Category Archives: reading level grade 1-3

The Adventures of Alfie Onion

I am often shocked at how good books aimed at kids are these days. The one area that is still struggling, but getting better all the time, is books aimed at young readers who are quite strong. These are often considered transitional books and will have fewer pages and sometimes contain some pictures. So when I find a good one, I just have to share it.


The Adventures of Alfie Onion, by Vivian French, is a very funny take at the concept of fairy tales and heroes and a great read for kids 7+.

The book opens by focusing on Aggie French. At the age of 10 she is given a book of fairy tales and they shape her life – she is going to live the fairy tale dream. When she realizes she isn’t going to marry a prince, she sets her sights on finding a hero who would bring back everything to allow her find her “Happily Ever After and Glorious Luxury.” Continue reading →

Thinking Outside of the Box with Goldie Blox

Getting girls excited by STEAM projects is incredibly popular right now. So we were very excited when the GoldieBlox team came out with their first chapter book for young girls this past May. I immediately purchased the first one for my daughter and she loved it. While she is a complete fashionista, E is also my child who likes to think outside of the box and create things, so I think she relates to Goldie.

Thinking Outside of the Box with Goldie Blox.png

The series focuses on Goldie and a group of her friends. In the first book, Goldie Blox Ruins Rules the School, Goldie has to go to a regular, though private school for the first time after blowing the roof off of the small home-style school her mother runs. When she arrives there, even though her neighbor and best friend is there with her, she knows she doesn’t fit in. Higgs Bozon Prep is complete with rigid rules and conventional conformity which don’t work well for someone like Goldie who laughs in the face of rules and has unique was at solving problems. She rounds up a group of allies who want her out of the school and winds up making some new friends and learning about teamwork. Continue reading →

Katie Kazoo, Switcheroo

My 7 year old adores audio books. She falls asleep to them every night and sometimes does art projects while listening to them. My 10 year old has enjoyed them since she was about the same age, but she only listened to books she had already read whereas my younger child likes to listen first. We have quickly made our way through all 6 Land of Stories books, the Ramona books (Stockard Channing!!!), and quite a few others. But sometimes, finding a series that she likes can be a challenge. Enter Katie Kazoo, Switcheroo.

book 1This series, by Nancy Krulik, was published from 2002-2011, but we have never read it before. It just wasn’t on my older daughter’s radar, for whatever reason. E is adoring the series and I’m rather impressed myself. The concept of the series is that young Katie Carew makes a wish after an exceptionally bad day asking to be anyone but herself. Now when a special wind blows, she becomes someone else, even the class hamster! Within about 70 pages, she manages to learn something about others, or other situations, by walking in someone else’s shoes.

Katie Kazoo offers a great option for those ready to read longer chapter books, but not quite ready for the likes of Harry Potter. There are still illustrations that keep them engaged and while the stories are silly and fun, Katie learns that bad behavior doesn’t work – for example, in book 5 she thinks having no rules would make everything better, but realizes that we need some rules to avoid mass chaos. Continue reading →

Good books for Young Readers

Summer is progressing beautifully. J really needed a break from school and has enjoyed spending a ton of time reading her books and listening to audio books. I think that she is enjoying timing herself to see how long she is reading. It is almost comical, when I signed her up for our local library challenge I put our goal at 1500 minutes for the summer and she is already at over 1400! I don’t even bother including the time in the evening when we read Harry Potter together. And it we really are reading together – whenever Hermione speaks she is the one to act it out.

Anyhoo, at one point I hat promised a list of good books that were appropriate for young readers her age. So we’re talking books that are good for 1st grade through 3rd or 4th grade. While I was working on that list, I also thought about books that I would like to see J read that she hasn’t yet.

So here is the list of books that we have already read:Books we Recommend

  • A-Z Mysteries
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  • Cam Jansen
  • Charlie & The Chocolate Factory
  • Charlotte’s Web
  • Flat Stanley
  • Ivy & Bean
  • Judy Moody
  • Magic Treehouse
  • Mermaid Tales
  • Nancy Drew
  • Ramona
  • Rescue Princesses
  • Tuesdays at the Castle
  • Whatever After

While figuring out some books I would recommend to our friends, I also have a list of books that I would like to see J expand her horizons with. A couple are my husband’s suggestions, but they are all good books that take us a bit away from our normal comfort zone. The thing with J that I noticed is that she does not want to read a book if there is not a strong female lead. We almost had problems with Harry Potter until she realized that Hermione would have a big role. So here are some of the books that I think she might enjoy:Books I'd like us to read

  • Ella Enchanted
  • Encyclopedia Brown
  • Fablehaven
  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
  • James & The Giant Peach
  • Little House on the Prairie
  • Matilda
  • Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
  • Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
  • Once Upon a Marigold
  • The Enchanted Wood
  • The Ordinary Princess
  • The Thirteenth Princess
  • The Wide-Awake Princess
  • Trumpet of the Swan
  • Wonder

Do you have good books that you think should be included?

