Adele has been a youth services librarian in public libraries for 20 years.
Superheroes! Humor! Potty jokes! Flip-O-Ramas! This combination of riotous elements has kept children entertained (while reading, of all things) for a generation.
But what if your little guy or gal has torn through the whole Captain Underpants series, from the original Adventures of Captain Underpants all the way to Captain Underpants and the Preposterous Plight of the Purple Potty People? What then? How do you keep them reading?
You find them another series they like just as much. In this article, you'll find a list of the best books with similar reading levels that are always funny, sometimes gross, and checked out time and time again by the hundreds of Captain Underpants fans who come to my library.
1. King Flashypants and the Evil Emperor by Andy Riley
You have to love the name. In King Flashypants and the Evil Emperor we get wacky humor, lots of drawings, and a story about a young king who is trying to outwit the evil emperor. The humor is offbeat and surprisingly dry and funny with very little of the gross-out humor that characterizes its fellow beginning chapter book series, Captain Underpants.
The story begins with King Edward (you can tell he’s a king because he has a crown with points, and each of those points have a crown on it) taking his weekly spending money in a wheelbarrow, buying candy, and distributing it to the peasants in his kingdom (the merry, plump, and smiling type of peasants, not the kind who dress in sacks and boil nettles for dinner). One day, the money runs out, and the kingdom becomes vulnerable to the nearby evil emperor who says, “Foo Hoo Hoo Hoo” very menacingly since the other menacing phrases like, “Mwahahaha” have already been taken.
The story continues in the same light, jokey manner. Here are a couple of my favorite sections: King Edward tries to solve his money problems by sending his guard in search of spare change in the couches of the kingdom. However, they run into a problem. “Some of them got their chain mail stuck on the sofa tassels, and it took another six guards to pull them free.”
At another point, the evil emperor decides to curse the kingdom with a dragon, but all he can come up with is a cow painted green with candles on its nose. Little Natasha is the only person who notices that the cow is a fraud. “It’s not a dragon!” she yells. "It’s a cow with candles on its nose! Anyone can see that! And it never set fire to the crops. It just tried to eat some grass and singed a dandelion.” Alas, no one pays attention to Little Natasha.
The text is broken up with lots of drawings with most of them showing hilarious situations. It’s a fun, quick story, and there’s a promise of many more in the series.
Note About the Books
All of the fiction books are part of a series. I've included links for just the first ones here, but you can find many other books by the same author in Amazon's database.
2. The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey
Here’s a book with lots of illustrations and offbeat humor. To see a sample of how the illustrations and text work together, click the orange link below and click the "Look Inside" graphic over the book cover. You'll see how the pages are laid out, full-page illustrations with dialogue on each page.
We open the book and see a wolf silhouetted on the first page, his eyes glowing with just a little bit of menace. “Psst!” he says. “Hey, you.”
Turn the page, and we see that he is more like a little fluff ball who feels like he has been misunderstood. He wants to convince us he’s a Good Guy. Furthermore, he wants to convince that other reputed bad guys—the snake, the shark, and the piranha—are also good guys.
The trouble is, even though Mr. Wolf is interested in turning a new leaf, the other bad guys are not as interested in doing good deeds as he is.
The Bad Guys is a super quick read that will have kids laughing at our ever-so-earnest wolf and his halfhearted do-gooders. When they all pile out of their “good guy” car to help a cat in the tree, the cat takes one look at them and climbs higher in fear.
There are also quite a few dry little side jokes thrown in for our amusement. At one point, the wolf wants to know why his companions are not wearing their good guy hats. “I don’t really have a head,” the snake comments.
If this book appeals to your kids, you’ll be happy to know there are several more of in the series with new ones still coming out.
3. Dog Diaries by James Patterson
What is better than a diary written by a kid? A diary written by a dog, of course.
Dog Diaries is actually a subseries in James Patterson's "Middle School Novels" books, but it stands well enough on its own.
Kids will be drawn in by the narrator, a dog named Junior, who has the kind of personality you would expect from a dog, enthusiastic, positive--and easily distracted, especially by raccoons. Young readers will also like being "in" on the jokes, when they find out they interpret the world quite a bit differently than Junior.
When we open the book, we are greeted by an excited hound. "OOOOOH!" he says. "You actually opened my book! I've been waiting for ages, and now a human-youngling is finally reading the beginning of my story." A couple of pages later, he offers the reader a present, his favorite stick. "It's yours, I insist," he says. "One end is a little chewed, but the rest of it is excellent. Don't crunch it all at once."
