What are some great books to wean a kid off of Captain Underpants?
August 21, 2019 9:11 AM   Subscribe

Don't get me wrong, Captain Underpants is really funny. But I do think the literary canon should consist of books not by Dav Pilkey. What are some great books for a kid with a 2nd-3rd grade reading level that might pull him away from C.U.? Classics or modern classics, ideally. Don't say Dog Man.
posted by malhouse to Writing & Language (34 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
My son enjoys this series, which is comix and video game themed but not gross and involves some character development and interesting plots. The author also clearly makes a point to include equal numbers of male and female characters, which I appreciate.
posted by Ideal Impulse at 9:22 AM on August 21, 2019

Last Christmas my son was introduced to Dog Man, and soon consumed the entire series. It was the first time we saw him want to read on his own. I've since been trying to feed his habit, here are the successful series that I have found:

Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Treehouse Series
Bad Guys
Lunch Lady Series
Press Start! (+1 to Ideal Impulse's suggestion)
posted by ambirex at 9:29 AM on August 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

My son liked Little Wolf's Book of Badness when he was done with Captain Underpants. Apparently there's a series now. It's about a 3rd grade reading level.
posted by drlith at 9:45 AM on August 21, 2019

I second all of ambirex's suggestions (especially Bad Guys) and also want to say my usual school librarian piece which is: the most important thing is that he's reading. I know so so so so many kiddos who read nothing but [Captain Underpants, Goosebumps, Wimpy Kid, insert other popular series of the day] throughout childhood, and then many years later their love of reading led them to the classics. If your kid loves a series, for sure help him branch out (reading aloud is a great way to do that), but definitely don't discourage Captain Underpants for independent reading.

(on preview, Wayside School is a really great suggestion. I love Roald Dahl's books but they are indeed darker than most of us remember; years ago I used The Witches with a fourth-grade book group and I'm pretty sure some of them were traumatized by the ending)
posted by goodbyewaffles at 9:52 AM on August 21, 2019 [9 favorites]

Regarding the Fountain and the rest of the series. Kate Klise has a few other series worth checking out, but I haven't read those.
posted by soelo at 9:55 AM on August 21, 2019

The Westing Game.
posted by Champagne Supernova at 9:57 AM on August 21, 2019 [5 favorites]

These probably wouldn't fit into the modern classics category, but my Captain Underpants/Dog Man-loving kid also really enjoys Franny K. Stein, Geronimo Stilton Kingdom of Fantasy, and CatStonauts.
posted by statsgirl at 10:05 AM on August 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

You are lucky because these days are the BEST days for those midgrade graphic novels!!!!

CatStronauts are silly and sciencey and good times.
The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo are sneaky and fun and have underlying morals that aren't heavy handed.
The Unsinkable Walker Bean is full of pirate and monster adventure and our house loves both books!
The Creeps series is also full of fun sciencey monstery goodness. (I'm sensing a pattern here...)
posted by jillithd at 10:08 AM on August 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

And Isle of Elsi is a free, high quality webcomic for kids, and it's first hard-backed book will be available to order this fall.
posted by jillithd at 10:09 AM on August 21, 2019

The How to Train Your Dragon books are a ton of fun, and have a lot of the same anarchic spirit as Pilkey's books, without quite so many pictures or intentional misspellings.

My son (another huge CU fan) also loved the My Weird School series and Geronimo Stilton (or as we used to call him, the Cheddar Rodent)

If you can get your hands on a copy of Daniel Pinkwater's Once Upon a Blue Moose, it's a treasure.
posted by Mchelly at 10:15 AM on August 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

Red's Planet series by Eddie Pittman. It was the gateway book to my non reader reading.

There's a series of books sort of about Minecraft- Diary of an 8 bit warrior that my boy loves.

Spy school series

Max Einstein
Treasure Hunters

Books that may be better as audio books (a step up in reading level) but still awesome, Artemis Fowl, Mr Lemoncello's Library, both series.

