17 different women, 36 crazy children, 0 babies in utero
Adventures, Advice and Questions from a group of Mormon women who met in Queens, NY and have now scattered all over the place.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A Child's First Chapter Book

"Once Upon a Time" is not how my first chapter book reading began. When I was three years old my Dad read The Hobbit to me–an unlikely beginning chapter book for a child, I know. But nonetheless it did it’s job. I was hooked. My Dad read to me each night. He sat next to me on the bed, his back propped up with pillows while I snuggled under the covers Dad wore his slippers and maroon bathrobe, and his voice filled my room as my mind conjured pictures of elves, wizards, and dragons. Suddenly my Dad and I had lots to talk about. We discussed the book and characters at dinner time and when we drove together in the car. As soon as we finished The Hobbit we began the Lord of the Rings trilogy. By the time I was five I had heard the entire series. Dad bought a "Middle-Earth" calendar for me for Christmas and commissioned a friend to draw a sketch of me sitting at a campfire with Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, and Legolas. These are precious memories for me. I have very sentimental feelings about Tolkien’s work–even now–because it is associated with my first bedtime stories, and it created an early bond between my Dad and I.

Now that I have four young children, I find chapter book reading one of the most rewarding times of the day. I read to the girls while they lie in their bunk beds. Madilyn, age six, rests her head on her pillow and while looking up at the ceiling, asks lots of questions about the story and the characters. She never fails to plead, "Read one more chapter...PLEEEEEEASE!" Elise, age four, likes to see the book, even though Madilyn reminds her that there aren't any pictures to see. Elise is quick to laugh at the funniest parts of the story, and she is almost as quick to fall asleep. Her eyes close long before the chapter is finished. But Madilyn enjoys telling her what happened in the story during breakfast. I confess, bedtime story reading is my favorite activity to share with my children.

Perhaps reading chapter books is a little selfish: I enjoy the stories as much, if not more, than they do. Perhaps it's tradition: a wonderful habit instilled in me after years of reading books and novels. Or perhaps it's simply love--wanting to share something with my children that was shared so specially with me. And so it is safe to say, though rarely do great chapter books end with the words "happily ever after," simply reading them has made our lives just so.

Here are my top ten beginning chapter books for children. I’ll admit that we’ve crashed and burned on a few chapter books. I think it’s totally alright to leave a chapter book unfinished and find one that really interests your child. The goal of chapter book reading is to spark our children’s imagination, make a memory, and hopefully begin their love affair with reading.

1. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien.

I can personally attest that there is no other book I’ve come across that opens a child’s imagination to a completely new world (Harry Potter comes close). Tolkien is very long-winded in sections, so parental abridgements are probably needed for the very young!

2. Charlottes Web by E. B. White

This classic book moves quickly and is filled with such endearing characters that my girls just loved it. We’ve read it at least three times. It also helps that there’s a wonderful movie - but don’t let them see it until after you’ve finished the book!

3. Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Look for a version that is abridged and has good illustrations. Our favorite version is published by Walker Books with illustrations by Inga Moore. This was Madilyn’s favorite book when she was three years old. She looked at the pictures by herself long after we finished reading.

4. Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

OK, I know this isn’t technically a chapter book. But if you can find the collection of stories with the originally drawings they work well as a chapter book. Our favorite stories (in addition to Peter Rabbit) are The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, the Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies, and the Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck.

5. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

This is an amazingly beautiful story. It is one that I guarantee you’ll love as much or more than your children.

6. Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

We laughed and cried together while reading this one.

7. The Secret Garden by Frances Burnett

Again, look for an abridged version with beautiful illustrations. I recommend the Young Reader’s Edition illustrated by Robert Sauber. We’ve read this more times than any of our other chapter books.

8. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH By Robert C. O’Brien

We struggled through this one a little. We got bogged down in the chapters about the rat’s escape from NIHM. But I had surprisingly engaging conversations comparing the book and the movie.

9. Magic Tree House Series by Mary Pope Osborn.

Of all the chapter books we’ve read, this series incites the most "one more chapter please!" requests. Osborn is the master of chapter ending cliff hangers. We’re currently on book #13.

10. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls

This is the chapter book we’re reading this summer. I still remember my Dad reading it to me. It was the first time I remember seeing my Dad cry.

**About our guest contributor: Holly teaches writing and literature classes part-time at Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University. She is a full-time mother of four children (her oldest just finished Kindergarten). And although most of the time she is up to her elbows in messes and chaos at home, her favorite job title is "Mom."


  • Great post. I'd add Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Trumpet of the Swan to your list.
    posted by Blogger Julie M. Smith at 7/05/2006 11:03:00 AM  

  • The first chapter book I read aloud to Princess was The Wizard of Oz. She loved it and I was captivated by it too. Far more interesting than the movie.
    posted by Blogger TftCarrie at 7/05/2006 11:21:00 AM  

  • I've been reading the Little House books to my girls (ages 7 and 9) this summer. They love reading the books during the morning and then watching Little House on the Prairie on PBS in the evening.

    I need to switch our reading time from morning to bedtime though--we get interrupted too much by the doorbell or phone ringing.
    posted by Anonymous Wendy at 7/05/2006 12:12:00 PM  

  • I first attempted a chapter book with DD with Alice in Wonderland. WHAT a mistake. Alice likes to talk to herself a little TOO much.

    My second attempt has been awesome. We are three chapters away from finishing Charlotte's Web. And we are looking forward to the film coming out this December.

    I think I will save the Hobbit for when the girls are a bit older, right now I am eyeing Mr. Poppers Penguins as our next read-aloud.

    Anybody have any experience with the following for younger read-alouds:
    Phantom Toll Booth
    Lion, Witch, Wardrobe
    Indian in the Cupboard
    posted by Blogger Kage at 7/05/2006 12:53:00 PM  

  • My dh is reading my ds (4) the Chronicles of Narnia right now and they both are enjoying the adventures....
    posted by Blogger trimama at 7/05/2006 01:19:00 PM  

  • kage- my mom read "Indian in the Cupboard" to us when we were kids and we loved it...I think I read (or was read to) all the sequels. Wasn't there more than one? Anyways, from my experience, it was great.

    Here are a few I liked:

    --Island of the Blue Dolphins (maybe for older kids)
    --The Mouse and the Motorcycle (all three, although the first one is the best one)
    --The Ordinary Princess (for a fun switch from Disney princesses --although I do think it's now out of print)
    posted by Blogger Cheryl at 7/05/2006 06:28:00 PM  

  • My mom read us Indian in the Cupboard as well. We loved it. I also remember my parents reading with us that Book of Mormon for kids? I haven't seen it in a while, but it had pictures and the stories. It felt like a chapter book and also helped us learn the BoM stories. Does anyone know if that is still in print?
    posted by Blogger Melissa at 7/06/2006 07:34:00 AM  

  • I would like to recommend any and all Roald Dahl. My favorites are Danny the Champion of the World, James and the Giant Peach, and Witches. Also, I was a huge Romana Quimby fan (written by Beverly Clearly).
    posted by Blogger miggy at 7/06/2006 08:08:00 AM  

  • Wow, so many old favorites that I had forgotten about. We read every night at bedtime, but it's been mostly picture books - and our selection is getting a little old! (Thank goodness for the library, right?) But you've all inspired me to give chapter books a try with my little guy. We'll see how it goes! I'll post if I find any really good ones for busy three year olds!
    posted by Blogger marian at 7/06/2006 08:49:00 AM  

  • The only chapter book I remember my mom reading with me (I don't remember any with my dad) was Anne Frank's Diary. All other reading I did on my own. I have vivid memories of getting so absorbed in the Little House on the Prairie series that while reading _The Long Winter_ I actually felt cold despite sitting in a hot and humid room in the summer. Man, I love reading!

    Does anyone know if you can get the Chronicles of Narnia published in the old order, with _The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe_ first rather than _The Magician's Nephew_ (which just spoils everything)?
    posted by Blogger sunny at 7/06/2006 11:02:00 AM  

  • Oh, and I love _Winnie the Pooh_ and _The House at Pooh Corner_. I'm already reading them to 3-month-old dd. =)
    posted by Blogger sunny at 7/06/2006 11:03:00 AM  

  • I love this post! You inspired us to check out Charlotte's Web from the library and DH is anxious to try out The Hobbit with MJ.