Then, he gets down to telling his story, starting with the day he acquired his "pet human" a boy by the name of Rafe Ketchadorian (which his doggy ears hear as "Ruff Catch-a-Doggy-Bone.) Things are going well until a rule-bound woman named Mrs. Stricker threatens to have Junior sent back to the pound unless he learns to behave better.
This plot has launched a thousand doggy stories, but the point of view from the dog lends it a fresh take. The AR reading level for this book is a 5.0 which is just a few tenths of a point higher than Captain Underpants. The large font and the numerous illustrations make it inviting for dog-loving readers who are just getting started with chapter books.
4. Dog Man by Dav Pilkey
Just yesterday, a mom was in my library with an 8-year-old boy. She asked him what book he wanted to get, and he replied: “Dog Man.” They told me he had read all four of the books published up until then and was eagerly awaiting the fifth. Then the mom asked him, “Since we’re here, what other book do you want to get?” His reply: “Dog Man.” It seemed that he had found the perfect book. I had the impression that if the series had a hundred books in it, he would gladly read them all. I haven’t seen kids this excited about a series since Captain Underpants.
There’s a little preface at the beginning of the book about George and Harold wanting to make a new graphic novel. This is what they come up with: A policeman and a dog get blown up. The policeman’s head is dying, and the dog’s body is dying, so the hospital stitches the dog’s head onto the man’s body, and we get dogman. It’s a rather graphic beginning for our hero, but kids seem to take it in stride.
There are short chapters with a different little story for each one. And there are Flip-o-ramas, of course. There’s also a cat antagonist. He has an invisible spray in one of the chapters, and all kinds of hijinks ensue as the cat makes characters and things invisible. The stories are just like what a couple of kids would come up with. There are tutorials at the back showing how to draw the characters, and I imagine lots of children will be inspired to create their own Dog Man comics.
5. The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless by AllanWoodrow
The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless has so many elements in common with Captain Underpants: two pals going on adventures, evil characters, clever humor, lots of pictures, and print that’s not too daunting. The fun twist with this book is that the main character, Zachary Ruthless wants to be a bad guy.
Readers will be hooked in right away by the warning on the very first page: “If you ever meet Zachary Ruthless, you might just think he’s the nicest ten-year-old boy in the world. His mouth naturally curves into a small smile, his eyes are bright and wide, he blinks a lot, and everyone knows people who are good and kind and sweet blink a lot.” But then we are warned, “But don’t be fooled. You can’t always judge a book by its cover.”
Turn to chapter 1, entitled “BWA-HA-HA!” and we find Zachary plotting mischief. He has just slipped a snake into Mrs. Snyder’s mailbox. He tries to cackle gleefully, but in a running joke, everyone says that his cackle sounds more like “a hyena with hiccups.”
Never mind. Zach discovers, while reading the newest issue of Super Villain Weekly that they are having a contest “looking for one utterly rotten and loathsome scoundrel to join our secret lawbreaking society.” Now all he needs is a henchman and a dastardly plan.
The henchman doesn’t quite work out like he thought. A new boy down the street by the name of Newt walks into his treehouse. This boy seems fairly good-natured and he has freckles, which doesn’t bode well for him being an evil companion. Still, since he is the only boy who seems to be willing, though, Zachary takes him on.
Now for the evil plan. At first Zachary thinks of launching a rocket that will destroy all life on the planet. Newt tells him, “That seems a little too evil.” Zachary agrees, realizing that “… if all life was destroyed, there wouldn’t be anything good to watch on TV.
When Zachary takes Newt to see his room, we get to see a little bit more of the traits that have made Captain Underpants so popular. Zachary has posters of his favorite criminals on the wall, Count Boogersnot, Baron Burp, and Professor Fartalot. The kinds of names that make kids giggle everywhere. I do want to note for weary parents who have been reading Captain Underpants that this kind of potty humor turns up only occasionally.
For his evil plan. Zachary finally has to settle for the hypnosis glasses that come in a box of evil gizmos, because they are all he can afford. He and Newt set off to hypnotize the mayor and turn him into a zombie, but when they get there, they find out that they are not the only ones with nefarious plans.
It’s a fun and clever book about the same length and reading level as the Captain Underpants series.
6. The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby by Dav Pilkey
In The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby, the author, Dav Pilkey, tells us that his characters, George and Harold, decided that they get to write this book. Interestingly enough, Pilkey based this work on the actual home-made comic books that children sent him. He decided to write as they would write, complete with misspellings and grammar errors. He also didn’t worry about having a didactic moral to the story just to please adults.
