common usage such as naan, hijab, sari, while others will likely be new. All are listed in a small glossary. There are also Pakistani facts, a recipe for mango lassi, and a little bookmark craft. A second set of Yasmin stories is also available. Ages 5 and up.
The Man Who Wore All His Clothes
The Woman Who Won Things
The Cat Who Got Carried Away
The Children Who Smelled a Rat
written by Allan Ahlberg, illustrated by Katharine McEwen
published in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005 by Candlewick Press
all approximately 80 pages
These four books comprise a deliciously-oddball, heavily-illustrated series by beloved British children’s author Allan Ahlberg. Each contains a wild tale about the Gaskitt family.
In four madcap adventures this quirky crew bumbles through near misses, foils robberies, solves mysteries, becomes mixed up with comedies of error, chases down runaway cats. Absurd, ridiculous, with copious asides from the narrator and plentiful jolly illustrations capering about the pages. A sprinkling of Britishisms are in the text which may need explanation for some. Silly delights for ages 5 and up.
Claude in the Country, written and illustrated by Alex T. Smith
published in 2013 by Peachtree Publishers
Have you met Claude yet? There are about 8 books in this series, from what I can tell, and they are mahvelous! This episode finds us at Woolybottom Farm with Claude, “a small plump dog who wears a beret and a very dashing sweater,” and his sidekick, Sir Bobblysock, who is…a stripey sock.
Having faced some dreary, rainy days, it’s time for these two to get out in the fresh air and liven up. Turns out Mrs. Cowpat can use their help on the farm as it’s County Fair Day and there’s so much to be done! Round up the sheep, prep the pigs for the Most Beautiful Pig contest, take some tea, and outsmart a raging bull in this humorous, lively story, illustrated with stylish, retro charm. These would work for read-alouds as well as for sturdy new readers.
Pigsticks and Harold and the Pirate Treasure, written and illustrated by Alex Milway
published in 2016 by Candlewick Press
There are a number of Pigsticks and Harold tales following the intrepid adventures of this unlikely pig-and-hamster duo.
In this episode they’ve got to save Tuptown from the dastardly and greedy Sir Percival Snout by tracking down Pirate Pigbeard’s lost treasure. Seafaring mishaps, monstrous birds, and buried treasure chests, oh my! Longish pages of text punctuated by Milway’s energetic, personality-laden cartoon drawings, and peppered with piggy puns. Ages 4 and up.
Narwhal’s Otter Friend, written and illustrated by Ben Clanton
published in 2019 by Tundra
If you haven’t met the Narwhal books, by all means dive into these oceanic, nutty, comics-style adventures!
This is the fourth in this lively series about jolly, friendly Narwhal and his deep-sea sidekick, Jelly. In this episode, Jelly is feeling mighty threatened by Narwhal’s new friendship with Otty, a sea otter. Brimming with tidal waves of action, awash with puns, and even sporting a few marine facts, these books are ideal for older, reluctant readers who want sophistication but need shorter, non-intimidating word- and page-counts.
That said, they’re a hoot for a wide age range and such an enticement to the wonderful world of story. Ages 4 and up.
Violet Mackerel’s Natural Habitat, written by Anna Branford, illustrated by Elanna Allen
originally published in Australia; first US edition 2013 by Atheneum, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
I love the Violet Mackerel series. Violet is a sympathetic, curious, interesting person with an endearingly naive personality that pulls us into her world. The plots in the series tend to revolve around nature and family rather than being school-centered, which is a win for me.
Violet has a Theory of Helping Small Things which, in this episode, leads to making a tiny habitat for a ladybug named Small Gloria. Small things, however, are tricky to understand properly. Violet has to reckon with the disappointing results of her “care” even as she and her sister work out a related, lovely display for the science fair. Gentle, lovely, with a distinct voice. Read it aloud or hand it to ages 5 and up.
Anne Arrives, adapted by Kallie George, illustrated by Abigail Halpin
published in 2018 by Tundra Books
Anne’s Kindred Spirits, adapted by Kallie George, illustrated by Abigail Halpin
on shelves May 7, 2019 from Tundra Books
These adaptations of Anne of Green Gables waft as much charm as the White Way of Delight. They are marvelous pathways into the classic series for younger readers.