Also, what always works for me (took a while to train though) - We go to the library, they can get whatever they want, BUT one book has to be a new author/subject etc. Completely new. So each time we go, they are getting a little more exposed. Took me a long while to train them to scan the book aisles (and check out the new books for easy pickings). They don't always read them, and I don't force it, other than maybe picking it as a read aloud.
posted by Ftsqg at 10:23 AM on August 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Magic Tree House?
posted by Jacob G at 10:39 AM on August 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Phantom Tollbooth
posted by niicholas at 11:02 AM on August 21, 2019 [4 favorites]

Thank you for asking this. My kid was like that and moved onto DogMan and Wimpy Kid. And he won't get off of them!
posted by k8t at 11:27 AM on August 21, 2019

How to Train Your Dragon may be the best answer. Very similar, slightly more advanced, and featuring, imo, higher quality writing.
posted by 256 at 11:29 AM on August 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

How about Bone? I bought the volumes over time from used bookstores for my daughter figuring that eventually she'd want to read it and this year she did (she was in grade 2). She also likes Mini-Marvels and Tiny Titans.

For non-comic book series she has read a whole lot of the Geronimo and Thea Stilton books.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:32 AM on August 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

I know it's a bit more of an advanced reading level, but the Harry Potter series accomplished this for my 7-year old. She previously only read graphic novels (especially Raina Telgemeier books), but we started HP together - with me doing most of the reading aloud to her. Once she got drawn into the storylines, she started to take over the reading herself.
posted by barnoley at 11:48 AM on August 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

paula Danziger's matthew books should scratch his class clown itch
posted by brujita at 12:05 PM on August 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Oz books are at a different level with respect to the language they use, but then again they should be fine for that age range. I'd actually start with The Land of Oz or Ozma of Oz rather than The Wizard of Oz. They're very action-based, extremely creative and funny, and both revolve around kids being independent and trying to survive in strange environments, with a bonus that if your kid doesn't give up after the first few pages and gets used to the older language, they'll have a much easier time reading other kids' classics. Reading together at first as barnoley suggested might be a good way into it.

If it turns out that your son is less receptive to reading about the adventures of a girl, or if he likes pumpkins or witches, he should read The Land of Oz (the main character, who has lived as a boy all their life, is un-enchanted back into a girl at the very end of the book and is a major character in all the following books). If he likes chickens or robots, then Ozma of Oz.
posted by trig at 12:26 PM on August 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

(also The Westing Game is an incredible book but would probably make more sense to read a few years later, both in terms of the complex plot and in the way that it deals with the issues in older characters' lives.)
posted by trig at 12:31 PM on August 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Zita the Spacegirl.

(I would really not let a young boy's reluctance to read about girls, if it exists, go unchallenged. I presume OP wants to raise an actual human being. However, my nephew loved Zita.)

The Encyclopedia Brown and Great Brain books, though both of them are old enough that I'd want to scan through any for content that might need special discussion before handing them to a kid.
posted by praemunire at 12:41 PM on August 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Nthing Catstronauts; my kid loves the books and they strike just the right note for that age - neither crass nor corny. And there’s a new volume out next week!

The Hilda graphic novels are so, so good and I recommend them for everyone. Definitely modern classic territory.

Rutabaga the Adventure Chef is goofy and clever and has some mild gross-out humor (think eating spiders, not poop) that might appeal to a Captain Underpants fan.

The Hilo series is decent; kind of a convoluted plot and I got tired of them after a while, but they successfully distracted my kid from his seemingly permanent infatuation with Dog Man, so.

(Honestly the newest Dog Man book is really sweet and less obnoxious than previous volumes and I kind of love the series, though we are avoiding Captain Underpants)
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:09 PM on August 21, 2019

(My kids aged out of this group so long ago that I don't remember what they read, but I work in a K-2 school library.) The Magic Treehouse series is always popular; although its popularity waxes and wanes, there's always some out to the kids. My daughter's cohort liked The Magic School Bus series.