He points out that the books the children sent him are made for the pure joy of creation, not because someone assigned them the work. He says he tried to capture that spirit of creativity in the Super Diaper Baby books. Expect lots of stink bombs, fart spray, whoopee cushions, and other hallmarks of 8-year-old-boy humor.
7. Bookmarks Are People, Too by Henry Winkler
Henry Winkler, who played Fonzie on the TV show Happy Days has branched out into writing children’s books. It turns out that Winkler, who has dyslexia, struggled terribly in school, and he’s written books with the main character, Hank, who is similarly challenged in reading and math. Nonetheless, the kid keeps an upbeat attitude and finds creative ways to accomplish his goals.
In Bookmarks Are People, Too, Hank’s second-grade teacher has written a class play that takes place in the library, where all of the books come to life. Hank has his heart set on being the exciting “Aqua Fly” book, but he isn’t able to read well enough to get through the lines. His teacher writes a special part for him—a bookmark. Eventually, Hank realizes that she’s written him the part because it has no lines, but he makes the part his own and elicits a few laughs from the other kids. When the braggart of the class gets stage fright, it’s up to Hank to save the day.
An interesting feature of this series in that the type is set in a new font, dyslexie, which is designed to make it easier for people with dyslexia to distinguish individual letters. If your child likes the first book, there are several others in the series.
8. Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
You may think that lunch ladies are mild-mannered and timid, but these yellow-gloved ladies are steeped in intrigue. In Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute, the ladies investigate a nefarious plot: one of the mediocre teachers has replaced one of the best teachers with a robot posing as a substitute. The robot gives the children lots of homework and is mean to them. The mediocre teacher hopes to win teacher of the year because he'll look good in comparison. But the lunch ladies become suspicious and investigate.
One of the creative touches I love about this series is the way it brings spy tropes into the lunchroom. One of the ladies is always making inventions, and her new device in this book is the "spatu-copter." The lifting portion of a spatula spins and lifts whoever is holding on to it. Also, the yellow gloves actually have suction cups so that the lunch lady can cling to the ceiling. Kids love this graphic-novel series about crime-fighting lunch ladies so much that they gave it the Children's Choice award in 2010.
9. Do Not Open! (Marty Pants series) by Mark Parisi
Everyone seems to have gotten in on the “pants” naming trend. We have Captain Underpants, King Flashypants, and now Marty Pants with his first book Not Open. (Marty Pants rhymes with smartypants. See what author Mark Parisi did there?)
Even before the first chapter, he draws us in with a message Marty has written: “If you’re alive to read this book, you have me to thank. You’re welcome.”
Marty is a likeable elementary-school kid who tells us he was born to be an artist. “I created my first work when I was just a baby,” he tells us, “and my dad captured the moment on video. I was eating strained carrots and sneezed on the wall. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but the splatter looked like a famous painting called The Scream. My dad posted the video online and it got millions of views. People ate it up.”
Figuring that he is truly an artist, Marty decides to illustrate his story himself, with cartoons on every page.
After introducing us to his cat, his sister and his teacher, Marty gets to the central mystery of his story when he finds a slip of paper stating “An alien is observing you.” Marty’s imagination runs wild and he’s soon convinced that his teacher is the alien in question.
It won’t take readers long to spot someone who could be the actual alien, and they can feel smart and in the know while Marty tries to figure out ways to trap his teacher into admitting that he is an alien.
Adventures ensue, and at the end, Marty is convinced he has saved us all from catastrophe. The actual resolution to the story will leave readers smiling.
This series is a fun, quick read for kids who like lots of drawing and humor in their books.
10. Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye by Geronimo Stilton
Meet Geronimo Stilton, the not-so-intrepid reporter who gets caught up in adventure after adventure. Oh yes, he also happens to be a mouse. Kids love his conversational style and the colorful illustrations and typography that decorate every page. Even though this series has 50+ volumes, I still have to buy 10 or 12 of each title to keep the kids who visit my library satisfied.
In Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye, Geronimo's sister, Thea, finds a treasure map with an X marking a spot called "Emerald Eye." She convinces her brother to go looking for the treasure, and the reluctant adventurer gets caught up in a hurricane and a shipwreck. The whole crew doesn't even know if they'll survive, much less find the treasure.
11. Bad Kitty Meets the Baby by Nick Bruel
This is a book series for kids who love pictures and grumpy, self-involved cats. For years, my library has carried a large collection of Garfield comics compilations, and the kids check them out by the handful. There's just something about cats with an attitude that reels them in.
