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Jane Roper is the author of the memoir Double Time: How I Survived–and Mostly Thrived–Through the First Three Years of Mothering Twins and blogger at JaneRoper.com. Her writing has appeared on Babble, Salon, The Huffington Post, The Rumpus, and the upcoming anthology The Push: Birth Stories for the 21st Century. Jane lives in the Boston area with her husband and twin daughters.

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What are you reading (to your kids)?

By Jane Roper |

First, a public service announcement for a cause that I love, being a reading fanatic (and a mom, to boot): October 6 is Jumpstart’s Read For The Record — an annual campaign in support of closing the education gap for lower-income kids.

The idea is that on one day, adults around the country will read one book (this year, it’s Llama Llama Red Pajama) to a child or children. While it may be too late to buy or borrow a copy, you can read the book online with a child for free.

Bottom line: if you like reading, educational equality and llamas and/or red pajamas, this is the easy-to-do event for you!

I’ll definitely be reading the book (online, because planning ahead isn’t my strong suit lately) with the girls.  The novelty factor of it being on my computer will only sweeten the deal for them, multimedia trailblazers that they are.

On a related note, I have a question: When did you (or do you plan to) start reading chapter books to your kids? You know, the kind without pictures.

Elsa and Clio love being read to, which warms the very cockles of my soul. (What are cockles? And why does my soul have them? No matter.) But they’re basically only interested in picture books. Not that there’s anything wrong with this. But I am really looking forward to when I can start reading them some meatier stuff. Admittedly, not just for their sake, but for mine. I am excited to revisit some books I read and loved as a child — Charlotte’s Web, the Little House books, Ramona, SuperFudge.

So far, we’ve had the most (but still, limited) success with a couple of “adapted” versions of The Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan. At first, I kinda looked down my bibliophilic nose at them. Adapted? Tut tut, we should be reading them in the original!

But these books actually do a decent job of staying true to the spirit and cadence of the originals while simplifying and abridging some of the stuff that might bore / bewilder the four-year-old set. (As it is, I sometimes have to explain words or concepts — e.g. What is a thimble? Why are they called munchkins? Are they donuts? — but I like that.)

There are also pictures every few pages, which help, although the girls immediately want to know what’s happening in the pictures, rather than waiting for the text to explain it. Although we have this issue with picture books, too.

Overall, this first foray into chapter book land has gone reasonably well. Sometimes I have to cajole the girls a bit into letting me read them, but they’re usually happy once we get started, provided they’re not too exhausted.

A couple of weeks ago they seemed to be so into the whole thing that I  — very cockily — thought: Hey! Maybe they’re ready for Harry Potter! I’ve only read the first book (which, as I recall, isn’t too scary or dark) and I’ve always looked forward to reading the rest to / along with the girls. Maybe, I thought, it was time!!

Ha! We barely made it past the first page.

“What are Dursleys?”

“That’s their name. Mr. and Mrs. Dursley. They’re his aunt and uncle, and he lives with them.”

“Why doesn’t he live with his mommy and daddy? Are they dead?”

“Yes. A bad wizard killed them.”

And a wizard is a boy witch. Because boys can’t be witches.”

“Well, they can actually — well, warlocks, I guess. But wizards are slightly different. They’re more powerful (?) And wizards can be girls. There are some girl wizards later in the book. And Harry is a wizard. He just doesn’t know it yet.”

“Why not?”

“We’ll find out later. Let’s read a little more…”

[Three sentences later...]

“Wait, what’s a Dursley again?”

“Maybe you guys aren’t quite ready for this book yet, huh?”

“Yeah, I don’t think we’re ready. Can we watch Dinosaur Train instead?”

So, guess I jumped the gun a little there, but it was worth a shot. I am now trying to force Stuart Little down their throats — They like mice! And it has pictures! And no wizards! — but I’m not optimistic. Nevertheless, I shall persist, in small doses. And maybe, as is the case with food, they’ll develop a taste for it. Eventually.

Et vous, mesdames at messieurs? Have you had any luck reading chapter books to your preschoolers / kindergarteners? Any suggestions for good books or techniques to get them into the pictureless groove? I await your wisdom.

 

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About Jane Roper

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Jane Roper

Jane Roper is the author of the memoir Double Time: How I Survived–and Mostly Thrived–Through the First Three Years of Mothering Twins and blogger at JaneRoper.com. Jane lives in the Boston area with her husband and twin daughters.

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32 thoughts on “What are you reading (to your kids)?

