Reluctant readers and early chapter books

There are some children who don’t like to read. It’s not that they can’t, they just don’t *want* to. Sometimes there may be underlying issues around ability, confidence, or peer pressure, but sometimes they just don’t fancy it. They think books are boring, or for other kids, or for school. These children often get lumped together into a group labelled ‘reluctant readers’. Often they just haven’t had the right role model, or have been put off by an enforced school reading scheme and haven’t found a book to bring the fun back in. Non-fiction books can work wonders with these children. As can books that are short, interactive, fun and easy to engage with.

Enter Dixie O’Day, Mortimer Keene and Squishy McFluff, three wonderful early chapter books, to save the day.


I love the format of these books. They work beautifully for children who are making the transition from picture books to chapter books and are perfect for enticing reluctant readers. And there’s something here for everyone.

Dixie O’Day – In the Fast Lane is a modern masterpiece by Shirley Hughes and Clara Vulliamy.

The story is broken up into seven bite-sized fast-paced chapters, making it easily accessible for children who are just starting to read independently – for whatever reason – and perfect for a chapter a night. A wacky races style tale of friendship and acts of kindness, it grabs you, pops you in the sidecar with a biscuit and whips you along for the ride.

There is so much to love about this book. Written by literary royalty, you are in extremely safe story hands. The design is gorgeous with a delicious colour scheme and a retro look. The illustrations bring the book to life and give Dixie and his sidekick Percy so much personality. Nobody does ‘shocked dog’ like Clara Vulliamy, and I will never come across a happier sight than the otters in their bath-car. Genius!


The beauty of this book is its accessibility. Hughes and Vulliamy have placed it brilliantly with joint appeal for boys and girls across a wide age range. My four year old sucked it up in one excited sitting and the year six pupils I’m working with are slowly savouring it. The extras in this book give it a huge amount of kid appeal and make it even more attractive to those reluctant readers. I love the interview-style introduction to the characters and the maps that book-end the story, subtly altered at the end to reflect the story’s developments. The reader is also given a brief introduction to the author and illustrator and then encouraged to get in touch – children (and their grown ups) are invited to design their own marvellous motor, which they can then send in to Dixie and his creators! A beautiful touch.

Once you have devoured this one, get ready for the next book in the series – Dixie O’Day and the Great Diamond Robbery, coming soon. I can’t wait!

Dixie O’Day kindly sent for review by Random House.

Mortimer Keene
For something in the same early chapter book format, but a bit zanier, try the Mortimer Keene series by Tim Healey and Chris Mould. It is school-based madness with added goo. Think an early reader Lemony Snicket or Osbert the Avenger.

The first book, Attack of the Slime introduces the reader to Mortimer Keene, a science-mad young school boy who likes to put his brains to serious mischief-making. His slime generator is burying the school in stinky slime and the teachers must send a special task force to stop him. The second book, Mortimer Keene – Ghosts on the Loose, sees him return to his antics with a Phantom-machine that is filling the school with ghouls.

Both books are split into four short parts and written in fast paced rhyme with a four-line verse to a page. The text is large enough for new readers to cope with but the vocabulary is exciting and will stretch them with words like ‘sinister’ ‘consigning’ ‘torrents’ and ‘intrinsically’.

Chris Mould is the perfect illustrator for this series, catching the character of the teachers perfectly and giving the books a zany sinister edge. Brilliant!


Attack of the Slime is perhaps more suited to a younger reader as the story doesn’t require any existing knowledge and never gets too scary. Ghosts on the Loose however, definitely contains some mild peril and deals with plague victims and a Victorian hangman- brilliant for holding the interest of an older reader. Although I’m assuming the publishers are marketing this more towards boys, I think the story and illustrations will appeal to both genders.

Again, a host of extras will coax in those reluctant readers, with top trumps style introductions to the characters and an A-Z around the topic. I particularly love the labelled machine designs and tips for telling your own ghost story or making your own slime. A great way to keep their interest and get them interacting with the stories.

I’m looking forward to the next in the series – Mortimer Keene- Alien Abduction coming soon.

Source: kindly sent for review by Hodder Children’s Books.

Squishy McFluff
For a more magical twist on the early chapter book, Squishy McFluff the Invisible Cat by Pip Jones and Ella Okstad is a stunner.

‘Can you see him? My kitten?
Close your eyes tight.
His fur is so soft
and all silvery white.
Imagine him quick!
Have you imagined enough?
Oh, good! You can see him!
It’s Squishy McFluff!’

With three chapters of rhyming verse, this is perfect for bedtime stories as well as for new readers. Its gentle comical story about Ava’s mischievous imaginary cat makes for a wonderful transition from picture books to early chapter books. Its reassuring familiarity bridges the gap beautifully.

I love the design of this book. Its blue and red colour scheme sets it apart from the early readers usually pitched at girls. The illustrations have a strong Nordic influence and more than a hint of Alex T. Smith and Sam Lloyd. The illustrations support the text beautifully, aiding young children’s comprehension as they show Squishy McFluff there but not quite there.


A delicious book for inspiring young imaginations and celebrating family relationships, Squishy McFluff may encourage your little ones to create their own jungle in the bath tub. I hope you’ve got a special Grandad at hand to save the day.

This is the first in a series, and one of the first picture books released by Faber and Faber. Having had a sneak peek at their new list, I’m excited about the quality of works they are producing. Watch this space!

Source: kindly sent for review by Faber and Faber.

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