Gateway Chapter Books for Beginners

These easy to read chapter books are perfect for beginning readers. They will get your kiddo hooked and wanting to read more and more! Some kids resist leaving picture books and reading chapter books, but this list will help you find something your child will have an interest in and be willing to give chapter books a try.

Photo of many of the books discussed in this post

Despite being very gifted linguistically, Kaitlyn (my second child) was very hesitant to start reading chapter books. Whether it was that she was experiencing perfectionist worries that she wouldn’t be able to read a bigger book or that it was she was an art lover and for that reason had an extra love for picture books, I am not sure. The way I got her into reading chapter books independently was to get her started on what I refer to as a gateway chapter book.

Brinley (my fourth child) was also hesitant to dive into chapter books, but I had already been through that with Kaitlyn so I was not worried about it by then.

Gateway chapter books are the answer!

A gateway chapter book is an easy book to read. It is often also usually a series. I call it “gateway” because it is what gets a child addicted to reading. A book series is a great way to get a child hooked on reading–they get to know and love characters who can be counted on to be there book after book. As I have discussed previously, some people hold a belief that a book series is inferior quality, but I strongly disagree. Even if you are in that camp, however, you can’t argue with the success rate of a book series turning a skeptical chapter book reader into a chapter book devourer. I have seen it happen with my own four children.

A book series allows a person to enjoy a book more (once he is on book two or later) and struggle less with getting to know an author’s writing style. That can be a limitation, and at some point, you might have to nudge your little reader past one author and onto another (I had to do that with my oldest), but a series is a surefire way to get your child interested in reading independently. 

Each of these series listed below have a range for reading levels. Series usually start at a lower level and get harder as you get further into the series. If you know your child’s reading comprehension level, that will help you in knowing if these series can be started by your child independently or not. Any of these would make a good read-aloud for a four year old or up; remember children understand at a higher level than they comprehend independently. My children started reading each of these series independently in first grade or second grade. 

I will also add that while a chapter book series is a great way to get a child confident in reading chapter books, it doesn’t mean your reader needs to stay in a series. Kaitlyn read a few Magic Treehouse books and then jumped to stand-alone chapter books. There are very few series she latched on to and she typically enjoyed the books that are the one and only more than those in a series. So Magic Treehouse served her well, but she quickly found she preferred to not read a series. There are many beginner chapter books that are not part of a series. This post may contain affiliate links which won’t change your price but will share some commission. 

Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne

This is hands down my favorite gateway chapter book series. I can’t even tell you how many books Osborne has written. I wouldn’t be surprised if she couldn’t tell you. This series is about siblings who go on adventures to different locations and eras. There is a historical fiction aspect to these books that I love. The books are mysteries, which provide a plot that always keeps kids engaged. Each book has a mystery and there is a larger mystery being solved throughout the books, so children are interested in reading the next book to see what happens. A great way to start these books is to read the first one out loud together. Then encourage your child to read one at some point, when you feel your child is ready to take that step. It is good to talk about what is going on as your child starts to read alone so you can be sure your child understands what he is reading. This series appeals to all kids. We own the first 12 of these. Then we borrowed from the library to continue on when the desire strikes.

Reading level is rated grades 3-7, but my children all started this in first grade.

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner

This series is old enough that most of us parents today read them when we were children. These books are full of adventure and mystery. They are good, clean reads. The text is easy to read and comprehend. I love the aspect in these books of siblings sticking together and forming a tight bond. These books are worth owning.

Reading level is rated grades 2-5. 

Mercy Watson by Kate DiCamillo

McKenna, my third child, has always liked the girly books and not had much interest in animal books at all, whether a picture book or a chapter book. When she was 6 years old, Mercy Watson suddenly became her favorite book. This surprised me quite a bit. One thing McKenna loves more than princesses is laughing, and Mercy Watson brings the humor in a big way. This book would appeal to both boys and girls. Any child who likes to laugh will like the Mercy Watson series. This funny pig who lives on Deckawoo Drive and loves toast had McKenna eating toast with a great deal of butter many days for lunch. It has beautiful full-color illustrations that help bring the story to life. The illustrations really help kids who don’t want to leave a picture book and move to a chapter book because the illustrations provide some pictures. McKenna got this box set for Christmas and she loved reading and re-reading these books. It is a New York Times best-selling series for good reason!