Anne Arrives contains just that much of the story — Anne Shirley’s mistaken arrival at Green Gables and the sorely trying days when her staying and going are sorted out by Marilla and Matthew. The second volume, which I haven’t seen yet, introduces Diana Barry and contains the missing brooch and church picnic incidents. Confections for ages 5 and up.
The Cat Club Series, written and illustrated by Esther Averill
originally published 1944-1972; reissued by The New York Review Children’s Collection
I remember as a child reading stories about little Jenny Linsky, a stray cat taken in by the kindly Captain Tinker, and the various members of the Cat Club, full of vivid personalities and lively adventures. This winter, I checked out the whole series from my library to give them a re-read and am listing them for you here today by degree of difficulty, rather than by date of publication. They encompass quite a span of reading levels. All of them could be used as gentle read-alouds with children as young as 4 or 5. They make great choices for young-but-advanced readers with their enticing, yet age-appropriate plot lines.
The Fire Cat
This is the only volume that has been published as an early reader. It tells the story of Pickles, a large spotted cat who has no home and unfortunately takes out his boredom and excess energy on smaller neighborhood cats. His life takes a turn for the much-better when he’s adopted by the local firehouse.
Pickles enters later stories as well. And here I’ll add that the lack of synchronization between these cats’ various origin stories is just something you have to take in stride if you make your way through the series!
Jenny and the Cat Club —
This New York Review Children’s Collection title has collected five books in one volume which will be much easier for most of you to access than the charming little originals. The five books are: The Cat Club, Jenny’s First Party, When Jenny Lost Her Scarf, Jenny’s Adopted Brothers, and How the Brothers Joined the Cat Club.
Each of them is about 30 pages long, generously illustrated with Averill’s darling pen-and-ink drawings with those zingy flashes of red and mustard yellow. The Cat Club is the very first book in which we are introduced to shy Jenny Linsky and witness her entry into the exceedingly-orderly club, a process which requires a cat to do something special. In Jenny’s case, she discovers that she is an ice-skating cat!
Later stories find the cats gathering for a midnight dance, rescuing Jenny’s scarf from the unruly neighborhood dog, Rob the Robber!, as well as introducing Checkers and Edward, Jenny’s adopted brother cats.
Jenny’s Birthday Book
This very short story has been published as its own picture book. It’s a thoroughly happy gathering of all Jenny’s Cat Club friends for a midnight party in Central Park complete with a lovely picnic, presents and cake, and dancing the hornpipe.
Vintage at its best, for ages 2 and up.
School for Cats
Jenny’s Moonlight Adventure
These two books are similar to the five gathered in the above volume in both length and difficulty. They are delicious little stories for a reader who has graduated from leveled readers. Their trim, slim size, and pages strewn with Averill’s jaunty illustrations make them tremendously inviting.
School for Cats presents a more emotionally-dark plot than the other stories, with Jenny’s enrollment in a boarding school where she meets Pickles the Firecat for the first time and is quite harassed and agitated by his aggressive play. In the end, Jenny takes matters in hand and dive-bombs his zooming, clanging, frightening fire engine, which stops Pickles in his tracks and the two of them call truce.
Jenny’s Moonlight Adventure tells the story of brave Jenny as she rescues Madame Butterfly’s nose flute — yes, there is a beautiful Persian cat in the Club who plays lovely melodies on a nose flute! — outwitting the gang of unruly dogs barring the door.
Jenny Goes to Sea
The Hotel Cat
Captains of the City Streets
These last three volumes are longer and quite a bit more advanced than the other Cat Club books. They don’t really belong on this 100-ish pages and under list, but I’ll add them anyway so you can view the whole series.
Jenny Goes to Sea tells the story of Jenny and her two brothers on an around-the-world ocean voyage with stops in numerous ports including Capetown, Zanzibar, and Siam. The three cats become acquainted with Jack Tar, the ship’s cat, and have a taste of many cultures during these brief stops.
The Hotel Cat introduces yet another friend, Tom, who works at the Royal Hotel keeping the rodent population down and fulfilling other surprising roles for some of the long-term residents, particularly elderly Mrs. Wilkins. When the Big Freeze hits New York City, and boilers all over the city break down, Jenny and the entire Cat Club find themselves installed at the hotel, where with Jack’s expert help, they put on a magical Stardust Winter Ball!
