A Starter List of Chapter Books

Reading Lists


To read independently for enjoyment is perhaps one of the greatest pleasures of life and definitely one of the cornerstones of a good all-round education. Chapter books are a significant milestone in a child’s reading journey. They provide a vital transition point for a child progressing from sounding out words and articulating them with hesitation, to reading silently, independently and with finally with pleasure.


Large font, generous use of pictures, simple storylines, vocabulary that is mostly familiar but with enough new words to increase vocabulary and comprehension – all these  are features which make chapter books invaluable in encouraging independent reading.  Chapter books are of varying lengths. Around  60-120 pages is a good length to start with for new readers. 

When to Introduce Chapter books:  The best time to introduce chapter books is when children are ready for stories which require a narration in several chapters.  The complexity of plot in such books makes it more suitable for chapters rather than a beginning-to-end telling as single story.  Readiness for chapter books also implies that the child will be able to recall the events of a chapter/chapters read the previous day and be ready to resume reading from that point.

Deciding when to introduce chapter books is much easier for parents, who have to cater to the needs of just their own children.  Introducing chapter books in the classroom is more challenging.  To begin with, the reading tastes and levels of students in a single class are as diverse as the children themselves.

Chapter Books in the Classroom: A great strategy that teachers can use to overcome this challenge, is to have a basket or shelf holding an assortment of carefully chosen chapter books that make up the Class Library. These books are kept in the classroom and children are encouraged to choose the books anytime they want. The books can be read during a period earmarked for reading activities or be taken home to read.

As in all things, letting the child have some control of what she or he reads is important.  Pressure in any form detracts from the enjoyment so teachers should try to create a relaxed atmosphere and not be critical of the number of books a child reads.   Its also a  good idea to make the process of  choosing and borrowing the books very simple in order to encourage spontaneous reading.

With a smaller selection of books, it’s easier for the teacher to pair the reading with interesting activities which can be completed singly, along with the parent at home or best of all, by a group of peers.

Since peer recommendations are a great way to get children to sample new books, it’s a good idea to have at least  2 or 3 copies of each title. Teachers could intersperse a few weeks of reading with an activity that creates excitement.   Classrooms could have display boards where children can share the funniest sentence they have read, or the best description of a scary moment, or the most villainous character they have encountered.

Activities like designing book jackets, creating posters, drawing characters, book quizzes, games like twenty questions are great too.

So while the school library should ideally stock ALL of Duckbill Publishers’ Hole Books,   or ALL of Puffin’s Ruskin Bond chapter books, my list is like a sampler or tasting menu which introduces children to a variety of stories, narrated in different styles by a range of authors.

Here’s my list of 22 great chapter books perfect for a Grade 3 or Grade 4 Class Library.   Activities are suggested for a few of the books.



The Monster Hunters by Parinita Shetty.  Funny and exciting adventures take place when  Abhay and Nitya choose to go monster-hunting as part of their class project. Several times, they’re sure they’ve found a monster! Have they?  (Fun activities to use for Monster books: Create and name your own monsters/paint monster rocks/create land monsters/sea-monsters/air-monsters.  Create monster chants, monster sounds, monster language.  Design monster clothes.)

The Legend of Captain Crow’s Teeth by Eoin Colfer The follow-up to Colfer’s wonderful The Legend of Spud Murphy, this one has Will and his brother Marty encounter the ‘ghost’ of a wicked pirate. Three more brothers add plenty of humour to the story. (Spoiler alert: A set of phosphorescent rocks make up the strange phenomenon of Captain Crow’s Teeth. As an activity, children could think of different ghostly avatars for the natural landscapes of their city.)

The Secret of the Rainbow Phoenix by Aditi De. A whimsical, fantastical adventure set in the Forest of a Squillion Secrets. Twins Jorkel and Dorkel have to solve riddles to rescue the Rainbow Phoenix who brings light and life to their land. (Getting children to create riddles or share riddles is one fun activity for the classroom).

Emma and the Blue Genie by Cornelia Funke. Emma releases  Karim the Blue Genie from a bottle she finds floating in the ocean. But alas, Karim’s powers have been stolen along with his magic nose ring. Emma and her brave dog Tristan set off on an adventure to help Karim reclaim his powers. 



At  Least a Fish, the first in a series by Anushka Ravishanker. Ana wants a dog but her parents buy her fish. Three fish!  While trying to look after her fish, Ana and her best friend Zain encounter a real dragon and solve a mystery.

