Toppsta - Childrens Books – Reviews

From Picture Books to Chapter Books

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Discover how to help support your child as they transition to chapter books in our guest blog by literacy advocate Julia Bastin.

Picture books are wonderful, and becoming better and better. There seems no limit to the inspiring stories and inspired illustrators, not to mention the print technology that allows fabulous pop-ups and sparkles and even sounds. How lucky we are to read these with our children or grandchildren, at bedtime or any time, sitting cosily together on the sofa…

Spare a thought for these same children as beginner readers, wriggling on hard chairs in a classroom and putting in all the effort of reading aloud, only to be judged on every slip they make. All that’s joyful about picture books is stripped out: wordplay, sophisticated illustration, special effects. It may be enough to make children functional readers – but what can we do to make them motivated and willing readers – truly, readers for life?

Showing your own interest is key. If your children are sent home with reading books three times a week, then hearing them read, and discussing the story they have read (even if you agree that it’s lame) shows that you value their efforts. You can supplement their school reading with books that pick up on their interests (do ask class teachers if they have any suggestions). There are some brilliant series for beginner and developing readers, with examples given below. These provide valuable support for the early reader: a familiar setting, a consistent level of language and structure. Finishing one book in a series and moving on to the next is always satisfying and motivating.

Children don’t always need to be challenged. It’s so disheartening for a child to be told ‘you’re too old for that’, whether ‘that’ is a well-loved picture book or a wonderfully silly and subversive comic. As grown-ups, we may be capable of reading Dostoevsky, but we value our comfort reads, too. Your child’s school should be setting their challenge reading; you can help by providing reading that constantly encourages them to read further: not because they ought, but because they really want to.

A note on levels*

Toppsta
2021-02-09
From Picture Books to Chapter Books

1. Encouraging beginners 

(book bands 2-7, Red to Turquoise, normally Reception to Year 1/ Scotland P1-P2)

Toppsta
2021-02-09
From Picture Books to Chapter Books

At this level, building confidence is key. Short, manageable stories give beginner readers valuable practice, as well as the vital sense of achievement in finishing one book and moving on to another. The best books at this level may well have lavish full-colour illustrations, but it’s clear that the text – however brief – is paramount. Sentences are short, and words are clearly printed and carefully chosen for ease of reading. The change in format from large pages to something closer to standard paperback size also sends a subtle message: grown-ups read books that look like this

Toppsta
2021-02-09
From Picture Books to Chapter Books
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Usborne First Reading Series 1 & 2

Part of the Usborne First Reading series, aimed at children just beginning to read. This key series was developed in conjunction with reading expert Allison Kelly from the University of Surrey, a reading specialist. Every title has clear and compelling text that allows children to build their burgeoning reading skills and is accompanied by charming and highly appealing illustrations.

Bob and Bet catch a magical fish who grants wishes in this amusing story based on a folktale. 

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Orion Books' Early Readers

Orion Books’ Early Readers AR book level 2.5-3.5

Early Readers are stepping stones from picture books to reading books. A blue Early Reader is perfect for sharing and reading together. A red Early Reader is the next step on your reading journey.

A red Early Reader full of humour and fun, from bestselling author and actor, Steven Butler.

Every town in the world has one witch - only one! So when the Hag of the Crag moves into town next door to the Witch of the Ditch, an all-out Witch War ensues.

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2. Supporting early readers 

(book bands 7-9, Turquoise to Gold, normally Year 1-2/ Scotland P2-3)

This is the level at which children can start to stretch their reading abilities. Achievable reading is still really important, but the reading range becomes wider. With confidence and practice, children are better able to tackle non-fiction (often more challenging than stories for beginner readers, because it introduces specialised terms; at the same time, it can be much more engaging for those children who prefer relatable real life). Series fiction becomes compelling because young readers love the inbuilt support of a story with familiar characters and a degree of predictability – not ‘boring’ to them as it might be to adult readers, but offering a framework to support their growing confidence. Humour is a powerful motivator. At this point, children might be progressing from full-colour full-page illustration to incidental illustration, in colour, two-tone or black and white.


Toppsta
2021-02-09
From Picture Books to Chapter Books
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Claude in the City

View the whole series here.

Meet Claude, the ordinary dog with an extraordinary life. Now the star of his very own TV show on Disney Junior and ITVBe! 

When Mr and Mrs Shinyshoes set off for work, Claude decides what adventure he wants to have that day. Today he and Sir Bobblysock go to the city for the very first time. They have tea in a cafe, go shopping and visit a museum. It is all very normal until ... Claude accidentally foils a robbery and becomes the local hero!

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Monsters in the Dark

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Billy's scared of the dark, so he's trying hard to stay awake ALL night. But then he hears a squeaky little voice and notices some tiny purple footprints. Not only that, SOMETHING has ATTACKED his cheese sandwich. What could it be? Does Billy dare find out? Meet Billy and the Mini Monsters in this laugh-out-loud adventure series for young readers, with colourful illustrations throughout. Perfect for reluctant and newly independent readers growing in confidence, Billy and the Mini Monsters are back in paperback! Look out for awesome new editions of old favourites and exciting new adventures in 2020 and 2021!

