Sunday, August 5, 2012

Getting Young Readers into Chapter Books

This post has two purposes. It offers suggestions for chapter books that are suitable for children aged 5-8 years. First, for you to read to your children to enrich their experience of story, language and the world and, second, for precocious young readers to do likewise, by reading the books themselves. The latter can be a challenge for parents and teachers as they quickly move from early tentative reading of predictable books to fluency in just months. By age six many young readers develop an insatiable appetite for books and can be ready (and keen) to move on to chapter books.  But exercise care, for it is unwise to push young readers to read chapter books without the rich language and textual grounding of many picture books (see my previous post on the importance of picture books HERE). As well, you need to be careful that you don't push them into books with content for which they are not ready emotionally and intellectually.

Here are some quick questions that you might think about in assessing whether your child is ready:
  • Can the children listen for 20 minutes plus of reading aloud from picture books?
  • Do they seem to enjoy the text as much as the pictures?
  • Do they seem to relate to the characters and can they follow more complex picture books?
  • Do they ask you to read favourite books over and over?
  • Are they showing growing understanding of written language and asking questions about it (e.g. “What does calamity mean?” “Why does it say….?).
If you answer yes to most of these questions then they are probably ready. Children who have been read to constantly during the preschool years are typically ready to listen to chapter books from age 5 years and up (some even earlier). I also add that some children will be ready before 5 years. My two daughters and my grandchildren all started to love chapter books before 5 years of age. The starting time will reflect their maturity, language proficiency and the depth of the literary and narrative experiences that they have had in the early years.

Why read chapter books to younger readers?

In a post I wrote in 2008 on ‘Guiding children’s learning’ (here) I talked a little about Jerome Bruner’s concept of “scaffolding”. He identified scaffolding as a process where an adult helps children to learn in advance of their developmental level. The adult does this by doing what the child cannot do by themselves; allowing students to slowly take over parts of the process as they are able to do so. In many ways, this is the most fundamental reason to read chapter books to your children once they have become avid listeners to stories and beginning readers themselves. They can listen to more complex stories than they can read themselves as emerging readers.

In practical terms, chapter books offer children:
  • More complex narrative forms and plot development
  • Richer and more complex language
  • New areas of knowledge about their world and the human condition
  • Different literary devices and genres
  • They train your children to be able to sustain longer periods of reading
As well as the above, chapter books will enable you to build an even richer shared literary history with your children. Shared books will become part of your shared history within the family or your class, and more broadly, they will help to connect your children to a literary culture that others will share with them.

A couple of final comments before the list

Having said all of the above, there are a couple of warnings that I’d give:
  • Don’t push your children too quickly; all learning requires periods of consolidation before moving on to more difficult terrain.
  • Be aware that while your children might be able to follow the story line, relate to the characters and so on, they may not be emotionally ready for some of the content.
  • Be prepared to offer support - with chapter books you may need to explain new words, discuss new concepts, offer new knowledge etc.
  • Don’t forget, that reading a chapter book still needs to be interesting and enjoyable and that it will be harder to achieve this without pictures so you’ll need to work harder on varying your character voices (see my earlier post on reading to and with your children HERE).
One final comment. Don't assume that once you commence chapter books that picture books no longer have a place. Young children still need to read picture books and hear them read to them. They continue to have an important role in children's literacy development throughout the primary years of schooling (again, see my previous post on this HERE).

Some Chapter Books to try


The list below is not meant to be extensive, just illustrative. It has a particular Australian flavour (but not entirely). I preface the following suggestions by saying that individual children will handle these books at different ages. For the very youngest readers it is best to start with books that have some illustrations to maintain interest until they develop more 'stamina' for harder books. The age guide that I have given is meant to be a ‘group age’ guide for teachers sharing such books with larger groups. Parents reading to a single child will perhaps find that their child can deal with books I’ve listed at an earlier stage. Conversely, your child might not be ready for some of these books as suggested. You may also find that they can handle even more difficult books not on the list (but don’t forget the warnings above).

a) Suitable for 5 year-olds

‘Aurora and the little blue car’, by Anne-Cath Vestly, 1969
‘Arlo the dandy lion’, by Morris Lurie, 1971
‘Charlotte’s Web’, by E. B. White, 1952
‘Fantastic Mr Fox’, by Roald Dahl, 1970
‘Morris in the apple tree’, by Vivian French, 1995
'Little Witch' by Juliette MacIver, 2012 (see others in the Walker Stories series too).
‘Pippi Longstocking’, by Astrid Lindgren, 1945
‘Snugglepot and Cuddlepie’, by May Gibbs, 1940
‘The Complete Adventures of Blinky Bill’, by Dorothy Wall, 1939
‘Littlest Dragon Goes for Goal’, by Margaret Ryan,2005
‘Winnie-the-Pooh’, by A.A. Milne, 1926

b) Suitable for 6 year-olds

‘The BFG’, by Roald Dahl, 1982
‘Billy Fishbone King of the kid’, by Dianne Bates, 1997 (Bushranger series)
‘Bud Buster’, by Sofie Laguna, 2003 (Aussie Nibbles series)
‘Dragon ride’, by Helen Cresswell, 1987 (Colour Young Puffin series)
‘Elephant in the kitchen’, Winsome Smith, 1980
‘Grandma Cadbury’s Trucking Tales’, Di Bates, 1987
‘James and the Giant Peach’, by Roald Dahl, 1961
‘Hazel the Guinea Pig’, by A. N. Wilson, 1989 
‘Mr. Popper's Penguins’, by Richard & Florence Atwater, 1939
'My Naughty Little Sister', by Dorothy Edwards, 1950
‘Rabbit Hill’, by Robert Lawson, 1944.
‘Superfudge’, by Judy Blume, 1984
‘Tashi and the Genie’, by Anna Fienberg, 1997, (series)
‘The Shrinking of Treehorn’, by Florence Parry Heide, 1971
‘The 27th Annual African Hippopotamus Race’, by Morris Lurie, 1969
‘The Wind in the Willows’, by Kenneth Grahame, 1908