Bonkers by Natasha Sharma. Armaan thinks his dream has come true when his parents buy him a puppy. But his new pet, Bonkers,  completely lives up to his name. He chews Armaan’s spectacles, resists getting trained and worst of all, and gets Armaan into trouble with the school bully. A charming and funny story of a crazy pet coming to his owner’s rescue.  (Check out Bonkers activities suggested by the author. The book is a great starting point for discussion on how to deal with bullies. Or thinking up ways in which the story would be different if Bonkers was a donkey or any different animal.)

Mercy Watson Fights Crime by  Kate Di Camillo: With minimal  text and large, colour  pictures, on every page, this book is perfect for readers who are just starting on chapter books. It’s a series, so readers who like the Watsons’ pet pig (sorry, ‘porcine wonder’) have several adventures to look forward to. A definite hit for all readers who enjoy humour, animals and buttered toast.

Leroy Saddles Up by  Kate Di Camillo. Reformed thief Leroy (who we met in Mercy Watson) wants to become a cowboy.  He’s already acquired all the necessities—a cowboy hat, boots, lasso. Now he needs to get himself a horse. Which he does. Except that Maybelline, the horse who responds only to poetic compliments, may not be ideal cowboy material. Characters from Mercy Watson appear in this series, helping in the progression from easier to more complex reading material.

Care of Henry by Anne Fine. A heart-warming story about Hugo’s dilemma – he  has to choose who to stay with when his mother has a baby. But Hugo will never go anywhere without his dog Henry. The question then is who is best suited for the Care of Henry.



Mira the Detective by Pavitra Sankaran.  Young Mira solves three mysteries in one book. She finds a missing antique watch, tracks down stolen packets of Mayamix and helps find a missing neighbour.

Maya saves the Day  by Meera Nair.  Maya, a delightfully feisty young girl who  handles  problems very resourcefully.  Be it a tiger in the house, rescuing lost puppies or finding her lost parents – Maya gets to the bottom of each mystery.

Trouble with Magic by Asha Nehemiah. Veena gets her Aunt Malu to use her herbal magic to create powerful potions and cures. But the magic misfires and it’s now up to Veena to rescue her Aunt from trouble. (Create new herbal potions or different shades of herbal paint as an activity. *Create a business plan complete with posters for a herbal product you have created. Thanks to Seema Karanth for *this idea.)

The Chocolate Money Mystery by Alexander McCall Smith. Max and Maddy Twist are called to solve a mystery involving a hilarious combination of  chocolate, bank robbers and rescue dogs.


josieThe Strongest Girl in the World by Sally Gardner. Josie Jenkins discovers her super-human strength when she rescues a classmate who has his head stuck between iron railings.  Enter the villain who tricks Josie into a contract that has her travelling all over, performing amazing feats. How does Josie get out of a contract and a life she is fed up of?


superkidThe Boy with the Magic Numbers  by Sally Gardner. Billy  Pickles goes to New York to visit his Father’s family, after his father has abandoned Billy and his mother. He has a magic money box, a gift from his father, that seems quite useless. In New York, Billy has many adventures, makes a new friend, foils a kidnapping and finds a way to help his mother. 






Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows Start with Book 1 of this wonderful series. Ivy and Bean start off by not liking one another. They think they are too different to ever become friends. But when Bean gets into trouble with her older sister and Ivy shows her a few tricks, the two end up becoming best friends.

familyCharlie and the Big Birthday Bash by Hilary Mckay. Part of a wonderful series.  Charlie’s big brother Max hates parties and doesn’t want to celebrate his birthday. So Charlie sets out to make Max change his mind by throwing him a party. Everything that can go wrong, does – but does Max finally enjoy the party? (Classroom activities could include planning and holding a surprise party.)

The Aventures of Mooli and the Blue-Legged Alien A Blue-Legged Alien gets in the way of best friends Soups and Mooli wanting to win a prize on Wayouts. (World’s As Yet Original Untried Tricks and Stunts). (Activities: Think of new prize-winning stunts for Wayouts) 

Cricket for the Crocodile by Ruskin Bond.   A cricket match between the village boys and the town boys (with some adults added to the team) comes to an unexpected end when Nakoo the crocodile becomes a spectator. (Children could create different scenarios for the match and take turns being Radio or TV commentators describing the match).

When Jiya met Urmila by Shabnam Minwalla.  Jiya and Urmila inhabit different worlds though they live only two banyan trees and one wall away from each other. When the wicked Mr Jajjoo gets videographic evidence of something Jiya wishes she hadn’t done, Urmila and her brother find a way to outwit Mr Jajoo.  The solution involves dogs, cows and lots of fun. (Children could suggest alternate solutions to Jiya’s problem.)