Captains of the City Streets reaches back to introduce us to two Cat Club members, Sinbad and The Duke who once lived the lives of tramps, such a free and easy lifestyle, and then went in search of a place of their own where they could better practice their favorite pastime, pugilism! Of course, this brings them into the vicinity of the Cat Club, a rules-oriented group if ever there was. It’s not an easy fit for these two street-wise fellows, but eventually they become a beloved part of the circle.
The Buried Bones Mystery — written by Sharon Draper, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson
originally published in 1994; this edition 2006 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
The Clubhouse Mysteries is a multicultural mystery series — hurrah! Sharon Draper wrote this series 25 years ago, and gave it a more recent, smart update to include some computer-age details that ring true to today’s readers.
Featuring four boys from culturally and racially diverse backgrounds — Rico, Ziggy, Jerome and Rashawn — , this book’s unique, authentic voice is a welcome change from other mystery series for young readers. In this episode the boys are facing a summer vacation without their favorite basketball court, destroyed by vandals and awaiting repairs. So they build a secret clubhouse and in the process unearth more secrets than they ever imagined! These four guys are just the sort I’d like to have living next door. An excellent series for ages 8 and up.
The Littles, written by John Peterson, illustrated by Roberta Carter Clark
published in 1967 by Scholastic
This long series of books by John Peterson features one of many children’s favorite set of protagonists — miniature people. If you are familiar with The Borrowers, the Littles bear a great deal of similarity but the stories are far simpler, perfectly accessible for young readers or listeners. My own reluctant reader read many of these. The vocabulary and sentence construction are great for struggling readers, yet the action is nicely satisfying.
In this series opener, we meet the Littles, who are just inches tall and have tails. Mr. and Mrs. Little, Tom and Lucy, Uncle Pete and Granny Little all live in the home of the Biggs, borrowing from them and helping in return in a nice, reciprocal fashion, unbeknownst to the Biggs. When the Biggs go on holiday for three months, and let their house to the Newcombs, troubles and dangers begin in earnest. Scattered graphite illustrations. A spicy adventure for ages 4 and up.
Tashi, written by Anna Fienberg and Barbara Fineberg, illustrated by Kim Gamble
first published in 1995; this edition 2006 by Allen & Unwin
Tashi is a gnomish fellow who has just escaped from a cruel master and arrived — by swan — in Jack’s neighborhood.
As Tashi regales Jack with tales of his marvelous adventures, Jack passes along the stories to his parents who merely humor their son, convinced he’s adopted some sort of imaginary friend. Fabulously imaginative adventures, prolifically illustrated in graphite drawings, draw us into this charming world. There are gobs of Tashi stories, which are now being published in large collections rather than this sweetly slim size. Ages 4 and up.
The Miniature World of Marvin & James, written by Elise Broach, illustrated by Kelly Murphy
published in 2014 by Square Fish, Macmillan
This is the first in a series capitalizing on something that bewitches every child — miniature worlds. For Marvin is a tiny, clever beetle belonging to a young boy named James, and we get to see the world through his eyes.
James is heading out on a week-long vacation leaving Marvin a bit bored. In search of adventure, he and his small cousin Elaine venture into Mr. Pompaday’s study where they crawl through an enticing little tunnel and find a deep bed of soft wood-flakes perfect for diving into…that is to say, they’ve landed inside of his electric pencil sharpener! Things get quite dicey when Mr. Pompaday unexpectedly returns. It’s a playful, exciting, and tender story. Large font size, plentiful illustrations revealing the personalities of these two little bugs, and a gentle tone make this just right for young listeners and readers.
The Case of the Weird Blue Chicken, written by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Kevin Cornell
published in 2014 by Atheneum, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Children
This is the second book in the smashing Chicken Squad series starring four hilarious little chicks busy solving mysteries and fighting crime.
Written with a large splash of cheekiness and a great dollop of film noir flare, the tales of these four will knock your socks off. In this episode they’re on the trail of two intertwining crimes — a stolen birdhouse and some stolen acorns. Bumbling their way through interviews with a weird blue chicken who’s not a chicken at all, and tracking down the clues of the case, they finally solve the mystery and bring peace to the backyard once again. Witty, sophisticated, perfectly-paced, illustrated with zing, it’s a bit like reading a Pixar short. Ages 4 and up.
