Life Beyond the Magic Tree House: Great Early Readers Hand-Selected by Us!

This blog post has been a long time coming. Perhaps the procrastination comes from the fact that we talk about this topic almost every single day in the bookstore–whether to a bewildered parent who is confused what the difference could possibly be between an “early reader,” an “early chapter book,” and a plain old “chapter book” or to a young reader him or herself looking for something new, something exciting, and YES they’ve already read Magic Tree House. All of them. So don’t ask.

Since RoscoeBooks opened a little over a year ago, our Early Readers section has blossomed from a measly 2 shelves with room to spare to a jam-packed 5 shelf extravaganza. That might not seem huge, but considering that—one—we are a teeny tiny little store and 5 shelves means a great deal, even more so in children’s, and—two—each of these books is about the height of two nickels placed on top of each other, 5 shelves is really something.

Parents who have gotten used to the luxury of a constant publishing schedule of amazing new picture books and middle grade novels are often let down when they are faced with the in-between. What’s new? What’s worth reading? What won’t make me tear my hair out as I read it for the tenth time?

Don’t worry. We got you. These are our FAVORITE new early readers and early chapter books to get your young reader through this tricky period.


I mean, who hasn’t? Dory Fantasmagory with art by Abby Hanlon

Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon

This was one of my favorite early readers of 2014, and the sequel, which came out last year (Dory and the Real True Friend), is just as good. Dory is an awesome protagonist, a girl but not quite girly, a goofball but not Junie B. Jones level mean. She has an older sister and brother who tend to give her a hard time, but her wild imagination with absurdist monsters and gnome-like fairy godmothers helps her through. It’s a great one for kids still struggling with the whole book thing because it’s written in that now-trademark Wimpy Kid style. And there’s a chapter where she acts like a dog the whole time. I mean, come on. This one’s a no brainer.

Best Fit: Boy or Girl struggling with moving from levelers to real chapter books. Dory is in 2nd grade, so they won’t feel like they’re reading down. Hanlon is a former teacher, and you can tell she is SUPER aware of reading levels.

Space Taxi by Wendy Mass

I’m a huge Wendy Mass fan in general, and her early reading series does not disappoint. Archie is just a regular eight year old until Take Your Child to Work Day. He tags along with his father, a funky taxi driver who, as it turns out, has anything BUT ordinary clientele. Like out of this world extra-ordinary! Throw in a talking cat and a looming space war and it’s a hilarious ride.

Best Fit: Boy or Girl (who doesn’t need a girl protagonist) whose reading skills are a little more developed, but might still be struggling to stick with a book until the end. This one is a madcap adventure that will keep them interested, but it is a traditional early chapter book with fewer pictures.

BONUS: This one makes for a great read aloud!


Notebook of Doom: Attack of the Balloon Goons by Troy Cummings

Notebook of Doom by Troy Cummings

This one is hilarious and a little edgy, so it might be a little much for kids with some nightmare-issues (although it’s really more scary funny than scary scary). Alexander has just moved to a new town that seems a little peculiar. For one thing, his elementary school has been “temporarily relocated” into an abandoned hospital and his class is in the basement morgue. And not just that. These balloon advertisements seem to be…following him. This one has a great journal style with tons of illustrations and fun themes of working WITH your enemies. Plus, the monsters are always ridiculous like “Balloon Goons” or “Meat-Eating Vegetables.”

Best Fit: Reluctant boys who can’t figure out why their parents are pushing them towards reading when their video games are waiting…


The Great Pet Escape by Victoria Jamieson

Great Pet Escape by Victoria Jamieson

This is the newest early reader on the list, but it quickly worked its way up my favorites list. You may remember Jamieson from her incredible work on Roller Girl last year. This is a great new graphic novel following three formerly hard-knock criminals. Only thing is one’s a hamster, one’s a guinea pig, the other is a rabbit and they all live in an elementary school as class pets. It’s hilarious and won’t make parents want to jump off a building. Promise.

Best Fit: This one is for all the early readers who have seen their older siblings neck deep in Sisters, Drama, and Smile but aren’t quite old enough for that. Class pets from Kindergarten to 5th grade are represented.


The Most Unlikely Superhero in Lunch Lady series by Jarrett Krosoczka

Lunch Lady by Jarrett Krosoczka

Another graphic novel that is maybe even a bit lower than Great Pet Escape, but just as much fun! Did you ever suspect that your lunch lady might be part of an international crime-fighting collection of other lunch ladies who are consistently being called upon to save the world? No? Well, prepare to be surprised. These are super hilarious and show the darker sides of librarians, substitutes, and, yes, even lunch ladies.

Best Fit: Definitely one of the lower readers on here, but they’re completely sarcastic and could work for anyone drawn to the graphic novel style. I have even sold these to adults, but I’m not naming names.

