Who bothers to review this kind of stuff? This slender series fiction with a low word count, formulaic plot, and dialogue that feels stiff and slow because the authors conscientiously avoid the use of idiom, vernacular spelling, and contractions in deference to their fragile readers. It can't be that fun to write, either.
Mostly, you just find a cover that appeals to the kid - he may be an A to Z Mysteries kind of guy, or a Daisy Meadows little girl - and you keep pitching those books into his or her hands until he or she is confident enough to move on to "real" chapter books.
But First Chapter Books was my beat for a few years at the public library, and I was always so happy to find a series that was more than just grist for the mill, books that kids actually got excited about reading. I never faulted the authors - ho no. Forty-some issues of Magic Tree House? Who cares if it gets hard to tell one book from another - that series is a comfortable, familiar choice for just about any second grader who walks in the joint. If I can't sell him on Time Warp Trio, I'll settle on handing him Magic Tree House.
So here's Zac Power, twelve-year-old youngest son of a secret agent family, superspy gadgets in every pocket, off on a new top-secret mission every book. He parachutes into danger! He foils villains and escapes booby traps! His hair is always perfect. But truth be told, Zac would rather be home listening to his iPod and practicing guitar.
Ridiculously, this bratty reverse logic totally fascinates kids of a certain age. It does not hurt that the covers of these books resemble action-adventure novels for older kids, and the contrast between Zac's home and school life (boring field trips, household chores) and the fancy shenanigans he gets up to on missions (quicksand, amnesia) is a nice hook.
Difficulty-wise, these books are the easiest of the post-Beginning Reader books. They are great bait for kids who might be a little trepidatious about moving into chapter books, and they are non-embarassing choices for older kids who need easier material.
Here are a few more recent First Chapter series that I recommend:
Elliot's Parkby Patrick Carman. Squirrels in clothes. Cute? You betcha.
Uh-oh, Cleo by Jessica Harper and Just Grace by Charise Mericle Harper. Thank you, ladies, for having the same last name, because I see a lot of cross-pollination between these titles. A girl likes one, chances are she'll like the other.
Max Disaster by Melissa Moss. Page layouts chock-full of color drawings, lists, captions, speech bubbles, and step-by-step instructions for experiments... DANG.
Saving the best for last, Eric Wight has put out the second in his fabulous Frankie Pickle series, Frankie Pickle and the Pine Run 3000. This time, Frankie is building a soapbox racer so that he can move up a rank in Possum Scouts. This is high-quality writing and drawing for the sophisticated younger reader.