    I have a lot of great memories of my mom reading to me and my sister at bedtime. Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, Watership Down, Anne of Green Gables, the Little House books. It's my absolutely favorite thing to do with my kids.

    And Sunny, just yesterday, MJ pulled out the Pooh books you gave her when she was little and we read some. Very fun.
    posted by Blogger Michelle at 7/06/2006 11:46:00 AM  

  • Forgot about Roald Dahl - my favorite is BFG. LOVED that when I was little.
    posted by Blogger Melissa at 7/06/2006 09:51:00 PM  

  • This post inspired me to try again with my 2 and 4 year old. The 2 year old is having attention span issues, but the 4 year old is enchanted, and we are several chapters deep into Charlotte's Web. (my childhood copy- the pages are still splotchy with teardrops!)
    posted by Blogger Tracy M at 7/07/2006 08:15:00 AM  

  • This is a great list--the original, plus all the additions. I'm always looking for good reads myself, so this is great!

    Just by the by, I don't remember my parents ever reading to me. So why is reading not only my hobby (my escape, my therapy) but my career (sort of--PhD in English, though I teach mostly writing)? I'm not exactly sure. My parents and siblings like to read--after everything else in their life is done.

    Here's one interesting theory: the authors of the book "Freakonomics" say statistics show it makes little difference whether you read books to your kids or just have them in your house. And President Hinckley says he doesn't remember ever being encouraged to read; he just remembers the beauty of the family study, and he's been an avid reader his whole life.

    Too off topic? :) I should probably add that Miss AF is only 8 months old and thinks books are to eat!
    posted by Anonymous newmom at 7/09/2006 04:22:00 PM  

  • We are about 50 pages into Tales of Desperaux. Yesterday I saw a mouse at the store and told my daughter. She asked: What color was it? I said: brown she asked: did it talk to you? I said: no
    I think she is into the book so far....thanks again holly
    posted by Blogger Kage at 7/13/2006 05:50:00 PM  

  • And we are on chapter 8 of "The Mouse and the Motorcycle" -- thank you all for inspiring me to try this out! I never expected it to work, but so far so good...
    posted by Blogger marian at 7/13/2006 05:54:00 PM  

  • We have requested Tales of Desperaux so it should be on the way to our local library as we speak. I can't wait to start it! Thanks Holly and to everyone else for their additions.
    posted by Anonymous TftCarrie at 7/13/2006 06:16:00 PM  

  • Holly - fabulous post! My 6 year old dd and I have loved the Ramona Books - she is such a real character and her misadventures have me laughing outloud. We have also read many of the American Girl chapter books. She has learned so much about history and we have very intellectual conversations about sujects like slavery, the revolutionary war and poverty.

    Because of Winn Dixie and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe were huge hits for my 6 year old and 3 year old.

    FYI - if you think your child isn't quite ready for long chapters or no pictures, there are books called Little House Chapter Books that have short chapters with a picture but they tell the same familiar stories. They are called things like Pioneer Sisters and Laura's Ma. We've read tweleve of them together and they're great.
    posted by Anonymous Corinne at 7/18/2006 06:17:00 AM  

  • What great suggestions. I want to go find Superfudge - I remember thinking that was hilarious when I was little. Oh and Mrs. Pigglewiggle and the Boxcar Children - maybe it's finally time to bring those out - hooray!

    We started reading a Little Princess - my five year old loves it, my just turned four year old spends a lot of time rolling around on the floor, LOL. Some of it is beyond her.

    They loved the Junie B book we read last week, and loved the Ramona book we read together before that. She liked that Ramona is in kindergarten, just like her.
    posted by Anonymous Sue at 1/13/2007 06:39:00 PM  

  • I like to get up early to go out and breathe fresh air. I feel that it is good for health and a good habit

    posted by Blogger Love Kpop at 3/08/2018 08:15:00 PM  

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