Bookasura by Arundhati Venkatesh When Bala goes to spend the summer at his grandparents home, he encounters a many-headed monster who demands to be fed a steady diet of books. This Bala does till he runs out of books. Can Bala outwit Bookasura and avoid getting eaten up himself. (Kids can have fun deciding alternate strategies Bala could have used to deal with Bookasura. What books could Bala have fed the monster if he had stayed in the home of Celebrity X or Sportsperson Y instead of with his grandparents.)

Hungry to Read by Arthi Sonthalia.   Arjun loves Maths but hates reading. But when his teacher announces a reading competition, and there is a chance that his class could just win an amazing prize, Arjun needs to do his bit to help his class and his best friend. (Children could plan and hold such a competition in school and decide on the most attractive prizes.)

Some of the best activities to promote reading in the classroom are found in this absolutely superb article by reading specialist, Janelle Cox. 

©Asha Nehemiah













The Delicious Dilemma of Choosing a Book

Book Club

Every year, the agonising moment comes around! The moment when I must put aside dithering, stop procrastinating, and finally commit — to the book I’m going to present at  my Book Club! This should, in theory, be a breeze for someone like me. I always have a pile of wonderful books that I’ve just read. And an even taller pile of books that are just waiting to be read. Plus a teeteringly high pile that’s just … well …   waiting patiently in my online shopping  cart.

In truth, however, choosing the book  that I will share with the dearest of  friends at  my Book Club, always turns out to be harrowing in the nicest possible way. The same way that an arduous trek undertaken to a soundtrack of protesting muscles and  laboured   breathing,  finally rewards the climber  with a breath-taking view!

What makes a book a good choice to read at a Book Club? For starters, the book must be written  in the sort of achingly beautifully prose that has you feverishly bookmarking  your favourite passages till  the book has almost as many bookmarks as pages.  The  empathy  and  interest the book invokes  should make you  want to immediately befriend or adopt or  even contemplate a relationship with a character or two. Or the book should make you long to travel, or  even time-travel,  to the country or the  century it is set in.  Travel via books is always by First Class and I’ve made many a marvellous journey be it to Istanbul during  the Ottoman empire (My Name is Red) or the exotic Burmese city of Pegu, (The Jewel Trader of Pegu) or to the hostile landscape of  Iceland in winter (Burial Rites).

Choosing a book which sparks debate is vital too, because what fun would it be if everyone in the room is arrayed on the same side of the argument. One of our most memorable reads was a book which led to us being divided, somewhat unevenly,  in an ‘ALL versus one’ split.  Phew! That was the time we sure needed to talk …and a lot …about Lionel Shriver’s  Kevin.



Another stirring evening was when we discussed surrogacy and  the ethical conundrum of  individual choice. This was when we read  Gita Aravamudam’s Baby Makers. This  discussion  happened soon after  India passed an Act banning commercial surrogacy. I started off naïvely, supporting a woman’s right over her womb. The conversation over a long  evening ended with me acknowledging that  it was the State’s duty to step in to protect  the vulnerable and exploited.

Sometimes, choosing the book becomes needlessly complicated.  You find the perfect book only to discover, to your chagrin, that several members of your Book Club have already read it. This happened with Donna Tartt’s The  Goldfinch which left me a breathlessly excited but hopelessly late arrival to a fan-club that was on the verge of being disbanded. Tartt’s  admirers had found newer authors taking the number one spot on their list of favourites.

At times, a book that seems so apt for Book Club has a theme very similar to the last book we all read together.  Would we have anything new to discuss about Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad  I wondered after  I read this marvellous book and considered suggesting the title for Book Club. Hadn’t we as a group pretty  much wrung ourselves dry  on the issue of race during last month’s discussion of Ta Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me?

Then there was the time I wanted to locate a book on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Saud Amiry’s Sharon and My Mother-in-Law ( Ramallah Diaries) seemed to fit the bill in most respects. It offered an insider view by a charming and interesting narrator. It was personal and funny as stories are bound to be when you introduce your mother-in-law into the  narrative. All boxes were ticked, save one: easy availability of  the book. ‘Hurry only one copy left!’  was the warning on one site and a steep price was the discouraging news from the other.

Books chosen for Book Club  should ideally be priced in a way that does not further stretch our hopelessly overextended book budgets.

Books that have won major literary awards are usually interesting  choices and our Book Club has been uncannily prescient in this respect. We finished reading Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss just weeks before she won the Booker and Jerry Pinto’s Em and the Big Hoom  just prior to his Sahitya Academy award.