Reading level is rated Kindergarten-3rd Grade. 

The Secrets of Droon by Tony Abbott

This is a fun series full of adventure. Brayden burned through this series one summer. It isn’t classic literature, but it is a fun read. It is appealing to readers who like fantasy fiction. Brayden was my only child to really get into this series. These are books we have only ever checked out from the library and haven’t ever decided to own.

Reading level is rated grades 2-5.

Nancy Clancy by Jane O’Connor

I definitely didn’t give O’Connor enough credit. I very much enjoy the Fancy Nancy books, but I expected very little from these chapter books. Picture book gone chapter? Sounds like a disaster for sure. Fancy Nancy was one of McKenna’s favorite picture books, however, so I thought it would be a good segue into the chapter book world. I was so very pleasantly surprised! These books are very well written. They are mysteries that involve the familiar beloved characters from the picture books. I am not really into girly books. This series is the perfect balance of a strong female protagonist who is feminine. I would definitely recommend them for adding to your home library. We own all of the books that have been printed so far.

Reading level is rated grades 1-5

Nate the Great by Marjorie Weinmann Sharmat

Nate the Great is a classic series. They were written in the late 70’s, so many of us are probably familiar with them from childhood. The books are mysteries. They are well-written and fun. We have never owned these. Brayden had a short stint with them one summer, but mysteries have never been his genre so he didn’t latch on to them. If you have a mystery book lover, it would be a series worth owning.

Reading level is rated grades 1-4. 

My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett

This is a fun story of adventure. It really appeals to all children. This was a book Kaitlyn loved. It is a short series, which can be nice if you are worried your child will have a hard time leaving a series to branch out to other books. 

Reading level is rated grades 2-4.

A-Z Mysteries by Ron Roy

This is another mystery series. This one strongly appeals to all kids. This was one of Kaitlyn’s favorites as a second grader. They go through the letters of the alphabet (The Absent Author, the Bald Bandit, etc.). This is a series I wouldn’t mind owning, but Kaitlyn had read them all by the time I heard about them. 

Reading level is rated grades 1-4. 

The Never Girls by various authors

The Never Girls is a book series about four best friends who are whisked off to Never Land where they meet Tinker Bell and other fairies. I know, it sounds silly and like it will be sub-par. The stories are fun, however, and written well enough for your beginning chapter book reader. It is a great series for a girl who loves imaginary lands and princesses and fairies. And even though Kaitlyn wasn’t typically into princess books, she enjoyed these books. They have an element of mystery to them and they feel intense for a young reader. We own the first four of these. I would say you might just borrow from a library, but you might own the first few to have them around to get started. That actually reminds me that typically at a library, the first several books in a series often have a long waiting list, but as you get further on, the library typically has the books on hand most of the time. So owning the first few can be handy. 

Reading level is rated grades 1-4. 

Dragon Masters by Tracey West

This was one of Kaitlyn’s favorite series. You can see she really likes books with dragons in them. These books are written especially with new independent readers in mind. They are full of adventure. We own these books on Kindle. 

Reading level is rated grades 1-3.

The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale

Princess in Black Book Set

This is a really fun series that merges princesses and superheroes. This was one of Brinley’s favorite series when she first started to read chapter books. This series follows Princess Magnolia who has an alter-ego who fights monsters. The Princess in Black series books are great early chapter books for young readers and great for readers who want a female protagonist.

Reading level is rated grades Kindergarten-3.

Amelia Bedelia by Herman Parish

Amelia Bedelia Books

These books are perfect for kiddos who love to laugh. This was a favorite series of McKenna. It is full of silly events as Amelia takes everything quite literally.

