Book cover for the Princess in Black

Beginning Chapter Books

Do you know how sometimes you get into a rut for reading? I realize I’ve been gravitating towards a lot of YA lately, with the occasional middle grade novel. And after a couple of patrons asked for recommendations for beginning readers, I saw how stale my stock answers were getting. (Seriously I keep recommending the same few series.)

So for the summer, I gave myself a challenge, read as many beginning reader chapter books as I could, at least one per series. (And not just skim the back as I am booktalking them to a kid). My criteria is published in the last five years (preferably at least one volume) and diverse representation. And then I’ll write reviews of them! I will update this blog post with links to reviews as I write them.

FYI – Let’s define beginning chapter books. We have an E fiction section (picture books), E-BEG for beginning readers for kids as they just start to read independently and chapter books in J Fiction. The beginning chapter books tend to be 2nd grade level to beginning 3rd grade. They’re typically 60 to 90 pages but can go up to 120. They are usually illustrated, larger print, double spaced text, perfect for easing the transition to chapter books. Most frequently they are in series that kids will just devour. As they race through a series, kids will gain speed and confidence by seeing familiar plot lines and characters repeat.

First I asked twitter librarians what they liked. Here’s the book list from twitter:

  • Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon
  • Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman
  • Zoey and Sassafras by Asia Citron
  • Narhawl and Jelly by Ben Clanton
  • Princess in Black by Shannon Hale (review below)
  • Jasmine Toguchi by Debbi Michiko Florence
  • Olga and the Smelly Thing From Nowhere by Elise Gravel
  • Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz
  • Owl Diaries by Rebecca Elliott
  • Notebook of Doom by Troy Cummings
  • The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey
  • A to Z mysteries by Ron Roy (not new but a librarian is claiming she is seeing a resurgence at her school)
  • Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker by Shelley Johannes
  • Diva & Flea by Willems/DiTerlizzi
  • Inspector Flytrap by Tom Angleberger
  • Wolfie & Fly by Cary Fagan

From the We’re the People 2018 summer reading list, I gleaned a recommendation for The Gumazing Gum Girl.

Another source of recommendations – this blog list has some newer ones that look fun.

I’m also weeding J Fiction right now and as I go along, I’ll be pulling books to read. (There is a growing pile on my desk at work.)

And I will close this blog post up with my first review of The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale. This is a best selling series and here in Alaska it was on the battle of the books. However it is one of my favorite books. I’ve given it to several children in my social circle and my own daughter. It totally made my day when a friend texted me a photo of her daughter in a homemade Princess in Black costume with the word that they had bought the books for another family!

The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, illustraed by LeUyen Pham, Candlewick 2015. Series with five book so far, sixth book due out September 2018.

For all appearances, Princess Marigold is your average pink wearing, tea party having princess. No one suspects that when her monster alarm rings, she goes to battle the monsters that appear from the kingdom below in the goat pasture. The illustrations are cheerful and bright, cartoony in the best superhero princess style. It’s funny, she’s feisty, and it is perfect. Every child will be cheering for and dressing up as the Princess in Black. My own four year old has insisted we re-read them many times. And I know I can barely keep them in stock as kids from the 3 and 4 year-olds to the 2nd and 3rd graders read them all as quickly as we reshelve them.


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