There’s something so satisfying, so sophisticated about reading chapter books with my Preschool Bookworm. Like I’m winning at this parenting thing. (I’ll take a chapter-long victory, smattered between tantrums and doubts about my abilities to raise tiny humans.)
I see a degree of pride in Preschool Bookworm’s face, too, when I introduce a new title, explaining that this is a chapter book. “You mean we’ll need a bookmark?!”
While incredibly rewarding and fun to read, it has not been an easy task to find truly approachable first chapter books for the preschool set. It’s a special book that combines a concrete, fast moving plot with just enough of a vocabulary stretch, engaging characters, and bite sized chapters. For the absolute first chapter books, I look for pictures on every page, too.
When I started out testing the chapter book waters, I often ended up with “leveled readers” (those “easy to read” type books, typically series, cataloged in the library’s Early Reader section). They’re a special breed all their own, though, with controlled vocabularies perfect for newly independent readers. They weren’t quite what I was looking for, and we found ourselves getting bored pretty quickly with the simplicity of many of them. (We found a few gems, though, which I’m grooming into a little booklist to be published soon. Do you follow my facebook page for updates yet? ;))
On the other end of the spectrum, we tried chapter books that we found on a few “first chapter books to read aloud” booklists and found them to be too challenging– plots that my 3yo couldn’t follow, long chapters that he couldn’t visualize and few (if any) pictures, and vocabulary that was too complex. We will come back to many of those in the coming years, but I was after something a little bit different to engage my early chapter book listener.
So today I’m sharing our very first favorite chapter book read alouds. These are books that build stamina, include richer language than leveled readers, include picures on every page, feature memorable characters, and include plots that preschoolers can grasp.
But above all, they’re books that should set you up for success in the chapter book stage! Books that are a joy to come back to together, chapter after chapter! (Preschool Bookworm has taken to saying, “I wonder what [so-and-so-character] is up to today!”)
The Story of Diva and Flea by Mo Willems. Yes, that Mo Willems, author of Elephant & Piggie, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, and Knufflebunny. After winning the Caldecott Award twice for best picture book and the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award twice for best early reader book (and Geisel honor four times), the world rejoiced when Mo came out with a chapter book offering. He did not disappoint. Set in Paris, The Story of Diva and Flea is charming, sweet, and deftly explores friendship, bravery, differences, and trust. Oh, and it does so while keeping preschoolers engaged! Beautiful color illustrations accompany each page, by a children’s book giant himself, Tony DiTerlizzi (Spiderwick Chronicles). (After reading this, Preschool Bookworm exclaimed “It’s the Eiffle Tower!” upon seeing a metal power tower! LOL) 80 pages.
Digby O’Day in the Fast Lane and series by Shirley Hughes. The third installment in the series, Digby O’Day Up, Up, and Away, just became available at our library, and not surprisingly we polished it off in one day! When I pulled it out of our library bag to show Preschool Bookworm, his expression was pure joy and amazement. “A NEW Digby O’Day!!” Best dog pals Digby and Percy encounter adventures at every turn in these exciting books. A simple, action packed plot alongside of color illustrations that aid comprehension, and just challenging enough vocabulary. For the win! 120 pages.
Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride and series by Kate DiCamillo. It’s well documented on the blog that we adore this humorous series. It was our first chapter book and many of the book’s refrains have become part of our family’s vernacular. Mercy is the beloved pet (more of a child, really) of the quirky Mr. & Mrs. Watson. All of the characters in the series are memorable, and predictable in their antics, making for a perfect combination for the youngest chapter book listeners. The series includes six books, all about 45 pages in length. There’s a spin-off series, Tales from Deckawoo Drive, which is quite a few steps up in complexity. (We’ve been listening to the audiobook of Leroy Ninker Saddles Up. It is wonderful, and a GREAT early audiobook choice when you’re ready for longer audio selections. The plot is simple, vocabulary a step up, and full of opportunities to practice prediction and creating mental images. It’s a longer book than the other “first” chapter options on this list, though, at 96 pages with few illustrations.)
Claude in the City and series by Alex T. Smith. With a sidekick named Sir Boblysock, you know you’re in for a kooky time with Claude. After his owners (Mr. & Mrs. Shinyshoes) go off to work, Claude sets out with his trusty pal and inevitably things sprial into a wacky, exciting day. Avalanches, hunting for pirate treasures, foiling robberies, rescuing runaway baby strollers, lassoing wild bulls– the action is zany but always wraps up in time for Claude to return home before his owners can suspect a thing. Color illustrations on every page accompany the wild adventures. 90 pages.
The Hinky Pink: An Old Tale by Megan McDonald. Seamstress Anabel is given the opportunity of her dreams to design a gown for the princess for a ball. With only one week to complete her work, she’s given a royal tower full of luxurious fabrics and sewing supplies and sequestered in order to make them into the perfect dress for the picky princess. Each night, however, she is pinched by some unknown creature, hopelessly disturbing her slumber. What is at work here? A Hinky Pink! My Preschool Bookworm loved the mystery and the excitement of this charming fairy tale. Full color illustrations on every page. 50 pages.
The Lighthouse Family series by Cynthia Rylant. We just discovered this series, jumping in the middle of the series with The Turtle during our read alouds this week. The series is a half step up from the previous recommendations on this list, with more visualizing required of listeners and less provided in the illustrations. The story arc is simple enough for preschoolers, though, and the characters are vivid. Author Cynthia Rylant is prolific particularly in the early reader category: Henry & Mudge, Poppleton, Mr. Putter & Tabby, and the Cobble Street Cousins are all hers (and all wonderful for beginning readers)! The Lighthouse Family has a nostalgic, warm feel, celebrating basic themes of love, connection, family, courage, and helping others. 80 pages.
The titles mentioned above should be available at your local library, or at the affiliate links provided. Thanks for supporting Librarian in the House if you choose to add these to your personal collection!
We’re always on the hunt for more early chapter read alouds, so I’ll share more gems as we come across them! I’d love to hear what your young chapter listeners have enjoyed, too! Connect with us on Facebook.
Update: We just fell in love with Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz. Illustrations are by another of our favorites, Brian Floca. Princess Cora is in rigorous training to one day become queen– not a minute of her day is unscheduled. She writes to her fairy godmother who sends a fill-in to give Princess Cora a break– a crocodile. Her distracted parents and nanny will hardly notice the change, right? 80 pages.