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Rabbit and Bear: Rabbit's Bad Habits: Book 1

View the whole series here.

Gorgeously illustrated and with a classic feel, this is a brilliantly funny story of a rabbit and a bear who discover that things are always better when they're shared with a friend. Ideal for readers moving on from picture books. 

'A perfect animal double-act.' ( The Times , Book of the Week)

Bear wakes up early from hibernation. If she can't sleep, then at least she can make a snowman. Rabbit has never made a snowman, but he definitely wants to make one that's better than Bear's.

But with an avalanche and a hungry wolf heading his way, Rabbit soon realises that it might be nice to have a friend on his side.

From novelist and playwright Julian Gough, and the winner of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, Jim Field, this is a tale of friendship, gravity, and just a little bit of poo.  

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more series to explore

Toppsta
2021-02-09
From Picture Books to Chapter Books

3. Supporting developing readers

(book bands 10-11, White to Lime, normally Year 2/Scotland P3)

Developing readers can be voracious. This is the stage when it is really worth making use of your local library or exploring the children’s shelves in charity bookshops. School book clubs can offer excellent value on packs from a series. Series fiction comes into its own: some charming, some only middling; but everything has its role in boosting children’s reading confidence and developing their stamina. If you are able to introduce a little variety and more sophisticated storytelling at this stage, that’s a fringe benefit rather than the ultimate goal, which is for children to develop a genuine enthusiasm for reading. It’s altogether better for a child to read a book they enjoy than be shamed into putting it down (and this is a battle you may have to fight with grandparents or other well-meaning adults). Today’s omnivorous readers will grow into tomorrow’s discerning ones.


Toppsta
2021-02-09
From Picture Books to Chapter Books
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Horrid Henry

View the whole series here.

Number One for Fiendish Fun!

This book contains HIDEOUS behaviour, terrible dancing, disgusting glop and a trip to France!

Four utterly hilarious and totally brilliant Horrid Henry stories by Francesca Simon, with illustrations by Tony Ross. An irresistible introduction to reading for pleasure.

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Rainbow Magic

View the whole series here.

Get ready for an exciting fairy adventure with the no. 1 bestselling series for girls aged 5 and up. 

When Rachel and Kirsty meet on the ferry to Rainspell Island they have no idea the incredible magical adventures in store for them! Join the two best friends as they meet Ruby the Red Fairy, the first fairy to introduce them to the world of Rainbow Magic.

'These stories are magic; they turn children into readers!' ReadingZone.com

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Daisy and the Trouble with Life

View the whole series here.

The trouble with life is it's SOOOOOOOOO unfair. Daisy's been grounded. No HOPPING or SKIPPING, FLYING or PARACHUTING. She's lucky she's even been allowed out of her bedroom after what she's done. But what HAS she done that is SOOOOOOOOOOO naughty? You'll have to read the book to find out!

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more series to explore

Toppsta
2021-02-09
From Picture Books to Chapter Books

4. Encouraging newly confident readers 

(book bands 11+, Lime and above, normally year 2+, Scotland P3+)

It’s not uncommon for children to master the basic skill of reading and then appear to lose enthusiasm – to their parents’ distress. This is the stage at which one would hope their reading might become more secure, more diverse, more ambitious; but also the stage at which competition from screens becomes much more insistent. Sad to say, boys can still face negative peer pressure when they’re seen reading. Compulsively readable adventure (often within the familiar parameters of a series) and humour are some of the best antidotes.

Toppsta
2021-02-09
From Picture Books to Chapter Books
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Beast Quest: Ferno the Fire Dragon: Series 1 Book 1

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Battle fearsome beasts and fight evil with Tom and Elenna in the bestselling adventure series for boys and girls aged 7 and up. 

An evil wizard has enchanted the magical Beasts of Avantia - only a true hero can free the Beasts and stop them from destroying the land. Is Tom the hero Avantia has been waiting for? Join Tom as he braves Ferno the Fire Dragon in the first of this bestselling series ...

There are SIX thrilling adventures to collect in Series One: Sepron the Sea Serpent ; Arcta the Mountain Goat ; Nanook the Snow Monster ; Tagus the Horse-Man; and Epos the Flame Bird

If you like Beast Quest , check out Adam Blade's other series: Team Hero, Sea Quest and Beast Quest: New Blood !

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The Worst Witch

View the whole series here.

'Mildred Hubble was in her first year at the school. She was one of those people who always seemed be in trouble.'

Hold on to your broomstick for magical mayhem with Jill Murphy's much-loved classic The Worst Witch- the original story of life at a magical boarding school.

Mildred Hubble is a trainee at Miss Cackle's Academy for Witches, but she's making an awful mess of it.

She keeps getting her spells wrong and crashing her broomstick. And when she turns Ethel, the teacher's pet into her worst enemy, chaos ensues...

