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From Picture Books to Chapter Books: Transitioning Read Alouds

The following guest post is from Haley of Carrots for Michaelmas: From Picture Books to Chapter Books: Transitioning Read Alouds

I couldn’t wait for the day when our firstborn was ready to enjoy some of my most beloved books. I daydreamed about snuggling up at bedtime reading The Chronicles of Narnia while my little one was transfixed by the story–sitting still, imagination whirring.

But it didn’t turn out how I envisioned it. By his third birthday, we had a highly active little boy on our hands. He loved to be read to, but his attention span was teensy tiny. I tried reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe aloud, but he couldn’t sit still. He couldn’t pay attention. We could barely make it through two pages before he was ready to quit. I was so disappointed!

I was impatient for him to be ready, but I’m glad that I didn’t push him. Therefore, I let it go for a few months until he showed interest. Just after turning four, he desperately wanted us to read him The Hobbit. I thought it would be beyond his comprehension, but he insisted. I was shocked to find that he was fascinated by the story. He was in tears whenever it was time to stop reading! Now he wants us to read chapter books all the time, and it’s truly one of my favorite experiences of parenthood.

Tips for Making the Transition

When making the transition from picture books to chapter books, there are a few things I learned:

Don’t push it! Reading is supposed to be fun. Do not make it a chore by pushing your child toward books they’re not ready for. If your child doesn’t seem interested, put the chapter books on the shelf for a couple of months and try again later. Developing a love for reading is the most important part of developing literacy in little ones!

Be sneaky. Find creative times to read aloud. While they’re sitting at the table having a snack or playing in the bathtub, they might be a more captive audience!

Play audiobooks. Start listening to audiobooks in the car whenever you’re driving your child around. Play them while your child is going down for a nap, playing quietly, or settling in for the night. This will prepare them for listening to longer books (and it’s also fun and helps develop their language skills).

Occupy little hands. Don’t discourage them from enjoying chapter books because you expect them to sit still during the whole reading. If reading time feels like a struggle, let them play with Legos or color while they listen. Their little brains can still follow the story despite their busy hands.

Find that magical book. Discover your child’s interests. I was just convinced that my preschool-aged son would love The Little House in the Big Woods with all of the manly pioneering pursuits of Pa Ingalls. But trying to make it through a whole chapter was like pulling teeth! At the time, my preschooler was fascinated by goblins, which is why he was so excited about reading The Hobbit. Figure out what will strike your child’s fancy. Every child is different!

Find editions with lots of illustrations. Books like Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and Charlotte’s Web have many little illustrations that ease the transition from picture books to longer books. Our copy of The Hobbit is full of beautiful illustrations, and I think the images helped keep our preschooler’s attention.

And in the meantime, relish those picture books. You never grow out of good picture books!

Introductory Read Alouds

I love book lists. So, I’ve compiled a list of chapter books that might be a good introduction to longer read-alouds, but they vary widely in difficulty. What surprised me about my preschooler is that he preferred books on topics that deeply interested him, even if they had very complex language. You might be surprised to discover what book your child falls in love with! Happy reading!

  • Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  • Stuart Little by E.B. White
  • The Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
  • Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater
  • The Milly-Molly-Mandy Series by Joyce Lankester Brisley
  • Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
  • Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne
  • 101 Dalmations by Dodie Smith
  • Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald
  • The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
  • The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks
  • Redwall by Brian Jacques
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
  • James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
  • Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
  • The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
  • Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderful by Lewis Carroll
  • The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

What would you add? What was your favorite chapter book when you were a child?

Haley of Carrots for Michaelmas

Haley Stewart is a bookish Catholic wife and mama of a preschooler, a toddler, and a newborn living in the deep south. When she gets a moment to herself, she loves to read Jane Austen, Evelyn Waugh, L.M. Montgomery, or Flannery O’Connor with a cup of coffee in hand. Haley muses about cultivating a Catholic family through literature, liturgical living, and urban homesteading at her blog Carrots for Michaelmas.