To date, Miss E hasn't been very interested in chapter books (which is perfectly fine with me, BTW). But so far, she loves the Ivy and Bean books so much that she's been willing to forgo our usual 3-book nightly ritual in order to fit in as many chapters as we can before Light's Out. She seriously can't get enough.
This series (8 books so far) by Annie Barrows and Sophie Blackall really does give young readers/listeners the best of both worlds: the textual detail of a chapter book and the high quality illustrations of a picture book. Since each volume is around 120 pages, Barrows has ample time to fully develop both of her protagonists and meaningfully introduce a fairly large supporting cast. Blackall's playful and expressive ink sketches adorn just about every two-page spread, sometimes occupying a whole page (and occasionally two), other times inhabiting strategic margins and corners. Indeed they are substantial enough to offer a full visual telling of the story and perfectly matched with the tone and energy of the text.
Second-graders Ivy and Bean are yet another incarnation of the classic "unlikely BFFs" formula so central to children's literature, but they (and their adventures) still feel fresh and original. Though Bean initially seems the typical "bold tomboy" and Ivy the demure "good girl," they are delighted to accidentally discover how much they actually have in common, above all, a love of adventures that marry physical and imaginative prowess. In this first volume, this involves casting a spell on Bean's mean tween sister, Nancy. Secret passageways, theatrical makeup, lots of fence climbing, an outgrown play house, and a whole mess of worms add to the fun.
Certainly, not all parents will love these books; Ivy and especially Bean revel in their own irreverence, rule-breaking, duping of unsympathetic elders, etc. But I found them almost as charming and hilarious as my daughter. And I'm not above admitting that their adventures were a satisfying fantasy---and vicarious delight---for both of us.
Oh yeah...and so far, we haven't run into any princesses, tutus, or assorted pink fluffiness. And that's kind of refreshing.
Miss E's Read: Did I mention that there is a "big, muddy worm pit"??? And two little girls with rather good aim?? Or that Bean wiggles her tush and sticks out her tongue when she is angry?
Worth Noting: Scholarly types might enjoy my friend Jenny Miskec's essay on this series in the Children's Literature Assn. Quarterly. You do need Project Muse to access it.