Once kids have mastered the basics of learning to read, they're ready to move on from beginning readers to early chapter books, also called short-chapter books.
It can be tricky, however, to find just the right chapter book. Newly minted readers want, and deserve, a meatier story than beginning-reader books can provide. Yet they're not quite ready for full-blown novels just yet.
Early chapter books provide one great solution. These books offer an exciting story in brief bursts of text and also break up the text with numerous illustrations. In addition, the type size itself usually is larger than that of a longer novel.
Here's a look at some well-written new early chapter books:
• Brother and sister Nick and Maxine have recently moved into a tall apartment building, and Maxine has discovered a secret: There's an old-fashioned house in the backyard. Despite their parents' stern admonition against visiting the house, Nick and Maxine immediately set out to do just that. Fortunately, the house is inhabited by a cheerful elderly lady who welcomes the children with tea, cookies, a talking cat named Mr. Fuzzface, and four prize-winning mice. In "Mrs. Noodlekugel" (Candlewick Press, $14.99, ages 6-9), author Daniel Pinkwater tells a quirky, comic tale in his trademark deadpan style. Numerous black-and-white illustrations by Adam Stower further broaden the book's humor.
• Sir Balin was cursed at birth by a witch who said he would be known as the noblest knight in England yet also would bring misfortune on all of his companions. It's a heavy load to bear, and Sir Balin can't seem to keep himself out of trouble. But, as author Gerald Morris shows in "The Adventures of Sir Balin the Ill-Fated" (Houghton Mifflin, $14.99, ages 7-10), things change dramatically when he meets Lady Annalise, the Questing Lady. The latest entry in Mr. Morris' rollicking "Knights' Tales" series, "Sir Balin" deftly combines action and humor to create a page turner for newly minted readers. The detailed illustrations by graphic-novel author/illustrator Aaron Renier help bring the world of Sir Balin to vivid life.
• Jasper John Dooley has been waiting impatiently for his turn as the class "Star of the Week." He's thrilled when the day finally arrives, but things don't go well. First, his "Show and Tell" project -- a box of different types of lint -- doesn't provoke the oohs and aahs he had expected from classmates. Even worse, it seems his Family Tree project, which each "Star" produces, will end up being more of a Family "Stick" because Jasper doesn't have siblings like many others in his class. In "Jasper John Dooley: Star of the Week" (Kids Can Press, $15.95, ages 6-9), author Caroline Adderson tells a gentle story of friendship and school challenges that will resonate with any young reader. The illustrations by Ben Clanton help give readers a sense of Jasper and his world.
• Daisy Dawson is a young girl with a unique talent: She can converse with animals. And, as author Steve Voake shows in "Daisy Dawson on the Farm" (Candlewick Press, $14.99, ages 6-9), Daisy's gift comes in handy when the animals need to figure out a way to deal with a drought during a hot summer. Mr. Voake himself has a gift for making Daisy's ability to talk to animals seem totally believable, and even readers who aren't fond of talking-animal stories will enjoy his sharply drawn animal characters, especially Trixie, the conceited cat. "Daisy Dawson on the Farm" is the fifth in a series of Daisy's adventures, all of them featuring Jessica Meserve's whimsical illustrations.
• Steve Voake also has just published another -- and very different -- short-chapter book titled "Hooey Higgins and the Shark" (Candlewick Press, $14.99, ages 6-9). In this book, a boy named Hooey Higgins is determined to figure out a way to earn enough money to purchase a massive chocolate egg. When a shark is spotted off the coast near their English seaside town, Hooey and his best friend, Twig, cook up a scheme: They'll capture the shark and then charge people money to see it. Needless to say, the boys' full-of-holes plan doesn't work out the way they hope, but a happy ending may still be in sight. Mr. Voake's story is a bit crazy but lots of fun and matched perfectly by Emma Dodson's zany illustrations.
• Johanna Hurwitz has written many early chapter books over the years, and in "Magical Monty" (Candlewick Press, $15.99, ages 6-9), she demonstrates that she's still got the knack of understanding exactly what it's like to be of elementary-school age. One of a series of books about a young boy named Monty, "Magical Monty" opens as he nears the end of his first-grade year. Lots of things happened to Monty during his first-grade year. Some were bad, like a serious asthma attack, while some were good, like the new friends he'd made. Best of all, Monty now has a baby sister named Mandy. As in her other early chapter books, Ms. Hurwitz once again mines the magic of everyday life as she shows how Monty tries to learn magic tricks, marches with his karate class in a parade and earns his parents' gratitude when he catches Mandy's runaway baby carriage. Anik McGrory's illustrations add warmth and humor to Ms. Hurwitz's text.bookreviews - bookclub
Karen MacPherson, the children's/teen librarian at the Takoma Park, Md., Library, can be reached at Kam.Macpherson@gmail.com.