Good Night, Sleep Tight: Eleven-and-a-half Good Night Stories with Fox and Rabbit, written and illustrated by Kristina Andres
first published in Germany in 2016; English language edition by Gecko Press, 2018
In eleven very-very short chapters, we tag along with good pals Fox and Rabbit as they test out various ways to get to sleep and wish a pleasant good night to one another and their dear friends.
Charming, gently humorous escapades flitter through this delightful book, heavily illustrated with warmth and affection. It would make a fine read-aloud for preschoolers, or hand it to a sturdy reader ages 6 and up.
The Best-Loved Doll, written by Rebecca Caudill, illustrated by Elliot Gilbert
originally published in 1962; reissued by Square Fish, Macmillan in 2012
This was one of my girls’ favorites when they were very young, and I’m so glad to see it in print and as fresh as ever.
Betsy has been invited to a party and asked to bring a doll along. Just one doll. Prizes will be given for the oldest doll, the best-dressed doll, and the doll who can do the most things. This puts Betsy in a quandary. She has dolls that fit those categories, but its her ragged favorite, Jennifer, that she chooses to bring. Discover what happens in this blush pink, tea party, dolly-filled, tender story affirming kindness and long-haul loving. Read it aloud to ages 4 and up or hand it to a sturdy reader.
Kung Pow Chicken: Let’s Get Cracking!, written and illustrated by Cyndi Marko
published in 2014 by Scholastic
This heavily-illustrated book could almost sneak into the comic/graphic novel category, but for the most part it’s told without typical graphic-style panels.
Gordon Blue and his little bro Benedict took a tumble into a vat of their scientist uncle’s toxic sludge one day which has turned them into superheroes! Now they’ve got their work cut out for them, stopping one nefarious character at the Fowl Fall Festival from cashing in on some weirdly-glowing cookies. Riotous action and oodles of eggy-puns for ages 7 and up. There are several more Kung Pow books available.
Daisy Dawson on the Farm, written by Steve Voake, illustrated by Jessica Meserve
published in 2012 by Candlewick
The first of the Daisy Dawson books made it on my earlier best-of-books-under-100-pages list. There are a number of titles in this series starring an outdoorsy girl who can talk and understand animals from spiders to horses. I’m featuring another one today in the hopes you’ll choose to meet her!
This episode finds the farm animals in a dither due to a drought. They are a hot and bothered crew, especially the ducks and newts whose pond has dried up. Daisy works with the whole gang, trying out all kinds of ideas to remedy the situation in this funny, spirited, warm story. Illustrated with flair, vivacity, and grace, these make fine read-alouds or great stories for sturdy young readers.
Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Stomps the Snow, written by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Miguel Benitez
published in 2014 by Albert Whitman & Company
This is another great, multicultural series with quite a few titles available. I read this splendidly snowy title in the midst of Minnesota’s snowiest-ever February, so it was just the right cup of tea for me!
Freddie is one of the nicest, kindest boys you’ll meet. Plus, he’s got a pair of sneakers that give him super-powers — Zapato Power he calls it. In a flash, he’s whistling along at lightning speed, performing heroic deeds in the service of his community. Thus these stories feature a dashing combination of energy, excitement, and tenderheartedness that I love. When a blizzard hits Starwood Park, it’s Freddie to the rescue, this time with super-powered snowshoes, digging folks out from mountains of snow and meanwhile nabbing a thief! Highly accessible text, beautifully formatted for new readers. Ages 5 and up.
Lulu and the Cat in the Bag, written by Hilary McKay, illustrated by Priscilla Lamont
originally published in the UK; first U.S. edition 2013 by Albert Whitman & Company
The Lulu books are one of my favorite early chapter book series, written by a brilliant author, Hilary McKay, whose delightful humor and keen sense of humanity shine through everything she touches.
In this episode, animal-loving Lulu rescues yet another creature, this time a large marmalade cat left, terribly sadly, on her doorstep tied up in a sack! Beastly. Despite her Nan’s protests, Lulu determines to introduce it into the menagerie already in her household. But — the cat and dogs simply do not get on and Lulu is left to find another new and loving home for the cat. It turns out to be a most surprising solution! Warm, hopeful, well-written stories to read aloud or hand to ages 6 and up.