Reading Ron Roy

ron roy

I realized the other day that I have really been focusing on picture books and not giving any updates on the chapter books that J is reading. Granted, a big part of this is because she is so obsessed with Harry Potter that she reads them over and over and over again leaving little room for anything else. However, there are other books being read.

We have been big fans of Ron Roy for quite some time. At the moment, the Capital Mysteries series is our night time reading. They are a fun way to introduce some landmarks in Washington, DC while enjoying the sleuthing abilities of KC Corcoran and her friend Marshall Li. KC wants to be a journalist when she grows up. She likes to pay attention to small details and trusts her gut. The two get close to the president after saving him from scientists trying to push their own political agenda and by book 4 the president is marrying KC’s mother. The plots are completely implausible, but they are fun for young readers. The following is from Ron Roy’s website:

They live near the White House, and are friends with the President of The United States. As you read the books in CAPITAL MYSTERIES, you will get to “visit” the White House, the Smithsonian, the Lincoln Memorial, and many other wonderful sites. You will learn about some of the earlier presidents and have fun helping K.C. and Marshall catch the bad guys! There is even a map to help you find your way from the White House to the building where K.C. and Marshall live.

We first discovered Ron Roy when J started reading the A-Z Mysteries series. This is probably his most beloved series which is intended for ages 6-10. The series follows three friends who happen to repeatedly be called upon to solve a mystery. What is great about them is that, aside from showing the friendship of these three kids, they introduce deductive reasoning in a fun way.

This series features three smart kids who solve crimes and mysteries. They live in a small town in Connecticut, called Green Lawn.The kids are Dink Duncan, Josh Pinto, and Ruth Rose Hathaway. They are third graders and live near each other. They have hobbies and pets and parents, but what they love most is a good mystery. Most kids tell me they enjoy reading the 26 books in alphabetical order. But you can skip around without missing anything. Have fun getting to know these three sly sleuths!

Sticking with the characters from A-Z, Roy created Super Editions which take the children out of their normal locations and are about 50 pages longer then the standard A-Z series. We read Detective Camp a long time ago and J just read The Castle Crime over spring break. This book was given to her because it combined her joy of these mysteries with her love of anything London (thank you Harry Potter).

The final series that Roy has written is intended for the younger reader – Calendar Mysteries. These books follow the younger siblings and cousins of Dink, Josh and Ruth Rose (the three friends from A-Z Mysteries). Ron Roy’s website says that these were written especially for first and second graders, but since J has never read on her level, I peg these more as generally for 5-8 year olds.

If you are looking for a series that is fun and steps into the world of mysteries, check out any of the Ron Roy books. They are intelligently written and engaging for the growing mind.



Chapter Books for Young Girls – Fairies, Princesses and other Magical Beings

When I started this blog, a big impetus was because my daughter is advanced in her reading abilities and finding books that are age appropriate and yet still challenging is incredibly complicated. There are tons of great books out there, but it can be overwhelming to find books to keep kids occupied that are not beyond their emotional intelligence and maturity. I’ve reviewed a lot of picture books because you are never too old to enjoy a good picture book, but I was inspired by the blog Pragmatic Mom to put together a grouped list. While thinking about it, I realized that it actually made more sense to come up with a couple of lists, so here is the first of a series on chapter books for young girls. My 6 year old is still fairly obsessed with princess and fairies, so these are some of her current favorites. If you know of additional series, I would love to hear them.


autumnRainbow Magic – This is a great series that will appeal to the 4-8 year old crowd, as I explained in this previous post. The books are incredibly formulaic, but that is appealing to emerging readers. The book focuses on two young girls, Rachel and Kristy, who always find a way to help whatever fairy has had her enchanted object stolen by Jack Frost.

chocolate fairyThe Candy Fairies – For girls who enjoy Rainbow Magic books but are ready for a slight change of scenery, this sugary sweet series is sure to please. Instead of evil goblins lead by Jack Frost, the bad guy is Mogu the troll (and some goblins for good measure). The candy fairies work together to solve problems such as why the candy crops are melting, how to stop two fairies from arguing and who stole the chocolate eggs. As a parent, I’m shocked to say that I would prefer reading Rainbow Magic over these, but J loves this series, so they obviously speak to their market.

rescue princessesThe Rescue Princesses – This is a new series that we have found that I’ve been meaning to write about.  A full post will come soon. In the meantime, in this charming series 4 young princesses meet at a Grand Ball and find that they are all more than fancy dresses and perfect manners.  Each book find the girls saving an animal in trouble using their smarts and skills. This is definitely a great series for the 6-10 crowd.

