Chapter Books: Stage 1

This stage of reading on their own — past early readers but not quite ready for chapter books — can be frustrating.  I’ve found it difficult to get my hands on chapter books with pictures and large type and simple language that aren’t deadly boring.  My kids picked up Two Times the Fun by Beverly Clearly and the Flat Stanley series by Jeff Brown, but these were more fillers than favourites.  The best of this type is Judy Blume’s The One in the Middle is the Green Kangaroo:  Freddy Dissel’s determination to be recognized as something other than the middle child is disarming and his solution is admirable.  Really, you can read this story as if it were a picture book, it’s got so many illustrations and it’s so short.

IMG_4039At six years old, my eldest daughter was particularly into the Pinky and Rex books by James Howe, maybe because she was starting to really embrace that tortuous notion of “fair.”  As in:  “THAT’S NOT FAIR!”  The series of ten books tackles difficult but common (or constant, in my house) issues like jealousy and bullying through the experiences of best friends Pinky (a boy) and Rex (a girl).  These are fairly gentle stories, but they ring true because they reflect the often cruel reality of being a kid, and Pinky and Rex must go through hurt and disappointment before they can figure out a solution and, finally, learn from it all.   I had trouble deciding whether the Pinky and Rex books are advanced early readers or early chapter books; ultimately, the themes and the vocabulary make them the latter, I think.

The Magic Treehouse series by Mary Pope Osborne really hit a chord for a little while with my eldest two (my others are still too young), but it was a very brief window of time.  Luckily, there are scads of Magic Treehouse books at second-hand stores and charity shops, so they’re easy and inexpensive to get.  You might also grab some stage four and five early readers from “Step into Reading” and “DK  Readers” that feature short chapters — I find the non-fiction ones (we have some on dog sledding, dinosaurs, Greek myths, etc.) have greater staying power.

A better bet is the Cam Jansen mystery series by David Adler — again, I find them often in second-hand shops.  Cam is an excellent introduction to the mystery genre, and a fine character to spend some time with:  capable, curious, committed, cooperative.  There are more than twenty of her books now. 

If you think your child might be more keen on something funny, I’d highly recommend The Rover Adventures by Roddy Doyle.  It’s a collection of three Rover stories, all liberally sprinkled with illustrations, and my kids find it hilarious, uproarious, thigh-slapping, guffawing, [insert! comic! superlative! here!] F-U-N fun.  Here is what follows Chapter Three:

“A CHAPTER THAT ISN’T REALLY A CHAPTER BECAUSE NOTHING REALLY HAPPENS IN IT BUT WE’LL CALL IT CHAPTER FOUR”

And then:

“CHAPTER FIVE WHICH SHOULD PROBABLY BE CALLED CHAPTER FOUR BUT LET’S JUST CALL IT CHAPTER FIVE”

Later:

“CHAPTER SEVEN WHICH SHOULD PROBABLY BE CALLED CHAPTER FIVE…I THINK…BUT LET’S JUST CALL IT…I DON’T KNOW WHAT CHAPTER IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE”

Eventually:

“THE CHAPTER AFTER THE LAST ONE”

Rover himself does some talking: 

     “Shhh. I have to be very quiet.  If my owner wakes up and catches me typing on his computer, I’ll have a lot of explaining to do.  I can just hear him:

     ‘How did Rover plug it in?’

     ‘Just what exactly was Rover doing in here?’

     ‘How did Rover know how to spell his name?’

     He nearly caught me last week.  And do you know what he said?

     ‘Who put the paw marks on the mouse?’

     Can you believe that?  Who lives here, for Dog’s sake?  The owner, his wife, four big kids, and one dog.  The owner, his wife, and the four big kids have hands and feet, and the one dog has paws.

     ‘Who put the paw marks on the mouse?’ the man asks.

Anyway, I still have to be careful even if my owner isn’t exactly a master detective.”

 True, the Rover stories mention poo a bit too often for my taste, but I am not a six-year-old.  My 8 and 6-year olds would no doubt recommend it in part because it mentions poo so often.  Kids may be intimidated by the thickness of the Rover collection (since it’s three books in one) but the print is large and the spacing is generous, along with many pictures, so make sure they take a peek inside before they decide whether they’re ready for it or not.  Doyle plays around so much with the typical novel format that it might make the transition to chapter books more fun and inviting for kids who are nervous about making the leap to chapters.

Even better:  I found Rover thanks to a second-hand shop!  I can’t think of ever getting better value for a $1.50.

I focus on books to buy because I really believe that kids should own books.  What I’ve found is that my children need to feel like reading something:  if I get it from the library the chances aren’t great that they’ll get to it before it’s due back unless it’s part of a series that they’ve already started.  They will pick up a book and read a bit, then put it back, then return to that book and try it again in a few weeks or months.  I think this is part of a process where kids learn how to match themselves with a book:  what am I in the mood for?  what interests me now?  what’s challenging but not too difficult?  what have I read before that I want to read again?   This fosters a kind of self-awareness and independence that’s made easier when a selection of books are waiting for the right time.