Annette @ Live, Learn, Laugh asked me a while back for some recommendations for first chapter books to share as read-alouds with young children. I’ve had this post percolating in my brain for a couple of weeks, but when I picked up and read today’s review book, The Storm by Cynthia Rylant, to my girls in two sittings, I knew this would be the perfect time to add a wonderful new (to us) short chapter book to that list and dig through my archives to share some more titles. First I’ll review the book, then I’ll add my thoughts to the whole transitioning from picture to chapter books process. (Of course, we never abandon picture books altogether! Perish the thought! I’m thirty-seven and I still love them! 🙂 )
Everybody knows and loves Cynthia Rylant, right? A quick search for her name on this blog alone nets seven posts! We’ve enjoyed many of her stand-alone books (like Let’s Go Home and Little Whistle), and both girls have a real affinity for the Mr. Putter and Tabby series. I’ll always remember this series as one that helped Lulu along the path to becoming an independent reader! Well, I picked The Storm off one of the juvenile fiction shelves at the library because it was short. How’s that for a reason? Although my girls definitely have the attention spans to listen to a chapter book that goes on and on and on, I’m having trouble this summer finding time to read lengthy works. Too, once I picked up this volume, I was captivated by the cover art by Preston McDaniels. A cat and dog, very homey and old-timey-looking, looking out over the ocean? Sounds like an adventure to me, but not one that’s likely to elevate one’s blood pressure. 😉 Well, in short, we loved this story. Although it’s a very short chapter book with a total of about eighty pages, with every-other-page or so being a full page illustration (and beautiful two-page spreads to introduce the chapters, besides), there is nothing dumbed down about the story. The Storm is the story of a cat, Pandora, who keeps a lonely lighthouse not because she loves the job but because she feels like it is her calling and duty to do so, since she and her father were saved by just such a lighthouse. Pandora is a cat of character; she “was not afraid of this life, for her heart was so good and clear that fear would not creep inside it” (14). Pandora and her light rescue a dog named Seabold from certain death one night, and because of an injury, Seabold stays on the island with Pandora indefinitely. Seabold, usually full of wanderlust, begins to realize that he might just like having a place to call home; Pandora realizes what was missing all along from her life: a friend. Then, Seabold rescues some helpless and very young mice adrift on a hopeless voyage, and Pandora and Seabold together discover what they were both missing: family. This summary doesn’t do this story justice, though; Rylant imbues it with so much warmth, and the details of life on a solitary island are so finely drawn, it is truly a joy to share. There are several more stories in The Lighthouse Family series, and I look forward to continuing the saga.
After finishing The Storm, we started on one of the Milly-Molly-Mandy books by Joyce Lankester Brisley. I know Milly-Molly-Mandy will merit a post all her own, but reading this short chapter book got me to thinking about characteristics of a good beginning chapter book read aloud. I think the most important thing, besides the obvious–short chapters–is that each chapter can more-or-less stand on its own. In other words, an exciting, cliff-hanger ending to a chapter might not be what you’re looking for if attention spans among your listeners wane fairly quickly. Each chapter in The Storm is complete by itself, although each chapter does create an “I want to know more!” feeling, too. There is a larger story being told, but the chapters are very character-driven so short read-aloud sessions work very well. In the Milly-Molly-Mandy books, each chapter is a short story, so it’s perfect for young listeners, who can appreciate the continuity of characters from story to story but don’t have to remember a complicated plot.
I’ll confess that when I started reading chapter books to my girls, I wasn’t always reasonable with my expectations. I remember laboring through The Wind in the Willows when the girls were too young (Lulu was four, maybe, and Louise was two!) to really follow my clumsy reading of Grahame’s very sophisticated story. I think the very first book I tried as a read-aloud was Little House in the Big Woods when Lulu was still three! I abandoned that effort, only to return when they were a little bit older (and probably had a few audiobooks under their belts) to much greater success. (You can read more about my first chapter book read aloud efforts in this post.) However, I do think children that young can understand and enjoy chapter books, if they are not too burdensome in their lengths or complicated in their storylines. These are some early chapter book that we’ve enjoyed together that I think would be hits with even the wiggliest of youngsters (all linked to my reviews):
- Charlotte’s Web (this is a review of the audiobook, but I’ve read it aloud to my girls with great success)
- My Father’s Dragon, Elmer and the Dragon, and The Dragons of Blueland
- The House at Pooh Corner, etc.
- 26 Fairmount Avenue series
- Tumtum & Nutmeg
- Bears on Hemlock Mountain
We’ve read many, many more than just these, even when the girls were still preschoolers, but most of these that I’ve listed are fairly uncomplicated stories. Of all these I’ve listed, the most complicated are Pooh and Tumtum & Nutmeg, but because they’re somewhat episodic, I think they’re still do-able. I remember thinking at times that a read-aloud was a terrible flop, only to have my girls insist on finishing it, which just goes to show that we can’t always gauge our success by the attention that we think our children are paying to what we’re doing. 🙂
Besides just being committed to reading aloud often, I think the thing that we’ve practiced here at the House of Hope that has contributed to our girls being avid listeners is the practice of listening to chapter book audiobooks every day. We have quite a few loaded on our iPod, and we still check out favorites from the library, too. Long read-alouds are just a part of every day life in our home–a part of our atmosphere, a la Charlotte Mason.
Can you tell this is something I love and feel strongly about? Here are some related posts I’ve run across that are about this very topic:
- Melissa Wiley offers lots of suggestions in this post, many of which I echo here, but in her own style. (Really, if you’re not reading her blog, you’re missing out!) In fact, it was Melissa’s post that prompted me to pick up Milly-Molly-Mandy!
- “Mom Unplugged” suggests “Chapter Books Suitable for Extra-Young Readers” (and part 2 here), which isn’t exactly the same thing, but I think there surely must be some cross-over.
- DaddyRead has lists of suggested read-alouds by grade level: preschool, kindergarten, and first grade. I’m not sure what the criteria are for determining the level, but I see lots of new-to-me titles on these lists.
I don’t think I’ve shared anything new here, and in fact, maybe you can think of lots of other chapter books to add to my list. Please, do share in the comments!
I think this is officially the longest Read Aloud Thursday post I’ve ever written! I look forward to reading your posts and sharing your links tomorrow, so please, link up your posts below!