why should you read chapter books with young kids?

Reading is important.  Reading is so important that you have probably already read many articles, posts, and books on how important reading is.  Big M and Little M have been read to since they were old enough to sit in my lap.  We’ve drooled (quite literally) over board books, “ohhh”ed and “ahh”ed over picture books and happily jumped into the exciting world of chapter books.

It was a couple of Christmases ago, (Big M was 5 and little M was 3) that my sister handed out the greatest gift our family could have received.  Two books from the Magic Tree House series written by Mary Pope Osborne.  We sat down and started reading.  We tore through book after book as M and M begged for more.  They followed Jack and Annie (the fascinating brother-sister duo) throughout history.  They expanded their imaginations recreating the scenes as they ran side by side through our backyard.  On more than one occasion Big M has sat for over an hour listening as a Magic Tree House book is read from cover to cover.  (No small feat for my EXTREMELY active little boy.)

These books were such a hit, I decided to up the ante.  We picked up The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo and spent an entire month engaged in the story.  The kids and I found ourselves talking about the adventure throughout the day, relating the story to our own daily lives and pining away for the next time we could continue reading.  We were hooked.  When the book ended I found myself in search of another, eager to begin a new exciting story.

That brings me here… to the reason for this post.  As we began the next book I started really thinking about what M and M were gaining from these experiences and how I could expand on them even more…

Chapter books with young kids

1.  Chapter books will build on a love for reading.
2.  Kids will gain an even greater appreciation for the written word.  (There are no pictures to pull you through.)
3.  Chapter books force you to practice patience.  It would be impossible to read a 300 page book in one sitting.  With chapter books you are often forced to press pause on something so exciting.  (How many times have you told yourself “just one more page” while reading a nail biting novel?)
4.   Visualization is a given.  The story unfolds in pictures created in your kids’ imagination instead of an illustrator’s vision.
5.  Language, language, language.  Chapter books use descriptive words to replace pictures.  Imagine the new words your little one will be hearing over and over.
6.  Family Connection.  Most of the movies and shows that kids are interested in can be pretty boring for adults and vise versa.  But reading a carefully selected novel together can be exciting for everyone involved.   (Once they can read on their own it may not be quite as easy to join in the journey, so make sure to really enjoy it.)

What age did you start reading chapter books with your kids?

Make sure to visit Quick Reader Chapter Books and Chapter Book Review to find out what we’ve read!

***Make sure to read the comments.  There is some really great information left by readers!***

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  1. says

    I love this. I’m not yet a mommy, but it is a definite desire in my heart to be one. In the meantime I’m working on becoming a nurse and also help take care of a little boy and girl as their part time nanny. On my first day of the “job” I pulled out the first book in the Chronicle’s of Narnia, The Magician’s Nephew. It is just about four months later and we are on the exciting journey of the 4th book, Prince Caspian. They are soaking it up so much. Being a British series written for fourth graders and up, I get a ton of questions throughout our reading time from my dear precocious 6 and 4 year old. It’s wonderful. Everything you said about chapter books for young kids is so true. I can’t wait to do the same with my future children.

    • says

      We haven’t read The Magician’s Nephew yet. Would you recommend we go back to that one before moving on to the 3rd book? So glad to hear you have a job that allows to work with kids. That experience will be so valuable when you have little ones of your own. Good luck!

      • says

        You don’t have to! While The Magician’s Nephew is the first story chronologically (and describes where the magical wardrobe came from), it was not originally written or published as the first book in the Chronicles of Narnia — it was actually the 6th of 7. My husband and I get upset whenever we see it re-numbered as book #1, as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is so much more engaging. The re-ordering of the Narnia books is discussed on wikipedia.

        I love your post, BTW. We are huge Jack and Annie fans too!

  2. Alexandra says

    I have been considering beginning a chapter book with my 3 and 4 year old daughters, but have struggled to find the “perfect” book. Do you have any suggestions for great books to start with?