Bad Kitty wants everything her way but soon runs into trouble. Each book includes an illustration on each page, with a one-or-two-sentence caption that moves the story along. The original Bad Kitty was a children's picture book, but her adventures soon moved to chapter books. In Bad Kitty Meets the Baby, our cat is out-and-out horrified to find that she's going to have to be sharing the house with a baby. She tries everything she can to get the little human out of the house.
12. Miss Daisy Is Crazy by Dan Gutman
Our main character, A. J., claims he hates school, but it's hard to believe. He definitely enjoys the adventures he has with the crazy teachers who populate the school. With titles like Miss Daisy Is Crazy and Mr. Macky Is Wacky, I have trouble keeping enough copies of these books on the shelves because so many kids want to check them out.
In this first book, Miss Daisy Is Crazy, savvy kids will figure out that Miss Daisy has a method to her madness. She tells the class that she can't remember math, saying something like, "I can't remember what 2 plus 3 equals." Of course, the kids love it when they feel smarter than their teacher, and they jump in to explain to her all the things she has "forgotten."
13. Super Burp by Nancy Krulik
George Brown is trying to behave himself at his new school—no more pranks or clowning around—but pretty soon he runs into trouble, as he does in Super Burp. These books have lots of illustrations, lots of bold-face type, and lots of mentions of burps, bloody noses, and slimy worms. Plus, there's a superhero called Toiletman.
14. Stink and the Incredible Super-Galactic Jawbreaker by Nancy Krulik
This series is a spinoff of the popular Judy Moody series and focuses on Judy's pesky little brother, nicknamed Stink. He's an exuberant, talkative, and goodhearted kid who relishes school, his classmates, and all the drama involved in a typical school day. Since his stories usually revolve around his fascination with a topic in school, the author tucks in a few facts—but never so many that she squelches the fun.
15. A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
Fans of Captain Underpants are likely to get a kick out of Silverstein's funny, quirky, and sometimes irreverent poetry as well as the black-and-white drawings that complete the whole experience. The nice thing about poetry is that kids can dip into it a little at a time and not be overwhelmed by the text. With Silverstein, they'll also find their vocabulary growing without them suspecting a thing. If you haven't already introduced your kids to these collections of poems, it's high time they learned about the things they can find in A Light in the Attic: the toilet troll, Stick-a-Tongue-Out Sid or Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout who would not take the garbage out. Other books of Silverstein's include Where the Sidewalk Ends, Every Thing On It, and Runny Babbit.
16. Never Glue Your Friends to Chairs by Katherine Applegate
Roscoe Riley is a good kid, but sometimes his enthusiasm leads to unintended consequences. And as he lives and learns, he comes up with some rules that we would all do well to follow. Kids will laugh along as Roscoe discovers that he shouldn't try to swim in applesauce or swipe a bully's bear.
In Never Glue Your Friends to Chairs, Roscoe is just trying to be helpful in his kindergarten class. The children are doing a program in which they wear little deely-bopper headpieces (I think they're supposed to be bees for the program), and they keep jumping up from their chairs when they are not supposed to. Roscoe comes up with what he thinks will be the perfect solution: his dad's super glue. It will keep everything in place.
You can imagine what happens when he super glues the kids to their chairs. At the beginning of the story, he is actually narrating from a timeout–he's been put on a timeout to think about the consequences of gluing people to their chairs. We end up liking him because he's a sweet kid. He just has a little trouble thinking things through, sometimes.
For Kids Who Don't Want Another Fiction Series
If your kid just isn't taking to another fiction series, it might be worth looking into nonfiction. Publishers have been putting out increasingly popular, snappy, entertaining, and informative titles. Check out some options below.
Tips for Reluctant Readers
Many kids who are reluctant to take up reading love the Captain Underpants books. They have the right combination of slightly naughty humor, small chunks of text, and pictures that make them seem less daunting than other books.
As a librarian, I’ve done quite a bit of reading and research on the topic of reluctant readers and have come up with the following widely recognized tips that could be helpful if you have a child that just doesn’t seem to pick up a book and read very often.
Tip #1: Have Your Child Checked for Vision and Reading Difficulties
Some children don’t want to read because it is hard for them to see or process the words that appear on the page. The letters may appear blurry or the words may seem to crowd together or even seem to float off the page when the child tries to read them. These processing difficulties often turn many children into reluctant readers. Oftentimes the school or another educational entity will do screening for you, sometimes for free.