  1. Sally says:

    We have had some success reading the original Winnie the Pooh books to our almost four year old boys. Just enough pictures, and there are chapters that string together, but also stand alone well. And, they are way funnier than I remember. I also like the Little Bear books for those reasons.

  2. Rachel says:

    I think we started reading chapter books regularly during the summer before kindergarten – so Evie had just turned five. When she was four we might have read a few adapted classics (adapted versions of Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, etc.), but they had pictures on most pages so I don’t know if they really counted as non-picture books.

    In any case, Evie really liked the Junie B Jones books when she was in kindergarten. They are a good introduction to chapter books. If you’re not familiar with them, they are about a kindergartener (and 1st grader in the later books), and they are written from the perspective of a kindergartener, with common grammatical mistakes and all (e.g. Junie B says “I runned” instead of “I ran”). I know that drives some parents crazy, but Evie really got a kick out of it and liked to correct Junie B, so I figured it was OK. She also liked chapter books about fairies, but they made me want to vomit.

    In first grade she moved on to Magic Tree House books, Ivy and Bean, and more Junie B. Then last spring we started reading Roald Dahl books, and she loved them, so we read every single book he ever wrote (except the autobiographical one, which she found a little boring). From there we moved on to Beverly Cleary, the Mary Poppins series, and some other classics. We also read the first Harry Potter but decided not to continue past that one until she’s older because she found it a little scary.

    Now in second grade, she pretty much reads anything she can to herself, and we are currently reading the EB White books to her before bed, too.

    All that being said, we still enjoy picture books together, too. (And she reads them to her younger sister, which is fun for both of them.)

  3. Tracy Hahn-Burkett says:

    Up until this summer, my six-year-old daughter had only been interested in picture books. I tried chapter books again and again with her, but she’d really done her best to avoid anything with a plot more complicated than what happens when the Berenstain Bears go on a picnic.

    This, of course, nearly killed me.

    Then, finally, Ramona the Pest seemed to charm her enough to hold her attention. Now it’s Junie B Jones. I’m hoping that when we’re done with Junie, she’ll graduate to The Magic Tree House as we own the whole series from when my son couldn’t get enough of it (he started them at five).

    And just like the child of a commenter above, my daughter loves those fairy books. And the princess ones, too. Ugh. But I try to remind myself that books are books… (I can’t believe there’s actually a book in my house about Fairy Barbies.)

    http://www.UnchartedParent.com

  4. Meghan says:

    Start with the Mercy Watson series, by Kate DiCamillo. Chapters, but also pictures on every page. My 4 year old loves them.

  5. Shannon says:

    My son is 4.5, and I remember my dad reading me chapter books when I was that age, but my son cannot focus unless there’s a picture on every page. Of course he wants to check out chapter books from the library, and he wants to read them, and every single time I fall for that trap. And then every single time he starts acting up out of boredom, and I covertly skip several pages, and he never even notices. So, we’re still firmly in the picture books stage.

  6. Kelly says:

    Just want to point out from a teacher’s perspective that there is no real need to graduate to chapter books, particularly if your child isn’t interested or cannot sit and listen for a period of time. Eventually they will get to them around 2nd grade, but for now stick with what interests them and start asking them about new words and comprehension. You can quiz about character names and attributes, titles, authors, the main problem in the story, and practice reading short selections. My dad did this with the Sunday funnies, so really, the only rule is it has to be interesting. There were also small rewards involved, mostly piggy back rides and songs. So even if you are bored to tears, you can mix it up by upping the ante from just listening to interacting more. Pretty soon, their listening skills will improve, and they will ask for chapter books. On that note, there are many beginning readers out there that are directly tied to picture books, so you can switch over with the same characters.

  7. Kelly says:

    BTW, by “beginning readers,” I mean those super skinny serials that we remember, e.g. Frog and Toad, or Cam Jansen, etc. Usually, the school library lends them out, or B&N has racks and racks of ‘em.

  8. Donna says:

    We have read Winnie the Pooh a few times with great success (boys are 4.5). Also just had great success with the original Wizard of Oz- they really enjoyed it and got most of it. We also read the original Peter Pan, which was more mixed because it’s more sophisticated than Oz and gorier. I bowdlerized some of the more sexist/ racist stuff, or explained that the Indians aren’t like real Native Americans, they are pretend/ imaginary. But they loved it and are still talking about it. G will be Captain Hook for Hallowe’en. Next up is The Wind in the Willows. My take is that as long as they understand most of it, it’s fine. We’ll be reading it again when they are a little older and they’ll understand more then.