  3. Pam Mohler says

    My 4-year-old (very active) boy is also enchanted with Jack and Annie and he already scours garage sales for Magic Tree House books we haven’t yet read. Our very first chapter book, when he was 3, was the good old standard Beverly Cleary. Since I only have a boy, we started with the “Henry” books. I think we’ve read “Henry and Ribsy” three times now. Don’t miss out on those! They are a joy to read (and it’s a joy to watch my son laugh as I read them.)

  4. says

    I love reading chapter books with my boys (now 4.5. & 6). We started when the youngest was 3. Our first chapter book was “Charlotte’s Web”. All the reasons you list of why it’s important to read chapter books to children are so true. Great post. Thanks for sharing!
    Susan Syddall recently posted..A Shape Matching Game on the Window

  5. says

    We LOVE the Magic Tree House books! My 4 kids take turns picking them out, and we all enjoy them together (ages 4-7). One fun thing we just started- we have a huge world wall map and we mark the (geographical) settings of the books, so we can learn a little geography while we do our armchair travel:). I’ll put up a picture soon on my site of the map!
    Becky recently posted..A Diamond Jubilee Party for Kids

    • says

      What a fantastic idea!!! I love adding extra’s to the book reading experience I think it really helps kids comprehend what they are reading.

  6. says

    We love reading chapter books! My oldest just turned 5 and my middle child just turned 2. We started reading chapter books when my oldest was about 3 1/2. We’ve read everything from The Magic Tree House to Charlotte’s Web to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Great quality time!
    Meggen recently posted..Busy Bees

  7. Brenda Miller says

    I loved the article on reading chapter books to kids and I am very interested in reading them to my 3 yr old twins…can you recommend a few titles that you think might be appropriate for them? Thanks!

  8. says

    Love this and totally agree. I started reading chapter books with my son just before he turned three. We took s long break because the baby was….. a handful. But now we have started reading chapter books again. We are going through the Little House on the Prairie series and it is wonderful to sit with my 4 year old and his 18 month old little brother in my lap. Little bro wants to be just like big bro so they both sit and listen to a couple chapters at at ime. It’s absolutely wonderful!

    • says

      I don’t schedule a time, we read whenever we can. Sometimes at snack, sometimes while they are building, sometimes right before bed. I keep the book close to us all day and ask often “Should we find out what happens next?” We have started a few books that didn’t go far. It can be the book, but it can also just be forgotten. I find the more interested I am in the story the fast we finish. Good luck! Tomorrow I will be posting a list of chapter books we recommend.

  9. Rebecca says

    We started at 4 years old with reading the Little House on the Prairie series. We finished all 9 books, then read Strawberry Girl, and are now tackling the Magic Tree House books. We are already on Book #38, and we just can’t get enough. We both enjoy the books so much and I can definitely say that my daughter’s vocabulary is outstanding, and I think it’s because of all the books that we have read. Plus, while I’m reading and I read a word that maybe isn’t a more common one, I’ll pause and ask if she knows what it means and give an example of it. It’s such a great gift to read to your children.

  10. says

    My kids (8, 6, and 2) and I love to read chapter books together. We read The Swiss Family Robinson and then saw that the movie was going to be on TV so we had an indoor dinner picnic and watched it and compared it to the book. We also love anything by Roald Dahl and we get books on CD from the library to take on long trips in the car. I love glancing back at my kids in their seats gazing out the window as we listen, knowing their little minds are conjuring up pictures of James and the Giant Peach and hearing them moan in protest when we have to stop for a break and I turn off the cd! There is a great book called the Read Aloud Handbook that has fantastic recommendations for every age and also expounds the benefits of reading aloud to your children. Thanks for this post!

    • says

      Wonderful tips! I will see if I can get my hands on the Read Aloud Handbook. We also love listening to books on CD in the car, although we don’t go far so it usually take us a very long time to finish a book. What a fun way to include kids from 2 years to 8 years in an activity.

