This year our elder daughter, who is now nearly five, developed a love of illustrated chapter books. There are many wonderful choices for her age group, and reading them with her has proved to be a great way to move towards the first readers she now takes home from school.
Our blog will continue to focus on picturebooks - including those adored by our second daughter who recently turned two - but for now here are our top three chapter book series of 2017.
Ottaline by Chris Riddell, published by MacMillan Children's Books
A highlight of our year has been discovering the surrealist world of Ottaline by former Children's Laureate Chris Riddell. Ottaline is a resident of the Pepperpot Building, situated in the heart of a fantastical metropolis. She is the daughter of parents in abstentia - roving collectors, professors and international travellers - who keep in touch with postcards and letters which are sent and received intermittently.
Ottaline is left in the care of a medley of service providers, who keep an eye out for her while she and her companion, Mr Munroe, a small hairy Norwegian troll, pursue a series of adventures.
In Ottaline at Sea (the third of the series but the first we read), Mr Munroe sets off alone for Norway to find the bog that was once his home. We follow him, accompanying Ottaline as she seeks to be reunited and bring him back, adorned with wonderful outfits and an array of oversized hats and sunglasses.
In this and others in the Ottaline series, readers are immersed in the witty prose and astonishing, intricate detail of the illustrations, bringing to life Ottaline's world in a feast for our eyes and an enrichment for our imaginations.
Evie's Magic Bracelet by Jess Ennis-Hill and Elen Caldecott (writers) and Erica-Jane Waters (illustrator), published by Hodder Children's Books
This series, inspired by the childhood of one of the great 21st century role models, Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill (written with Elen Caldecott), has become a firm family favourite. It follows the adventures of Evie, a seven year old girl whose family has recently moved to a new area. The first book in the series tells of Evie's early days at her new school, and her tentative steps towards friendship with two classmates, Ryan and Isabelle.
In each book, her grandmother, who lives far away, sends Evie a magical bracelet and an accompanying riddle about how to use the magic it can release. Delightful illustrations by Erica-Jane Waters are placed on the majority of pages, which help our daughter follow the stories (lengthier than other books we've read before at 120+ pages).
The boys and girls help each other in times of need and times of fun. While the stories feature some mystical creatures (including trickster sprites and a majestic unicorn) the underlying message is clear - true magic lies in the friendships we make, the hard work we do, trying our best and the love of family.
Secret Princesses by Rosie Banks, published by Orchard Books
This fantastical series centres on best friends Mia and Charlotte, separated by the Atlantic Ocean after Charlotte's family emigrate to America. However, when cousin Alice reveals to them that she is a Secret Princess - a wish granter who lives with a group of others at Wishing Star Palace - they become Secret Princesses in Training, able to reunite through the power of a BFF heart pendant split in two between them.
Their missions, assigned by the Princesses and a magic mirror, require the girls to use their new powers to grant the wishes of others. These acts of kindness are hindered by the mean intentions of Princess Poison, a former secret princess expelled from the kingdom, who seeks to spoil the wishes and ruin other people's day.
In the first of the series, The Magic Necklace, Mia and Charlotte come to the aid of a birthday girl who wishes for a perfect party. The girls have only a few uses of their powers available for each task, and to succeed requires them to work together and use skill, care and planning.
Exciting illustrations match a pacy narrative, along with a fair bit of detail, which our daughter loves, about hair styles, dresses and shoes (that, for this particular reader dad at least, taught me a few useful things!). Princess Poison (and her sidekick, Hex) is an excellent villain - with just the right level of baddie-ness to excite but not frighten our four year old. Each book that follows has a similar template to the first, with the girls' friendship and our interest in their lives growing with each adventure.