Some of the Best Chapter Books for Kids: A Big Round-Up

I’ve been searching for chapter books with diverse characters and humor, books that kids love and that I’ve enjoyed, too. 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 novels without illustrations.

Great for Beginners

Too Small Tola, Atinuke and Onyinye Iwu [Amazon | Bookshop]

Heart-warming, gently funny stories about a girl’s life in Lagos, filled with delightful characters
From brilliant veteran children’s writer Atinuke, this is a lovely collection of three stories about a little girl living in Lagos. These stories show that even though Tola is the littlest of her siblings, she can still do amazing things: from helping her grandmother by carrying loads of shopping on her head, to standing up to a bully (with some backup from strong neighborhood women), to traveling all over the city to take measurements for Easter and Eid outfits. As always, Atinuke’s stories are immensely kind-hearted and filled with delightful details. And so much of the humor comes with a wink. Grandmommy, whose supporting role here is particularly funny, is a true character.

The Story of Diva and Flea, Mo Willems and Tony DiTerlizzi [Amazon | Bookshop]

A heartwarming Parisian one-off from the ever-delightful Mo Willems
Although this adorable, heavily illustrated chapter book is short and sweet, it must be one of the few children’s books to introduce the concept of the flâneur. It’s all the better for it. Flea the cat is the book’s flâneur, who explores Paris and has adventures, and Diva is a small dog who loves Flea’s stories but isn’t quite confident enough to venture outside her safe courtyard. Friends can help you be brave and try new things, though, and in this book the two animals each learn bravery from the other. Diva tries what Flea finds easy, and Flea tries what Diva finds easy. It’s wholly lovely and heartwarming, and Mo Willems himself even makes an appearance at the end. 

Dory Fantasmagory (series), Abby Hanlon [Amazon | Bookshop]

Part chapter book, part comic, this series with a naughty but inventive heroine is a terrific way to build toward reading longer books
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.

Marshmallow Pie, the Cat Superstar (series), Clara Vulliamy [Amazon | Bookshop]

A reluctant cat is pushed toward stardom in this highly adorable series
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.

Mia Mayhem (series), Kara West and Leeza Hernandez [Amazon | Bookshop]

A light, wish-fulfillment fantasy about life in a superhero school
This zippy chapter book follows Mia as she discovers that not only are her parents superheroes (with superhero powers, of course), but she’s going to be one, too. She’s soon packed off to a superhero school, where she begins lessons in skills like flying and animal communication. There isn’t a lot of emotional development here or anything particularly touching, but for kids who like to imagine having a secret identity and superhero powers, it might just do the trick. And it’s a fast-paced and quick read, with lots of cute black and white illustrations.

Kitty and the Moonlight Rescue (series), Paula Harrison and Jenny Løvlie [Amazon | Bookshop]

A light and sweet action-packed fantasy for fans of superheroes and cats
Kitty’s mom is a superhero with cat-like senses and the ability to communicate with cats. Although Kitty longs to go on rooftop adventures like her mom, she doubts she’s truly brave enough. (That is, of course, until a cat named Figaro shows up and needs her help investigating mysterious noises coming from the clock tower.) This series is all about action — leaping across the rooftops and climbing to dizzying heights — and the fantasy of having a community of cat friends. This one is great for younger independent readers: full of big-hearted, supportive characters and cats with big eyes and adorable faces.

The Teacup House: Meet the Twitches (series), Hayley Scott and Pippa Curnick [Amazon]

A sweet, simple story for children who love figurines and miniatures
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.

Big Laughs

The 13-Story Treehouse (series), Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton [Amazon | Bookshop]

A delightfully absurd, laugh-so-hard-you-cry series that’s compulsively readable
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.

Anisha, Accidental Detective (series), Serena Patel and Emma McCann (illustrator) [Amazon]

Funny and highly enjoyable detective novels with a science-loving heroine
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.

Yours Sincerely, Giraffe, Megumi Iwasa and Jun Takabatake [Amazon | Bookshop]

A masterpiece of children’s literature and a true classic: sweet, surprising, laugh-out-loud funny, and brilliantly charming
This wildly charming chapter book from Japan is laugh-out-loud funny and almost unbearably sweet. A bored giraffe sends a letter to an animal — any animal will do! — over the horizon, and it’s a penguin who writes back. Giraffe has never seen or heard of a penguin before, and he wonders what his friend looks like, how long his neck might be. And penguin wonders, what is a neck…? Their letters are lovely and their misunderstandings adorable. Reading this, I was reminded of Arnold Lobel’s sweet, well-meaning (and often rather confused) characters, and, sure enough, it has much of the same joy as a Lobel book — a true delight for parents and children alike.

