Reading is FUNdamental: Exciting Early Readers and Beginning Chapter Books

Early reader books, known variously as easy readers, beginning chapter books, first chapter books, or primers, constitute a category of children’s literature that is often overlooked. These books facilitate young readers’ transition into reading independently. Some may think of easy reader books as bland, simplistic, didactic, or overly commercial. As a result, early reader books tend to not get the same literary attention as picture books or juvenile novels. However, in recent years, children’s authors and illustrators have experimented more with the form and content of early reader books to expand the possibilities of this type of children’s book. Early readers have also followed the broader trend in children’s literature towards representing more diversity in identities and cultural experiences. Enjoy reading some of these fun and exciting new beginning reader books to brush up on reading skills and get ready for the new school year.

Too Small Tola. 2021.
In a trio of stories, renowned Nigerian storyteller Atinuke introduces an endearing character who is not too small to do important things. Tola lives in an apartment in the busy city of Lagos, Nigeria, with her sister, Moji, who is clever; her brother, Dapo, who is fast; and Grandmommy, who is bossy. Tola may be tiny, but she is strong enough to carry a basket filled with groceries home from the market, and she is clever enough to count out Grandmommy’s change. When the faucets in the apartment stop working, it is Tola who brings water from the well. And when Mr. Abdul, the tailor, has an accident and can’t leave his room, only Tola can help take his customers’ measurements. Atinuke’s witty text evokes the urban bustle and multitude of cultures in Lagos through the eyes of a little girl with an outsized will, accompanied by Iwu’s lovely illustrations. This early chapter book uses plain language, simple sentence structures, and relatable narration to help readers transition from easy readers to chapter books. Don’t miss the sequels: Too Small Tola and the Three Fine Girls and Too Small Tola Gets Tough.
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Gravel, Elise
The Bat. 2020.
Early reader books can also be nonfiction! One of the final installments in Elise Gravel’s “Disgusting Critters” nonfiction early readers series (see others such as The Mosquito, The Cockroach, or The Spider), this book’s conversational text and silly illustrations will have readers up past bedtime learning about the only flying mammal on Earth. Gravel covers habitat (bats live everywhere except Antarctica), species (there are over 1,200 kinds of bats), conservation (don’t disturb a bat that is snoozing), echolocation, hibernation, and much more. By using graphic novel conventions such as speech bubbles and expressive line drawings, plus straightforward, concise paragraphs, Gravel has created fun and accessible informational books for newly independent readers.
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LaRochelle, David
Illustrated by: Mike Wohnoutka
See the Cat: Three Stories about a Dog. 2020.
What happens when the book gets it wrong? Max is not a cat. Max is a dog! But much to his dismay, this book keeps instructing readers to “see the cat.” How can Max get through to the book that he is a dog? In a trio of stories for beginning readers, author LaRochelle introduces the excitable Max, who lets the book know in charmingly emphatic dialogue that the text is not to his liking. Wohnoutka depicts the dog’s reactions to the narrator and to the wacky cast of characters who upend readers’ expectations as the three stories build to a satisfying conclusion. An innovative approach to metafiction (a story about fiction) in a beginning reader format, the simple speech-bubble text and reliance on information from the art makes this an excellent book for those still trying to feel confident about their reading skills. Enjoy a similar reading experience in LaRochelle and Wohnoutka’s follow-up title, See the Dog: Three Stories about a Cat.
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Kugler, Tina
Snail and Worm: Three Stories about Two Friends. 2016.
Combining deceptively simple art with clever wordplay, this tale will have young readers delighting in these friends’ silly antics, making this a perfect book for readers transitioning between picture books and chapter books. Told in three comical, episodic stories and ranging in topic from adventuring to having pets, this book follows best friends Snail and Worm through multiple adventures involving how one defines a good day, an encounter with a dragon, and musings on storytelling. Kugler’s subsequent books, Snail & Worm Again and Snail & Worm All Day, use the same structure and tell tales that are just as goofy and accessible for readers who are beginning to read on their own.
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Khan, Hena
Illustrated by: Wastana Haikal
Zara’s Rules for Record-Breaking Fun. 2022.
