Growing Reader

10 Illustrated Chapter Book Series to Engage Early Readers

by Jennifer Ridgway

As my twins’ literacy and comprehension skills have grown, we’ve searched for ways to keep them engaged with books that are age-appropriate yet slightly more advanced. One of the best options we’ve found for them is early chapter books with full-color illustrations, a format that provides a nice bridge between picture books and chapter books. With a picture on nearly every page, these books feel similar to what little kids are used to seeing in picture books, but their vocabulary is slightly more advanced and their storylines are longer. Here are some great early chapter book series, featuring full-color illustrations, that have kept us entertained at home.

  • A Narwhal and Jelly Book Series

    by Ben Clanton

    This series is about the oftentimes hilarious friendship between a narwhal and a jellyfish. While they may be different, they both love peanut butter and parties. The books are an introduction to graphic novels, and the focus on friendship and working together is perfect for this age. These are a great next step for fans of Mo Willems’s Elephant & Piggie series.

  • Arnold and Louise Series

    by Erica S. Perl, illustrated by Chris Chatterton

    Fans of Frog and Toad will adore this new series about another unlikely pair. Arnold the bear is thoughtful and patient while Louise the chipmunk is loud and energetic. Though completely different, the two are best friends. The duo’s antics will amuse kids, and the green and gray illustrations bring them to life with a forest-y vibe.

  • Nate the Great Series

    by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, illustrated by Marc Simont

    This long-running and fan-favorite series starring a kid detective will appeal to avid and reluctant readers alike. Simont’s illustrations are done in black-and-white and color and they portray some of the sly humor of Sharmat’s writing. Encourage kids to look for the clues in Simont’s illustrations as they read along. Beware: You may end up with a budding detective of your own!

  • Princess Pulverizer Series

    by Nancy Krulik, illustrated by Ben Balistreri

    This series is about a princess, but by no means is she a girly character. Princess Pulverizer doesn’t want a life filled with tea parties and ballroom dancing. Instead, she wants to go to Knight School to learn to wield a sword and slay dragons. But first, she must prove her valor by completing a Quest for Kindness. Featuring a quirky cast of characters and their hilarious escapades, expect lots of belly laughs from boys and girls alike.

  • Mercy Watson Series

    by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

    Award-winning author DiCamillo’s series about a mayhem-causing pig will have your child (and you) laughing out loud. Mercy is treated as a member of the family, despite being a giant pig. Her size and animal nature get her into a lot of trouble around her house and neighborhood. The illustrations are colorful and comical, perfectly capturing the hilarity of the stories.

  • The Princess in Black Series

    by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

    If your daughter is like mine and loves princesses AND superheroes, this is the series for you! Princess Magnolia has a secret life fighting monsters. With bright and bubbly illustrations that show the action in a non-threatening way, the stories demonstrate that princesses can be strong and brave. My son also enjoys the Princess’s adventures.

  • Candlewick Sparks Series

    by various authors and illustrators

    One of our favorite books in the Candlewick Sparks series is The Monster in the Backpack, which presents Annie as a girl with a seemingly major problem: When she unzips her new backpack, she finds a monster inside. Initially, the monster is a nuisance, but the two slowly learn to like each other and then love each other. Kids will love this goofy story, and Jones’s digital art supports the comic nature of the story.

  • Cam Jansen Series

    by David A. Adler

    A bestseller for over thirty years, the Cam Jansen Series is a favorite for young mystery-solvers. A spunky fifth-grader with a photographic memory, Cam is clever, goodhearted, and always on the case. Every detective needs a sidekick, and Cam has a great one in her best friend, Eric. With so many cases to choose from, your reader won’t run out of fun any time soon!

  • Jada Jones Series

    by Kelly Starling Lyons

    Don’t miss out on Jada Jones, a budding science whiz who always tries her best, even when the new challenge at hand — like dancing or public speaking — doesn’t feel the most natural. Complete with a charming cast of characters and two-color art that helps readers transition to black-and-white chapter books, this series is a perfect bridge between two reading worlds.

  • Magic on the Map Series

    by Courtney Sheinmel and Bianca Turetsky, illustrated by Stevie Lewis

    Twins Finn and Molly Parker aren’t impressed with their dad’s new camper — until they discover it can talk, and magically transport them, too! Each chapter book in this fun-filled series brings the twins to a different state and includes a map and entertaining facts about that unique piece of the country. It’s a wild ride captured in brilliant color.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2017 and updated in 2019.