Unlike Peter Pan, most kids do want to grow up, and often they want to do it faster than their parents would wish for! For many parents it feels like only yesterday that they were just beginning to delve into the wonderful world of picture books. Then all of a sudden their little one is learning to read with growing confidence, and they’re ready for more. Kids are usually excited to read chapter books because it marks their coming of age as a reader. But this can also be an intimidating transition. Children can typically worry about the number of pages, the amount of text on each page and the reduction in the number of pictures which results in fewer context clues. It can also be just as difficult to know which books to put in the little hands of our young readers in order to make the change a smooth one. The choice on the shelves might seem overwhelming. So here are a few things you can do to help your child successfully transition to chapter books, as well as some of our favourite books and series that we feel really hit all the right buttons for this important milestone.
The biggest difference between reading a chapter book and a picture book is that the story usually continues for more than one reading session. Your child needs to remember what’s happening in the story from one reading time to the next. The key is to help your child hold that information in his or her memory. After reading, have your child share what happened. Then prior to restarting the book again, take a quick look back together at what was previously read, including any illustrations, to refresh the memory. Books that still have plenty of illustrations are preferable at first, and those whose chapters aren’t too long are also a good choice. Reading two or more shorter chapters in one session can provide a real sense of achievement. If you can get your kids into a book series that they like, they’ll have a lovely backlog of reading material, that features the same characters or follows a simple formula. This also helps and it even makes book selection easy since you only need the next book in the series. Here are ten great choices for those wondering which books to choose first at this important stage in their child’s reading journey.
Fantastic Mr Fox, by Roald Dahl: The three meanest farmers around are out to get Mr Fox. Fat Boggis, squat Bunce, and skinny Bean have joined forces, and they have Mr. Fox and his family surrounded. What they don’t know is that they’re not dealing with just any fox. As his fantastic plan to outwit them unfolds, Dahl’s humour is at its best. It’s a highly enjoyable read with plenty of wonderful accompanying illustrations by Quentin Blake. It is funny and fast-paced with nice short chapters for the early days of chapter books.
Zoe’s Rescue Zoo Series, by Amelia Cobb: When Great-Uncle Horace brings back lost and homeless animals from his travels around the globe, it falls to Zoe and her mum, the zoo’s vet, to settle them into their new home. Zoe is good at this, because she can understand what they say and talk to them, too. But that’s a secret! With baby animals to help, a sprinkling of animal facts, a main character with the supernatural ability to talk with the animals, minimal adult interference in the storyline, a smattering of humour and cute illustrations, this is a charming series that is sure to delight most young readers. There are currently 11 in the series, with the first being The Lonely Lion Cub.
Flat Stanley: His Original Adventure, by Jeff Brown: Who knew being flat could be so fun? Stanley can slide under doors, down drainage grates, and even act as a human kite. He even gets to help catch two dangerous art thieves. He may be flat, but he’s a hero! With lots of pictures, fresh new artwork that brings out the imaginative qualities of the story, and goofy situations, this is a short, delightful story that young readers have loved for generations.
Ivy and Bean Series, by Annie Barrows: A charming series of more than 20 books about the creative adventures of two friends, Ivy and Bean, illustrated with lovely full colour pictures. Ivy and Bean are like chalk and cheese; Ivy is a well-behavied, independent thinker, while Bean is a bit of a trouble maker. Together they find that friendship is about more than being the same as someone else and you never know what will happen when you give people a chance. Their adventures, which include digging up dinosaur bones and trying to set world records, are both funny and decidedly not girly, and will entertain boys as well as girls.
The Owl who was Afraid of the Dark, by Jill Tomlinson: Plop, the Baby Barn Owl, is like every Barn Owl there ever was, except for one thing: despite his adventurous spirit he is afraid of the dark. “Dark is nasty” he says and so he won’t go hunting with his parents. Mrs. Barn Owl sends him down from his nest-hole to ask about the dark and in each chapter he meets someone new: a little boy waiting for the fireworks to begin, an old lady, a scout out camping, a girl who tells him about Father Christmas, a man with a telescope, and a black cat who takes him exploring. He realizes that through these encounters that the dark is super after all. This one is a well-loved classic which we are sure will appeal to everyone.
