I have a confession to make. I don’t always like playing with my kids. Whew, I said it. I’m not very good at pretending to be princesses, or playing dollies, or hide and seek. The thought of sitting through a game of Candy Land makes me cringe. But you know what I do love? Reading aloud. So I decided that I am going to give myself grace, play to my strengths, and give my girls my time and attention by reading to them. Fortunately both girls absolutely love books (nature or nurture? I don’t know, but I’m going with it). My one year old is happy hearing the same dozen board books over and over (and over), but while my four year old still loves picture books she is ready for something a bit longer, with a little more character development and plot. In my former life as a literacy/reading teacher I learned how important reading aloud is to developing comprehension skills and a love for reading. Most children’s listening comprehension is much higher than we think, and I know my daughter is very capable of listening to a chapter book and remembering what happened. We started reading chapter books together a few months ago, and we both absolutely love it. This is how we spend our Mama/Charlotte time in the afternoons while Tessa is napping. It’s a tradition that I’m hoping to stick with for as long as my girls are still living at home.
Anyway, if you are looking for some good stories to help transition your read-alouds from picture books to chapter books, here’s a list of some of our favorites so far. I asked Charlotte for her input, and these are the ones she mentioned.
Mr. Pudgins by Ruth Carlsen
This story is a zanier, male version of Mary Poppins. Johnny, Peter, and Jane love it when Mr. Pudgins comes to babysit for them, because just about anything can happen. From soda pop gushing out of the faucets, to a circus put on by the local pets, to a trip around the neighborhood in a floating bathtub, their magical, ridiculous adventures are a delight. Each chapter is its own mini-adventure, which makes it ideal for young children because you don’t have to remember a long complicated plot to understand the story. We’ve already read this book several times.
Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary
I gave Charlotte the first two Ramona books for her fourth birthday. She loves all the silly trouble Ramona gets herself into, and I love how wonderfully Beverly Cleary writes. She somehow knows what is going on inside kids’ heads and what makes them behave the way they do which is usually totally incomprehensible to adults. Ramona the Pest is the story of Ramona starting kindergarten, which was a fun way to prepare C for starting school next year. It’s also interesting to note the differences between now and the 1960’s when these books were written. Ramona and her friend Howie walk to school by themselves, rain or shine, and cross the street with the help of their neighbor Henry Huggins, a middle-schooler who is also the crossing guard.
Catwings by Ursula K. Le Guin
Thelma, James, Roger, and Harriet are stray kittens living behind a dumpster in an alley, struggling to find enough food and stay out of the jaws of the local gang of mutts. They are ordinary except for one thing. They have wings. Their mother decides that it’s not safe for them to stay in the city, and she sends them off to make their way in the world. There are several books in this series and they are all short (less than fifty pages) and illustrated, which makes them the perfect transition from picture books to chapter books. Charlotte’s imagination gets fired up by these stories, and now she loves to pretend her stuffed animals have wings.
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindren
These stories of red-haired, freckle-faced, incredibly strong Pippi Longstocking who lives alone with her horse and her monkey are ridiculous, and Charlotte loves them. Pippi foils robberies, rescues children from a burning building, treats all the kids in the village to pounds and pounds of candy, and has all sorts of adventures with her neighbors, Tommy and Annika. These stories are also told in episodes, and are so crazy we both spend the whole time laughing out loud.
Martin’s Mice by Dick King-Smith
Martin is a farm cat with a problem. He doesn’t like the taste of mice. Instead of hunting them, he decided to keep them as pets. Of course he has to keep this unusual hobby a secret from his mother and siblings, which gets rather complicated for this tenderhearted feline. This story is set on a farm with talking barnyard animals as the characters, and reads as easily as a picture book. It’s silly and sweet, and has some very interesting lessons about how we should treat one another.
If you would like more info on the topic of reading aloud with your preschooler, the Read Aloud Revival blog and podcast is a fantastic resource. I’m always on the lookout for more easy chapter books that both Charlotte and I would enjoy, so if you have any recommendations please share!