  11. Elizabeth says

    I LOVE reading chapter books to my 5yo…I started when she turned four and she loves them, too! Her favorite book is The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. We’re going to be reading The Little House books next :)

    • says

      We loved The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe! Our next book is Poppy Returns by Avi. Check back tomorrow for a list of books we’ve read. ;)

  12. says

    I have 4 children under 5 and TOTALLY agree with this concept! We have already read many chapter books to our children including the Little House books, the Narnia books, and the Oz books.

    • says

      How far have you gone with the Narnia books? I’ve heard that they get a little scarier the further you get and since I haven’t read them I’m worried about moving forward. We loved The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe so much I want to read more!

  13. says

    We are reading Trumpet of the Swan to my 3 year old, and he LOVES it!! His sister reads him chapter books, too. She is 11 (has been reading since she was 2), and I still read to her, as well. In fact, I read to the whole family (my husband included) on a weekly basis! It is such treasured and cherished time, and I know our children’s love of literature is because we do this. Thank you for this wonderful post!

    • says

      I am so glad to hear that you still read to your 11 year old. I have a hard time thinking about them moving away from this. Hopefully my experience will be like yours!

  14. Dineen says

    I started reading chapter books when my daughter was about 3, perhaps just before. Even when she was a baby, my husband and I read chapter books aloud at bedtime before picture books entered her world. I think I started with Little House in the Big Woods since the girls were so young and I felt she may be able to relate to the short little stories within the stories. We’ve also read, Mary Poppins, The Wizard of Oz (an abridged version is her favorite now) some other classics from the library. We’re starting on The Hobbit now.

  15. says

    I am a reading fanatic, and hoped to raise my son to learn to love reading as well. He has autism, and the road and been rough, but he has come so very far. Here is my writeup of how he learned to love to read, in the hopes that it gives others ideas too:

    Reading was one of my son’s least favorite things to do. I read to him daily since he was an infant, and he loved to look at the pictures and listen to me read, but HATED to read himself (especially by 2nd and 3rd grade when they had to start tackling CHAPTER books…..perish the thought). I can’t count how many times he threw himself to the ground in tears of frustration…..”but mom, it’s a CHAPTER book. It’s IMPOSSIBLE!!!”

    We started with a timer, set for maybe 30 minutes to read, eventually increased to an hour, and have always had a comfy reading nook with an overstuffed chair fit for two, an ottoman to rest our feet, and a basket of warm blankets to snuggle. I read the left page of a book, and he reads the right, both out loud. It has been very effective, especially early on, because he learned from my example, voice inflections, pronunciations, etc., and when he came across a word he had previously struggled with, but heard how I read it, he would self-correct and learn. I don’t correct his mistakes unless they are major, because it can cause more negative impact than positive, and only make him irritated. But his reading, vocabulary, and comprehension have dramatically improved over the years.

    He read the entire series (at the time) of Magic Treehouse books in 1st and 2nd grade (http://productsearch.barnesandnoble.com/search/results.aspx?WRD=magic+tree+house+books&box=magic%20tree%20house%20books&pos=-1&ugrp=1 – As much as possible I tried to do at least the first several books in order – they are numbered, and they start really easy and gradually become more difficult). He also loved fractured fairy tales – any book that changed traditional fairy tales to make them funny really got his attention, and there are many that are made for older children that are entertaining.

    I think the most important factor in his progress with reading is that I only had him read books I knew he would love. I can only remember one time that we got a library book, and were into the third or fourth Chapter where it was so boring I suggested we switch to a different book. He readily agreed.