Meet Zara Saleem, the queen of the neighborhood. Zara is in charge of everything: she organizes the games, picks the teams, and makes sure all the kids have a fun time (and they always do). When a new family moves in across the street, Zara’s reign is threatened by Naomi, who has big ideas of her own about how everyone in the neighborhood can have a good time. To get her neighbors to notice her again, Zara decides she is going to break a Guinness World Record, but only if her little brother Zayd doesn’t mess everything up. When she finds herself increasingly alone in her endeavor to break the record, Zara starts to wonder if sharing the crown and making a new friend might end up being the best rule of all. This is the first book in a humorous beginning chapter book fiction series starring a young Muslim girl with an endless list of hobbies who searches for ways to maximize fun for her family and friends.
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Lyons, Kelly Starling
Illustrated by: Vanessa Brantley-Newton.
Rock Star (Jada Jones #1). 2017.
Young readers will enjoy engaging with science-loving Jada Jones in this easy-to-read chapter book. When Jada Jones’s best friend moves away, she dreads going to school. She would much rather wander outside looking for cool rocks to add to her collection, because finding rocks is much easier than finding friends. So, when Jada’s teacher announces a class project on rocks and minerals, Jada finally feels in her element. But nothing’s perfect, and soon she notices that a classmate doesn’t seem to like any of Jada’s ideas, or even Jada herself. Can Jada figure out a way to make a winning science project and make peace? This science-focused early chapter book bridges between leveled readers and longer chapter books for fluent readers adjusting to the format. With short chapters and art on almost every page, this story will draw readers in with Jada’s enthusiasm for science and the natural world.
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Medina, Juana
Juana & Lucas. 2016.
Juana loves many things: drawing, eating Brussels sprouts, living in Bogotá, Colombia, and especially her canine best friend, Lucas. She does not love wearing her scratchy school uniform, math homework, or going to dance class. Juana especially does not love learning the English. Why is it so important to learn a language that hardly makes sense? When Juana’s abuelos tell her about a special trip they are planning, one that will require speaking English, Juana begins to wonder whether learning the language might be a valuable endeavor after all. Hilarious, energetic, and utterly relatable, Juana will win over los corazones (the hearts) of readers everywhere in her first adventure. Follow along with the rest of the series, including Juana & Lucas: Big Problemas and Juana & Lucas: Muchos Changes.
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Pham, LeUyen & Mo Willems
The Itchy Book! (Elephant & Piggie Like Reading). 2018.
The beloved characters Elephant and Piggie foray into the world of dinosaurs in this hilarious early reader book. Triceratops has an itch, so does Pterodactyl, Brontosaurus, and T-Rex! But Dino-Mo reminds them all of the big rule posted on a sign: Dinosaurs do not scratch! What should an itchy dinosaur do to find relief? Dino-Mo insists that he will not scratch, not even while wearing a wool sweater! True to the style and form of the other Elephant & Piggie books, with speech-bubble text and deceptively simple humor, The Itchy Book is a standout for its bold colors and will have young readers rolling with laughter.
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Quigley, Dawn
Illustrated by: Tara Audibert
The Used-To-Be-Best Friend (Jo Jo Makoons #1). 2021.
Hello/Boozhoo! Meet Jo Jo Makoons Azure, a young Ojibwe girl who loves to be herself. Jo Jo is an energetic seven-year-old who moves through the world a little differently than anyone else on her Ojibwe reservation. Much to Jo Jo’s dismay, her mom, her kokum (grandma), and her teacher seem to always have a lot to learn about how good Jo Jo is at cleaning up, what makes a good rhyme, and what it means to be friendly. Even though Jo Jo loves her best friend Mimi (who is a cat), she is worried that she needs to figure out how to make more human friends. Because Fern, her best friend at school, may not want to be friends anymore. Misunderstandings between Jo Jo and others (especially with her white teacher, who does not understand her Native cultural perspective) are the guiding tension of this engaging beginning chapter book series. Quigley incorporates Ojibwe and Michif words throughout the story and black-and-white illustrations enhance the reading experience.
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Song, Mika
Donut Feed the Squirrels. 2020.
Two squirrels (and best friends) meet their match: a donut food truck! Norma and Belly plan to start the day with some pancakes, but when Norma accidentally burns them, these two best friends set out to find a new snack. Chestnuts could be good, but what is that scrumptious smell in the distance? A new food truck is parked near their tree, and these two squirrels are determined to figure out how to get their hands on these “donuts” that seem to be coming from it. Song gives readers something to giggle about as these squirrel friends try their hardest to munch on some donuts while just about everything goes wrong. This is a hilarious early graphic novel with spare words mostly in the form of dialogue, and Song uses colorful art to highlight the zany action, tricky problem-solving, and the sweet value of working together.
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