WhateverAfter1Whatever AfterAs mentioned previously, this is a fun series that takes a different twist on fairy tales. Brother and sister duo discover that there is a mirror in their basement that magically transports them to fairy tales. They learn, however, that just by being there the fairy tales change – Snow White doesn’t bite the poisoned apple and Cinderella doesn’t marry the prince. They are told in a fun manner and get kids thinking that the stories they know so well don’t always have to have the same ending.

mermaid talesMermaid Tales – We haven’t actually read  book 1 in this series, “Trouble at Trident Academy.”  However, J has read “Battle of the Best Friends” and “The Lost Princess” and enjoyed both of them. The story follows young mermaids and mermen in their 3rd grade class at Trident Academy.  The books show how the young mermaids deal with normal, and some not so normal, events that are a part of growing up – new social circles, starting a new school, taking a trip to somewhere new, finding out that you’re a princess…At least it is a nice change from fairies.

twlightMy Little Pony Chapter Books – If your daughter likes the My Little Pony Friendship is Magic series, she will love these books. They are written very much like the show, minus the musical numbers. The nice part is that they are not a retelling of episodes your child has already seen, but seem to be stand alone works. As with the show, there is usually some kind of nice moral message to go along with the story.

magic ponyMagic Pony Series – Okay, so this one isn’t fairies or princesses, but these books feature a little girl who has a magical poster where the pony comes alive at random times. The young girl, Annie, buys a poster at a magic shop and her life is changed. Now she finally has a pony of her own, but she has to keep him secret. This is a very sweet series that probably would attract the 4-8 range.

Hop on the Magic School Bus

There is nothing better than hearing your child get super excited by something that they are reading. I love when J finds a book that grabs her so much that she has to rush and tell me details right away. Even more so when what she is so excited about are actual facts that I have to look up on wikipedia to confirm.

What great books manage this? The Magic School Bus series of course!

magic school busThe Magic School Bus was created by Scholastic as a way to mix science with fictional stories. The first book, At the Waterworks, was published in 1985. Nine years later, they turned the books into a really great television show for kids. The books are about an elementary school class taught by Ms. Frizzle, who has some very unconventional teaching methods. She has a bus that is able to turn into nearly anything and take them on spectacular field trips to impossible locations such as the solar system, clouds, the past, and the human body. Each of the books is written in first person by one of the students in her class, some of whom like these field trips more than others.

We were first introduced to the series when J was 4 and a friend gave us some of the picture books that are considered the “original series.” These books work really well because you can read them in different ways for different ages and interest levels. The story has multiple parts – the main text, the word bubbles from the characters, and additional facts on notebook paper. We don’t usually read the notebook paper parts, but I know that J has read them on her own.

msb_ocean page

We later moved on to the chapter books and some of the early readers. The chapter books are truly wonderful. They come in a wide range of lengths and topics. Each book is again told in the first person from one of the students and the story that they tell is supplemented with research notes from other students as well as information “From the Desk of Mrs. Frizzle.” There are also black and white photos and the chapters themselves are relatively short.

msb_fishy page

What is wonderful about these is that J will read them at start shouting at me from across the room about different facts that she has learned. Keeping on the ocean theme as I have a budding marine biologist on my hands, these are things she told me from “The Fishy Field Trip.”

“Mommy, did you know that there are such fish as cleaner fish? They clean other fish! They sometimes go into other fishes mouths and clean their mouths.”

“There is a fish called a stonefish. They look like stones because it is their way of getting food. They live in coral reefs and there are lots of little fish there. They sit there and open their mouths and eat the little fish.”

“Oh cool! Look at this fish! This is a crown of thorns star fish. The thorns are poisonous, but did you know that one little crab can try to attack it without getting hurt?”

These are pretty awesome things for your 6 year old to be telling you. I honestly had to look some of these facts up on wikipedia since it was news to me.

There are also Level 2 Readers which are great quick reads and excellent for storytime. They are full of pictures and basic facts. I actually wish that we had found these earlier, since J had no problem reading the large picture books by the time we found these.