Ready, Set, Dogs by Stephanie Calmenson

Are you tired of Puppy Place? Magic Puppy? Pet Rescue? Well hold on to your hats, parents. Ready, Set, Dogs is a new dog series that is a cut above (in my opinion). Best friends Kate and Lucie are in love with dogs. The only downside is that they both live in apartments where dogs are strictly forbidden. But after a fortuitous stop into the antique store, the girls find two necklaces that, when worn, can turn them INTO DOGS. Crazy, right? My absolute favorite trick with these early readers is to ask young girls, “I have an awesome  series, but it’s only for real dog lovers. Do you by any chance LOVE DOGS?” Watch as their eyes widen and they whisper dramatically, “How did you know that?” They’re hooked.

Best Fit: Animal lovers, but these are early chapter books. Might be a challenge for very early readers.

Princess Posey by Stephanie Greene

This is my go-to on a lot of fronts: first chapter book, starting school, girly-girl early reader (without dipping my toe into the Sparkle Fairy Pond). Posey is sparkly, glittery, and a little bit of a tough cookie. In the first book of the series, Posey is terrified to start first grade because she can’t wear her super awesome pink and glittery tu-tu (which is thankfully featured on the cover to sucker in those girly-girls out there). Luckily, Posey is about to find out she has a wonderful teacher who thinks we should be as unique as we want to be.

Best Fit: Girly-girls just getting into the chapter book format. This one has a pretty low reading level.


Aphrodite the Beauty by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams

Goddess Girls by Joan Holub

Oh man, are you tired of early readers yet? ME NEITHER!

Moving on, I love the Goddess Girls because they are nice and thick, so you can pass them to a struggling 8 or 9 year old with no shame. Plus, Joan Holub is a super cool writer who pens a lot of those “Who Was?” and “What Was?” books. These books are loaded with information about mythology (don’t let the Bratz-esque covers fool you), but they’re frilly enough to not be a total bore for a budding fiction lover (refer back to the Bratz-esque covers). There are like 19 of these right now, but most girls love to start with No. 3, Aphrodite the Beauty. Go Figure.

Best Fit: Girls* with an interest in burgeoning Percy Jackson enthusiasm. These are a bit higher level-wise, and are more like your traditional chapter books than anything else on this list.

*I hope that Holub takes the hint and comes out with a God Boys… not quite as catchy a title, but it would help me get boys as excited about this series. Although that said, if you can get your boy readers over the title, there are a number of great male characters throughout the series!


Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot by Dav Pilkey with art by Dan Santat

Ricky Ricotta by Dav Pilkey

I was turned on to Ricky Ricotta, the brave little mouse who definitely COULD, by a mother who had struggled to get her son into reading (which is honestly where I get most of my more brilliant ideas…shout out to moms). This is a super cool, full color, extra sleek graphic novel format for early readers who have just moved past levelers. Ricky is a mouse just trying to get by until he befriends an enormous robot created by an evil scientist. That’s when things get exciting! I love Dav Pilkey for his Captain Underpants series, which is only not included on this list because it’s pretty much already a classic, but Ricky Ricotta is a fun new character from a very funny writer!

Best Fit: Reluctant readers with a penchant for TV-style entertainment. Like I said, these look quite sleek!


Me in High School. Just Kidding. Art by Chris Jones

Jim Nasium by Marty Mcknight

Ah, sports fans. What are we to do with you? Thankfully, Marty McKnight thought about this problem and has created a great new early readers series aimed at sports enthusiasts. What’s not to love about this series? Jim has a best buddy, and they’re not totally awesome at sports…or a lot of other things for that matter. But they keep trying! So far, they’ve been basketball players, hockey players, soccer players, and (of course) Football players (or football fumblers as they’re more affectionately known). Plus, his name is Jim Nasium. Jim. Nasium. Get it? Is this Tolstoy? No, but Jim is a very sweet character with enough sports references to pique interest.

Best Fit: Sports nuts that might be tangentially interested in best friend problems. These are nice early early chapter books with funky, interesting illustrations by Chris Jones.

Agree? Disagree? Find me blasphemous? Let us know what your favorite early reader series are in the comments below!

About Emily

Emily is a veteran in the customer service field, waiting tables, making coffee, renting videos (remember those?), and selling books since she was 15 years old. She enjoys glitter pens, drinking wine, critiquing horror movies, and planning vacations that may or may not come to fruition. Perhaps the most accurate thing ever said about Emily is that she is "crafty to a fault." She has a master's, but probably isn't using it the right way. When it comes to reading, Emily is always searching for narrative children's books, multidimensional board books, middle grade novels that make her cry and adult novels centered on concepts of home.
This entry was posted in Books and Books, Musings, Young Readers. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Life Beyond the Magic Tree House: Great Early Readers Hand-Selected by Us!

  1. KatieKatie says:

    Love your choices!


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