The delicious dilemma involved in choosing ‘the’ suitable book for our Book Club has led to us, quite serendipitously, incorporating every one of  the six literary rasas (flavours) in the amazing smorgasboard of books we’ve  either sampled, nibbled to leave uneaten, declared as inedible and indigestible, or devoured — depending on our personal tastes.

Books redolent with the sweetness and spice of romantic love are always  popular though we are usually fiercely divided in reaching a definitive understanding of true love. Is it the more literary and intellectual love of A.S Byatt’s Possession or the obsessive passion of Lily King’s Euphoria? The sharing of ideas that  takes place at book clubs often leads to shifting perceptions and new  lenses with which to view society. This provides an element of surprise and humour to even  the most serious and heated of our discussions. Like the time someone in our  group rather indignantly chided  the rest  for being judgemental about a certain character who had, after all, been “faithful to two women!”

Despite the friendly clashes over matters of ideology, philosophy and when to ring the bell signalling that we’ve partaken enough of all that our host has laid out on the dining table,   a  few rare moments  of  agreement do surface at our Book Club meetings. Not too frequently – just every other year or so.

Like the time we read  Amor Towles’ The Gentleman from Moscow and developed  something of a collective tendre for the dashing  Count.

And, of course, there was that occasion for unanimous excitement when two of ‘our’ authors (meaning authors of two different books we had read at our book club)  fell in love with each other.  We haven’t kept tabs on  that relationship since but I remember how much joy we derived from taking some of the credit for that romance.

Coming back to the six literary rasas, we’ve included the  sour and sometimes bitter aftertaste by reading  books which deal with human cruelty and violence . Among these were Truman Capote’s  In Cold Blood, Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace and  Dave Eggers’ What is the What  about the lost boys of Sudan. The astringent rasa found representation with Fay Weldon and Edward St Aubyn.

But the furrowed-brow and the angst does not clear once I’ve finally located ‘The Suitable Book’. Because then, I still have  to figure how best to lead the discussion. Our Book Club’s format has been that the person who suggests the book presents some information on the author and the book and then leads and moderates the discussion that follows. But more on that in my next post.

Anyway, I have just narrowed my choice down to six books. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.  Sujata Gidla’s The Ant among Elephants. P Sivakami’s The Taming of Women. Andrew Sean Greer’s  Pultitzer-winning Less.  And either one of Perumal Murugan’s two latest books, Poonachi or  The Goat Thief.

I  guess I’ll  just have to fall back on the fool-proof method that’s worked so well for me all through these twelve years — Eeny Meeny Mina Mo.


©Asha Nehemiah

Writing a story on Domestic Violence

domestic violence

How much darkness can a child take? For children who are scarred by the trauma of living in abusive homes, a book should ideally offer a laugh, an adventure, a few moments of respite from the fear and insecurity in their lives.

How would such children react to confronting the horror present in their lives in their books as well? Would they not (as some adults do when forced to confront their demons) just want to close the book mid-sentence on the first page? Could a story make them feel less alone, less powerless?

And then, what about children lucky enough to live with caring parents — would they ever want a peek into what goes on in homes different from theirs? To gain an insight into how it must be for children living in abusive homes?

These were the thoughts that whirled through my mind when I decided to write a story for children on domestic violence.

Barking to the Choir by Gregory Boyle

Book Reviews

It was a moment of pure irony.  Because reading an article titled ‘My Year of No Shopping’, made me rush headlong to –  what  else — shop! For a book. And that too even before I finished reading the article.

 In her New York Times article, ‘My Year of No Shopping’ Ann Patchett, (the PEN Faulkner and Orange Prize winning novelist), recommends Barking to the Choir  as a great book to read if you want to see what  true faith in action looks like in this age of mindless consumerism.

Gifting Books to Babies and Toddlers

Reading Lists

“For your babies and pre-schoolers, surround them with books and print, read to them every day, let them play with books, choose books, talk books, play with magnet letters, read signs and food packaging, make labels for things, draw, paint, sing songs.”

– Tweet by Michael Rosen (Poet and novelist, Children’s Laureate)

CB-1As a children’s author, I’m fortunate to have a direct hotline to several Book-Genies. These genies are usually indulgent of my requests, never ever limiting me to the prescribed three wishes. But when recently, I ordered twenty copies of my current favourite children’s book, the voice at the other end of the line reprimanded me gently. “Five copies is all I will give you. And why do you need twenty copies, anyway?”