    Other book series that were a big hit in 4th and 5th grade were:
    Hank Zipzer series by Henry Winkler (Hank is a boy with ADHD and learning delays, and gets into some hilarious situations with his friends)
    Anything by Gordon Korman (Ryan read “Why Did the Underwear Cross the Road?”, “Toilet Paper Tigers”, “Swindle” and “Zoobreak” – the only Korman books we could find. They were all hilarious, geared towards 4th grade through Middle School, and appeal to boys, though girls who like funny books would like them too.)
    Time Warp Trio series by Jon Scieska (boys go back in time for adventure and intrigue)

    Then we started Harry Potter in grades 3rd, 4th and 5th. While the first couple of Harry Potter books are fairly easy to read, they do become much longer and more difficult with each subsequent book. I believe Harry Potter books greatly helped my son’s reading ability, as well as interest. They also were very entertaining as we would laugh about differences from the movies, and whole side stories/plots that had not made it in the movies. I really noticed a huge leap in his comprehension when, after reading Harry Potter volumes 1-4, we skipped ahead to Volume 7, the final book. At that time, the latest movie that was out to see was the Goblet of Fire, episode 4. In reading the final book, it was the first time he had read about things he didn’t yet know. It was amazing to watch his obvious understanding of characters who had either died in an earlier book we had not yet read, or some other major event had occurred that was news to us. Once we finished the 7th book, (reading together out loud as before over about 2 ½ months), he had to take a test at school to ensure he had actually read the book, and achieved a 95%! From there we went back to read volumes 5 & 6. We even re-read the final book during the Summer before starting Middle School, after we had finished the other six books, and found it still entertaining a second time. The Harry Potter series was an amazing tool to help our son’s reading really take off.

    Hogwarts was not our only venue. We started the Fablehaven series at the end of 4th or early 5th grade and he just got the final book for Christmas and can’t wait to read it. Fablehaven by Brandon Mull is another wonderful series for any boy or girl in 4th through 7th grade. They are hard to put down, and have fairly long chapters where we found his average reading time per sitting was one hour at minimum, and often more. Books have become a joy. He reads the easier ones by himself (like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, or Percy Jackson), and books with complex plots or more advanced vocabulary (like Fablehaven, the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogy), we read together so that I can explain concepts and the tough words. His latest additions to series he loves are the Alex Rider teen-spy series by Anthony Horowitz (fast-paced, full of adventure, and very entertaining), and The Fire Within series (about dragons) by Chris D’Lacey. The dragon series has been read entirely on his own, during quiet time in class, which is reassuring, showing he can read without supervision and still be able to explain details about the story.

    While our son, now a middle-schooler in 7th grade, does not choose books over computer games or television programs, he understands he is required to read at least 4-5 days a week (family rule), and his reward after reading is video game play or other preferred activity. His Language Arts teacher last year required daily reading throughout the school year, and he was assigned several complex book reports during the year, so finding the right book was essential to help him be successful in his book report writing as well.

    Summer is no different, just because school is out. Actually, Summers have been ideal for Harry Potter and other popular novels, since the books run so long, and it is easier to focus on the book with no other homework needing to take priority. Imagine my delight this past Summer when I found my son lying on the couch in our front room, engrossed in the final Percy Jackson book. He told me he was bored, so he figured reading Percy Jackson would make him laugh. This Summer – The Hunger Games! He LOVES the the series.

    If anyone were to ask me about my son’s reading in Kindergarten or first grade, I would have shared the same concerns. But know that things CAN change….it just takes time, and finding books that “call out to him and are motivating and/or entertaining. Last Christmas he received FOUR thick books, and was truly excited upon opening each one as he saw they were sequels to some of his favorite series. That enthusiasm for reading was his Christmas gift to ME.

    • says

      What a lovely comment! Thank you for taking the time to write such an in depth account of your sons reading history. He is very lucky to have a family that supports reading and helped him find his own reading passion. I will make a note in the post encouraging other readers to visit the comment section. I’m sure your experience will help many parents!

      • says

        I have been mentoring parents of children on the autism spectrum for over ten years, and the topic of reading is a very common one. Many kids with autism have difficulty with reading and writing, so I wrote up our experience to share with others I mentor. I know many mothers of typical kids who don’t like to read, and hope our story can inspire them as well that anyone can learn to love to read if they can only find the right books to instill passion.
        Diane Gallant recently posted..TACA Family Picnic 2012 Wrap-up

  16. Annette says

    this is great! I LOVE reading to my kids. I read Alice in wonderland to my son while he would nurse lat at night, it’s a sweet memory. He is 8 now and has a love of reading. We are making our way through Roald Dahl’s books. Our faves have been the twits and Matilda. My daughter 5 has a love for poetry especially Shel Silverstein, we giggle and giggle and giggle while reading his poems.
    Love this post.

