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How to Start Reading Chapter Books with Your Preschooler or Kindergartner
by Janssen Bradshaw
In her pre-child life, Janssen was an elementary school librarian. Now she stays home with her four little girls and is constantly maxing out her library card with picture books, cookbooks, and young adult novels. She’s anxiously counting down the days until her girls are old enough to read the Little House on the Prairie books. You can find Janssen over on her blog, Everyday Reading, where she celebrates modern motherhood with a practical twist.
It’s an exciting moment when your child is old enough to start reading chapter books with you.
Of course, reading a chapter book is really different from reading a picture book, and it takes time to develop the skill of listening to a longer book.
In the past year and a half, my almost 5-year-old daughter and I have read several dozen chapter books together, and we’ve gotten better at it as we’ve gone along. Here are a few of our best tips for starting out:
1. Introduce the book before you start. I find it very helpful to give my daughter an overview of the book before we start. Then she knows who the main characters are and what the basic plot is, especially since there aren’t usually a lot of pictures to guide her like there are in a picture book.
2. If the book isn’t working, try something else. There’s no shame in giving up on a book that isn’t capturing your child’s attention. It’s better to make sure you’re having a good experience reading together than to try to power through a book they aren’t enjoying.
3. Let them do something while they listen. Since there aren’t usually very many pictures to look at, a lot of children can get fidgety sitting still. My daughter often likes to color or play with Legos or do stickers while I read aloud to her. When her hands are busy, her attention span is much longer.
4. Don’t be a slave to the chapters. Some books have really long chapters and trying to get through an entire chapter in a single sitting may be too much. Feel free to read half a chapter or a quarter of a chapter a day. Of course, if they want to read a whole chapter or more, go for it!
5. When you start up each day, do a quick review of what happened last time. This helps a small child remember the plot line and the characters’ names when the reading is stretched out over a long period of time.
6. Keep a record of the books you read. At our house, we have a big paper bookworm where we record the books we’ve read together. My daughter loves seeing it grow and remembering the books we’ve finished.
Early chapter books are a great way to help your child transition from shorter books to slightly longer ones with more complicated plots.
Early chapter books usually have three to five chapters that are either related stories or part of a connected storyline. These books are generally meant for preschool and kindergarten age children and are a great midpoint between fully illustrated picture books and longer chapter books.
These are eight of my favorites to read with my little girls.
by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile
Bink and Gollie are a hilarious pair, one very tall and one very short. I think I laughed as much or more at this book than my girls did. Each story is a little bit wacky, with perfect illustrations, and the whole series is great fun. Fans of this duo will also love Kate DiCamillo's Mercy Watson series.
by Jonathan Fenske
This book about a hippo and a bird has only two chapters, each of which are quite simple and plenty silly. Perfect for a child who has a shorter attention span.
by Edward Marshall, illustrated by James Marshall
I’ve loved the Fox books since I was a child — it’s so hilariously funny to see Fox, who thinks he is pretty much the star of the show, not be all that bright. I’m so happy these books are still around!
by Ariel Bernstein, illustrated by Mike Malbrough
Who among us hasn’t wished for a pet dragon at one point or another? Seven-year-old Warren gets his wish with his best friend, a 122-year-old dragon. (Warren’s sister would have you believe that Dragon is a stuffed animal, but that’s nonsense.) The friends’ escapades are sure to entertain in this fun boy-and-his-pet series.
by Deborah Zemke
Bea Garcia is a young artist with a whole lot of heart. The series follows her many relatable experiences, from making new friends to competing in a school contest to searching for her runaway dog, Sophie. Kids will appreciate Bea’s doodles and drawings sprinkled throughout the books.
by Ben Clanton
Doubly ideal for early readers transitioning to chapter books, each Narwhal and Jelly book is a graphic novel divided into three delightful stories. Funny, loyal, and adventurous, this underwater duo makes for a joyful read.
by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
This was one of the first early chapter books we read, and it’s still one of our very favorites. It's a series of adventures of toys when their owner is away that’s sure to capture imaginations.
by Beatrix Potter
This is the classic early chapter book series. You’ll probably find dozens of them on your library’s shelves and most children love the adventures of this mischievous rabbit and his animal friends.
Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published in 2015 and updated in 2020.
Happy weekend Storywrappers....lol! Have a beautiful few days to enjoy some great reading. Be sure to join me again on Monday as once again we unwrap some fantastic books. Take care and stay safe. You can follow me at...
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