There are many series books for the second and third grade level. I have reviewed 10 of these and will provide a brief overview of each. The reviews are organized by reading difficulty, from least difficult to most.
Henry and Mudge
by Cynthia Rylant
This is an easy to read series featuring Henry, a young boy of about six or seven years old and his lovable 160-pound dog Mudge. The stories have a simple sequence of events and are written from a third person’s point of view. The narrator of the stories is an outsider who can report only what he or she sees and hears. The narrator can tell us what is happening, but he can’t tell us the thoughts of the characters. The series contains short chapters of five to ten pages with each page having colorful illustrations taking up half the page. These stories are easily understandable and promote friendship, love, and family.
Mr. Putter and Tabby
by Cynthia Rylant
In the first book in this series,
Mr. Putter and Tabby Pour the Tea
, Mr. Putter is a lonely old man who is partially deaf, looking for someone to share his life with. Mr. Putter doesn’t want a kitten because they’re too peppy and Mr. Putter isn’t peppy anymore. He goes to the animal shelter and finds Tabby, an old, yellow cat that is partially deaf. Mr. Putter and Tabby eat breakfast together; then have tea together. Mr. Putter reads Tabby stories in the evening. It seems as though they’ve always been together.
Mr. Putter catches a cold and feels miserable in another installment in the series,
Putter and Tabby Catch a Cold
. Two new characters are introduced, Mrs. Teaberry, a neighbor who calls and hears Mr. Putter is sick, and her dog Zeke. Mr. Putter doesn’t want Mrs. Teaberry to catch his cold so Mrs. Teaberry sends her dog Zeke. Mr. Putter is apprehensive about Zeke coming over because of Tabby. Zeke arrives with a thermos of soup strapped to his back. Mrs. Teaberry later sends Zeke over with a thermos of peppermint tea. Mr. Putter asks to borrow a book and Mrs. Teaberry tells him the book belongs to Zeke. Zeke arrives with the book strapped to his back. Mr. Putter gets into bed with Tabby and Zeke and they read stories all day long. Life is good.
Mr. Putter and Tabby
is an easy to read series with short chapters and colorful pictures on each page. The story is told from a third person’s perspective in simple, repetitive vocabulary. The themes of friendship and sharing are prevalent in these stories.
by Suzy Kline
Harry is a second grader who is one step away from trouble. He delights in planning adventures with his best friend Doug. The stories take place in a school setting, which has great appeal for young children. The pace of the story is fast with the reader wondering, “How will Harry get out of this mess now?”
In the book
Horrible Harry and the Dungeon
, Harry gets himself sent to the “dungeon” for a crime he didn’t commit to check out the new school suspension room supervisor. You can’t help but continue reading to find out what happens. Harry’s best friend Doug is the narrator, who reveals his personal thoughts and feelings about what is happening to Harry.
It’s Secret Pal Week at school in the book
Horrible Harry and the Green Slime
. Harry is thrilled to pull Song Lee’s name from the jar and gets angry with Doug for not sharing the name of his secret pal. Harry is horrible to Doug all week. Every time Harry gets a note or small gift from his secret pal he brags to Doug that his secret pal truly knows what a friend is. By the end of the week Harry learns that Doug was his secret pal and apologizes to Doug in his awkward way.
This is one of the few series I’ve found to have some diversity of character. A secondary character in this story is Song Lee an Asian American who also attends English as a Second Language class during the school day. The
series is funny and makes every day in second grade a surprise.
Junie B. Jones
by Barbara Parks
Junie B. Jones is an irrepressible almost six year old. She always says just what’s on her mind, though it sometimes gets her into trouble. Young readers love her imaginative schemes. The story is told from Junie B’s point of view revealing all her personal thoughts and feelings. Junie B. takes many things literally and this triggers much of the conflict in her day-to-day life. Junie B. herself can only resolve this internal conflict. All of the books begin with Junie B. introducing herself as Junie B. Jones and saying the B stands for Beatrice but she doesn’t like Beatrice, she just likes B.