Dear Professor Whale, Megumi Iwasa and Jun Takabatake [Amazon | Bookshop]

A lovely and rewarding sequel with many of the same pleasures as the original
While the sequel to Yours Sincerely, Giraffe isn’t quite another masterpiece, it’s still truly great. In this book, Professor Whale organizes the Whale Point Olympics and finally gets to hang out with other whales (some from his past and some new friends, too). The games are all as heartwarming as you would imagine, with animals helping each other to the finish line and being proud simply for doing their best. Giraffe and Penguin make appearances here, too, but the real focus is on the Professor and the happy, fulfilling life he gets to make for himself after his retirement. It’s so lovely to spend time in this world — I only wish there were more of these books.

Stuntboy: In the Meantime, Jason Reynolds and Raúl the Third [Amazon | Bookshop]

A laugh-out-loud work of art, packed with incredible characters and knock-out prose
Stuntboy is a work of art, a rare chapter book that’s funny, tender, clever, and visually beautiful, too. Portico Reeves lives in an apartment building with his parents, his best friend, Zola, and an interesting and charismatic group of neighbors. But Portico has two big problems: his nemesis Herbert Singletary the Worst lives in the apartment building, too, and his parents have just announced that they’ll be moving to separate apartments, on separate floors. To deal with these difficulties, Portico and Zola compare their problems to plotlines in their favorite retro space program, Super Space Warriors, and Zola gives Portico tips on breathing and relaxation from her mom, a meditation and yoga coach. But Portico also goes a step further. When his parents start arguing — and go into “the Mean Time” — he becomes Stuntboy, a superhero who performs elaborate stunts to cope with stressful situations. It’s all incredibly entertaining, with cameos from fascinating neighbors like Mr. Mister and the magnetic character everyone calls “Soup” — and wordplay so clever that even adults will laugh out loud. The design is stunning, too. Here, the words and pictures work together as equal partners, much like in a graphic novel. It’s a joy to read a book like this. 

Charlie Changes Into a Chicken (series), Sam Copeland and Sarah Horne [Amazon | Book Depository]

A laugh-out-loud, light-hearted book filled with wild and absurd antics
After visiting his older brother in the hospital, Charlie comes home and — to his utter amazement — changes into a spider. It doesn’t last long (though long enough to give him a close call with the family cat), but soon he changes into a pigeon, then a snake, and then other animals, too. What could be causing this shapeshifting? He and his friends set up some experiments to find out. This book’s extremely playful narrator, “the author,” is hysterical. The book is full of silliness, like goofy footnotes, questions from “readers,” and a supposed apology from the publisher. Even the title is a joke. Be aware that it’s full of bathroom humor, but all of it is so well done, and with such funny illustrations, that I was laughing out loud even as I was reading it by myself. It’s a super-playful book that should have kids doubled over laughing.

Bad Panda (series), Swapna Haddow and Sheena Dempsey [Amazon | Bookshop]

A joke-a-minute romp about cute animals behaving badly
In Bad Panda, a super-duper cute and fluffy panda named Lin isn’t too happy about being separated from her brother and sent to a zoo. So she whips up a plan: be so very bad that the zoo has to send her back. But there’s a problem. Every time Lin does something bad, people think it’s adorable! Things escalate to a truly absurd conclusion. This book’s sense of humor has some overlap with the 13-Story Treehouse books: zany, joke-a-minute, and plenty of gross-out gags. I found it truly funny at times and laughed out loud, even as I was reading on my own. It’s loaded with goofy color illustrations and is also, unusually, part chapter book and part graphic novel. A fun read for kids who like the wacky and ridiculous.

Sam Wu Is Not Afraid of Ghosts (series), Katie and Kevin Tsang [Amazon | Bookshop]

Funny mystery novels in which just about everything goes hilariously wrong
Sam Wu is very imaginative, creative, and also quite worried about being labeled “scared.” He’s determined not to be (even if he really, really is). In this very funny first book, Sam and his best friends believe a ghost is haunting his house and come up with all sorts of wild plans to catch it (most of which go terrifically wrong, of course). The book is reminiscent of a classic children’s mystery story, but with lots of illustrations, zany, engaging text design that practically leaps off the page, and a cunning cat named Butterbutt. 

