I could hardly wait to introduce chapter books into our nightly read alouds with my 5 and 3-year-old. The mundane musings of little blue trucks and every-Disney-princess-that-ever-existed were starting to drive me a tad bonkers, and I could tell the kids weren’t as excited about reading them as they once were.
So, one night, I presented them with a gift: a gorgeous boxed set of Mercy Watson. I explained that these books were longer stories, that we might not be able to finish in one sitting, but that we would read a chapter or two each night instead. The excitement they had at that moment was remarkable, and it carried through as we happily chugged our way through the entire series. They were hooked, and so was I.
But hold it there juuuuust a minute. Before you start dreaming of breaking out your old 500+ paged Harry Potters, there’s a fine line between your pre-schooler or kindergartener loving chapter books, and loathing them. Pick a book with complex vocabulary and sentence structure, no pictures and long chapters, and you, my friend, have just turned them off to something that could have been ever-so magical. You just have to choose the right book.
Sorry, don’t let that scare you. We’re here to help. We’ve featured 7 awesome first chapter books that are perfect to introduce your kids to the concept of chapters, and get them excited about reading (or, ahem, listening to) them.
All our selections feature short chapters, plenty of dialogue, lots of illustrations (most in color!), and most importantly, have engaging stories and characters. And bonus – they are all part of a larger series, so if your kids love the first one, you have plenty more where that came from.
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Mr. and Mrs. Watson have no children, so when they come across a peculiar buttered-toast-loving-Pig named Mercy, how can they resist? Your kids won’t be able to resist either, as they follow Mercy, her owners, and stick-in-the-mud neighbor through various crazy escapades.
The stories are supported with enchanting, colorful pictures on each page, which makes for a great first-transition book to chapters. And if you like to read books with different character voices – Mercy Watson gives you plenty of opportunities to bring these wacky personalities to life!
If your kids end up loving this series and are still asking for more, try Kate DiCamillo’s spin-off series, Tales from Deckawoo Drive, which features more hilarious antics from some of the supporting characters featured in the Mercy books.
THREE TALES OF MY FATHER’S DRAGON
This fantasy triology about Elmer Elevator, a boy on a mission to rescue a flying dragon on “Wild Island”, is an absolute classic, and the one our kids’ keep asking for over and over again.
Elmer’s clever getaways from the wild animals who inhabit the island will entertain those of all ages (even the grown-ups reading), and the stories are accompanied by beautiful black and white illustrations. Kids’ love to look at the treasure-style map at the beginning of the first book to follow the boy’s path as he searches for the dragon. If we could only recommend one book for a first read aloud chapter book, this would be it.
THE PRINCESS IN BLACK
Princess Magnolia looks like your typical princess, sipping tea in her castle in her poofy pink dress. But appearances can be deceiving, and when her monster alarm rings, she’s off to fight for the good guys as her alter-ego, the Princess in Black! These stories are light-hearted, action-packed and have a great message: that you can be girly and heroic.
There are delightful full-color illustrations on every page, short chapters, and enough action and suspense (will her alter-ego be discovered?) to have your kids’ hanging onto every word. And don’t count these out for boys – mine loves them (Magnolia is a super hero after all). As the Princess in Black would say “Twinkle, Twinkle little SMASH!”
The 4th book in the series, The Princess in Black Takes a Vacation is currently in pre-sale and will be released in November.
This fun and silly series about Dory, a little girl with a wild imagination, is a home-run with both boys and girls. When Dory’s older siblings don’t want to play, Dory turns to her invisible friend, Mary, who also happens to be a monster. More of her imaginary companions enter the stories too, and the juxtaposition of reality vs. fantasy gets her into (and sometimes out of) lots of trouble.
Your kids will giggle their way through the Dory Fantasmagory series, and enjoy the abundant comic strip-esque illustrations. They are also great for opening up conversations about people who may seem “different”, and accepting everyone above all else.
The 3rd book in the Dory series, Dory, Dory Black Sheep is now available!
There are more than 50 books in the Magic Treehouse series, and for good reason – kids are enamored by the adventures of the brother-sister duo of Jack and Annie, who travel through time and space to solve various mysteries. Each one is centered around a certain part of history or geography (think Dinosaurs, Mummies and Volcanos), and peppers in real facts throughout the stories (many even have their own “research guides” to pair with the book).
They are fast-paced and each chapter seems to end with some form of suspenseful cliff-hanger, so your kids will always be left wanting more. We especially love that Jack and Annie have a lovely rapport – demonstrating a positive relationship that is missing in so many children books these days, and yet is so needed!
And exciting news is brewing, as the rights to all the Magic Treehouse books have been acquired by Lionsgate who is planning to adapt them into a feature film. We’ll be ready with the popcorn!
MR. PUTTER AND TABBY
These stories, starring the lovable, elderly Mr. Putter and his furry friend, Tabby, are so harmless and delightful, they are perfect for the 3-6 year old set (although the 30+ year old set certainly enjoys them too!).
Mr. Putter finds himself in a new predicament in every book, and finds his own solution in an often magical, unforgettable way. The expressive, colorful artwork is incredibly engaging, and the short chapters are a breeze to zip through. You (and your kids), will be hard-pressed to find a Mr. Putter story that doesn’t make you smile.
If you enjoy Mr. Putter and Tabby, try Cynthia Rylant’s other beloved series, Henry and Mudge.
THE STORY OF DIVA AND FLEA
As extreme lovers of Mo Willems’ Piggy and Elephant picture-book series, we’re happy to report that his first delve into writing chapter books doesn’t disappoint. This story follows 2 unlikely friends: Diva, a small, cautious dog and Flea, a free-spirited street cat, as they share their different worlds with one another. As they bravely stretch themselves out of their comfort zone, the message of pushing yourself past your fears and learning from those different than you, shines brightly through.
Beautiful color artwork adorns the heavy-stock pages and transports you to the magical city of Paris. Keep your eyes open for Willems’ beloved Pigeon as he makes a cameo appearance in the illustrations!
Note: while this is currently a one-off story, we’ve included it on our list because it has been so highly received, that we would be very surprised if Diva and Flea didn’t return for a follow-up. Our fingers are tightly crossed!
What are your kids’ favorite chapter books that you read to them? We love hearing about new books, so tell us about them in the comments below!
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My heart just got SO full seeing My Father’s Dragon! It was probably my first chapter book and holds such amazing memories for me. As do the Magic Tree House books – happy to see they’re still making those! I can’t wait until my boys are old enough to start reading!!
Oh that makes us so happy! It’s such a wonderful trilogy and one that a lot of people don’t know about. So glad we could bring back some fond memories for you.
My 6 year old loves the magic tree house series but a favorite of both my 6 year old and my 3 year old are the dragon master series and the haunted library! Lots of pictures and easy concepts to understand but also lots of action and mysteries to figure out
We’ll have to check those out – they sound right up my 6-year old son’s alley! Thanks so much for commenting, hope to see you here again soon 🙂
Just came across this page on Pinterest, but as a kid I just adored the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle series! SO much fun!
Thanks for stopping by, we love Pinterest and Mrs. Piggle Wiggle too!
All good recommendations! We also love Dino Cove, Heroes in Training, & The Data Set series. Happy reading!
This is an amazing list! Thanks for sharing! I am looking forward to getting a few of these for my daughter!
my son and i loved chapter books. Actually, we still read chapter books together now even though he is 13. It is a great way to spend time together.