The leap from the colourful world of picture books to the imagination-stirring realm of novels usually occurs sometime between ages 6 and 9.
Each child’s reading journey is unique, but in a world where screens compete fiercely with books, there are some things we can do to ensure our children catch the chapter book bug.
competition for attention
Unfortunately, with so many other activities vying for our children’s attention, reading doesn’t always win. Computer games, i-pads and movies draw them in with the promise of an exciting, multi-sensory overload, leaving the quiet, unpretentious book overlooked on the shelf. Not surprisingly then, some kids need a bit of help to get inspired about reading. As a teacher, this is one of my favourite and most rewarding tasks: unlocking the secret joy of chapter books. Children who read regularly for leisure, not just to complete their homework, read faster. And the faster they read, the more enjoyment they get from their books. The more they enjoy it, the more they will continue to read, unlocking their imagination and discovering new ideas, cultures, worlds. They will be using their brains (compared to TV watching which requires less brain activity than sleep) and continue to read into adulthood.
inspiring the leap
To inspire our kids to make the shift from picture books to chapter books, we need to sell it to them. We can’t rely on school to do this (although good teachers will certainly make a big effort), so the best way to ensure they get excited about reading is to read to them at home. When children are read aloud to and discuss stories at least three times a week, they read more often themselves and are better at it than peers who are not being read to. Even at year 7 and 8, when most children are reading independently, many teachers continue reading aloud to their class, as they understand the value of it. They often pick stories that would be a bit of a challenge for their students to read alone: novels filled with interesting rich vocabulary, fantastic story lines, or deeper levels of meaning and symbolism that the children typically would miss without adult-guided discussions. Always though, teachers read something they love, and hope it will inspire their class to read more themselves.
When selecting a read-aloud book for your child at home, choose something you love or loved as a child. Classics are always a great place to start. If you haven’t read much to your children before, start small and build up. Find a short chapter book or an abridged version of your favourite classic with plenty of pictures.
If you need a place to start, try Charlotte’s Web, The Travelling Restaurant, Holes, Dick King-Smith books, or Little Women (the illustrated abridged version makes a easy nice read aloud) and of course Roald Dahl books are always a hit with kids of any age.
which chapter book?
To succeed with chapter books, it’s important to help our children choose well. I’ve found most kids left to choose alone will select either the shiniest sparkliest cover they can find, or the one with the most gruesome picture. With little reading experience to go by, they can easily get turned off if their chosen book ends up being too hard. It has to be at the right level or early novel readers will lose the flow of the story and end up understanding very little of what they read. The Tiara Club might look cute and extra sparkly, but she’ll find it boring in two seconds if it’s at the wrong reading level. If they say they really love it, ask them to read a full page out loud to you, and silently count how many words they get wrong. If they make more than four or five errors in a page, suggest kindly that the book’s a little too hard now, but it won’t be long before they will be able to manage it. Or you could read it with them, filling in incorrect words so they don’t lose the flow of the story.
Comprehension is key, so talk about the storyline. Check they are understanding it by asking them to tell you what has happened so far. If they love it, they’ll be reading it on their own in no time. Series books (like Judy Moody) are perfect for beginner chapter book readers because they get hooked. As a parent, I find some of the princess/fairy series to be cringeworthy pieces of writing packaged in pink, but for the sake of my daughter’s reading mileage, I bite my tongue for now. We can always slip the good books in later once our kids are up and running.
Easy beginner chapter book series: Billy B Brown, Little Animal Ark, Zac Power, Rainbow Fairies.
Slightly harder chapter book series: Judy Moody, Geronimo Stilton, Wild Rescue, NZ Girl, Secret Seven, Templeton Twins.
books especially for boys
Boys can be harder to convince when it comes to reading novels, but there are some great books out there to inspire even the most reluctant male reader. Try reading some of the following to or alongside your boy: Holes by Louis Sachar, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, Zac Power by H.I.Larry, Willard Price’s classic adventure books, or the modern equivalent such as Leopard Adventure by Anthony McGowan, James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown, Dairy of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney, or Captain Underpants by Dave Pilkey.
Research has shown that light reading leads to more in-depth reading, so if your child is struggling to be interested in reading at all, try introducing comics. Comic books help reluctant readers gain confidence and learn to enjoy reading. Often they even introduce sophisticated new vocabulary.
paying for pages
If you feel like book reading needs a bit of a leg-up in your house, there is always bribery! Pick a week (holidays are good) and offer to pay for chapters or pages read. 10 or 20c, or any small amount, usually works fine. Decide together what counts and check they understand what they have read by asking about the book (skim read it yourself to make sure they are actually reading it, if you’re in doubt). With the right books (not too hard), a week is usually long enough to get them hooked!
“Research has shown that reading for enjoyment (books children choose for themselves) improves spelling, writing, thinking skills and vocabulary”
By Kelly Eden-Calcott