(And a Few More Laughs)

While not exactly classics, these honorable mentions are still very funny.

Once Upon a Tim, Stuart Gibbs and Stacy Curtis [Amazon | Bookshop]

Silly and laugh-out-loud funny, this chapter book gleefully dismantles medieval fairy tale tropes
Tim and Belinda hate being peasants and are desperate for any change of pace. So when the (supposedly) brave and daring prince Ruprecht issues a call for new knights, they jump at the chance – and end up going on a truly ridiculous quest. Gibbs clearly loves poking fun at fairy tales and dismantling one trope after another, and the result is pure silliness. (For example, instead of a sphinx, this book has a stinx, and instead of a pet dog, Tim has a fr-dog, a dog turned into a frog by a neighborhood witch.) The book makes some awkward, pretty basic stabs at feminism (I think its heart is in the right place, though one wishes for better), but the story is so enjoyable, so funny and absurd – kids will laugh a lot at this one (and I did, too).

There’s a Dog in My Brain!, Caroline Greene and Rikin Parekh [Amazon | Book Depository]

A dog and a boy switch bodies in this light and silly Freaky Friday-style romp
Let’s be straight: there’s nothing deep here, but this quick, light book is just the right amount of ridiculous. After Danny carelessly wishes upon a star, he and his dog Dudley switch bodies. Then before they know it, Danny-as-dog is left alone with a grumpy, sinister-seeming dogsitter as Dudley-as-boy is dragged to a wedding (it really doesn’t go well). The illustrations are goofy in the best way, and pictures of Dudley-as-boy drinking out of a toilet or lifting his leg to pee make for some big laughs. It’s a really fun concept, cheerfully executed with lots of humor.

Charismatic Protagonists

Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet (series), Zanib Mian and Nasaya Mafaridik [Amazon | Bookshop]

An upbeat and goofy novel about the joys of growing up with Islam and the difficulty of prejudice and intolerance
This cheerful, zippy chapter book is not only a really enjoyable tale about a science-loving family but could also serve as a terrific introduction to Islam for kids. Omar’s family has moved houses and schools, and he’s feeling all the usual anxiety: Will I like my new room? What will my new school be like? Will I have friends? But these anxieties are complicated by other challenges. Their new neighbor is unfriendly and keeps complaining about “the Muslims” next door, while a boy at school tells Omar that one day “the Asians will be kicked out of the country.” These issues get resolved, and it’s all dealt with quite gently, but most of the book is a happy exploration of Omar’s life as a Muslim: his family’s special meals, fasting for Ramadan (and his dream of getting a Ferrari Italia if he can stick to his fasting), daily prayers, and the friendliness of the mosque. And Omar’s family is delightful, too. A great and very readable series. 

Juana & Lucas (series), Juana Medina [Amazon | Bookshop]

Set in Colombia, this charming series cleverly weaves loads of Spanish into the text
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. 

Zoey and Sassafras: Dragons and Marshmallows (series), Asia Citro and Marion Lindsay (illustrator) [Amazon | Bookshop]

Incredibly enjoyable modern classics that set the standard for STEM chapter books
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]

A clever, charismatic heroine keeps getting into trouble in this charming series for fans of Ramona
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 loads of good words, like “astoundishing” — and the books are wonderful portraits of a busy, energetic child who is bursting with thoughts and projects.

Toys Go Out (series), Emily Jenkins and Paul O. Zelinsky [Amazon | Bookshop]

A funny, wise, and highly imaginative series about three toys with big personalities
This series of six stories explores the adventures of three toys, a sting ray, a buffalo, and a ball, all with distinct and endearing personalities and faults. They belong to the same 6-year-old girl and, like siblings, they squabble over which of them she loves most. There are more serious conflicts here, too, involving questions of shame, authenticity, and identity (Plastic the ball wonders, Am I really plastic? And if I am, is that a bad thing?). The toys sometimes say truly unkind things to each other, but the tender way they work toward resolution, thinking through shame and disappointment and hurt feelings, is extremely sweet. And on top of all that, the book is very funny — perhaps even funnier for adults? — with clever dialogue and an entertaining range of background characters, like Frank the washing machine. Children who believe that all inanimate objects have lives and feelings might love this book especially. (It’s a fairly easy read, but be aware that it has fewer illustrations than many chapter books for this age range.)

