Between Picture Books and Middle Grade Novels: Books for New Readers

Picture books have many followers. Whether you read picture books to young children, or appreciate them for their incredible artwork, or admire the format for any numerous reasons, picture books have a significant role in the world of children's literature. Middle Grade novels (typically for children ages 8 or 9 and up) can be just as powerful or lyrical as any adult novel. However, what about books written in a very specific manner for young children who are learning to read? Do they deserve incredible writing and powerful stories? And if so, how do you manage it with controlled vocabulary, limited sentence structure and 32 pages (or 48, or 72 pages)? 

Over the past several months, I have been diving into early readers and early chapter books. I have been thinking about what makes an early reader different from an early chapter book different from an early middle grade novel? How do teachers and parents avoid the trap of depending on a level or a number placed on a book to match a child with a book? 

This is just the first of multiple posts where I will explore and highlight early readers, early chapter book, and early middle grade novels with the hope of spotlighting some must reads for Kindergarten to Third graders. Today's post looks at a few trends.

What makes a book like Frog and Toad stand out from all of the others and maintain a level of popularity for so many years? And how can writers learn from these stories as they craft new ones?

Cynthia Rylant has written dozens of early readers/chapter books that have also stood the test of time.


Another trend I have noticed has been the spin-offs from popular series.

First you have an early middle grade series such as Judy Moody

Next comes a spin-off, Stink, geared for a slightly younger audience.

And now there is an early chapter book series featuring Judy Moody and Friends

Another trend is to take the same characters and setting, but reduce the number of pages and complexity.  Betty Birney's The World According to Humphrey has approximately 140 pages and is typically popular with second grade readers. 

Birney's Humphrey Tiny Tales have the same characters and setting as the original series but clocks in at approximately 112 pages with slightly larger font and simpler text. 

Of course there are times when series go in the opposite direction. Angie Sage's Araminta Spookie series in paperback started out as 130 pages in length. 

However, the newest book, Skeleton Island, in hardcover appears larger and has an increase in pages and gives readers the sense of reading a bigger and longer book.

What questions do you have about early readers and chapter books? What series have you found that students love? Any trends that you have noticed? Check back in on Thursdays for spotlights on early readers and chapter books.