There’s a new kid on the block at HarperCollins: HarperChapters, a line for readers ages five through eight, debuts today. Designed for newly independent readers who have graduated from the house’s I Can Read! offerings but aren’t quite ready to tackle standard chapter books, HarperChapters books feature short blocks of text, copious illustrations, and interactive elements aimed at boosting kids’ reading confidence and sense of accomplishment. All materials are vetted and leveled by an educational expert, and each release in the line will publish simultaneously in hardcover and paperback.

HarperChapters’ inaugural titles reflect the program’s range of genres and eclectic characters. First out of the gate are The Candy Caper and Busted by Breakfast, the launch volumes of Trouble at Table 5, a series written by Tom Watson (of Stick Dog and Stick Cat fame) and illustrated by Marta Kissi. The books star Molly, Rosie, and Simon, three best friends whose missions and schemes invariably shake up their school. The kids’ antics continue in the series’ third caper, The Firefly Fix, due in August.

Other summer HarperChapters releases are the launch titles of Calliope Glass’s Sparkleton series, The Magic Day and The Glitter Parade (June), illustrated by Hollie Mengert, which chronicle a unicorn’s attempts to obtain wish-granting powers. And the line’s third series, 13th Street, starts up with Battle of the Bad-Breath Bats, The Fire-Breathing Ferret Fiasco, and Clash of the Cackling Cougars (all July). Written by David Bowles and illustrated by Shane Clester, these books center on three cousins who encounter dangerous creatures when they stumble across a portal to an alternate dimension in their neighborhood.

According to HarperCollins senior editor Maria Barbo, who helms the program, the genesis of HarperChapters was rooted in feedback from teachers, librarians, and parents. “They told us that they perceived a need for more books in the early chapter book category, for kids making the transition from early readers to traditional chapter books,” she said. “It’s a big jump for them, and we wanted to bridge that gap. Chapter books often have art in every chapter. HarperChapters books have art on every page and a digest trim size, which makes children feel like they’re reading a big-kid book.”

A primary goal of the new line, Barbo added, is “to set kids up for reading success.” In addition to ample illustrations, HarperChapters books feature relatable stories with much action and humor, brief chapters, airy layouts with generous leading, a sizable font size, and a consistent 96-page length.

A distinctive hallmark of HarperChapters is its interactive component, which has multiple features. Included are progress bars at the end of each chapter that enable kids to see how many chapters they’ve completed, and “milestone markers” where characters provide words of encouragement to readers. Finally, at book’s end, kids will find a “Celebration Page” quantifying their achievement by pinpointing the number of chapters, pages, and words they’ve read, as well as activities in three categories (inspiring kids to think, feel, and act) sparked by the plot.

These interactive elements, Barbo said, are intended “to mimic the kind of positive reinforcement that kids who are now reading independently get when they read aloud to their parents and teachers. They also give readers a chance pause and reflect on their efforts, process, and progress, and help them to appreciate their success.”

Spotlighting Series

Barbo noted that the line’s focus on series rather than stand-alone titles is meant to align with the targeted audience’s preference for the former. “At this age level, kids fall in love with characters and want to stick with them,” she said. “They like the familiarity and continuity of series, but also like each story’s element of surprise in terms of how the characters will accomplish what they have set out to do.” HarperChapters will debut two to three new series annually, and each series will release a new book per season up through book six.

Barbo, who underscored the new program’s emphasis on relatable, diverse characters, observed that Watson, who is an old hand at school visits, was an obvious choice to headline the first HarperChapters releases. “Tom knows how kids talk and think, and his characters are super authentic,” she said. “It is very important to him that kids can see themselves in his books, and we felt that his was a great voice to start this line.”

Watson noted that “it was flattering” to be selected as HarperChapters’ launch author, adding, “I was so happy to bring Molly, Rosie, and Simon to life. I’ve visited hundreds of schools since the first Stick Dog book came out in 2013—I’ve been to 45 of the 50 states. The characters in Trouble at Table 5 are definitely shaped from that experience. I’ve met lots of Mollys, Rosies, and Simons and I’m confident that readers will not just like the stories, they’ll also identify with the characters. I think they’ll say, ‘I know somebody like that!’ ”

In addition to mentioning his series’ relatability, Watson (who tickled kids’ funny bones with Stick Dog and Stick Cat) pointed to the importance of humor in Trouble at Table 5—and in books for early readers in general. “I am a big believer that when kids are laughing, they will continue to turn that page,” he said. “For those readers who are just moving to chapter books or are struggling to make that transition, I think humor is the best way to get them started. When in doubt, turn to the funny. It’s one of the clear objectives of HarperChapters.”

Trouble at Table 5 #1: The Candy Caper by Tom Watson, illus. by Marta Kissi. HarperChapters, $15.99 Feb. ISBN 978-0-06-295341-4; paper $5.99 ISBN 978-0-06-295340-7.

Trouble at Table 5 #2: Busted by Breakfast by Tom Watson, illus. by Marta Kissi. HarperChapters, $15.99 Feb. ISBN 978-0-06-295344-5; paper $5.99 ISBN 978-0-06-295343-8