Junie B. is scared of the school bus and the mean kids on the bus on her first day of kindergarten in
Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus
. Junie B. has an awful experience on her way to school. She finds that the bus is very big, has a funny door, makes a screechy sound and smells of egg salad. She has problems with the boy sitting next to her and finds the kids on the bus mean and loud. She encounters many new and inhibiting things on the first day, decides not to follow the kids to the bus at the end of the day and stays in the classroom by herself. She explores the nurse’s office and the school library, and runs through the hallways and the cafeteria. By now the police and the firefighters have been called, the principal and teacher are worried and her mother has arrived. All of a sudden the custodian notices her trying to get into the locked bathroom. Everyone starts to talk at once, the police and firefighters leave and Junie B. is left having to explain herself. Her mother hugs her very tight, talks to her about safety and school rules and makes sure she has a friend to sit with on the bus.
Junie B. Jones Has a Monster Under Her Bed
, Junie B. is convinced that a monster exists. Her mom, dad, and grandma all try to convince and pacify her with tricks to get her to forget about the monster, but not until Junie B. herself puts her own scary picture under her bed to scare the monster does she feel safe. Her problem is solved.
Children can identify with Junie B. Jones because she is going through many of the same experiences they have had in school: separation anxiety, making new friends and learning new rules and routines. What makes Junie B. Jones appealing is the way she uses the same language (not always grammatical) as the everyday child. The chapters are short and easy to read, with black and white illustrations every three or four pages.
by Louis Sachar
Marvin Redpost is a third grade boy filled with all the anxiety and fears of any child. He is encouraged and supported by his parents, his older brother Jacob-whom Marvin admires-and his younger sister Linzy who loves Marvin very much. His best friends, Stuart and Nick, get Marvin into troublesome predicaments, and Clarence, a classmate, is always there to make Marvin feel worse.
The first book in the series is
Marvin Redpost Kidnapped at Birth?
Marvin has red hair and blue eyes and everyone else in his family has brown hair and brown eyes. Marvin convinces himself that he is the lost son of the King of Shamboon, Prince Robert. His friends Stuart and Nick brag to everyone that Marvin has royal blood and they even persuade Clarence that Marvin is a prince. Marvin asks his parents if he’s been adopted, realizes his parents cannot be baby robbers, and tries to convince them he was switched at birth. Mrs. Redpost tells Marvin in her calm manner that it all sounds very logical and supports Marvin in his quest to find out. His mother takes him to have his blood tested at the Watergate Hotel and Marvin realizes he is the 812th boy there thinking he is Prince Robert. The receptionist tells Marvin his chances are one in a million that he is the missing prince. After the initial blood test is a match and Marvin is given a slip of paper to have a longer, blood test, Marvin puts the slip of paper in his pocket and returns to the waiting room where he finds his family. He decides that after all the odds of being Prince Robert are one in a million, and not worth pursuing after all.
Marvin Redpost Super Fast Out of Control!
Marvin has just received the bike he’s been begging for. Now that he has it, he is afraid to ride it because it has gears, hand breaks, and is big. His friends Stuart and Nick brag to everyone that Marvin will be riding down Suicide Hill and Clarence is calling Marvin a chicken to antagonize him. Marvin is afraid to ride and looks to his parents for an excuse to get out of the problem. His parents however, want him to make his own decision. Marvin deals with this inner conflict and has to make a choice. What would his friends think? He decides to try and his parents are there to support him. Everyone else has forgotten about Suicide Hill and Marvin realizes he is the only one who truly cares about whether or not he does ride down the hill. Marvin does complete the ride down Suicide Hill and his family is there to cheer him on.
series are hilarious stories of a loving, supportive family and the day-to-day conflicts children encounter in the world. The chapters are short with two or three black and white illustrations per chapter. The stories are fast-paced and witty, with lots of attention to detail. These stories should capture the reluctant reader because they are funny and sometimes gross.
The Magic Tree House
by Mary Pope Osborne
Eight year-old Jack and seven year old Annie are brother and sister from Frog Creek, Pennsylvania. They discover a magical tree house filled with all sorts of books. The books have the power to transport them to any place in history or in the future. To go someplace they need to turn the page of a book and make a wish.