Stuart’s Cape, written by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Martin Matje
published in 2002 by Orchard Books, Scholastic
Sara Pennypacker is an enormously-talented writer, author of the wonderful Clementine series among other titles. This slim volume packs quite a juicy punch as it unreels the surprising adventures of Stuart, a small boy about to begin third grade in a new school, which is entirely too much to worry about, for sure.
Stuart wishes he had super powers, to have some extraordinary adventure to while away the miserable days of waiting for and dreading school. That’s when he is struck by a brilliant idea: a cape! Whoever heard of a bonafide adventure without a cape?! And Stuart’s Cape leads him on far more fantastical adventures than you can believe. Funny, quirky, warmhearted and hopeful in both text and illustration. It’s been published separately like this, or in a volume along with its sequel. Ages 6 and up.
Georgie Lee, written by Sharon Philips Denslow, illustrated by Lynne Rae Perkins
published in 2002 by Greenwillow Books
Here’s a wonderful little read starring a nine-year-old boy and his dear, spunky grandmother as they spend the summer together on her farm.
Redolent with both the simplicity and vivid nature of rural life, their adventures encompass climbing trees, evading wicked thunderstorms, peeping around an abandoned farmhouse, cooling off in the pond…and always, always include their interactions with that smart, corn-loving, troublesome cow, Georgie Lee. Lightly illustrated with Perkins’ classy pen-and-ink drawings. For kids who appreciate the out-of-doors and the subtle humor that living things bring to our lives, this is a gem. Ages 6 and up.
Yours Sincerely, Giraffe, written by Megumi Iwasa, illustrated by Jun Takabatake
first published in Japan 2001; American edition in 2017 by Gecko Press
I love a good quirky story, and I love stories in translation, so this book starts right off with two stars.
Take one bored giraffe, one newly-inagurated pelican mail delivery service, one ocean-going seal delivery service, and one perky penguin studying abroad under the tutelage of Professor Whale. Strike up a friendly penpalship between the good-natured giraffe and penguin, add in humorous misunderstandings and a delightful sense of curiosity, and you’ve got a thoroughly friendly, winning tale. A jaunty narrative voice, numerous letters to read, and plentiful friendly, wobbly line drawings add to the fun. Ages 7 and up.
A sequel, Dear Professor Whale, follows these friends as they put on the Whale Point Olympics and is equally peachy!
The Pirate Pig, written by Cornelia Funke, translated by Oliver Latsch, illustrated by Kerstin Meyer
first published in Germany in 1999; Englisht edition 2015 by Random House
Talented storyteller Cornelia Funke has written several small chapter books ideal for young readers, lusciously illustrated in full color, packed with plucky adventure.
This one is about Stout Sam and his deckhand Pip who get the surprise of their life one day when they find a pig in a barrel washed up on Butterfly Island. Julie is no ordinary pig. She’s got a nose for sunken treasure! When rotten Barnacle Bill hears the news, he pig-naps Julie, and we’re off on a wild rescue adventure! Shiver-me-timbers pizzazz for ages 5 and up.
Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters, written by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
published in 2018 by Abrams
125 pages + back matter
Are you familiar with the best-selling picture book series by this author and illustrator? Beginning about 5 years ago, they’ve produced some jazzy books highlighting three ace, talented kids — Rosie the Engineer, Iggy Peck the Architect, and Ada Twist the Scientist, a happy amalgam of science, creativity, teamwork, and history.
Now they’ve launched a series of short chapter books starring the same trio. This first one finds Rosie trying to engineer a gizmo to enable her Aunt Rose’s friend, June, to participate in an art contest — despite the fact June has just broken both of her wrists! As one iteration of Rosie’s invention after the next fails, she’s left with no choice but to tap into the resources of a neighbor she doesn’t really know, but knows she dislikes. Surprises galore are in store for Rosie and her friends as they learn about valves, the Riveters of WWII, and how appearances can be deceiving. The second volume in this series came out in April, 2019. Ages 6 and up.
Jasper John Dooley: Library Public Enemy #1, written by Caroline Adderson, illustrated by Mike Shiell
published in 2016 by Kids Can Press
This series, coming out of Canada, also features an eminently-likeable young boy who reminds me a bit of Billy Miller, a high compliment indeed! There are at least five titles to date. I jumped in with this one as my library doesn’t even have the first book in the series, Star of the Week, and I didn’t feel lost.
