Best book series for 3rd graders — ever
by: Dav Pilkey - (Blue Sky Press, 1997) 144 pages.
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.
Perfect for: Pre-adolescent boys who love poop jokes.
Find our favorites at your local library: Captain Underpants, Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets, Captain Underpants and the Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies from Outer Space.
by: Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by: Marla Frazee - (Hyperion, 2006) 144 pages.
The hook: Clementine, a precocious third grader, is paying attention. Really, she is. It’s just that there are so many more interesting things to pay attention to than the teacher, like the janitor embracing the lunch lady. And she’s not skipping school because of that haircut disaster, it’s because she must have caught arthritis from Mrs. Jacobi. Clementine’s mischievous but well-intentioned antics, coupled with the lively pen-and-ink drawings in this seven-book series, will attract early readers ready for chapter books and younger readers looking for a read-aloud treat (especially fans of the Ramona books).
Perfect for: Kids entertained by a little mischief.
Freddy the Detective series
by: Walter R. Brooks - (Alfred A. Knopf, 1932) 282 pages.
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: The kid who loves language and solving mysteries.
Gooney Bird Greene
by: Lois Lowry, illustrated by: Middy Thomas - (Houghton Mifflin, 2002) 96 pages.
The hook: Gooney Bird arrives in second grade in the middle of a school day, which suits her fine. She wants to be in the center of all action — but especially of all attention. Wearing colorful, creative costumes daily, Gooney Bird soon becomes the brightest — in every sense of the word — star of second grade. Her teacher, who is trying to explain the nature of good stories to her class, tolerantly allows Gooney Bird to upstage her by telling melodramatic stories that appear to be whoppers. Declaring, “I tell only absolutely true stories,” Gooney Bird enters the annals of funny young protagonists. The format of her book is excellent for transitional readers; her stories, filtered through a fine imagination, are entertaining; and they will leave readers hoping for more.
Perfect for: Attention-seekers and their wallflower admirers.
Guardians of Ga’Hoole series
by: Kathryn Lasky - (Scholastic, 2003) 240 pages.
The hook: This engrossing 16-book fantasy series follows the adventures of a group of courageous owls fighting an evil that threatens their way of life in the forest. The series kicks off with The Capture, which is told from the perspective of a barn owlet named Soren. Stolen from his nest, Soren is taken to St. Aggie’s Academy, where young owls are brainwashed and forced into slavery. Inspired by the legends of the great heroes of Ga’Hoole, Soren and his new friend Glyfie hatch a plan to escape. The books have a lot to offer voracious readers: strong messages of friendship, vivid details about owl behavior, and thrilling, suspenseful scenarios.
Want to see the movie? The beautifully animated 2010 film, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, follows the plot of the first three books in the series.
Perfect for: Kids who love the Warriors series by Erin Hunter.
How to Train Your Dragon
by: Cressida Cowell - (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2004) 224 pages.
The hook: This humorous 15-book series follows Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, the brainy undersized son of a hulking Viking chief. He describes himself as “not a natural at the Heroism business.” Hiccup, along with the other young Vikings, must choose a dragon hatchling to train and learn to become a warrior before being initiated as an adult member of the tribe. Filled with slightly rude humor that will appeal to preadolescents (including character names like “Dogsbreath the Duhbrain” and “Snotface Snotlout,”), and rough — but funny — illustrations, this engaging series is sustained by themes about being an underdog and succeeding in ways outside the norm.
Want to watch the movie? The animated adventures How to Train Your Dragon (2010) and How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014) are loosely based on the book series.
Perfect for: Reluctant readers who are tickled by preteen humor.
Ivy & Bean series
by: Annie Barrows, illustrated by: Sophie Blackall - (Chronicle Books, 2006)
The hook: Ivy & Bean are opposites in nearly every way — and yet they’re the best of friends. Whether they’re transforming a dirt pile into an erupting volcano, taking up dance-to-death ballet, or trying to scare away the ghost haunting the girl’s bathroom at school, they’re imaginative and true to a 7-year-old’s sense of fun, mischief, and wonder.