'Millions of young readers have fallen under the spell of Jill Murphy's Worst Witch' - Sunday Express

Read the rest of Mildred's (mis)adventures: The Worst Witch , A Bad Spell for the Worst Witch , The Worst Witch All at Sea , The Worst Witch Saves the Day , The Worst Witch to the Rescue and The Worst Witch and the Wishing Star.

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The Brilliant World of Tom Gates

View the whole series here.

The first book in the bestselling Tom Gates series of books from the brilliantly talented Liz Pichon. Tom Gates is the master of excuses for late homework: dog attacks - spilt water - lightning... Tom's exercise book is full of his doodles, cartoons and thoughts, as well as comments from his long-suffering teacher, Mr Fullerton. After gaining five merits for his CAMPING SUCKS holiday story, Tom's work starts to go downhill - which is a pity, as he's desperate to impress Amy Porter, who sits next to him...  

Tom Gates is a series of books in diary form Full of Tom's doodles and pictures & his amazing sense of humour The Brilliant World of Tom Gates, was the winner of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize! Perfect gifts for boys & girls who love to laugh themselves silly

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more series to explore

Toppsta
2021-02-09
From Picture Books to Chapter Books

5. Immersive series to build a love of reading

Series fiction continues to be hugely popular both with young readers and with publishers (and of course with adults too). Shorter series are more common, but two standout longer series are How to Train Your Dragon and A Series of Unfortunate Events. From there, it’s only a short step to Harry Potter and beyond.

And if your child continues to struggle, don’t despair… Talk to their class teacher before jumping to any conclusions. There may be an underlying problem, but don’t rush to diagnose it before you’ve spoken to professionals and specialists. 

Sometimes, children can’t help reacting to pressure of expectations. A child who doesn’t enjoy reading and finds it difficult can still enjoy stories, whether read by you or on audiobooks: listening to really well-told stories gives children the experience of rich imaginative language that will ultimately help their own reading and writing. Many libraries have good collections of audiobooks and growing collections of e-audiobooks for children. 

Comics and graphic novels can be hugely supportive for struggling readers, not because the images are any kind of ‘cheat’ but because they reward a broader visual literacy. Magazines such as the brilliant Phoenix motivate young readers to follow storylines week by week, keen to know what happens next.

There’s no single right way to build up a lifelong reader; but showing your own interest, encouragement and support will make an enormous difference.

Toppsta
2021-02-09
From Picture Books to Chapter Books
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How to Train Your Dragon: Book 1

View the whole series here.

Read the HILARIOUS books that inspired the HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON films! 

Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third is a smallish Viking with a longish name. Hiccup's father is chief of the Hairy Hooligan tribe which means Hiccup is the Hope and the Heir to the Hairy Hooligan throne - but most of the time Hiccup feels like a very ordinary boy, finding it hard to be a Hero.

In the first How to Train Your Dragon book Hiccup must lead ten novices in their initiation into the Hairy Hooligan Tribe. They have to train their dragons or be BANISHED from the tribe FOR EVER!

But what if Hiccup's dragon resembles an ickle brown bunny with wings? And has NO TEETH? The Seadragonus Giganticus Maximus is stirring and wants to devour every Viking on the Isle of Berk . . .
Can Hiccup save the tribe - and become a Hero?

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The Bad Beginning

View the whole series here.

Dear reader,

There is nothing to be found in these special tie-in editions of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events but misery and despair. You still have time to pick another bestselling, Emmy-nominated, Netflix-adapted series to read. But if you cannot be dissuaded, read on ...

Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are intelligent children. They are charming, and resourceful, and have pleasant facial features. Unfortunately, they are exceptionally unlucky.

In The Bad Beginning, the siblings encounter a greedy and repulsive villain, itchy clothing, a disastrous fire, a plot to steal their fortune and cold porridge for breakfast.

In the tradition of great storytellers, from Dickens to Dahl, comes an exquisitely dark comedy that is both literary and irreverent, hilarious and deftly crafted.

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more series to explore

Toppsta
2021-02-09
From Picture Books to Chapter Books

Julia Bastin has worked for a major children’s publisher for many years. She has three children, and has volunteered as a reading support assistant and library coordinator in local primary schools, as well as writing a blog for young readers. She is passionate about helping children to surmount the challenges and discover the rewards of reading.


Toppsta
2021-02-09
From Picture Books to Chapter Books

 *There are various book levelling systems, and sadly they are not all that clear to non-book-professionals. Many schools use the book banding system, mapping a progression from very beginners to independent readers through 11 (sometimes up to 15) colour levels. School reading scheme books often give band colours and levels on the covers, but it’s rare for books outside reading schemes to do that. You’ll find some helpful suggestions for books at your child’s book band level here.

For schools which use the Accelerated Reader system, AR tracks your child’s reading level and will suggest further reading choices at the same or a slightly higher level. Your child’s school will show you how you can use AR data most effectively to expand their reading.

Many libraries have their own systems to indicate early reading levels – ours locally have different numbers of stripes on the spine. If you are in any doubt, do ask the children’s librarian: if they are able to help, they surely will (librarians are very much invested in encouraging future library users).

Toppsta
2021-02-09
From Picture Books to Chapter Books

4th February 2021

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