There was also a fantastic television series and books that tied in with that. We’ve never actually read any of those books, so I’m not sure what they are like. As for the show itself, you can watch full episodes on You Tube, although we were also able to find and tape a number of them on cable.

So if you are looking for a great way to get your kid excited by science, hop on the magic school bus!

According to, here is the age break down
Level Readers – Interest K-2, Grade Level Equivalent 1.8
Original Picture Books – Interest Level PreK-5, Grade Level Equivalent 3.5-3.7
Chapter Books – Interest Level – Grade 3-5, Grade Level Equivalent 3.1-3.9

books with girls that don’t alienate boys

Part of my motivation behind creating this blog was to find, and help other find, quality books for kids to read. While reading some of the other outstanding blogs out there with similar goals, I found this very interesting post about looking for books that include strong female characters. The twist is that the post was looking for books where girls were not the only characters and where the books were not working as “strong propaganda-pieces for female empowerment.” I also took it to mean that it would be nice if the books didn’t alienate boys. Wow. What a fascinating point!

Many of the points that were made is that there isn’t a balance of male/female characters in books for kids. Often you get books featuring animals that are either all boys or all girls. Honestly, I have never looked for a variety of female characters in my kids’ books, I just have been trying to move away from all of the fairies and princesses. So this was quite an interesting challenge for me.

varied female

I could quickly think of a few chapter books, like the Magic Treehouse, A-Z Mysteries and Cam Jansen, but picture books took a lot more thought. Of course, I am always up for a challenge and I thoroughly enjoy an opportunity to curate a collection, so here is my first go at books that feature varied female characters. These are based on books that I could easily get my hands on, so there might be an additional list after I comb the local library. I have also created a shelf at goodreads to help keep them organized.

Books for Toddlers

Biscuit_Storybook_CollectionBiscuit Books – Both of my girls have enjoyed this Biscuit books. Biscuit is a dog, that I’ve always assumed was male, owned by a lovely little girl. Biscuit often experiences some kind of “first” in these books – first time at the beach, the petting zoo, first day his owner goes to school, etc. Very sweet and sort of in the vein of this challenge.


Fischer Price Little People Books – We have a bunch of these lift-the-flap books. My 2 1/2 year old absolutely loves them. Each book is either a specific location (farm, zoo, school) or theme (spring, transportation, let’s get moving). I haven’t gone through and analyzed them, but it feels like the roles are evenly spread out. Boys and girls play a variety of sports, have a variety of jobs, and do things together, which is really a bigger key to the whole thing.


If I Could Keep You Little – This is a really lovely book about how much a parent would love their children to stay young, but how they also really love watching their children grow and experience things for the first time. The illustrator manages to use both boys and girls throughout the pages.

Picture Books

library mouse exploreLibrary Mouse A World to Explore – We LOVE Library Mouse. I’m actually formulating a separate post on books about the library, so stay tuned! This is the first book we read in the series and it is where Sam, the library mouse, meets Sarah, another mouse who lives in the library. Sam loves books, research and writing and he reads his way through the library. One night he meets Sarah as she parachutes from the top of the bookshelves where a display of children’s art about landmarks around the world is set up. Sarah is an adventurous mouse who loves to explore and isn’t afraid of anything. She helps Sam overcome his fears and he teaches her that you can get great information from books. Together they learn that there is a whole world out there to explore.

IMG_1695A Gold Star for Zog – Zog is an eager student at Madam Dragon’s school, but he is also accident prone. Each year the dragons work on mastering a new skill and each year a mysterious girl comes to his aid when he manages to get hurt – crashing into a tree when learning to fly, losing his voice when learning to roar, and burning his own tail when learning to breathe fire. When it comes time to learn to kidnap a princess, he just can’t seem to do it. He runs into the girl again and explains that he will never win a gold star. She responds by saying, “Perhaps you’d like to capture me? I’m Princess Pearl.” Pearl loves living amongst the dragons and acting as their own personal physician. Then a knight comes to save her from the dragons and before Zog and the Knight can fight it out, she tells them to stop. She doesn’t want to be a princess, she wants to be a doctor and travel around to help people. The knight thinks that it sounds like a great idea and Zog wants to be their ambulance.  A great book with cheerful pictures that we fully enjoyed.

charlie sleepyCharlie and Lola – This is a great series of books about a little girl named Lola and her older brother, Charlie. The stories are typically told from Charlie’s perspective and he is trying to help his sister learn some sort of lesson. Charlie is a very patient older brother and Lola is a very energetic and imaginative little girl. In “I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato,” Charlie comes up with some creative ways to convince Lola to try new foods. In “I Am Not Sleepy and I Will Not Go To Bed,” Charlie must find inventive ways to get Lola to get ready for bed. These are great books that can appeal to boys and girls.

