Best First Chapter Books for Preschoolers
Being a huge fan of children's literature and believer in the importance of learning to read, I have been reading aloud to our children for as long as I can remember. Admittedly when I read Winnie the Pooh to them while I was nursing, they probably didn't understand a word, but as they have grown they have developed into avid book lovers themselves. As you can probably imagine from our weekly library trips and the number of books I have shared on our Bambini Bookshelf, they have listened to A LOT of books.
Around the age of 3 1/2 I felt like they were ready to start listening to longer read alouds with fewer pictures. This happens at a different age for every child, which is partly why I emphasize the amount I read to them as infants and toddlers.
If they are able to sit through long picture books without getting to restless they might be ready. In general, chapter books simply require more imagination and greater attention span.
Honestly I don't think it is completely necessary for preschoolers. However, since they do require more imagination and greater attention span reading these books aloud tends to strengthen those two skills.
NO!! Picture books should be read aloud to children well into elementary school whether or not you are reading chapter books and whether or not they are reading to themselves. The benefits of reading aloud and the wonderful quality of a good picture book should not be dismissed simply because your child is not a toddler.
Now this is where I got a little stumped when my kids got to this point. I spentt much of my teaching career working with either toddlers or developmentally delayed preschoolers, so reading chapter books to young kids was new for me. I knew what I was looking for but it was not easy to find. A good chapter book for preschoolers will be;
1. Brief. As with picture books, you will want to start with shorter text and slowly increase how long you are asking your child to pay attention.
2. Content that is relevant and appropriate for the child. A book about third grade problems will not be interesting or appropriate for a 4 year old.
3. Contain some pictures. Jumping directly into picture-less books would likely be too much of a change. Many early chapter books contain a picture every couple pages.
To find good books, I asked other parents, followers on Facebook, and librarians and got some good suggestions. I also stumbled upon some on my own browsing the older kid's section of the library. Here are the early chapter books I have enjoyed most with my 3 and now 4 year olds.
The Magic Tree House series. By Mary Pope Osborne
Jack and Annie are delightful characters that were easy for my kids to fall in love with from the start. The general concept of the series is that a brother and sister stumble upon a treehouse in the forest near their home that is filled with books. When they open a book and point to a picture and say a magic phrase, the treehouse transports them to that time and place. We have enjoyed adventures in the time of dinosaurs and ninjas, in the amazon and outer space. I love the concept of books magically transporting you somewhere and the diversity of places and times has been a wonderful conversation starter. Our Little Passports map has gotten a lot of use as we work on finding all of the places Jack and Annie visit. 3+
Dino-Mike series by Franco
Dino-Mike and the T. Rex Attack opens this series with a fantastical adventure. Mike is the son of a paleontologist and gets to travel the world with his dad. While his famous father is digging for bones, Mike wanders off and discovers a real life T. Rex. Together with a mysterious girl from another place and time and the most amazing jacket ever created, Mike helps to save the day. It is hard to go wrong with the combination of dinosaurs, humor, and adventure and Dino-Mike does not disappoint. A thoroughly enjoyable, fast paced read that will have preschoolers and early elementary schoolers on the edge of their seats. 4+
The Lighthouse Family series by Cynthia Rylant
Pandora, a cat and Seabold, a dog live by the sea. She lives in a lighthouse, he on a boat until something brings them together. Slowly, they build a family together as the series grows. There is a whimsical air to their adventures that leaves you feeling like you are at the ocean with the salty breeze blowing in your face. Brief with dashes of excitement, these cozy tales are a wonderful early chapter book experience. 3+
Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo
Mercy Watson is a humorous early chapter book series about a pig who lives with a couple of humans. I find Kate DiCamillo delightful. Truthfully my twins were less impressed with this series, but I know many with preschoolers who rave. 3+
The Magic School Bus series. By Various Authors
Did you know that in addition to a TV show and picture books, there are also Magic School Bus chapter books? This was a hugely exciting find in our house. They are quite similar to the picture books but with more words, fewer pictures, and slightly more complex content. 4+
Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne
Winnie the Pooh is a true classic. The stories are full of heartwarming characters and the simple adventures that mirror a playful childhood. I know there are some that say Winnie the Pooh is too slow paced for modern kids but I whole heartedly disagree. I have read them all of the way through to my twins three times and each time they only love them more. They have fewer pictures than many of the books on this list so I suggest waiting until your child has a longer attention span and a few chapter books under their belt. 4+
Owl Diaries. By Rebecca Elliott
This is nowhere near as lengthy as some series, but my daughter especially loves the Owl Diaries books. Eva, the Owl, is cute and spunky. The text is simple and written in a diary format. I enjoy the owl-isms like "winglish" and that she calls her brother a "squirrel-head," which apparently means I have the sense of humor of an early elementary schooler. Full of occasional owl information, fun characters, and colorful illustrations, this is a fun read with younger kids. 3+
The Rainbow Fairies series. By Daisy Meadows
I couldn't make this list without including this fairy series. They are my daughter's absolute favorites. Every week when we get to the library she runs to their aisle, pulls them all off the shelf, and mulls over her decision of which one to bring home for the week. They all follow the same general storyline. Jack Frost and his merry crew of goblins have stolen these objects and are up to one form of mischief or another. Two best friends help one or several fairies recover objects that hold various magical powers. Together the fairies and their friends save the day. If I am being honest, after a while these get a bit monotonous to me. On the plus side, they do have positive messages about friendship and team work. Truthfully, my opinion matters little. To my daughter these are the very best chapter books in the world and she cherishes every word. She flips through them endlessly imagining the words and yearning to read, she listens eagerly and begs for another chapter. For that they make the list. 4+
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