Following the blog post “Fifty Children’s Picture Books with Interesting Heroines,” I was asked about doing a similar post on chapter books. The category of children’s “chapter books” is a relatively recent invention. Aimed at early readers, they feature short chapters with lots of illustrations, and are usually conceived of as part of a series. As parents know, they aren’t always particularly riveting—in fact, they can be quite annoying. (A surprising number of those penned for young girls appear to be junior versions of Mean Girls.) The following chapter books had to meet several criteria: suitable for six to eight year olds; an interesting female lead or co-protagonist; positive reviews from critics and parents; and stories that I anticipate won’t drive me up the wall if I do end up having to read them aloud.
Anna Hibiscus (Atinuke)
Set in Africa, these beautifully illustrated books have earned rave reviews. A fun note: Anna’s mother is from Canada.
Ruby and the Booker Boys (Derrick Barnes)
An African American girl with three older brothers navigates school life, trying to forge her own way.
Violet Mackerel (Anna Bradford)
A charming and funny series from Australia featuring a thoughtful heroine who lives with her mother and two siblings. They don’t have a lot of money, but the close-knit family compensates in other ways.
The Magic School Bus (Joanna Cole)
A well-known series which teaches children about science.
Heidi Hecklebeck (Wanda Coven)
The heroine tackles the usual schoolyard problems of a girl her age–but with magic.
Daisy (Kes Gray)
A humorous British series about a determined young girl who gets into scrapes. The first book, Eat Your Peas, won a major British award.
Ruby Lu (Lenore Look)
An entertaining series featuring a Chinese-American heroine who has the best of intentions, even if they go awry.
Gooney Bird (Lois Lowry)
A series by an award-winning American author featuring an energetic heroine whose stories turn out to be not quite as outlandish as they initially seem.
Wendy Quill (Wendy Meddour)
I knocked Stella Batts off of the list after discovering Wendy Quill’s riotous adventures. Fun fact: the author’s pre-teen daughter illustrates the series.
Marty McGuire (Kate Messner)
A spirited tomboy and her adventures are at the centre of this amusing series. Marty is reminiscent of Beverley Cleary’s Ramona.
Magic Tree House (Mary Pope Osborne)
Two children travel through time to different periods in history.
Amelia Bedelia (Herman Parish)
The chapter books feature a contemporary school-age Amelia and her friends. Readers who like jokes will appreciate the literal-minded Amelia.
The Kingdom of Wrenly (Jordan Quinn)
A prince and the daughter of a seamstress go adventuring, and meet all the usual magical creatures: trolls, mermaids, giants, etc.
Cobble Street Cousins (Cynthia Rylant)
The girls live with their aunt while their parents travel with a ballet company. This is a gentle, happy series. Rylant’s Lighthouse Family series is also worth a look: the lighthouse keeper is a female cat who rescues other animals.
Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa (Erica Silverman)
An amusing series, set on a ranch. Cocoa the horse is a bit of a shirker.
Young Precious Ramotswe (Alexander McCall Smith)
A well-written mystery series, set in Botswana.
Harriet Bean (Alexander McCall Smith)
Another mystery series, nicely plotted, with lots of humour. Harriet lives with her father, the classic absent-minded inventor.
Mimi and Maty (Brooke Smith)
A mystery series about two friends who rescue animals.
Iggy and Me (Jenny Valentine)
A British series in which the heroine recounts the antics of her irrepressible little sister, Iggy.
Daisy Dawson (Steve Voake)
An absolutely lovely series about a little girl who can talk to animals—and they talk back. Parents love this series.
Canadian Flyer Adventures (Frieda Wishinsky)
Children travel in time to experience Canadian history.
There are obvious absences here: many people like Ivy & Bean, Junie B. Jones, Clementine, Judy Moody, Just Grace, Sophie the Awesome, Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew, etc.; others find the behaviors of some characters a bit too much and/or not appropriate to the age range. (Since these are people who seem to like Ramona Quimby, they clearly aren’t opposed to spunky girls). It is worth reading reviews on sites like Amazon to decide what might be appropriate for your reader. As always, feel free to add suggestions in the comments. For additional multicultural titles see here.
Thank you to all the absolutely amazing people who sent suggestions!—JLH