Geronimo and Thea Stilton are both good.
Some kids like the Stink Moody series and/or his sister Judy Moody.

Ursula Vernon's Danny DragonBreath and Harriet Hamster Princess are also popular. While not precisely graphic novels, the illustrations are important to the story. I read my (much older than target audience) kids the first book in the Harriet series (because it's fun to read out loud), and was informed that I must continue to buy them. SonR did dramatic readings of them to his high school theater troupe on roadtrips. They skew a bit toward the top end of K-2 reading, so don't start circulating until later in the school year, but once they do, they're often pulled off the filing cart so someone else can check them out.
posted by jlkr at 1:34 PM on August 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

Mercy Watson!
posted by beandip at 1:37 PM on August 21, 2019

The Rick Riordan presents books. I especially liked Sal And Gabi Destroy The Universe by Carlos Hernandez. Might be higher reading level though
posted by azalea_chant at 2:13 PM on August 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

The Amulet graphic novel series by Kazu Kibuishi is the next step up for a lot of kids. It's a totally different genre (adventure/fantasy/sci-fi) but it's only about one tick harder in reading level. It'll nudge your kid away from silly little kid stuff ever so gently toward more sophisticated genre reading.

It's widely available, as it's published in the US by Scholastic. It's probably next to Captain Underpants at your local book fair.

Our librarian describes it as "a breath of fresh air for parents tired of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Captain Underpants."
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:01 PM on August 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure about availability in the US, but Paul Jennings is an Australian author who was writing stories based on ridiculous premises in the early 90's, and he's a master of short stories with really interesting twists. The Singenpoo series is probably a good start for that age (Spoiler Alert: It's about a cat that once swallowed a radio, and had singing poo...). Other Australian authors that do this type of book are Morris Gleitzman (Toad Rage, Bumface) and Andy Jennings (The Day My Bum Went Psycho).
posted by cholly at 3:31 PM on August 21, 2019

Mad Scientist Academy is suitably madcap but full of facts so feels slightly less useless.

Lumberjanes is a comic about kids at summer camp that keep ending up fighting magical creatures. It’s fun and adventuresome.

Less silly: Ranger In Time is about some kind of time traveling superhero dog and my similar kid is really into them. It’s fact-based the way that Magic Treehouse is, which is also a decent series.

The I Survived and Who Would Win series are also lightly-fictionalized fact that are really popular at my kid’s school among similar kids.

Seconding Zita the Spacegirl and Amulet.
posted by tchemgrrl at 3:35 PM on August 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

The different branches series by Scholastic are popular with the Captain Underpants crowd, such as notebook of Doom, Eerie Elementary.

Bad Guys and Treehouse Series definitely.
posted by aetg at 5:40 PM on August 21, 2019

Nthing the Wayside School suggestion and adding the Fudge books by Judy Blume. Superfudge was always the standout to me around that age, to the point that I helped teach my little brother to read by obsessively reading it to him over and over. Fudge is funny and odd and wonderful; I’m 40 now and still quote him regularly.
posted by QuickedWeen at 6:15 PM on August 21, 2019

Calvin & Hobbes!
posted by sleeping bear at 7:29 PM on August 21, 2019

Notebook of Doom series and both the Stick Dog and Stick Cat series.

Nthing Calvin and Hobbes and the Lunch Lady series.
posted by ChristineSings at 9:41 PM on August 21, 2019

Came to post Lumberjanes, tchemgrrl beat me to it.

My goddaughter loves them and Phoebe and her Unicorn.
posted by shorstenbach at 2:59 PM on August 22, 2019

The Big Nate books are a good mix of text and comic-strip-like graphics. There are also collections of the comic strips, so make sure you know which you're getting.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 5:43 PM on August 22, 2019

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