Chapter Books

Cam_SchoolPlayMysteryCam Jansen – As I mentioned in my last post, these are great books that feature a young girl and her best friend who solve mysteries.


Magic Tree House – We have been huge fans of this series since J was 4. They will get their own post at some point in the future, but the basic premise is that Jack and his little sister Annie are just two regular kids from Frog Creek, Pennsylvania. Then they discover a mysterious tree house packed with all sorts of books…and their lives are never the same! Soon they are traveling through time and space in the magic tree house and having amazing adventures. Jack is the studious one and Annie flies by the seat of her pants. The Merlin Mysteries group of these books are for slightly more advanced readers, so the books even grow with you.

msb butterflyMagic School Bus – Another awesome series that J has loved for quite some time. There are picture books aimed at older kids as well as chapter books. You have a variety of boys and girls in the classroom, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. It is wonderful to have a series that really shows science as being fun and for everyone.

So that’s my starting point. Each parent’s perspective on a variety of roles for boys and girls will be different. Many great books simply don’t touch on gender roles and I’m perfectly okay with that.

Whisked Away by the Wizard of Oz

BE Oz Books

The Wizard of Oz is one of those stories that I hold near and dear to my heart. J has had a strong love of the story for a few years now, even going as far as having a Wizard of Oz themed birthday party when she turned 5. But her love of the story and the characters did not start with the movie, it started with the books.

When J was about 4 1/2 I had to take her to the doctor’s office one night. I happened to bring an illustrated version of the story that I had picked up at a used book store. I wasn’t sure is J was old enough to enjoy the story, but she instantly took to it. She read that book multiple times over the next few days.

yellow oz

Somewhere around this time we also had a 6 hour car ride ahead of us and I let her watch the film for the first time (which had been a gift to me when I left NYC for Kansas). I thought that she might be afraid of certain scenes, but again, no problem. She LOVED it.

The wonderful thing about the Wizard of Oz is that there are marvelous renditions of the story that are appropriate for developing readers. The version that we first read is 48 pages. It has lush illustrations but a lot of text.


The story stays very true to the original – silver shoes instead of ruby, Dorothy is protected by a kiss from the Good Witch of the North, there is a whole lot more traveling that needs to be done to get to Emerald City, they had to wear green glasses within Emerald City, and she has to travel to meet Glinda, the Good Witch of the South in order to return to Kansas and meets additional people on the way.

We have also read and re-read a wonderful version that is part of the series “Great Illustrated Classics.” The book is 240 pages and yet  J has checked this out of the library more times that I can remember.

great illustrated oz

This story is timeless. Both J and her 2 1/2 year old sister sing the songs to the movie at the top of their lungs. We have actually put on the play in our living room and just this past weekend while on vacation in the mountains.  I even started her love of Michael Jackson with getting her hooked on the music from “The Wiz.”

As a mom, I love some of the messages that are subtly told through this story. Dorothy always had the power to take herself home. You might think that you aren’t smart or courageous, but you have more strength within then you know. The love of family is a bond that cannot be broken. And trusting in your friends and friendship itself can make all of the difference in the world.

I grew up loving all of the other books in the series and even saw the not very good “Return to Oz” a number of times. I’m not sure when I will introduce the other books, I honestly want to take a look at them first.

Who doesn’t love Oz?



Stella Batts – a sweet series, although not exactly our style

We found this book on the new juvenile fiction shelf at our local library and decided to give it a try. This was actually the book that sparked this blog because J read it that very same day and I really had no concept of what the story was about or how it was written.

The book starts off fabulously. Stella is a third grader who wants to be a writer. In fact, the book is written as her autobiography. The book is very inviting to young readers with nice illustrations and a big, clean font.

stella infoJ’s synopsis of the story is that Stella’s family owns a candy store. She is a big sister and her mom is going to have another baby. Stella wants to change her name because a boy in her class calls her “Smella.” That’s not a nice name. Her friends tried doing candy names. They all decided their own names were better because it was too hard to remember the new names.

That’s about as deep as the story gets. Stella wants a new name because of the awful nickname and because she is jealous of her younger sister who gets to have a nickname. After she learns that her parents picked out her name for good reasons, she realizes that it isn’t such a bad name after all.

I don’t have anything negative to say about the book, but it also isn’t one that I would necessarily run out to find additional books from the series. I think that J feels the same way. I think reading some good picture books is better then this one and we can save the longer books for something with a little more depth.