    • says

      That is so funny! We are reading our first Ronald Dahl book right now. George’s Marvelous Medicine. While I was reading yesterday Little M was holding on to Where the Sidewalk Ends, waiting to pick a poem to read. I guess our book shelves look similar. :)

  17. Shelli Stack says

    Hello, I love all the book idea but I am curious if I am wanting to start too early. My son will turn 3 next month. We have been reading since well truthfully before he was born, I would read out loud to him while I was pregnant and have read to him since the day he was born. I love to read and wanted to pass that on to my child. I was successful. He loves to read and I often have found him in his room being quiet (never a good thing lol) sitting on his bean bag chair “reading” a book or two. He has an amazing imagination and for the past few months or so I read him his bed time story and he in turn “reads” it back to me. Of course it is never verbatim when he reads it but I get a kick out of what he comes up with and what he had retained from the actual story itself. As I am writing this I realize that I think we are ready for chapter books. I am wanting to start out simple at first. Does anyone have a perfect starter chapter book for a young boy?

  18. Adrienne says

    I am a children’s librarian and I would just like to point out that your point in #5 Language — is not completely accurate. Any reading is good reading so I don’t want to dissuade anyone, but beginning chapter books like magic Tree House are written with beginning readers in mind. They use limited vocabulary so that they can be easily read. Non-fiction, folk tales, poems, and long picture books, on the other hand include a larger number of rare vocabulary words and increase a child’s general background knowledge about the world. Both of those things (vocabulary and background knowledge) have been shown by numerous studies to be directly correlated to long-term school success. My opinion – skip the Magic Fairy books or pair them with some non-fiction like Jason Chin or Emily McCully.

  19. Amy @ Serving Pink Lemonade says

    Great post! I started reading the Magic Tree House series with my daughter when she was four–that’s what started us on chapter books too! We went through the whole series in only a few months. Since then we’ve discovered so many fun books together. I love the time I get to spend reading with my children. We also get chapter books on CD from the library. As much as I love reading with my children sometimes they want to listen more than I have time to read to them ( like all afternoon) so that’s when a book on CD comes in handy.

  20. Brenda says

    I started reading Charlotte’s Web to James when he was 4. He just turned 5 and we’ve read countless chapter books since then. Our favourite series is The Magic School Bus – he also loves the animated show. He can tell you all about salmon migration and the food chain. We read a chapter every night before bed. I’m very excited to read the Harry Potter series when he is older.

  21. says

    I was just wondering when it would be time to start reading chapter books aloud to my almost 5 and 3 year old. Glad to see this may be the perfect time!! They already love looking at picture books as I read and hearing a story from dad is a necessity before bed, so it seems like this will be a fun new activity for us.

  22. says

    In a age where Kids have a disconnect with parents as they grow up, I think this is a brilliant way to have bonding between kids and family at a young age itself. These are good values and good times we gift to our kids. Besides books are magical, it improves imagination and elicits a sense of wonder in children. They hear about this character, a land and travel places and well, it is just innocence of children that evoke in them a sense of wonder. I can imagine kids listening to stories, showing their enthusiasm which is contagious as the adult story teller will feel the way kids feel, seeing the reaction of kids. I love reading and singing and even enacting scenes from the Hobbit. And the chapter Riddles in Dark is totally captivating – guess what is this –“ Alive without breath ,As cold as death;, Never thirsty, ever drinking,
    All in mail never clinking” , its fish. This reading of the Hobbit was such a hit with kids, so reading is one activity that has the power to bind a family and its a fun thing to do at home, rather than watching TV. We say innocence is lost, its always there, read some stories to your kids and sense their beauty of innocence while it still lasts, spend more quality time with kids reading to them stories.


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