A pekingese named Molly is a new face at the library, where kids can take 5 minute turns reading to her. Molly seems a tad bored by all the stories, Jasper thinks, and he is determined to find just the right book to please her when it’s his turn to read. He checks out some books in order to practice, and that’s when disaster strikes. Jasper plans to read in the bathtub. He’s being ever so careful, but ploop! goes the book into the water, and his dad’s attempts to remedy the sopping book track decidedly downhill. Jasper is in a wild panic over his new status as Book Killer. How will he pay for the book? Can he read to Molly even though he’s a book destroyer? The real concerns of a tenderhearted, responsible young boy and his monumental efforts to fix problems shine in this fine story generously strewn with mayhem, problem-solving, integrity, and friendship. Read it aloud or hand it to sturdy readers looking for something a mite longer. Ages 5 and up.
The Mystery of Meerkat Hill, written by Alexander McCall Smith, illustrated by Iain McIntosh
published in 2012 by Random House
This is another of the Precious Ramotswe mysteries for young readers, written by the author of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. In it, Precious meets two new students in her school, a sister and brother named Teb and Pontsho, and their pet meerkat, Kosi.
One day, the family cow of these friends goes missing, and Precious, teaming up with the clever Kosi, helps sort things out. After all, she wants to be a great detective when she grows up! These are charming stories, written with an old-fashioned, gentle tone and a distinctive, folksy, storyteller style. In addition, they’re set in Botswana, of course, with all the colorful details of that land and culture. Handsomely illustrated in woodblock prints, they would make fine read-alouds for ages 5 and up.
McBroom’s Wonderful One-Acre Farm, written by Sid Fleischman, illustrated by Quentin Blake
originally written in 1966, 1967, and 1969; published in one volume in 1992 by Greenwillow Books
These uproarious tall tales were originally published as separate volumes and they are dear to my heart as my own reluctant reader found them funny and enticing enough to make his way through as a struggling elementary-aged boy.
Each story spins a whopper of a tall tale about Josh McBroom and his mighty, wonder-working, one-acre farm in Iowa. Ridiculous, over-the-top fun, full of puns, beefy vocabulary, and twangy speech make it a sophisticated read, even though the stories are so short. Quentin Blake’s wobbly, eccentric drawings are the cherry on top. A blast for ages 8 and up.
The Strongest Girl in the World
originally published in Great Britain in 1999
The Invisible Boy
originally published in Great Britain in 2002
Written and illustrated by Sally Gardner
Published in one volume in 2007 by Dial Books for Young Readers
Yippy skippy! Two books in one! Read one, and when you’re finished, flip the book over and start from the other side to read the second story! Such an enticing concept. They’re a part of Gardner’s Magical Kids series, full of good old-fashioned fantasy for young readers.
Both stories are fantastical tales brimming with energy, magic, and fun. The Strongest Girl in the World tells of little Josie Jenkins, aged 8-3/4 who, one ordinary day, discovers that she has inexplicable, stupendous strength!! She hoists cars with one finger, lifts a house off its foundations with a mere shrug. When greedy Mr. Two Suit attempts to exploit her extraordinary powers, however, the luster of her trick quickly dulls. What’s a strong girl to do?
The Invisible Boy‘s parents win a trip to the moon and young Sam is left in the care of a Roald Dahl-esque neighbor, Hilda Hardbottom, whose nefarious designs on Sam’s parents’ travel insurance sprout into wicked schemes. However, she’s reckoned without the arrival of a small, spotted alien named Splodge, an invisibility patch, and the kind heart of her hen-pecked husband, Ernie. Extra-terrestrial fun! Both volumes can be read aloud or handed to kids ages 8 and up.
Space Taxi: Water Planet Rescue, written by Wendy Mass and Michael Brawer, illustrated by Elise Gravel
published in 2014 by Little, Brown and Company
This is the second Space Taxi book I’ve featured. I think there are six of them in the series thus far. These super sci-fi adventures are an inter-planetary, most extraordinary blast!
