As always, we are doing lots of reading around here. With suggestions from The Read-Aloud Handbook, we have been plowing our way through a bunch of short chapter books lately. These are designed for younger children and so have some illustrations.
I've read each of these aloud to Nia at least three times each, so I feel very confident in recommending them.
My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett is a great book for the 3-going-on-4/newly-4 set because it has a lot of adventure without anything really scary or overly dramatic. Elmer Elevator is eleven years old. After bringing home a stray cat who tells him about a place called Wild Island, Elmer sets off to rescue a baby dragon named Boris who is being held captive by the wild animals of Wild Island. Elmer backs in his backpack many strange items that end up coming in very handy on Wild Island when he outsmarts the fierce animals. The book is a three-in-one, with two sequels included: Elmer & the Dragon, and The Dragons of Blueland. (The book starts with a map -- don't you find that these are often the best books?)
The Water Horse by Dick King-Smith is a little more advanced than My Father's Dragon but held Nia's attention equally well. This is a historical fiction about the possible origins of Nessy, the Loch Ness Monster. Eight-year-old Kristie finds a strange egg on the beach near her Scottish home, so she brings it home and she and her brother hatch a baby sea monster in the bathtub. The children's grandfather helps them care for the "water horse" which soon outgrows the backyard pond they put it in. This book starts off a little slowly with a lot of big words describing a storm, but stick with it; it gets much easier to read very quickly.
Two Times the Fun by Beverly Cleary is about 4-year-old twins, Jimmy and Janet. It is a very simply written book, with 4 stories broken into 4 chapters. I didn't enjoy this book as much as some others we've read that are a little more complex, but Nia seemed to really enjoy it, especially the last chapter in which the twins transition from their toddler beds to "big kid" beds.
Mimmy & Sophie: All Around Town by Miriam Cohen is a great book. It is actually the second in a series -- the first is a picture book with chapters, while this one is more of an easy-reader style with illustrations. Both are good books. Mimmy and Sophie are sisters, growing up in Brooklyn during the Depression. Sophie is really into dolls while Mimmy is interested in cars. I liked that with this series Nia got a glimpse of growing up in a different time with a lot less than we have now.
The Stories Julian Tells by Ann Cameron is another great book. Julian has a big imagination and often tells his little brother Huey tall tales -- which occasionally get him in some trouble. It is interesting to read how he gets out of the trouble with help from his father. I also liked that the subjects of the chapters were a little different from some of the other books we'd read in the easy-reader style, but closely mirrored events Nia could actually relate to: cooking, gardening, cats, fig trees, making new friends... Well-written with beautiful illustrations.
Rip-Roaring Russell by Johanna Hurwitz is kind of similar to Two Times the Fun: Not necessarily my favorite, but Nia really liked it because it was about a 4 year old who was just starting preschool. So the subject matter was perfect for us. Something I did like about this book: Sometimes Russell was disappointed and that's just the way it was -- the chapters didn't necessarily always end with everything magically working out, the way things often are in other books.
And we completed the Poppy series by Avi with Poppy and Ereth. This was a very well done conclusion to a long series with many well-loved characters. This whole series is much more complex than the other books in this post. You might want to preview it before you launch into it with your child. As I've mentioned on this blog before, we started with Poppy and did some light editing on page 2, but other than that, we've read them all all the way through and Nia hung on every word. But I think she will also enjoy re-reading them for years to come as she matures. With Poppy & Ereth, I thought Avi did a wonderful job of enabling the reader to say good-bye to the characters without it being too overly sad. I can't recommend the whole series enough. The illustrations by Brian Floca are worth it alone.