Kid Lit: The importance of reading aloud, and some chapter book series to get you started

I’ve been a reader my entire life (or at least as long as I can remember), and being able to share that love of books with my daughters is absolutely delightful. I recently listened to an episode of the God Centered Mom Podcast where the guest was Sarah Mackenzie of the Read Aloud Revival. Sarah spoke passionately and encouragingly about the benefits of reading aloud with our kids, and I found myself resonating so strongly with what she was saying. I don’t get much joy out of playing a pretend game of Lion Guard with Charlotte, but our afternoon read aloud times are some of my very favorites. We started reading aloud chapter books just before she turned four, and I’ve been amazed to see how much her listening vocabulary has improved. She is able to predict what will happen next, connect with the characters, and start to summarize important events. Most importantly, she wants me to keep reading after the end of every chapter. I know my former-teacher roots are showing, but all of these comprehension skills are vital to becoming a strong reader who loves stories. According to a statistic Sarah Mackenzie quotes, reading aloud to our children is the number one predictor of school success and high test scores(!!).
Now I’m all for academic excellence, but what is much more important to me is the bond that reading aloud has given to me and my daughter. I don’t know about you, but sometimes it’s hard for me to take off my disciplinarian hat, especially when I spend all day saying things like, Don’t push your sister! get your feet of the table, that is not the way you respond to me, if you don’t clean up this mess I will start putting your toys in time-out, because I am the mama and you are the child, etc, etc, ad nauseam. It sounds awful, but sometimes I have trouble relaxing and just enjoying being with my daughter when she acts like a diva all day and orders me around like I’m her lady’s maid (girl moms can I get an amen?). But I’ve found that curling up on the couch with a book together soothes both of our souls. It’s become our routine that after I put T down for her nap and before C has her show time, we read. Not that she stays sitting next to me for more than two minutes before she’s bouncing around the couch or leaping off the ottoman, but I know she’s listening and that’s what matters.
It can be hard to find chapter books that are appropriate and interesting to a four-year-old. She’s beyond those easy readers that have two page chapters, but not exactly ready for Little House on the Prairie or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. But we have found a few series that she loves. In no particular order:

Horrible Harry by Suzy Kline

This is a series of books about a class of second graders. The narrator is a little boy in the class whose best friend is nicknamed “Horrible Harry” because of his obsession with anything slimy, yucky, or gross. Of course he and Harry have hilarious and exciting adventures together like solving the mystery of the locked closet, bravely face “the dungeon” (the detention room), and recklessly climbing out of the playground fence in pursuit of mushrooms. These books are the perfect place to start if you are just beginning to read aloud chapter books. They are short and engaging with simple and sweet lessons on friendship, honesty, and loyalty. Their teacher, Miss Mackle, is fantastic and the lessons she plans make me hope and pray my girls have at least one teacher like her!

Nancy Drew and the The Clue Crew by Carolyn Keene

I’ve always loved a good mystery story, and the first ones I read were inevitably yellowed library copies of the Nancy Drew books. C isn’t quite ready for those yet, but I found this series of short books featuring modern, elementary-age versions of Nancy, Bess, and George. Ned Nickerson even makes the occasional appearance. These aren’t great literature, obviously, but they are fun mysteries with enough suspense and drama to keep you turning the pages. Charlotte even solved one of the cases before the reveal in the last chapter! I was so proud. 🙂

The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Charlotte had not yet watched the movie when we read this, although she was somewhat familiar with the story from the Baby Lit board book we have. This is such a timeless adventure, and was so much fun to read together. The book version is much less scary than the movie. In fact, the witch only makes an appearance in one chapter (which C asked me to skip certain parts of). It is a bit violent in spots, but it’s not at all descriptive or gory and you could certainly skip over the description of the tin woodman chopping off the heads of the wolf-pack if you wanted too. The book is so much more detailed than the movie, and Dorothy goes on several more adventures that the movie left out. If you like this book there is a whole series of them. We read the second one, The Marvelous Land of Oz, but I missed Dorothy and the story was a bit more political than C could really understand. But this first one was great. We did watch the movie afterwards and C had a great time comparing and contrasting it to the book as we watched. Her conclusion: The book was better. 😉

The Adventures of TumTum and Nutmeg by Emily Bearn

I had never heard of this book before, but it was mentioned a few times by the kids on Read Aloud Revival as being a favorite, so I decided to buy it for C for Christmas (our library doesn’t have it). I was able to find a collection of three stories in one. We are now on the last book, and let me just say these stories are absolutely delightful. The main characters are a mouse couple named TumTum and Nutmeg who live in their ancestral home, Nutmouse Hall, which is located in a forgotten closet in the human house Rose Cottage (don’t you love the English custom of naming their homes?). They prefer to pass their days quietly, but somehow manage to have the most extraordinary adventures. They take care of the human children, Arthur and Lucy (who are convinced they are fairies), deal with formidable foes like the mouse-hating Aunt Ivy and a squeamish teacher named Miss Short, and are dragged along by their friend General Marchmouse on his reckless but fascinating schemes such as sailing across the pond in a toy boat. These are some of the most endearing characters I’ve ever read, and Charlotte always chants “Keep reading, keep reading!” when I reach the end of a chapter. There is plenty of drama to keep the pages turning, but each story features a very happy ending, which is so important, at least to my daughter, at this age.

I hope these series give you some inspiration to begin (or continue) your own read-aloud tradition with your preschooler. If you aren’t sure where or how to start, or feel overwhelmed at the thought of adding one more thing to your busy schedule, I highly recommend you listen to this episode of the God-Centered Mom podcast. It will light a fire under you. 🙂 Do you have any favorite chapter books that are fun to read aloud? I’d love to add them to my list!

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