Early Reader Books Students Already Love, Ones They Should Read, and a Few to Avoid

Over Christmas break this year, I read Waking the Rainbow Dragon (Dragon Masters #10) by Tracey West. I did this because before break I had a long discussion with a third-grade boy where we looked at hints in past Dragon Masters books as to what new dragons might be featured in upcoming adventures. (I may have used the word “foreshadowing” once, but we mostly just enjoyed a healthy chat.) When he found out that I had not read any of the books after number 9, he went to the shelf, took off number 10, and handed it to me saying, “I think you will have time over Christmas vacation to catch up.” When a third-grade boy wants you to catch up with his favorite series, you have no choice.

This review will focus on three categories: what kids already love and how you can engage them and move them to next steps, some new books for them to love, and a couple cautionary tales.

What They Love


The Last Firehawk series by Katrina Charman, illustrated by Jeremy Norton

Like the Dragon Masters series and the Kingdom of Wrenly series, The Last Firehawk series capitalizes on each book’s distinct story arc, which is linked to a larger narrative. This effectively keeps kids eager for the next installment. The first book, The Ember Stone, follows Tad, an owl with dreams of a powerful place in the owl guard, and his squirrel friend, Skyla. Tad, who is not strong enough for the guard, is instead sent with Skyla to guard the last firehawk. The firehawk is a mythical bird who holds the key to fighting the evil vulture, Thorn, who is destroying the world with his “Shadow.” My adult complaints: Why aren’t the owls nocturnal, and why does Tad eat worms and berries and not, say, squirrels? Why are some animals drawn realistically and others not? The target audience for these books, however, is unlikely to share my concerns. These books convey the usual fantasy themes: the weak being chosen over the strong, characters slowly learning to use new powers, and heroes using individual gifts together to help achieve a quest. The addition of a map in the front of each book allows students to use some geography skills as they follow the characters to each destination. More difficult reading than Dragon Masters, these books have more intense danger and would work to build a transition to other animal fantasies such as Kathryn Lasky’s the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series and eventually Kenneth Oppel’s Silverwing series, Brian Jacques’s Redwall series, or David Petersen’s Mouse Guard series.

Realistic Fiction

Sofia Martinez books by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Kim Smith

Martinez is a great realistic fiction introduction. Sofia is a fun-loving seven-year-old without the smart-alecky attitude that can sometimes show up in protagonists for this age. Students will find her family problems relatable, like when she gets a singing machine for Christmas and everyone finds creative excuses to get her to go somewhere else to sing, or when she tries to find just the right seatmates for a long family car trip. Spanish words are highlighted throughout. Most can be figured out through context clues, but there is also a glossary in the back. The stories are available in single books or three-in-ones, so check before you order. These are a great lead-up to Lara Bergen’s Sophie series, Beverly Cleary’s Ramona series, or Cori Doerrfeld’s Cici: A Fairy’s Tale series.


King and Kayla mysteries by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Nancy Meyers

When I first ordered King and Kayla books, I wondered why the dog, King, was listed before the human in the title. It turns out that the dog is the narrator! These books provide a smart and funny dog’s-eye-view of the world. The stories are simple and clearly lay out the pattern for solving mysteries: What do you know? What do you still need to know? and How can you find out? Because of his sense of smell, King always knows one more clue than the people, but he can’t communicate it. When he tries, Kayla invariably asks him if he wants to go outside, or worse, calls him a “bad dog” (he really hates that). Fans of the Zoey and Sassafras series will recognize the methodical approach to solving problems and enjoy making predictions. Dog lovers will just love King. Move readers up to Butler’s Buddy Files mysteries next.

Some New Things

Realistic Fiction

Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters (The Questioneers #1) by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts [This is only part of the article. Want to read more? Subscribe to the website by choosing "Register" from the menu above. It's free!]

Heather Altena is the librarian at the Oak Lawn Campus of Southwest Chicago Christian Schools as well as Chicago Christian High School.