Magic Tree House Series, by Mary Pope Osborne: The Magic Tree House books have a solid track record of hooking kids. In this series, a brother and sister team, Jack and Annie, travel through time and space in their magic tree house to go on a variety of missions. The structure of these books is simple and very similar from one book to the next. You can start with any one of the first 28 books in the series that looks interesting to your child. With every fourth book, Jack and Annie are sent on a new set of related missions. So, it makes sense to begin with either Dinosaurs Before Dark (#1), Night of the Ninjas (#5), Dolphins at Daybreak (#9), Vacation Under the Volcano (#13), Tonight on the Titanic (#17), Civil War on Sunday (#21) or Stage Fright on a Summer Night (#25). There is a scattering of black and white pictures throughout each book and kids will learn plenty about different places or historical moments. There’s also a great little facts section at the end of each book.
Mr Skip, by Michael Morpurgo: Set in Dublin where horses run wild in the fields near the tower blocks, Jackie watches the boys on the estate ride their horses and she longs to own one of her own. Meanwhile Mum dreams of a little cottage in the country for her and Jackie to live in. All Jackie has is her Gran’s old donkey, but things are set to change. Jackie finds a garden gnome in a rubbish skip which she lovingly repairs and calls Mr Skip. And Jackie soon discovers that with Mr Skip, anything is possible. Michael Morpurgo is a master of well-crafted children’s stories, and this one is a great length for those just beginning to tackle chapter books. With its dash of magic, it doesn’t disappoint.
Meet the Twitches, by Hayley Scott:This book is perfect for younger readers, being filled with magical bunnies and beautiful colour illustrations. City-dwelling Stevie moves with her mother to the country and forgets to be nervous about her new life when she is gifted a Teacup House and a family of tiny rabbits, who turn out to be very much alive. The story is great for encouraging children to explore their imagination. A sequel, The Twitches Bake a Cake, has just been published.
Anna Hibiscus, by Atinuke: A truly unique early chapter book series about a girl named Anna Hibiscus who lives in “Africa, Amazing Africa.” Anna Hibiscus is a delightfully curious character who lives with her Canadian mother, African father, twin baby brothers Double and Trouble, and close-knit extended family. The author spent part of her childhood in Nigeria, and her lovely illustrations help bring this exotic setting and the funny, sweet stories to life for young readers. These are lovely, simple, and really well written early chapter books and Anna is a very likeable character who almost all children will identify with.
Oliver Moon Series by Sue Mongredien: Oliver Moon is the hardest working junior wizard at Magic School. He’s smashing at spellcraft, tip-top at toad training and skillful at skull football. But life still isn’t as simple as it could be. Packed with comic exploits, extraordinary characters, funny illustrations and more than a handful of magic, this series, which begins with Oliver Moon and the Potion Commotion, will appeal to girls and boys alike. Each chapter is a very manageable length providing a great introduction to traditional paperback fiction.
One final very important thing – don’t abandon picture books once your child starts reading chapter books. Picture books offer many benefits to children: they give kids a story they can finish in one sitting, they increase language development and enrich vocabulary, and the illustrations give opportunities to make inferences and enhance the story visually. Children learn certain critical comprehension skills from picture books that cannot be taught through chapter books: interpreting imagery based on the information given in the text; understanding that there is more to a story than what the words alone convey; and visualizing a story in their own mind’s eye. Mastering visual literacy is fundamental to success with more advanced material. Decoding the information in picture books can teach a child not only to read but also to interpret and understand. Kids need allkinds of books; adding chapter books into the mix when they are ready is a way to expand their selection.
Have you any comments or recommendations to add? Perhaps you found some of the books mentioned above particularly good, or can share some other suitable titles with us? We would love to hear your thoughts!