Geronimo Stilton series by Geronimo Stilton – the visual word play and clever stories make for a fast read. These should be read in color to fully appreciate them. They don’t need to be read in order. I’ve reviewed Geronimo Stilton, Secret Agent in more detail.
Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne – these are formulaic and not exactly brilliantly written, but that’s part of what makes them comforting to newly independent readers. They are informative, pretty well researched, and relatively fast paced. There is a loose meta-plot, so reading them in order (at least within groups—you don’t need to start at #1) has some advantages but isn’t required. In my experience, it’s likely kids will outgrow the books long before they read the whole series. The Wikipedia page has a nice breakdown of the groupings. There’s also a companion series of nonfictions books to tell you more about the things Jack and Annie encounter.
Time Warp Trio series by Jon Scieszka – these funny novels are full of word play and ridiculous situations while a trio of boys travel through time and have to figure out how to get back. There are facts scattered throughout, along with plenty of puns and silly insults. They’re a logical successor to the Magic Treehouse books, perfect for kids who prefer a little attitude. There are silly illustrations scattered throughout. No particular need to read these in order. I’ve reviewed a few of them in more detail.
Fairy Chronicles by J. H Sweet – although available on Kindle, the rich color illustrations in these novels make them worth buying hard copy. These are my daughter’s comfort books—she rereads them when she’s stressed out. Although each book focuses on a different fairy, they’re ideally read in order.
Captain Underpants and Super Diaper Baby by Dav Pilkey – these are crass and funny in precisely the way that makes 8 year olds laugh hysterically. Because they are partially supposedly written by the boys, some words are misspelled and occasionally the grammar is awful. Some parents will understandably not want to give these to their kids. We decided the belly laughs were worth the risk.
Ricky Ricotta by Dav Pilkey – these are essentially illustrated chapter books. They’re not nearly as rude as the Captain Underpants books. My son occasionally goes back and reads the whole series.
Frannie K Stein, Mad Scientist by Jim Benton – an amusing story of a young mad scientist who lives in suburbia in a very normal home and neighborhood. There’s a slight ick factor for young readers, but mostly they’re cute stories of a girl trying to both fit in and stay true to herself.
The Kids of Polk Street School by Patricia Reilly Giff – illustrated chapter books about a 2nd grade class. The pictures are cute and the stories seem to have some interpersonal complexity. I reviewed Look Out, Washington, D.C.! in more detail.
Horrible Harry by Suzy Kline – It’s probably not reliable to extrapolate on a whole series based on one book, but then, I did let the title keep me from exploring these when my kids were the right age. I reviewed Horrible Harry and the Kickball Wedding. I thought Harry wasn’t horrible at all, and the book had surprising depth for its length. Books for the youngest readers can be awful, but this was pretty good.
Nate the Great by Marjorie Wienman Sharmat – these are short enough that they don’t even have chapters, and that’s a length we ended up mostly skipping when my kids were growing up. If I’d taken a closer look at the Nate the Great books, we might have read more this length! They’re cute, include logic and problem solving, and have a variety of characters. I reviewed Nate the Great and the Halloween Hunt in more detail.
Jim Henson’s Enchanted Sisters by Elise Allen – magical sisters, one for each season, have adventures with their animal companions, and sometimes come into conflict with the Weeds—the four boys who live in the Barrens. The illustrations provide a lot of diversity in skin tones and cultural cues. I’ve only read Summer’s Friendship Games, but was impressed with the relatively complex plot point about second chances as people grow and change.
Since my kids are well past the early reader stage, there aren’t a ton of beginner chapter books in our house anymore. Here are some other great lists to help you keep those voracious beginning readers in good books!
Babymouse by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm – cute, sweet, funny, and occasionally sad and touching. Despite the overall pink and black color scheme, both my son and daughter enjoy this series.
Clone Wars Adventures (Star Wars) by multiple authors – these cartoonish graphic novels are well suited to the younger reader. We have learned, though, that the bindings don’t hold up well to multiple readings.
There are plenty of cool Japanese graphic novels out there, although I’d suggest going with a license you know because some of it is REALLY not appropriate. My kids are particularly fond of Pokemon and The Legend of Zelda. Although translated into English, the art requires that the book be read the way Japanese is written—from our perspective you start in the back and read toward the front. My son expressed some issues switching back and forth, although I think he was more amused than actually confused by this. My (at the time 12 year old) daughter tried the W.I.T.C.H. books and enjoyed them until the plot got too dark and scary. They’re set aside for now.
For older readers
Bone by Jeff Smith – this is a good series for kids maybe 9 and up. Its plot is complex, funny and dark by turns. It starts out pretty kid-friendly, though. Definitely best read in order.
Mouse Guard by David Petersen – these books are beautifully drawn and the mice are adorable, but this is not a book for children anymore than Watership Down is. However, it’s an engaging story of adventure, darkness, and war that’s perfect for the older reader (13 and up) who is ready for a complex and thought provoking story told through pictures as much as words.
My young teen daughter loves the Ms. Marvel comic by G. Willow Wilson, now collected into hardcover volumes: Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal, Ms. Marvel Vol. 2: Generation Why, and Ms. Marvel Vol. 3: Crushed. It features Kamala Khan, a 16 year old from New Jersey who discovers she’s a superhero.
Fans of the TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender will love the graphic novels that pick up where the series left off. The graphic novels are a bit darker than much of the TV series, so they’re probably best for ages 9 or 10 and up. There are detailed reviews of The Promise and The Search.
Lumberjanes is the story of five best friends at a summer camp for hardcore lady-types. It’s full of fun and fantastical adventures and consciously expands ideas of identity without being preachy. It’s reviewed in detail here.