The days are getting longer and longer. The last little remnant of the school year is getting shorter and shorter. The kids are getting restless and excited. (So are the teachers.) Summer’s coming!

For many elementary-aged children, this summer will mark a significant milestone. Having worked hard on their reading all year, they’ll finally be ready to go it alone. They’ll be ready to find a shady spot on the lawn and spend the warm, still part of the day lost in a children’s novel. To stay up late reading “big kid” books in bed with a flashlight. To call down the stairs (as Mom or Dad calls up to remind them turn off the flashlight and go to sleep): “Just let me finish this chapter, then I will. I promise!”

In honor of these budding independent readers, we’ve assembled a collection of illustrated chapter books just for them. Each is relatively brief (50–100 pages), with short chapters, black and white illustrations to help them jump the gap between picture books and novels, and characters and scenarios that they will easily relate to.

You can find the complete list on our website, but here are four that stand out:

Big Bad Sheep

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Big Bad Sheep

By Bettina Wegenast
Illustrated by Katharina Busshoff
Recommended age range: 8–12

When a job opening for a Big Bad Wolf suddenly opens up, Karl the sheep decides to apply. But he’s barely slipped on the wolf’s skin when he starts to change before his friends’ very eyes, becoming perhaps a bit more wolf (and a lot more bully) than anyone expected.

This fractured fairy tale of the “sheep in wolf’s clothing” has a lot of humor, a little bite, and an important message about what can happen when sheep (or children) allow themselves to forget who they really are. The simple, expressive strokes of Katharina Busshoff’s black-and-white drawings on every page perfectly complement this quirky and profound new novel.

Extraordinary Ernie and Marvelous Maud

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Extraordinary Ernie and Marvelous Maud

By Frances Watts
Illustrations by Judy Watson
Recommended age range: 7–10

In this first book in the Ernie and Maud series, Ernie Eggers isn’t exactly what you’d call a likely superhero — he’s neither a star athlete nor a stellar student. But when a group of aging superheroes goes looking for a new recruit, Ernie answers the call and becomes Extraordinary Ernie (after school on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, and all day Saturday). He is thrilled – until he discovers that his sidekick is a sheep. It doesn’t take him long to realize, though, that there has never been another sheep quite like Marvelous Maud.

With fun illustrations and engaging characters, this hilarious and fast-paced book about unlikely superheroes offers plenty to entertain young readers — and with four books now available in the Ernie and Maud adventure series, there’s plenty to keep those young readers entertained throughout a large chunk of the summer.

Click here to read one young reader’s review of this book.

Alice’s Birthday Pig

By Tim Kennemore
Recommended age range: 7–10

When Alice meets an adorable pig on her class’s special outing to a farm, she decides that a pig is what she wants most for her eighth birthday. She’d also like to learn to say the word “animal” — or is it “aminal”? — properly so that her know-it-all older brother Oliver will stop teasing her about it.

Oliver is smart and talented, but Alice hates his condescending attitude. Alice also has to contend with her baby sister Rosie, a toddling tornado who continually leaves disaster in her wake.

This charming novel will have young readers cheering for in-the-middle Alice as she finds a clever way to outwit her brother and amaze her sister with an unexpected birthday surprise.

(And with two more Alice novels available — Alice’s World Record and Alice’s Shooting Star — parents of those young readers will be be cheering, too!)

UPDATE October 2013: Unfortunately, this title is no longer available from Eerdmans. We apologize for the inconvenience. 

The Cricket Winter

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The Cricket Winter

By Felice Holman
Illustrated by Robyn Thomas
Recommended age range: 8–12

Simms Sylvanus is nine years old and enormously wise. He knows more about volcanoes than his father knows about business and more about electromagnetic fields than anyone in his class. His ideas to improve things are amazing! Yet nobody — not even his parents — will listen to him.

A cricket is living a solitary life beneath the floorboards in Simms’s room. His bride-to-be has left him after a fight, and in his loneliness he turns for companionship to the other creatures who live underground. Soon he finds himself deeply involved in their struggle for survival.

Everything changes one winter’s day when Simms and Cricket discover they can communicate with each other. Through Morse code, the two tell of their troubles, listen to each other’s ideas, and together learn that it’s sometimes difficult to do the right thing.

Reissued in 2006 with charming new illustrations, this beloved classic (originally published in 1967) is sure to delight a new generation of young readers.

Click on the banner below to browse our complete collection of illustrated chapter books.