Friday, August 14, 2009

Chapter Books for Younger Children

The Importance of Reading to Children

I’ve written before on this blog about the importance of reading to and with your children (here). However, I’ve been asked a number of times for help with more substantial books to read aloud to children as they grow in language and reading proficiency. Melitsa, one of the readers of this blog recently asked in response to a post on 'The Challenges of Boys and Reading', “Are there any other authors or chapter books you'd recommend for 6 yr old boys to hear?”. I thought that in this post I’d do this and a little more by suggesting some good chapter books for children aged 5-7 years (boys and girls).

Is my child ready for chapter books?

In one sense, this is an easy question to answer. If he or she won’t sit still long enough to hear a chapter through, then it’s too early. But, then again, you might just be choosing dull books or books that are just too hard and complex as narratives. You might also need to sharpen up your story reading (see my post on this here).

Here are some quick questions that you might think about in assessing whether your child is ready:
  • Can your son or daughter listen for 30 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 two oldest 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 last year on ‘Guiding children’s learning’ (here) I talked a little about Jerome Bruner’s concept of “scaffolding”. This idea was devised by Bruner to explain the behaviour of adults helping three- and five-year-old children. 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. 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
  • 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, and more broadly, they will help to connect your children to a literary culture that others will share with them.

A couple of warnings

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 warning. 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.

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. 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
‘Pippi Longstocking’, by Astrid Lindgren, 1945
‘Snugglepot and Cuddlepie’, by May Gibbs, 1940
‘The Complete Adventures of Blinky Bill’, by Dorothy Wall, 1939
‘The Littlest Dragon Goes for Goal’, by Margaret Ryan, 1999
‘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
‘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
‘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
‘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 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 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
‘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), but it’s worthwhile remembering that 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
Arnold Lobel’s ‘Frog and Toad’ books
Astrid Lindgren’s ‘Pippi Longstocking’ books
Donald Sobol's 'Encyclopedia Brown' series
Enid Blyton's 'Faraway Tree' series
Hugh Lofting's 'Dr Dolittle' series
Jeff Brown's 'Flat Stanley' series
Laura Ingalls Wilder's 'Ingalls family' series
Michael Bond’s ‘Paddington Bear’ series
'The Chronicles of Narnia' by C.S. Lewis

I could list dozens more but for a wonderful list you can consult online, go to one of my favourite libraries (where I used to take my children when living in Indiana), the Monroe County Library in Indiana (here).

Some related links

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

2 comments:

Melitsa said...

So many choices. Thanks for the list. My 6 yr old and I will be taking a trip to the library. He loves the toilet humor of the captain underpants series. It's great that I can intermix with some other books too.:)
I tweeted about your post too.
http://twitter.com/playactivities/statuses/3287229677

Little Page Turners said...

Thank you! This is a wonderful resource!