The Magic Tree House: Pirates Past Noon #4
, Jack and Annie are sent back in time 300 years to a deserted island with a parrot and the Pirates of the Caribbean. The pirates hold them captive; even though the only gold the children have is a special gold medallion with an “M” marked on it that they found in a previous
Magic Tree House
story. Capt’n Bones has a map to Captain Kidd’s treasure but Capt’n Bones can’t read. The children assist by reading the map and finding the treasure buried under a big, black rock. A storm is coming and the parrot tells the children it’s time to go. They grab the medallion and then the rope ladder and climb up to the tree house. Their Pennsylvania book is quickly opened to a map of Frog Creek, the wind starts to blow, the tree house starts to spin and Jack and Annie soon find themselves at home. When they open their eyes there is a beautiful old women with a green-feathered cape in the place where the parrot was. The woman is Morgan le Fay, King Arthur’s sister from Camelot. She is both a librarian and an enchantress who has come to the 20th Century to collect books. The children soon discover that the “M” in the medallion stands for her. Morgan tells Jack and Annie about the spell she has put on the tree house and that the magic works for them because of Annie’s belief in magic and the children’s love of books. Morgan le Fay is the reason the children have been able to go on all the adventures.
The Magic Tree House: Tonight on the Titanic #17
Jack and Annie arrive at the tree house on a stormy night to find a little dog that is under a spell. A note from Morgan is attached to the dog saying the children must be given four gifts from the following to break the spell: a ship lost at sea, the prairie blue, a forest far away, and a kangaroo. They name the dog Teddy. Jack and Annie are transported back to April 14, 1912 and find themselves on the Titanic. Jack wants to go back but Annie feels they have plenty of time to explore. They meet Lucy and William O’Malley, who are on their way to New York to meet their parents. Jack and Annie tell the O’Malleys that the ship is sinking and they all run to look for lifeboats. The water is beginning to creep in and cover their shoes. When William and Lucy get into the lifeboat they want Jack and Annie to follow but they won’t. Lucy, grateful for their help reaches into her pocket and gives Annie a silver watch on a chain. Then a man picks up Annie and puts her in a lifeboat. There is nothing Jack can do. A woman named Lady Blackwell nearly throws herself over the side of the ship. Jack grabs Annie’s hand and pulls her out. They run to the Tree House but it is gone. The Titanic sinks deeper and deeper. The lights go out. Annie wishes she could go home, pointing to Pennsylvania in the book. All of a sudden, the wind starts to blow and the tree house starts to spin. Jack and Annie are lying on the floor. They think about the Titanic and start to cry. Teddy licks their tears. Annie finds Lucy’s gift in her pocket. The watch has stopped at 2:20, exactly when the ship went down. They realize they have the first gift to break Teddy’s spell: the gift from the ship lost at sea.
Magic Tree House
series is written in sets of four with a single mystery threaded through all four books. Annie and Jack are brave, problem-solving main characters. The chapters are short with a few black and white illustrations throughout the book. These stories enable children to travel around the world and through time with literature. Non Fiction Research Guides accompany many of the books and provide photos, illustrations and information about the times, places and cultures visited by Jack and Annie. These adventures are great for the history buff.
by Paula Danziger
series explores contemporary childhood through the eyes of a nine-year-old girl of a divorced family. Amber repeatedly refers to herself as “I, Amber Brown” in the stories to remind herself that she belongs to herself, not her mom or dad or teacher. In
Amber Brown Wants Extra Credit
she is learning to live with a divorced mother who is starting to date although Amber dreams of her parents getting back together. Amber doesn’t want to meet her mother’s boyfriend Max because she feels she is being disloyal to her dad who lives in Paris. She later finds out that her dad is also dating and realizes that this is life and she needs to cope with the changes.
I, Amber Brown
, Amber’s dad has returned from Paris and Amber must now live in two houses since her parents have joint custody. Her mother is now engaged to Max. Amber learns to play her parents against each other by having her dad bring her to have her ears pierced even though she knows her mother wants her to wait until she is twelve. The family learns new rules of communication, and Amber states, “There should be a rule book for kids of divorced parents with every little thing listed that we have to remember.”