In this episode, Archie Morningstar, his dad, and Pockets the cat — all of whom secretly work for the Intergalactic Security Force — are summoned to the planet Nautilus in the Triangulum Galaxy to assess reports of strange weather disturbances, a dramatic shrinking of their ocean waters on which vast numbers of their citizens depend. Rocket through space, dodge asteroids, dive underwater and help defeat a villainous organization! Large print with a few black-and-white illustrations. Ages 7 and up.
How to Save Your Tail*: *If You Are a Rat Nabbed by Cats who Really Like Stories about Magic Spoons, Wolves with Snout-Warts, Big, Hairy Chimney Trolls…and Cookies Too, written by Mary Hanson, illustrated by John Hendrix
published in 2007 by Schwartz & Wade
This extraordinary story will entertain children and adults alike, making it a fine read-aloud choice, or a superb story for readers in need of something short yet sophisticated. And how do you like that title?!
Employing a confounded mash-up of fairy tales from 1001 Arabian Nights to Cinderella, loads of cheek, and three main characters bursting from the seams with personality, Mary Hanson spins a vivacious, humorous, storytellers tale. Bob the rat has been caught by two palace kitties, Brutus and Muffin. Just as they’re about to devour him, Bob’s delicious home-baked chocolate chip cookies and his penchant for telling delectable stories come to the rescue. As long as he can keep the cats craving more of his adventurous family history, Bob stands a chance of survival. And what a history it is! John Hendrix’s zesty illustrations punctuate the pages, decorate the end-papers, and even illustrate a complicated family tree for our reference. Kids who know their fairy tales will especially appreciate this, but anyone liking a hefty serving of wit will enjoy it as well. The sophisticated text demands a strong reader. Listeners ages 6 and up.
Hobart, written by Anita Briggs, illustrated by Mary Rayner
published in 2002 by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
Hobart and his siblings live happy lives on Farmer Mills’ farm. He is a generous caretaker, and they are exceptionally intelligent, talented pigs.
However, when the old gander spills the beans that pigs are destined to become bacon, it strikes terror into their hearts. It’s up to Hobart, an unusually hopeful fellow, to rescue them from certain doom. The plot of this book bears similarity, of course, to Charlotte’s Web, but is far shorter and less complex. Despite the cheery yellow cover, the vocabulary is surprisingly challenging and the threats of a Nasty Butcher and a scene where the farmer gives him a good punch in the chops(!!) all make this story quite a bit grittier than you might suppose. Ages 7 and up.
A Mouse Called Wolf, written by Dick King-Smith, illustrated by Jon Goodell
published in 1997 by Random House Children’s Books
Dick King-Smith was a prolific British author who left us dozens of slim books for elementary age children, often centered around the lives of personable animals — pigs, mice, parrots. My children read a good many of them when they were first branching into independent reading. Full of mustard, unsentimental, and somehow plausible even with the animals’ uncanny ability to talk and scheme.
This one is about a small mouse, the youngest of thirteen children and smallest of all, who happens to live in the skirting board in a classical pianist’s house, and who discovers that he has an enchanting singing voice. His mother names him Wolfgang Amadeus Mouse. Wolf for short. His blossoming friendship with homeowner Mrs. Honeybee fills this story with an unusual amount of classical music references. It’s a clever story, especially well-suited to musical kids. A stout vocabulary means this is for strong readers or listeners ages 7 and up. If this doesn’t suit you, do look up other King-Smith titles such as Babe (on which the film was based) or Lady Lollipop.
The Toothpaste Millionaire, written by Jean Merrill, illustrated by Jan Palmer
originally published in 1972 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
My kids loved this story of entrepreneur extraordinaire Rufus Mayflower as told by his good friend Kate MacKinstrey. First published almost 50 years ago, it is as fresh and relevant as ever, though the illustrations are a bit dated.
Rufus thinks toothpaste is vastly overpriced considering his granddad brushes his teeth with bicarbonate of soda. Surely whipping up something effective and tasty can’t be that difficult. And for a kid as resourceful and optimistic as Rufus, that’s absolutely true! He’s also a genius at gathering others into the scheme, generously sharing his profits and giving credit where credit is due. Zoom along with the gang as they become the nicest millionaires you ever met, all in just one year!
Touching on themes of racism, sexism, economic equity, friendship, finance, and math, this book is absolutely unique, empowering, and kindhearted. Ages 8 and up.