Perfect for: Kids who love to let their imaginations run wild and who love stories about friendships.
Judy Moody Was in a Mood
by: Megan McDonald - (Candlewick, 2000) 176 pages.
Yes, Judy is a third-grade girl but she is very much the tomboy and boys love this series as much as girls. The series does a great job of captivating unmotivated readers who are making the transition into chapter books. Children will relate to Judy’s constant dilemmas and will laugh their way through the book as Judy comes up with the most intriguing solutions to problems such as having to sit next to a kid who eats paste and a toad that pees on her!
Perfect for: Kids who like realism.
Judy Blume’s Fudge
by: Judy Blume - (Dutton, 1972)
The Hook: Judy Bloom’s series may depict characters from a generation who have now sprouted gray hairs, but her finely tuned tales about the emotional lives of kids make this series worth introducing to 21st century readers. Whether it’s the trouble with younger siblings or the trials of moving away, Bloom manages to make everyday kid conundrums just as riveting and intense as they are to experience. Growing from age 9 to 12, main character Peter Hatcher (except for the second in the series), offers hilarious insights into life as he suffers the embarrassments of his little brother Fudge and the irritation of his nemesis Sheila, that girl downstairs.
Perfect for: Kids who like to laugh or have annoying people in their lives.
The Loser List
by: H.N. Kowitt - (Scholastic Paperbacks, 2011) 224 pages.
The hook: When middle schooler Danny Shine finds out he’s on the loser list in the girls’ bathroom, he tries to erase his name from the list — with disastrous consequences. Sent to detention and picked on by bullies, Danny thinks his life is over until his tormentors find out he can draw. Now one of the “bad boys,” Danny has to figure out how far he’ll go to keep his new reputation. Written in a diary format highlighted with Danny’s snarky drawings, this hilarious four-book series talks about the school social hierarchy in an authentic voice that will connect with even the most reluctant readers.
Perfect for: Kids concerned about social pitfalls at school.
by: Betty MacDonald - (HarperCollins, 1947) 128 pages.
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.
Perfect for: For advanced readers who wish they had a magic aunt.
A Bear Called Paddington
by: Michael Bond, illustrated by: Peggy Fortnum - (HarperCollins, 2014) 176 pages.
The hook: We first meet this young, marmalade-loving bear when he arrives, alone and friendless, at Paddington Station in London from Lima, Peru. He attracts the attention of the Brown family, who take him home with them. Mr. and Mrs. Brown and their children, Jonathan and Judy, soon discover that bears, while wonderful to have in the family, are prone to all sorts of misadventures. But whether he’s overflowing the bathtub or destroying the neighbor’s watch in a flubbed magic trick, Paddington always comes out on top, his politeness and sweetness intact. With each chapter standing alone as its own story, this quaintly old-fashioned book (the first in the series) is a good choice for young readers who have made the transition to chapter books and an entertaining read-aloud for younger kids.
Want to see the movie? The 2015 live-action version featuring a computer-animated Paddington has many details from the first book in the series, plus a few plot twists and mild thrills to stretch it to a full-length feature.
Perfect for: Kids with gentle souls
Sarah, Plain and Tall series
by: Patricia MacLachlan - (Harper & Row, 1985) 112 pages.
The hook: After their mother dies, Anna and Caleb’s father advertises for a mail order bride. Sarah responds to the ad, and heads out from Maine to join the family on their Midwest farm. The children are apprehensive before she arrives, wondering what she’ll be like. When Sarah arrives, bringing her cat, gifts from the Maine coast, and warmth back to their desolate home, family bonding ensues. Part one of a heartwarming five-part saga.
Perfect for: Kids intrigued by pioneer families.
Secrets of Droon
by: Tony Abbott, illustrated by: Tim Jessell - (Scholastic, 1999) 96 pages.