The stories take a humorous, light-hearted approach to Amber’s struggles and conflicts. Amber loves to make puns and questions the meaning of similes like “neat as a pin” how messy can the head of a pin get? She is a fourth grader who is having difficulty balancing the changes in her home life and keeping up her grades at school. These stories are typical of what many children are dealing with at this age and this keeps the reader engaged, wondering how Amber will deal with the changes. The chapters are short, with two or three black and white illustrations in each chapter. The
series is easy to get hooked on.
translated by Edizione Piemme
Geronimo the mouse is a brainy newspaper editor and amateur detective. He is constantly getting dragged into adventures, which become stories for his paper, the Rodent’s Gazette. His sister and special correspondent Thea, his jokester cousin Trap, and his loving and supportive favorite nephew Benjamin aid him. He is a reluctant sleuth and a true gentlemouse. Cousin Trap is always a point of conflict, with his constant tricks and teasing of Geronimo. The author uses hints and clues to suggest what will happen later in the story and the conflict keeps sympathetic point of view focused on Geronimo. The stories take place on Mouse Island, featuring various cities such as New Mouse City and San Mouscisco.
Geronimo Stilton: I’m Too Fond of My Fur!
Geronimo is called by his friend Professor von Volt to help him. Professor von Volt mentions something about a yeti before they are cut off. Geronimo isn’t much for traveling halfway around the world nor is he much of a sportsmouse, so he enlists the help of his sister Thea. She decides that a story about a real yeti would be big news. They will be climbing Mouse Everest. His cousin Trap and nephew Benjamin join them on their adventure.
Geronimo Stilton: The Cat in the Mouse in a Haunted House
, Geronimo is stranded in Cannycat Castle. Inside the castle he sees a painting of the leaders from the great battle of Raterloo in 1754 and portraits of Prince Bigpaw Cannycat and Duke Slicepaw Cannycata. He hears horrifying meowing and then classical music by that famous composer Ratwig von Beethoven. All of a sudden his cell phone rings. Holey cheese, he is scared! His fur is standing on end! He picks up the phone and it’s his sister Thea who remains calm as he stammers with fear. At first, Thea thinks he’s making a mountain out of a mousehill but then she realizes this place could have a great ghost scoop. She’ll take pictures and the paper will sell like hot cheesecakes. She hangs up the phone, picks up her cousin Trap and nephew Benjamin and they head off to find Geronimo and another adventure.
The book provides a map of the island and a listing with pictures of all of the staff at the Rodent’s Gazette. The author uses different font styles, colors, and sizes to elaborate a point, emphasize sound or action and picture a scene. He uses puns and subtle satire to appeal to adults also. The story is told from Geronimo’s point of view, revealing his thoughts and feelings. This is new to the American market and is translated from Italian.
The Adventures of Captain Underpants
by Dav Pilkey
This is the story of two fourth grade boys named George and Harold. They are two pranksters who like to have fun and get themselves in and out of trouble. They are also the writers and illustrators of their own comic book series called
The Adventures of Captain Underpants
series is a combination of individual adventures staring “the principal” Captain Underpants and the short comic books written by George and Harold.
The Adventures of Captain Underpants: The First Epic Novel
, George and Harold get busted for a prank and Mr. Krupp, the principal blackmails the boys with a list of demands. Mr. Krupp dislikes George and Harold and especially dislikes their comic books. George and Harold accept the deal at first but soon get tired of doing everything Mr. Krupp says and decide to hypnotize him. When Mr. Krupp is in a trance the boys snap their fingers and turn him into the superhero Captain Underpants, and thus the series is created. With his superhero powers Mr. Krupp/Captain Underpants flies around the city giving wedgies to all the bad guys. What better way to inspire a beginning or reluctant reader to read than by making fun of the school principal!
