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Great Early Chapter Books For Your Emerging Reader in 2021

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Claire Handscombe
Claire Handscombe

One of the most magical times in parenthood, especially for a book nerd mum or dad, is watching our children learn to read – first to sound out letters and syllables, then words, and then whole sentences. And before you know it, they too can know the joy of being transported beyond their bedroom and to all kinds of magical worlds: worlds with unicorns and princesses and talking animals, or worlds more like our own but filled with fun, interesting characters who can start to feel like friends. Early chapter books or reader series are especially great for this age group, retuning to familiar people and places over and over again, whether they still enjoy being read to or hiding under the covers with the flashlight and a paperback.

There are so many great series to choose from. Here are some of our favourites at East City Bookshop in Washington, D.C., where I work.

Ivy & Bean by Annie Barrows and Sophie Blackall
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When Ivy’s mum suggests to her that she might want to be friends with Bean, who lives in their street, Ivy turns her nose up. Bean is boring! But Ivy’s sister is even more boring, and she soon needs an ally – and she and Bean become friends after all, and go on to have adventures together.

Great for kids who: sometimes struggle with being the younger sibling, and love Ramona the Pest!

Jada Jones by Kelly Starling Lyons and Vanessa Brantley-Newton
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The Jada Jones series is populated with girls of colour who love science. Jada works through issues faced by many 4th graders, like when someone they’re close to moves and they have to renegotiate a friendship group, or figuring out how to host a great sleepover. She runs for class representative and learns to dance even though it’s not her thing. There are a lot of positive life lessons here. Here’s what Kirkus said about the first book: “Fast-paced, with supersimple vocabulary and a smattering of earth science to spark interest in young rock collectors everywhere.”

Great for kids who: love learning and are figuring out friendship

Jasmine Toguchi Mochi Queen by Debbi Michiko Florence and Elizabet Vukovic
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Another series that’s great for fans of Romona the Pest is Jasmine Toguchi. Each book focusses on a different element of Japanese culture and building a story around that. It’s a great way to connect with generations past for Japanese American children, and a fun way to learn about others for those with a different background, fostering understanding between ethnicities and cultures in a fun way.

Great for kids who: want to learn more about Japanese culture, and want to be the special sibling for once!

The Princess In Black, by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale and Leuyen Pham

Why choose between princesses and superheroes when you can have both in one book? The Princess in Black has been a favourite for years, for kids as well their parents, who enjoy the sassy humour.

Great for kids who: love fun, cartoony illustrations, secret identities, and fighting monsters!

The Questioneers, by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts

If your child has grown up reading STEAM-based picture books Rosie Revere, Engineer, Iggy Peck, Architect, Sofia Valdez, Future Prez, and books about the rest of the Questioneers gang, they’ll love digging deeper into their adventures with all of the Questioneers early chapter books.

Great for kids who: love to ask questions to understand the world better.

Yasmin, by Saadia Faruqi and Hatem Aly

The Yasmin series is an Own Voices read by a Pakistani American writer, and it weaves in words in Urdu and Muslim traditions. And Yasmin herself is plucky, strong-willed, and creative – a great role model and a fun character to read about.

Great for kids who: love to read about extended families, and want to hang out with a fun, creative thinker!