c) Suitable for 7 year-olds

‘Boss of the Pool’, by Robin Klein, 1986
‘Bottersnikes and Gumbles’, by S. A. Wakefield, 1969
‘Boxer’, by Ian Charlton, 1999
‘Boy’, by Roald Dahl, 1984
‘Callie’s castle’, by Ruth Park, 1974
‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, Roald Dahl, 1964
‘Charlie up a gum tree’, by E. A. Schurmann, 1985
'Darius Bell and the Glitter Pool', by Odo Hirsch, 2009
‘Dear writer’, by Libby Gleeson, 2001
‘Dog tales’, by Emily Rodda, 2001
‘Foggy’, by Allan Baillie, 2001
‘Frog thunder’, by Jill Morris, 2001
‘Hating Alison Ashley’, by Robin Klein, 1984
‘James and the giant peach’, by Roald Dahl, 1961
‘Jodie’s Journey’, by Colin Thiele, 1997
‘Just So Stories’, by Rudyard Kipling, 1902
‘Let the Balloon Go’, by Ivan Southall, 1968
‘Little House on the Prairie’, Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1935
‘Little Old Mrs Pepperpot’, by Alf Prøysen, 1959
‘Matilda’, by Roald Dahl, 1989
'Matty Forever', by Elizabeth Fensham, 2009 
‘Mike’, by Brian Caswell, 1993
‘Misery Guts’, by Morris Gleitzman, 1991
‘Onion Tears’, by Diana Kidd, 1989
‘Over the top’, by Ivan Southall, 1972
‘Penny Pollard’s Diary’, by Robin Klein, 1983
‘Selby’s Secret’, by Duncan Ball, 1985
‘Storm Boy’, by Colin Thiele, 1976
‘The adventures of Stuart Little’, by Daphne Skinner, 2000
‘The amazing adventures of Chilly Billy’, by Peter Mayle, 1980
‘The borrowers’, by Mary Norton, 1958
‘The Eighteenth Emergency’, by Betsy Byars, 1973
'The Hobbit', by J.R.R. Tolkien

‘The Iron Man’, by Ted Hughes, 1968
‘The enemies’, by Robin Klein, 1985
‘The lion, the witch and the wardrobe’, by C.S. Lewis, 1950
'The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg', by Rodman Philbrick
‘The penguin friend’, by Lucy Sussex, 1997 (Collins Yellow Storybook series)
‘The Twits’, by Roald Dahl, 1980
‘The turbulent term of Tyke Tiler’, by Gene Kemp, 1977
'The Windvale Sprites' written and illustrated Mackenzie Crook, 2011.
'The Wish Pony', by Catherine Bateson, 2008
‘Wiggy and Boa’, by Anna Fienberg, 1988
‘Wendy’s whale’, by Colin Thiele, 1999

Book series

I’ve written about book series in another post (here) and offer a detailed lost for many ages. There are a number of book series that children aged 5-7 years will enjoy, here are just some:

Alf Prøysen’s ‘Mrs Pepperpot’ series
Anna Branford's 'Violet Mackerel' series
Arnold Lobel’s ‘Frog and Toad’ books
Astrid Lindgren’s ‘Pippi Longstocking’ books
Dick King-Smith's 'Sophie' series
Donald Sobol's 'Encyclopedia Brown' series
Dorthy Edwards' 'My Naughty Little Sister' series 
Emily Rodda's 'Rowan of Rin' and 'Deltora Quest' series 
Enid Blyton's 'Faraway Tree' series
Hugh Lofting's 'Dr Dolittle' series
Jeff Brown's 'Flat Stanley' series
'Katie Morag' series by Mairi Hedderwick
Laura Ingalls Wilder's 'Ingalls family' series
Mairi Hedderwick's 'Katie Morag' series 
Michael Bond’s ‘Paddington Bear’ series
'My Royal Story' series by Vince Cross (and others)
'Our Australian Girls' series and of course 'Our American Girls'
R.A. Spratt's 'Nanny Piggins' series
Sarah Pennypacker's 'Clementine/ series
'Sophie's Adventure' series by D.K. Smith
'The Chronicles of Narnia' by C.S. Lewis
'The Dragonkeeper Chronicles' by Carole Wilkinson
'Violet Mackerel' series by Anna Branford

Some related links

The importance of literature (here)
How to listen to your child reading (here)
Helping children to choose books (here)
The benefits of repeated reading of literature (here)

5 comments:

moonduster said...

Thanks for a very informative post. My husband has often read chapter books (a few chapters at a time) every evening to our children. He starts them off with the Chronicles of Narnia and it has become a favorite amongst my 7 children. My grown children still cherish their memories of having the series read to them each night when they were small, and my young children are loving the experience now.

Julie said...

Thanks! This is a brilliant list. I've printed it out and my daughter is looking forward to working her way through it.

Trevor Cairney said...

Glad you liked the post Julie & Moonduster. Happy reading through the list!

PlanningQueen said...

Great list Trevor. My 8 year old daughter has just started reading Rowan of Rin. Will keep this list for future reference.

Nic

Emma @ My Book Corner said...

A great list, and an awesome resource!