Some of the Best Chapter Books for Kids, Part 1

I’ve been searching for chapter books with diverse characters and humor, books that kids love and that I’ve enjoyed, too (I’ve read each and every book listed here). Here are some of my favorites. These heavily illustrated chapter books are perfect for elementary school-aged children who are reading well on their own but may not yet want margin-to-margin text. I’ve arranged these in order of reading difficulty: easiest first, most challenging last.

This post is old. See my improved and expanded list here!

Marshmallow Pie, the Cat Superstar (series), Clara Vulliamy [Amazon | Bookshop] — This super-cute chapter book is narrated by Marshmallow Marmaduke Vanilla-Bean Sugar-Pie Fluffington-Fitz-Noodle, a fluffy white cat whose owner dreams of stardom for him. Pie the cat might be fancy, but he’s a typical cat: reluctant to cooperate, silly and yet convinced of his own dignity, and spiteful about dogs (especially his nemesis, Buster from downstairs). Will he cooperate and behave during his audition at the animal acting agency? Packed with adorable and expressive drawings of Pie, this very sweet and cheerful book will delight animal-loving kids.

The 13-Story Treehouse (series), Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton [Amazon | Bookshop] — These wildly popular books might convince even the most reluctant readers to read (and reread and reread). Andy and Terry have the treehouse of every child’s dreams, and yet life isn’t perfect: they have publishing deadlines to meet and chaos keeps intruding. The chaos is slapstick, absurd, joke-a-minute stuff, with plenty of crude humor. (But I, a fully grown adult, laughed so hard during one of the later books that I cried.) The Treehouse books read (delightfully) like they’re written by children and are so packed with illustrations and goofiness that it’s easy to forget you’re reading at all.

Dory Fantasmagory (series), Abby Hanlon [Amazon | Bookshop] — Dory is a 6-year-old, Ramona-like pest, who infuriates her older brother and sister and yet longs to be played with (or simply to get attention). But she’s incredibly creative, too, so she invents a variety of imaginary friends and plays with them instead. But in the first book, her imagination gets out of hand and she has to deal with an imaginary villain, Mrs. Gobble Gracker. Be aware: the kids in the Dory books are sometimes mean to each other, and Dory plots to poison the imaginary Mrs. Gobble Gracker. It’s nothing you’d find unusual in a fairy tale plot, however, and the book is entertaining and silly. The format is a like a cross between a chapter book and a comic, so it’s an easy and fun step toward lengthier chapter books.

Juana & Lucas (series), Juana Medina [Amazon | Bookshop] — Feisty, opinionated Juana from Bogotá narrates this clever book about learning foreign languages. Juana is having an epically terrible day, but perhaps the worst part is when she discovers she has to learn the English. Although she’s determined not to (speaking her native language is so much simpler!), she asks various wise adults for their opinions. Nothing is persuasive, until suddenly someone says something utterly convincing! I love that this book, all about learning to love learning languages, has so much Spanish woven into it, and although almost nothing is translated, it’s easy to work out the meanings from context. Juana is a charming narrator, too, dramatic and with a good sense of humor. 

The Teacup House: Meet the Twitches (series), Hayley Scott and Pippa Curnick [Amazon] — Although this book isn’t explicitly about Sylvanian Families or Calico Critters, children who love tiny things and animal figurines might love its premise. As Stevie is getting ready to move from her apartment block to the countryside, her grandmother gives her a teacup house and a family of four rabbit figurines, who appear to be toys but are actually alive. But during the move, the father rabbit gets lost outside, and it’s up to the rabbits to find him and save him (yet they mustn’t let the humans see them move). I love that although Stevie is sad and anxious about moving, she sees the parallels between the excitement of setting up a new dollhouse and the excitement of setting up her new room in the countryside. Both fresh starts are full of possibilities. It’s a cheerful story, with big text and full-color illustrations on just about every page.

Zoey and Sassafras: Dragons and Marshmallows (series), Asia Citro and Marion Lindsay (illustrator) [Amazon | Bookshop] — This adorable series, about a girl and her mom who care for magical creatures in need, is perhaps the gold standard of STEM chapter books for young readers. The books teach not only concepts from biology but also the scientific method, as Zoey and her cat sidekick conduct experiments and problem-solve to diagnose and treat the animals that need her help. But if it sounds stuffy, it isn’t. The books are suspenseful, since Zoey’s decisions have real consequences: the health of these creatures depends on her quick thinking. And they’re lovely, readable books with an empathetic narrator — highly recommended.

Clementine (series), Sara Pennypacker and Marla Frazee (illustrator) [Amazon | Bookshop] — Clementine is not “the easy child” in her family, and even though she has good intentions, things often seem to go awry. They almost always go awry — okay, fine! (As she would say.) Much of the drama in the first book centers around a plan to fix her best friend’s hair after Clementine cut it off. But of course every new “fix” creates new problems. Clementine is a very funny and creative narrator — she makes up lots of good words, like “astoundishing” — and the books are wonderful portraits of a busy, energetic child who is bursting with thoughts and projects.

Anisha, Accidental Detective (series), Serena Patel and Emma McCann (illustrator) [Amazon] — Anisha is an organized and science-loving 10-year-old who just wishes her chaotic family could be normal. Right before her dramatic Aunt Bindi’s wedding, the groom goes missing and Anisha intercepts a ransom note. Can she and her best friend, animal-loving Milo, find the groom before the wedding? There are loads of funny hijinks, like a runaway-lobster-turned-pet, a ping-pong battle, and big drama when stinging foot cream gets mixed into the bride’s mehndi. Readers can learn a lot about Hindi words and Indian food and traditions here (and pick up a few lobster facts, too). Breathlessly narrated and wacky, with lots of elements of classic detective fiction, this book is charming and very funny.

This site uses affiliate links, and I might earn a small commission if you click through to buy these books. I only recommend books that I have used and love.

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