  9. Goddess in Progress says:

    My kids (age 4) have loved the original Winnie the Pooh for a while. They also got through several chapters of the Mouse and the Motorcycle, which they dug. They really seem to like the idea of chapter books, they like knowing what the name of the next chapter is, what we’ll read the next night. Try the Magic Treehouse series. There’s a billion of them (roughly), they’re short and formulaic. They have a few little illustrations here and there. Also, my friend SWEARS by the fact that they are available in audio format. Her kids are ALL OVER audiobooks right now, and it buys her a fair amount of peace with her almost-4.5-year-olds.

    That said, I totally agree that there is no rush to wave goodbye to the picture books. I get it from your own literary perspective – I am a big Harry Potter fan and can’t wait to introduce the books to my kids. Not to mention Little House on the Prairie (oh, the memories!), and many other favorites from my childhood. But those will have to wait a few more years. For now, we still do a lot of Curious George, Knuffle Bunny (that third book, are you KIDDING me?), and will definitely be reading one of our three Llama Llama books tomorrow.

  10. Meghan says:

    I second the Magic Treehouse audiobooks. Eli LOVED them. We got them from the library and from iTunes, and he has listened to every single one at least once, several over and over. He started at about 4.5 or 5, and my then not-quite-3 year old seemed to enjoy them, too — at least he was quiet while they were on in the car!

  11. Rosstwinmom says:

    Y’all rock. Just made a huge list for our next trip to the bookstore!!!

  12. Korinthia Klein says:

    There are so many awesome picture books out there, I wouldn’t be in such a hurry to move on from those yet if your girls love them. You might try ones with longer text, like The Quiltmaker’s Gift. We do chapter books for our momther/kid book club, but my nine year old still gets excited when we pull out picture books to read to my four year old. It all goes by so fast…. there’s plenty of time for Harry Potter later.

  13. Mira says:

    If I can make a suggestion: I wouldn’t think of chapter books as being “without pictures.” They’re just book with black-and-white pictures. And fewer of them. But Noah is a chapter book devotee by now, and he’s nowhere near ready to go picture-free yet.

    And, we started when Noah was somewhere between four-and-a-half and five — about your girls’ age now, I think. The book I cannot recommend enough is My Father’s Dragon, by Ruth Stiles Gannett. It’s incredibly engaging, fast-paced, warm, and funny — and it’s written in a style and vocabulary that’s not too far removed from picture books, so it’s the perfect stepping-stone. The summer before he turned 5, I read this book to Noah about 7,312,190,235,739,025, I swear, whereupon he turned around and read the whole thing through himself. By the time he was done, he’d taught himself to read, which he now (a few months later) does fluently.

  14. Kristen says:

    In my Early Literacy Class we just got into chapter books, and we did Chocolate Touch, Mr.Poppers Penguins, and a Magic Treehouse book. I always loved The Chocolate Touch as a child and enjoyed reading it again for class now. I also LOVED James and the Giant Peach when my mom read me that as a child.

  15. EG says:

    Little Man’s Pre-K teachers are reading them Ramona right now before naptime. We haven’t done any of it at home yet but Winnie the Pooh is a good idea!

  16. Donna says:

    @Goddess In Progress you are so right about that third Knuffle Bunny book. It got read once in our house and never again. I swear Mo Willems was sick of Knuffle and just wanted rid of it- like when Arthur Conan Doyle tried to kill off Sherlock Holmes.

  17. Jo says:

    I’m British and have been reading a lot of the books I read as a kid. My son is 4 and really enjoying a set of books about a caveboy called Littlenose and his pet woolly mammoth. Also popular is the My Naughty Little Sister series. We tried a little Roald Dahl but he is scared by the way that the adults talk to the kids and we didn’t make it past the first page. Littlenose is fairly tame but interesting enough for adults to read. My naugtly little sister is a younger age and he seems to enjoy hearing about naughty things that he wouldn’t do anymore now that he’s a “big boy”. Another british favourite is the Milly Molly Mandy series. The chapters in these books are stand alone so you aren’t stuck reading all the way through

  18. Jennifer, bookspersonally says:

    I don’t think you should feel urgent about chapter books, but some wonderful ones to help transition into them are the Junie B. Jones series – kids can really relate, and they’re so funny – years later our oldest still loves them, Magic Tree House, and Franny K. Stein. Some of the Roald Dahls do work for some readers early (maybe try The BFG, James & the Giant Peach). Entice, but don’t push – they all go at their own pace.

  19. Molly says:

    My son will be five in November. I started Charlotte’s Web with him when he was about 4 1/2. He loved it, but we didn’t finish because I wasn’t ready for him to see me a sniveling mess. I tried Harry Potter about a month ago with the same results as you. On our last trip to the library, we picked up a Magic Treehouse and we zipped through it in two days. Now he can’t wait to get more of those.