If the testing uncovers a difficulty, the school should be able to provide you with various tools and strategies to help your child. Some are as simple as using a colored overlay to change the color of the page that the text is printed on.
Tip #2: Remove Distractions
I think one reason it was so hard to get my daughter to read when she was young was that there were so many other things to do: watch TV, chat with friends on the computer, or play on the Nintendo DS. As a parent, you are going to have to do some rather heavy lifting here and limit the “screen time” your child has each day.
You also need to make reading time inviting. Show your child that you want to take time for reading as well. Pick up a magazine or a book that you've been wanting to read, make some sort of treat (popcorn or lemonade for instance), and invite your child to sit on a comfortable couch with you so that the two of you can spend some time reading together. Need to make it even more motivating? Offer your child the choice of some unpleasant task (cleaning their room or cleaning up the yard) or reading with you. Suddenly, your child won't be so reluctant to read.
Tip # 3: Let Your Child Choose the Book
Before thinking about reading levels or academic goals, you must first find a book your child really likes. At this point, don’t worry about whether it is too silly, too young, too short, etc. Right now, reading is reading and the main goal is to get them to be less reluctant to do so. Take your child to a nearby library and let them check out anything that has printed words, whether it is a magazine, a comic book, or a book about superheroes or Legos or making paper airplanes.
What if your child shrugs their shoulders and won’t choose anything? Be sure to take a look at the materials I’ve suggested on this site. I’ve spent over 20 years as a children’s librarian, and these are the books that have been favorites with the kids, even the ones who say they don’t much like to read.
Tip #4: Choose a Book With Less Text
Imagine that you want to learn a foreign language. Imagine further that you have gotten to the point where you know a few of the basic words and can understand the gist of a few simple sentences. With that knowledge, would you want to read a 200-page novel, or would you rather want to start with something much shorter, maybe with a bunch of pictures that will help you figure out the meaning of the sentences?
To get your child started, consider introducing them to things that break the writing up into smaller pieces: graphic novels, magazines, joke books, comic books, and nonfiction are good places to start.
Tip #5: Your Child's Interest in a Book Is More Important Than Their Reading Level
It is good to know your child’s most comfortable reading level because it’s good to be aware of books that your child might find frustrating if the vocabulary and sentence complexity are more advanced than they are used to.
On the other hand, you will find that many reluctant readers soar, even with difficult material. The key is whether they are motivated to read the subject matter of whatever they have chosen to read. The absolute key is to find something your child really wants to read.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Adele Jeunette (author) on November 13, 2018:
First, please continue letting him read comic books, graphic novels, and Captain Underpants. The most important thing right now is that he enjoys reading. And, they do learn vocabulary and fluency from these books https://www.denverpost.com/2009/06/04/mackety-a-te... For books with a little more text, try King Flashypants, any of the My Weird School series, and the Here's Hank series. If he likes Here's Hank, he can go up to the Hank Zipzer books.
James Patterson's books for kids (How I Survived Middle School, I Funny) have quite a few pictures, but more text than Captain Underpants. They are also a higher reading level, so see if he likes them and be aware the reading level might be too much.
Another thing he *might* like is the I Survived series. They are short, action-packed books about children surviving important historical events like the sinking of the Titanic or the shark attacks of 1916. Those are basically historical fiction, and they don't have pictures. He might also like The Last Firehawk series, which is a fantasy series.
LaurenQ on November 12, 2018:
I currently have a new ELL (English Language Learner) that is on my caseload. He's a 5th grade boy who only seems to be interested in reading Captain Underpants. Unfortunately, his teacher would like him to read other genres of books. Any recommendations that include less of a comic book-type structure?
tfsherman lm on September 02, 2012:
I can tell you're a librarian! It's so important to break down readlike lists into genre -- kids who love Captain Underpants are NOT necessarily going to like Magic Treehouse, just because they're both strong series! I like some of your weirder picks -- I'm going to add a link to you to my readalike lens. Thanks!
designworld lm on July 06, 2012:
Oh, yeah - I found some great new books to read! I love Megan McDonald and what she writes, now I can enjoy more fun stuff.
Stacy Birch on July 04, 2012:
I've never heard of most of these books, but I met the writer of The Captain Underpants books, he used to come to the Wooster Boof Fair, before he got to busy.
Virginia Allain from Central Florida on May 03, 2012:
I wish all of these were available 35 years ago when I was a children's librarian. Sure look like fun and that's what kids like.