The Adventures of Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants: The Fourth Epic Novel
, Poor Professor Pippy Poopypants had been laughed out of the scientific community because of his name and decides to get a job as an elementary school teacher. He soon realizes that he isn’t getting any more respect in the classroom and decides to invent something that will pull the rest of the planet down with him. He invents a machine that would change everyone’s normal name to a silly name. Fluffy Toiletnose and Cheeseball Wafflefanny (George and Harold) decide something has to be done so they run to the principal’s office, snap their fingers and Mr. Pottybiscuits (Mr. Krupp) turns into Captain Underpants! Needless to say, Captain Underpants saves the day. Professor Poopypants apologizes and decides to change his name to his grandfather’s name so nobody will make fun of him again. He changes his name to Tippy Tinkletrousers.
When I first looked at this series I was turned off by the rude language and the deliberate misspelling but after reading three of the books in the series I was ready to get past the rudeness and see the appeal to the reluctant reader. The story is told from a third person’s perspective. The conflict occurs when George and Harold plan some sort of scheme that goes wrong. This is the first series I’ve encountered that has multi-cultural main characters. George is African-American and Harold is Caucasian. The stories are fast-paced, with pictures on every page. The use of alliteration makes the series even funnier. There is also a gimmick called a Flip-O-Rama in every book which features techniques that let you animate the action.
The Adventures of Captain Underpants
is a hilarious series.
A Series of Unfortunate Events
by Lemony Snicket
A Series of Unfortunate Events
is a world built by imagination and bad luck. The main characters are the three Baudelaire children, Violet, a 14-year-old inventor, Klaus, a 12-year-old avid reader with a great memory for details, and Sunny, an infant who likes to bite. They are orphaned after their parents are killed in a fire at their mansion. They face adversity when sent to live with a distant cousin, the rude and treacherous Count Olaf who is only interested in getting his hands on their fortune. Count Olaf is assisted by an assortment of accomplices who back up his plans to get “the orphans”, (as he refers to them) fortune. These corrupt characters include a hook-handed man, two women with white faces, a bald man, and an enormous creature that looks like neither a man nor woman.
In the first book,
A Series of Unfortunate Events: A Bad Beginning
, the evil Count Olaf takes the children into his dirty, dilapidated home making them do all the chores. He makes them cook for and serve his perverse comrades, and deprives them of any comforts or happiness. He plots to marry Violet in order to control the Baudelaire fortune by staging a play with a marriage ceremony written by Al Funcoot. The marriage is foiled when Klaus borrows a book about nuptial law and learns Violet must sign the marriage contract in her own hand. Violet tricks the Count by signing the document with her left hand instead of her right, which makes the marriage illegal.
In the eighth book,
A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Hostile Hospital
the children have escaped from Count Olaf and are now charged with his murder. They are on the run and are hiding in the closed ward of the Heimlich Hospital. They are volunteering in the Library of Records and doing research trying to find evidence about the fire that killed their parents. They discover a Baudelaire file with only one page inside. It contains a photograph of Jacques Snicket, one of Jerome and Esme Squalor, and one of a man holding a notebook and pen with his back turned away from the camera. Having only read the first and eighth installments of the series, I don’t know these characters, who are from a previous book, so I see some need in reading the series in order. I notice, however, that Jacques has the same last name as our author and wonder if this is some sort of clue. The children seem to think that this may be a clue that one parent may still be alive. Count Olaf tracks “the orphans” down and disguises himself as the Head of Human Resources. He has Violet kidnapped by his goons and has scheduled her for the first cranioectomy under the name Laura V. Bleediotie, an anagram for Violet Baudelaire. Count Olaf uses anagrams when he wants to hide something. Notice the author of the play, Al Funcoot is Count Olaf. Klaus and Sunny disguise themselves as doctors and go into the Operating Theater. All of a sudden a fire has started in the Hall of Records and this enables the Baudelaire children to escape. The children hide in Count Olaf’s car trunk hoping to find more clues, when Count Olaf and his band of criminals jump into the car and speed off to the next part of the journey, book nine.
The author Lemony Snicket is a pseudonym for David Handler. These mysterious and humorous books have longer chapters and are written for the advanced reader. The books are cleverly titled using alliteration. Witty alliterations and anagrams are sprinkled throughout the texts. The stories are filled with irony that also appeals to the adult reader. Nine books have been published so far with a plan for four more. This series is being made into a movie with Jim Carey as Count Olaf to be released at the end of this year.