  20. Jane Roper says:

    OK, I am *definitely* going to have to look into these Magic Treehouse books. I’d never heard of them before, but they sound awesome.

    We have also had some success with Winnie the Pooh also, and the pictures definitely help the cause.

    I can’t help wondering, though: do kids just have shorter attention spans today than they used to? Due to TV or plastics or God knows what? Because I’m pretty sure my parents were reading to me (beyond picture books) by this age. Then again, I was an exceptional child. ;-)

  21. denise says:

    You know, I was just talking about the first chapter book I read to my daughter (who was in Kindergarten at the time). It was my beloved (and everyone’s beloved) Charlotte’s Web (thank you EB). And once we were immersed, and it was too late to turn back, I suddenly realized that we were reading a beautiful book about death. (I’m quick like that.)

    And although it may have been a bit too early (she was five), it actually ended up giving her a great primer on the inevitable flow of life. Also, like you, read Little House books, which she loved, and Beverly Cleary books.

    My son, who’s five now, is at least a year away from anything resembling a chapter.

  22. Suzanne Skyvara says:

    My sons (now age 10 and 7) are huge readers. The eldest loved the Magic Treehouse series when he was younger. The youngest was more into Junie B Jones and Horrid Henry books (both characters get up to mischief which suits his personality perfectly!).

    For additional ideas check out this list on Goodreads called Chapter Books To Read Aloud to Preschoolers http://www.goodreads.com/list/show/4942.Chapter_Books_to_Read_Aloud_to_Preschoolers

    It has My Father’s Dragon and Mrs Piggle-Wiggle which my sons also liked.

    Full disclosure: I work with the Goodreads team but am sharing this as a fellow mom who wants to bring up great readers.

  23. Jane Roper says:

    Thanks for the tips, Suzanne! I love Goodreads – should have thought to check there for ideas!

  24. Isabelle says:

    We did the Magic Tree House series when my son was 4 and he loved it. He is 5 now and also still loves lots of picture books and we are looking for more chapter books so thanks for posting this and all the great ideas in the comments!

  25. Beck says:

    My just-3 year old loves the My Naughty Little Sister books by Dorothy Edwards. They are old (though still in print), so some old-fashioned words, but simple language. They are the length of chapter books, but each chapter is a standalone story. She doesn’t yet sit through Winnie- the-Pooh but she is absolutely rapt listening to these. Good fun for grown-ups too. I can’t wait to get onto Ramona!
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/My-Naughty-Little-Sister/dp/1405202890

  26. Beck says:

    Oops, I’ve just seen Jo’s comment – must be a British thing. And they do have some illustrations (lovely ones, by Shirley Hughes).

    And I second Frog and Toad – I still love those!

  27. Amber says:

    Llama Llama Misses Mama is my son’s favorite book. We haven’t started reading chapter books yet, but we’ll have to check out the red pajama book. :)

  28. tracey says:

    I am a Kindergarten teacher and we start reading chapter books to the class around January. I’d say about half of them have had exposure to them before we read them together, the other half has not. I second Mrs. Pigglywiggle and The Mouse and the Motorcycle. We also read Charlotte’s Web and Ramona the Pest. I love, love, love reading chapter books to young children. Watching their faces as they try to imagine the scenarios as they are read aloud is pretty priceless. The children really get to use their imagination since every page is not covered in pictures. Enjoy!

  29. Holly says:

    Coby LOVES Charlotte’s Web (and even saw a really well-done theatre production of it this summer!) AND the Little House books! I’ve read him the first 3, and you may wish to edit on the fly (some of the offensive references to Native Americans in “Little House,” or the parts about corporal punishment in I forget which book). (In “Plum Creek,” I also edited out the entire 2 chapters about Nellie Oleson (the town party & country party)–he doesn’t need to know about mean girls yet!)

    I felt the same way about the abridged Velveteen Rabbit we got, but again–maybe at this age better to be reading a good abridged version than not being able to read it at all? Good luck!

  30. Debbie's World of Books says:

    My daughter just turned 4 and we are still on picture books. I don’t feel any rush as she loves them and so do I. I am curious to see at what age people start pushing it. I’ve been reading for as long as I can remember but can’t remember at what age I switched to chapter books.

  31. [...] read a few short chapter books to the girls before — Magic Treehouse books, specifically, at YOUR suggestion! –  it’s never been exactly smooth sailing. Sometimes they’re totally into it, [...]

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