Anna Hibiscus (series), Atinuke [Amazon]

Joyous, funny, and touching stories about a large, charming family in Amazing Africa — from the wonderful Atinuke
Anna Hibiscus lives in a big house in Amazing Africa with her Canadian mother, African father, twin brothers Double and Trouble, uncles, aunties, and grandparents. Each chapter is a fully illustrated, self-contained adventure, though some stories build upon each other from book to book (at the end of the first book, Anna has just gotten permission to visit her grandmother in Canada at Christmastime, to see snow — a journey she’ll take in a later book). Some of the stories are quite funny: her family plans a solo vacation, but everyone is so miserable doing all the chores and childcare themselves that slowly, slowly, aunties and uncles and grandparents join them, until everyone is on vacation together (and happier!). Others have a more serious tone, as when Anna must correct a serious misjudgment that left the girls who sell oranges without any income. But these are joyous, heartwarming books, filled with great personalities. And any reader with younger brothers or sisters might especially appreciate the hilarious twins Double and Trouble. 

Hotel Flamingo (series), Alex Milway [Amazon]

A lovely, big-hearted series about a girl who runs a welcoming hotel for animals
Anna Dupont arrives at the dusty and nearly abandoned Hotel Flamingo determined to bring it back to its former glory. But it’s not the only hotel on Animal Boulevard. Down the road, the Glitz offers luxurious accommodations that Hotel Flamingo can never match. Anna and her animal staff, however, have some big ideas. Milway’s lovely and pure-hearted book explores empathy and equality through one girl’s quest to offer exemplary service to all animals, no matter their needs, no matter what preconceptions others might have about them. Even when Madame Le Pig is throwing another fit in the kitchen, Hotel Flamingo is an idyllic place to be. 

Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey (series), Erin Entrada Kelly [Amazon | Bookshop]

A punny, quirky, and delightful chapter book about anxiety and trust
I love a lot of things about this book: its many puns, its trivia about silent movies, its Louisiana setting, the way Socrates pops up every now and then, and a magnolia tree adversary named Peppina. But it’s also a touching book about worry and sensitivity. Marisol is sensitive (she treats objects as though they have feelings, as many of us sensitive children do or did!) and she worries a lot. Will she know what to say when someone at school is mean to her? What will it be like to meet her relatives in the Philippines? But her central worry in this book is whether she’ll ever feel comfortable climbing Peppina the magnolia tree, as her best friend Jada does. This is such a funny and wise book about anxiety, vulnerability, and trust — a real joy to read. 

Stella Diaz Has Something to Say (series), Angela Dominguez [Amazon | Bookshop]

A reassuring book about working through worries with the help of family of friends
Shy Stella Diaz has some concerns: she doesn’t know Spanish well enough to speak like some of her relatives, she’s nervous about giving presentations in front of her class, and a friendly new student is always making her blush. Plus, when her class learns the word “alien,” she worries about the word’s connotations and wishes it didn’t apply to her. These concerns mostly get resolved in the end, of course, with help from her warm, supportive family and friends. And it’s a pleasant read: the text is peppered with Spanish words and phrases and Stella is an enthusiastic, eager narrator (with a love of marine life).

Maya and the Robot, Eve L. Ewing and Christine Almeda [Amazon | Bookshop]

An extremely entertaining robotics-themed novel that’s perfect for kids transitioning from chapter books to middle grade fiction
This wonderfully readable novel begins with a terrific hook: a slow-motion food fight disaster sequence, featuring screaming teachers, pudding, and creamed corn (of course). It’s laugh-out-loud funny, brilliantly done, and the rest of the book is just as good. Fifth-grader Maya is distraught that she’s been put in a separate class from her two best friends, because making friends isn’t so easy for her. But things look up when she inherits an adorable robot designed by a mysterious engineer, the son of a family friend. Maya’s passionate about science and robotics, and although the robot’s capabilities are probably a bit more fantasy than reality (it’s funner that way, after all), there’s a lot of scientific stuff to be excited about here. The book also deals with anxiety, shyness, and, briefly, gun violence, but the plot is anchored in a supportive, lovely community, and the narration is terrific: clever, charismatic, a bit sarcastic. It’s a great read that straddles the line between chapter books and middle grade fiction — probably best for grades 2-5.

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