Reading level is rated grades 1-5.

Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows

Ivy and Bean Treasure Box set

This was one of Brinley’s very favorite book series when she was younger. Ivy and Bean are very different from each other but are good friends. This series shows how two people who are opposites can come to be friends, which is a great lesson for our kids to learn!

Reading level is rated grades 1-5.

Rainbow Magic Princess Fairies by Daisy Meadows

This series is super, super easy to read. This is not classic literature. The appeal of this series is it is a fun series that appeals to many interests. Even beyond the other girly books out there, these series are comprised of a bunch of mini-series books of typically 7 (maybe always 7) books. They have a series on princesses. They have a series on ocean animals. They have a series on sports. They have a series on pets. There is just a wide variety so whatever your kiddo has a particular interest in, you can find a series that caters to that interest. 

I talk a big game in letting kids read what they are interested in, but when I first saw this series, my nose was admittedly turned up. Kaitlyn has never been into girly books, so it was easy for me to walk away. McKenna, however, loves girly books. So we gave them a shot. They don’t hurt to read and they are super fast reads, which is always rewarding for any reader.

Reading level is rated grades 2-5.

Narwhal and Jelly by Ben Clanton

Narwhal and Jelly graphic novels

Narwhal and Jelly is a graphic novel series. As someone with a degree in English, I wasn’t thrilled with the graphic novel craze as it was starting to come out. Brinley absolutely loved to read graphic novels, and I was reminded of the advice from Jim Treleease in The Read-Aloud Handbook to always encourage kids to read the types of things they enjoy reading. I definitely had this little fear in the back of my head that if I let Brinley read graphic novels she would never read novels that were just words. But I trusted Trelease, and he was right. She loves graphic novels AND novels that are only words.

A graphic novel is really a great gateway book. Graphic novels are written in a range of reading levels, so kids can be challenged on their reading and read books that are in their reading level range. They have images so they have that enjoyment that a picture book brings. They also are often written in a series, so they bring the kids back to the story over and over again.

The Narwhal and Jelly books are a fun series of books that follow a happy-go-lucky narwhal and his jellyfish friend. They discover the ocean together. This was a fun series Brinley really enjoyed. The first three are Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea, Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt, and Peanut Butter and Jelly.

Reading level is rated grades 1-4.

Melowy by Danielle Star

Melowy book 1

This is a fun little series for those who love unicorns. I think anyone who is a fan of My Little Pony will enjoy these. These are about unicorns with magical powers. The books focus on friendship and growing up. This is a series Brinley really enjoyed.

Reading level is rated grades 2-5.

Purrmaids by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallan

Purrmaids book cover

Purrmaids is about creatures who are part cat and part mermaid. I know, it might sound weird. But it clearly merges two things little kids often love: kittens and mermaids. Brinley has always loved cats and absolutely adored this series.

Reading level is rated grades 1-4.

Dragon Girls by Maddy Mara

Dragon Girls book cover

All of my kids have loved books with dragons in them. The dragon girls have amazing abilities and work to keep the forest safe. This was a big favorite of Brinley’s!

Reading level is rated grades 2-5.

Wallace and Grace by Heather Alexander

Wallace and Grace Book cover

These books are written with the intention of turning young readers toward chapter books someday. This is a fun mystery series that has full-color illustrations. There is mystery and adventure and it is a fun series.

Reading level is rated grades 1-2.

Fairy Ponies by Zanna Davidson

Fairy Ponies books

This is a fun, simple book for any reader who loves ponies. These books are intentionally written for young readers who can read but benefit from shorter books rather than a long novel. Brinley loved these.

Reading level is rated grades K-2.

Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel

Frog and Toad book set

The Frog and Toad books do not create a story that makes you NEED to read another book to see what happens. But the stories are charming and great for young readers. These are great books to read to young preschoolers and kindergarteners to get them to feel comfortable with books that are longer than a chapter book.

Reading level is rated ages 2-6 years.

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This post first appeared on this blog in February of 2016

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