The hook: When 10-year-old Eric and his best friends, Neal and Julie, discover a rainbow staircase in his basement, they stumble into the embattled and magical world of Droon. Soon they’re battling alongside Keeah, the wizard princess of Droon, and fellow wizard Galen Longbeard against the evil Lord Sparr, who will do anything to rule Droon. It’s a mild precursor to the Harry Potter series, The Lord of the Rings, or the Chronicles of Narnia, but be prepared for your reader to get hooked. Fortunately, the 44 books in this long-running series should satisfy even the most voracious fantasy lover.
Perfect for: Magic lovers who’d pick up a wand at the first glimpse of a rainbow staircase.
Sideways Stories from Wayside School
by: Louis Sachar, illustrated by: Julie Brinckloe - (Avon Books, 1978) 128 pages.
The hook: On the 30th floor of the wacky Wayside School is Mrs. Jewl’s class. Sharie falls asleep and rolls out the window. Joe counts all wrong and gets the right answer. Calvin is sent to the 19th floor to deliver a note, but there is no 19th floor — the builder forgot it. This nutty world is built on the sort of playful twists of logic that kids love.
Perfect for: Kids who like humor stories.
The Spiderwick Chronicles series
by: Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, illustrated by: Tony DiTerlizzi - (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2013) 144 pages.
The hook: Beginning with The Field Guide, this five-book series follows 9-year-old twins Jared and Simon and their older sister Mallory as they discover a hidden faerie world that is darker and more dangerous than they could have imagined. After moving into their great, great uncle’s creepy old mansion, the siblings find a dusty, handwritten book called Field Guide to The Fantastical World Around You in the attic. What follows is a series of thrilling encounters involving a secret library, a riddle-poem, fairies, goblins, and more, all depicted in easy-to-read prose and beautiful illustrations.
Want to see the movie? The 2008 film is loosely based on the entire series.
Perfect for: Budding fantasy fans.
The Zack Files
by: Dan Greenburg, illustrated by: Jack E. Davis - (Grosset & Dunlap, 1996) 64 pages.
The hook: Zack has a knack for finding trouble. Hoping to get a cute little kitten, he accidentally adopts a talking cat who claims to be the ghost of his great grandpa. And a seemingly innocent trip to the dentist turns sinister when Dr. Silver turns into the mouthwash-guzzling Dr. Jekyll. The supernatural plots may sound like thrillers, but the silly books in this hilarious series are more full of spoofs than spooks, and they’re a great choice for reluctant readers.
Perfect for: Kids who like oddball humor.
Fall of the Beasts series
by: Eliot Schrefer - (Scholastic, 2015) 192 pages.
The world of Erdas is facing a great evil. Four children must stop it with the help of their spirit animals, legendary beasts who have been reborn to fight the darkness that threatens to take over their world.
Perfect for: New fans of fantasy.
Secret Coders series
by: Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by: Mike Holmes - (First Second, 2015) 96 pages.
There’s a mystery at Stately Academy and three friends use their coding skills to puzzle it out. This graphic novel, the first in a series, is an entertaining read and a beginner’s guide to programming all in one. The author is the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and a MacArthur Fellow, as well as a high school computer programming teacher.
Perfect for: Graphic novel lovers and aspiring programmers.
Babymouse: Camp Babymouse
by: Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm - (Random House, 2007) 96 pages.
The hook: The sixth installment of the Babymouse series finds our heroine at summer camp. She doesn’t like the great outdoors, but that fact shouldn’t get in the way of her having fun, right? Babymouse has her usual daydreams of how she’ll be the best camper around, but all she finds is trouble. Babymouse’s cabin-mates, the Buttercups, soon become frustrated with her shenanigans, as she racks up nothing but demerits for her team. The illustrations are as fun and humorous as ever, in the familiar black, white and pink. Graphic novels are incredibly popular with tweens and teens, so it follows that younger kids want them as well. And those for the very young — especially for young girls — are few and far between, but gaining a foothold. Here is a well-established series that fills that void with a spirited, likable, adventurous character.
Perfect for: Kids who like humor stories.