August 31, 2016

Tips for Reading Aloud Chapter Books (+ What Ella and I Are Reading This Year)

Wondering how to start reading chapter books aloud to your preschooler or elementary school child? Try these tips.

I started reading aloud with Ella about three years ago (she was three, but didn't really start to get into it until she was more like 3.5), and it was the MOST thrilling day for me.

We'd been reading board books and picture books together since she was a tiny baby, but I quickly discovered that listening to a chapter book is a totally different skill, and it took us a while to get good at it.

Now, three years in, I feel like we've got a good thing going, and snuggling up on the couch together during homeschool to read together or lying on her bed before she goes to sleep are some of my favorite times of the day.

If you're just jumping into chapter books, here are a few suggestions:

1. Introduce the story before you start. I do this less now, but for the first couple of years, I'd always lead out with a basic overview of the plot and the main characters. Without a lot of pictures to guide, it can be difficult for a young child to keep track of the storyline and who is who.

2. Let them do something while they listen. Just like I don't necessarily just want to sit on the couch and listen to my audiobooks, it's easier for kids to listen when they have something to keep their hands busy. Pull out the crayons or Legos and let them keep their fingers occupied while they listen, and you'll be surprised how much longer their attention span is.

3. Don’t be a slave to the chapter breaks. Some books have insanely long chapters and it's too daunting to read the whole thing in one sitting (either for you or your child). Better to consistently read for 10 minutes than to only read once a week or less because you don't have the time or energy to read a 40 page chapter.

4. When you start up each day, do a quick review. It can be difficult for young children to keep track of a plot line when the story is stretched over a month or more. A brief review goes a long way to helping them remember what this book is even about!

5. If the book isn’t working, ditch it, and try something else. Sometimes you start a book and realize quickly that it's not a good fit, whether the reading level is too high, the story is dull, or your child just isn't enjoying it (or you! I know we're reading something dull when I don't want to read together). There's no shame in putting it down and choosing something else. My goal is to make sure we're having a good experience reading together and that's more important to me than finishing every book we start (on the other hand, like many readers - myself included - Ella is usually resistant to a new book, so we always give it at LEAST a few chapters before calling it quits).

6. Keep a record of the titles you finish. We just added Time at the Top to our book banner this week, and Ella was so enthusiastic about me writing it on the next pennant. It's fun for both of us to look back and remember how many great reading experiences we've had together.

And when I mentioned this on my Facebook page, a couple of people asked what books I was planning to read with Ella this year during first grade, so here's my list (which may change at any time. . . ):

1. Heidi by Johanna Spyri (we just started this on Monday)
2. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
3. Rascal by Sterling North
4. The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye
5. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum
6. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
7. Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
8. The Borrowers by Mary Norton
9. Redwall by Brian Jacques

I figure we can get through about a book a month, so this should take us through the end of the school year. And I cannot wait to read all these books from my childhood again.


  1. I remember reading Heidi when I was in third grade and it made me want to visit Switzerland. It took me until my 25th Anniversary to get there, but we are going back on a river cruise next spring! I also love the Shirley Temple movie of Heidi.

  2. I notice Star is not in that peaceful photo. Which is why it's peaceful. The #1 tip for reading chapter books? Don't attempt it with a toddler present.

    My 6.5- and 4-year-old will sit through chapter books--we just finished "Hatchet" and Dogsong" by Gary Paulsen and are working on "Farmer Boy"--but if their 20-month-old brother is present? Forget it. We wait until after his bedtime to even attempt any book longer than "Barnyard Dance."

  3. We read Rascal earlier this year and enjoyed it, but there were some longer, more tedious sections that were harder to get through. A couple of months later, we read Owls at Home and LOVED it. It had a very similar plot line and feel to Rascal but was shorter and overall much more accessible to my kids. If you haven't read it, I would definitely look into it!

  4. I don't have a child to read to, but I used to read to my cat when I was a young child. (I'm an only child, mind you, so I didn't have siblings to read too either) I was convinced that if I read to my cat, she'd learn English, I mean, I even went as far as attempting to teach her the alphabet via a small child sized chalkboard that I had. Now though, during road trips, Alex and I read out loud to each other instead of getting audio books, since it keeps both of us alert and it's more fun that way!

  5. The first two books I remember my mother reading to me were _Charlotte's Web_ and _The Princess and the Goblin_ by George MacDonald. I was probably five or six at the time. I am sure there were other chapter books my parents read to me, but those are the ones that stuck the most in my memory.

  6. So I just started consistently reading to Jay at the beginning of the summer. We've read five Magic Tree House books and started Peter Pan yesterday. Do you feel like those first six months with Ella, all of it went right over her head? Because that's how I feel with Jay right now. We'll read a chapter or two a day, and when I'm done reading I'll say, "Did you like that story?" he'll say yes, and I'll ask him what his favorite part was, and he just says, "I don't know..." and then we talk through it and he says, "Ohhhh yeahhh!" But I feel like he's only picking up maybe 5% of the stories at this point.

  7. My daughter (2.5) and I started reading The Frog and the Toad when she was sick one day. It was a great first chapter book! I tried longer ones, but with little success. Call me crazy, but I can't wait to read Laura Ingalls Wilder, LM Montgomery and Harry Potter with her!
    By the way, have you seen Wind in the Willows with illustrations by Inga Moore? It's GORGEOUS!!! (I LOVE Inga Moore! Her illustrated version of The Secret Garden is breathtaking).

  8. Oh goodness yes, Redwall! Memories!

  9. I know the age gap is not huge between Ella and my daughter, but kids can grow so much intellectually in just one year. What are some great chapter books you'd recommend for a just-turned-5 girl? Or do you think this list you posted would be OK for my daughter, too?

    1. I think some of these books might be a bit old. For a 5-year-old, we've loved:
      - Matilda
      - Charlotte's Web
      - B is for Betsy
      - Mrs. Piggle Wiggle

      Good luck!

  10. Five Children and It...what a wonderful old book! I also read Five Little Peppers and how they Grew by (?) Sidney at the same age.

  11. This is great. I babysat my nephew today. He's not even two yet, but I read a bunch of books to him and I was surprised how interested he was!

  12. A Little Princess remains one of my favorite stories

  13. Love your blog! I have a kindergartener and a 3 year old. Would you recommend this type of read aloud to do only with the kindergartener? How long do you guys typically read aloud for? Any pointers on time of day? Just trying to figure out how to work it in. Thanks!

  14. I'm curious how your younger two do with chapter books, or do you just mainly do it with Ella? My older two love reading chapter books, but my 4ywar old won't stick around for them much yet. Which is fine, I'm perfectly happy to keep at the picture books with him. But with Virginia she was defining on board by age four. I'm curious if part of why he's not into it yet is because he percieves it as something i just do with the other two. Do you do separate chapter books with Ani, maybe a bit more at her level?


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