By GreatSchools Staff
Perfect for: Early readers (and their parents) with a sense of the absurd.
The hook: This hilariously conceived series stars two friends who couldn’t be more different: stodgy, harumphing Elephant and optimistic, zanny Piggy. Each tale deftly explores the nuances of friendship and human (well, animal) foibles to brilliant effect. It’s also a wonderful tool for teaching fluency: Because the text involves lots of repetition as the characters pass back ideas or argue — “We’re in a book.” “We’re in a book?!” — no child can read this text in a dull monotone.
By Rosemary Wells
Our favorites: Max and Ruby's Bedtime Book, Bunny Cakes, Max's Dragon Shirt
Perfect for: Siblings who drive each other crazy.
The hook: Ruby, the older sister, has a leg up on just about everything. Although Max, the baby brother, can't yet speak, read, or write — and is constantly messing-up — in the 25-plus books, he always gets what he wants (much to Ruby's annoyance), be it the coveted chocolate chicken or the dragon shirt.
By Rosemary Wells
Our favorites: McDuff Comes Home, McDuff's Wild Romp, and McDuff and the Baby
Perfect for: Energetic creatures who mean well, but get themselves into harmless trouble.
The hook: Set in the 1930s, this vibrantly illustrated series of 10 books follows McDuff, a white Scottish Terrier who escapes from a dogcatcher's truck in search of a loving home. Though he finds one in a young couple who feed him rice pudding and sausage slices, the little dog struggles with the same sort of problems a young kid might – from dealing with a new baby in the house to causing a ruckus at a relative's house.
By James Marshall
Our favorites: Henry and Mudge: The First Book, Henry and Mudge Get the Cold Shivers, Henry and Mudge and the Forever Sea
Perfect for: Boys who love enormous dogs (and the dogs who love them back).
The hook: Perfectly captures the love between a 180-pound, drooling dog and a lonely young boy who — finding himself without brothers, sisters, or friends — can face any struggle (moving to a new neighborhood, being achingly bored at home on a rainy day) with his best friend, Mudge.
By Betty MacDonald
The hook: A classic from the 1950s, this five-book series has aged well. Once married to a pirate, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle now lives in an upside-down house and dispenses "cures” to typical childhood ills, including the Never-Want-to-Go-to-Bedders cure, the Slow-Eater-Tiny-Bite-Taker-Cure, and the Answer-Backer cure. Without scolding or nagging, these books offer children a fantasy of an adult who truly understands the complicated troubles that afflict them.
By Mary Hope Osborne
The hook: This wildly popular, award-winning series of some 46 books and counting features Jack and Annie, who discover a Magic Tree House where they can pick up any book — on pirates, King Arthur's court, ninjas, dolphins, Shakespeare, tornadoes — and enter that world. Every book is a page-turner and will teach your child an encyclopedia's worth of world history, culture, and literature.
By Barbara Park
Perfect for: Beginning chapter-book readers with an irreverent streak.
The hook: Sassy, opinionated, and sometimes downright smart-alecky, Junie B. Jones' grammatically incorrect antics offer girls a glimpse of a take-no-prisoners attitudinous little whippersnapper of their own gender. Role model? Not according to all adults. But for the family that embraces the absurd and young readers who understand the difference between fictional funny and real-life rude, her stories can grab many kids by the lapel and make them chapter-book aficionados overnight.
By Beverly Cleary
The hook: Rambunctious Ramona Quinby causes her parents no end of headaches, but in this longtime classic and Newberry Honor Book, Cleary's series brims with psychological nuance. We follow Ramona and her family as they navigate the challenging world of (slightly retro 1970s) real-life — her father’s unemployment, her sister’s adolescent turmoil, her mother’s lapses in self-confidence, and Ramona’s own struggle to become more than a well-meaning troublemaker.
By Walter R. Brooks
The hook: This overlooked classic features Freddy, a poetry-spouting pig, who finds his true calling upon finding copy of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The language is witty and wise, and the stories of Freddy sleuthing out mysteries (a missing bunny, a dog's stolen dinner) will appeal to a child's sense of justice.
Perfect for: Kids ready to confront a little nail-biting drama.
The hook: Poppy is a mouse who lives with her family at the edge of a forest. If this sounds like the premise a lot of saccharine kiddy books with winsome characters whose minor adventures follow well-worn paths, well, think again. Like E.B. White and other literary giants, Avi imbues his little animals with complex characters and heartrending struggles. No spoiler alert here, but the story offers a rare fictional portrayal of death inside a family.
By Dav Pilkey
Our favorites: Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets, Captain Underpants and the Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman, Captain Underpants and the Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies from Outer Space
Perfect for: Pre-adolescent boys who love poop jokes.
The hook: OK, let's get this out of the way. Potty-talk proliferates in this series, but George and Harold's misadventures with Captain Underpants (along with alien cafeteria ladies, a bionic booger boy, and Professor Poopypants) have lured many youngsters into reading, while rolling on the floor with laughter.
By Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
Our favorites: Peter and the Starcatchers, Peter and the Shadow Thieves, Peter and the Secret of Rundoon
Perfect for: Pirate-lovin' kids looking for swashbuckling on the high seas.
The hook: The first three books in the series chronicle the spellbinding prequel of how a boy named Peter became the Peter Pan of J.M. Barrie's classic tale. Each page — particularly in the first book — is riveting. All along the way, Peter and his friends encounter an incredible cast of characters, including flying crocodiles, vicious mermaids, and even Zeus and Michelangelo.