Mac Undercover, written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Mike Lowery
published in 2018 by Orchard Books, Scholastic
This book is much longer than what I was originally looking for here, but it is so prolifically illustrated that I think it fits well with these shorter, less-intimidating chapter books I’m collecting. It’s a great choice especially for reluctant readers with its cheeky tone and James Bond aura.
Mac B is just a kid, but he gets called on, quite out of the blue, by the Queen of England, engaged to be a spy and track down the stolen crown jewels. No big deal, right? Off he jets with nary a backward glance, only hoping to be back in time for Derek Lafoy’s birthday party. Once in London, he banters with the Queen, meets her flock of corgis, and following the thief’s trail, hydrofoils it across the English Channel to France and on to Moscow…yeah, it’s quite a humdinger of a case. It is set in the 80s with many cultural references to that era.
Mac Barnett hits elementary-school humor out of the ball park time after time. Here his dry, over-the-top, wildly-implausible tale will win fans in a hot second. Heaps of bold illustrations in comic style jazz up the pages enormously. And there’s already a couple of sequels. I wish these had been out when my reluctant reader was a 9-year-old boy. Ages 8 or 9 and up.
The Night Fairy, written by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Angela Barrett
published in 2010 by Candlewick
This gorgeous, sophisticated story spills along with evocative prose and exquisite, full-color illustrations. It’s a lovely read-aloud or an excellent fantasy for strong readers looking for a short novel.
Flory, a tiny night fairy, is the victim of mistaken identity as a youngster, her wings munched by a tiny bat who assumes she is a moth. Thus damaged, she determines to become a creature of daylight, going about the garden while bats sleep. The story of how she survives and confronts her world is a enchanting, fierce, lush, and nature-rich tale. A thoroughly original fantasy for ages 9 and up.
Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring, written by Enigma Alberti, illustrated by Tony Cliff
published in 2016 by Workman Publishing
75 pages + back matter
This is one of three in the Spy on History series, each of which tells the story of a real individual, while introducing an intricate mystery which the reader can try to solve using hidden clues and the book’s spy craft materials.
The story in this volume is about a free African-American woman who worked as a Union spy, going undercover as a maid in Jefferson Davis’s household. It’s a compelling story in itself, and accessible to sturdy readers ages 8 or 9 and up. Meanwhile, the mystery to be solved involves locating Mary’s Secret Diary. There’s a replica Civil War cipher ring, a piece of red acetate, and more to help you, all sealed in an envelope inside the book, as well as a host of hidden clues and codes in the illustrations. I did not try to solve this on my own.
At the end of the book is a sealed section of pages which walk you through all the clues, codes, and devices needed to crack it and wow!, it is extremely complicated! Reading comments on Amazon, it seems like most people did not really solve the code and those who did had to settle in, parent and child, for numerous hours of code-cracking. I think these are great little historical adventures regardless of whether you take the initiative to crack the code. For those who have the thirst for codes and spylore, all the better! Enticingly presented history for sure!
Finding Langston, written by Lesa Cline-Ransome
published in 2018 by Holiday House
Winner of a Coretta Scott King Honor this year, Finding Langston is a moving novel about a young boy’s search for healing and a sense of home. Written in lilting, rich prose, set in post-war Chicago in the Bronzeville neighborhood, it stole many hearts last year!
Langston is 11 years old. After his dear mother’s death, he and his dad move to Chicago, a world away from his grandmother, family, friends, and warm home-culture of Alabama. It’s a rough transition for many reasons including grief, poverty, loneliness, and bullying at school. In the midst of it, Langston discovers a library open to black folks like him, and a poet who voices his innermost thoughts and feelings both of which bring hope and healing.
Kudos to Lesa Cline-Ransome for writing such a complex, sophisticated, meaty story, in a short format that doesn’t overwhelm young readers. It’s a story weighty with the Black experience of the ’40s, the voice of Langston Hughes, the triumph of community libraries, and the power of poetry to address our human condition and move our souls. Not illustrated. Highly accessible writing but emotional resonance suited best for ages 9 through adult.
I do hope you find some gems to suit your readers!
You can also find dozens of first chapter books on my list here — these are all on the easier end of reading ability — and novels grouped in a variety of categories via the Fiction tab at the top of the blog.