Tag Archives: chapter books

Top 10 Summer Family Read Alouds

While picture books are my bread and butter, all families should be reading aloud longer chapter books with their children.  With summer peeking over the horizon now, it’s a good time to plan out your summer read-aloud(s).  Reading as a family, morning, noon or at night, is an excellent way to stay connected with all the activities of a freewheeling summer.  Audio books make for a superb option as you are road tripping. And certain books are just perfect for this warm season in particular…  here are my choices for optimal summer reading that the whole family will enjoy:

 It’s a classic for a reason. The four siblings are slightly more grounded in this world than the Narnia children, but the similarities are still there.  I was unsure that my children would really get into the fairly descriptive, not-exactly-cliff-hangar-chapters, but they ate it up! Sailing, adventure, independent children soaking up summertime bliss. Something about Ransome’s style just weaves enough magic into the story to make a solid impression on children aged 7-13 in this house! The only unfortunate thing is that while this book makes its way on lots of “best of” lists, not a lot of people make efforts to continue the series; the books are a bit lengthy… but so worth it.  We are knee deep into the sequel: Swallowdale in our family and loving every bit of it.

Don’t be mislead by the sweet cover. While it’s tempting to want to curl up with your 5 year old daughter with this for a cute innocent adventure (try Milly-Molly-Mandy for that), the book is admittedly best suited for slightly older children… maybe age 10 or so. Feuding and intrigue and happy endings… all taking place in the heat of the south. Grab some iced tea and enjoy!

So, it sounds like a Roald Dahl comedy: boy finds a bunch of monkeys who escaped from a circus train.  A large reward goes to whomever can return them to the owner.  But the book isn’t a funny book by design. It’s full of adventure and suspense and for the sake of all that is good, do NOT get the paperback version which has a photograph of the boy on the cover. Photograph covers on books constitute a cardinal sin in my opinion (more on cardinal publishing sins to come)—no room is left for a child to form his own personal impression in their own minds; photograph covers ruin imaginations! Anyway, it’s a great book!

We love Homer Price in this family!  He is just the bee’s knees if you asked my boys and easy, independent chapters of his adventures back in the ‘good ol’ days’ will be perfect for lazy summer reading… don’t forget the sequel! Light, enjoyable reading at its finest.

Boys only please (okay, I would’ve read and loved them as a tomboy ‘tween but your mileage may vary).  These guys have a clubhouse, impressive IQs and adventures galore that would fill your child’s brain with plain old good stuff during summertime.


Summertime is E.B. White time!  This is the time to bust out the glorious, early chapter books to your 5 and 6+ year olds.  Be it Charlotte’s Web or Stuart Little or The Trumpet of the Swan… all are so perfectly suited to long, slow summer days.  I re-read Stuart Little recently with my children and was reminded again at how unique White is in the children’s literature world: the ending is moving and poignant… but not your typical super-happy, loose ends tied up conclusion. Same with Charlotte’s Web now that I think about it. I remember feeling sad at the dear little spiders floating away to find their place in the world… (even though I can only WISH that spiders in my house would float away…)

Oh my! Oh my! Have you seen the “Puffin in Bloom” collection yet?! The covers are stunning!  Yeah, yeah, Heidi is fantastic summertime reading (watch out for the photograph covered editions, blech!). What could be greater than the Alps and a wild child and new friendships?! But seriously, check out this new cover by artist Anna Bond.  And there’s a whole set of them coming soon!  What a stunning gift even an individual title would make here.  Take a look at the individual covers here.

Often called “The boy’s Little House series”, Little Britches: Father and I Were Ranchers is great for boys and girls in my opinion.  And this title is where it all starts. And let me tell you: these stories are so incredibly satisfying for both parent and child. There is just enough of a hat tip to adult sensibilities to make these books fantastic for everyone.  I bought it on audio and we listened to it on our way to a camping trip last year.  So, so, so good. A must have for anyone who loves the value of hard work, simple humor, and excellent storytelling.

But of course!

Back in print! Back in print!  I’m so excited to find The Happy Hollisters revived in popularity. What is so lovely about this family of five children who get mixed up into lots of little mysteries and adventures is that they are always positive and fun. I devoured almost the entire series of these books when I was about 10 or so and longed for more titles. My cousin and I used to spend hours reading together, pretending we were just reading them to make fun of the funny, vintage language some kids used (“Gee whillakers!”) but that’s because we thought we were too cool to actually enjoy the fun in these books.  Thankfully, my children don’t think they are too cool for these books and they are eating up every copy I manage to acquire. They are all great reading, don’t need to be read consecutively, and some particularly summery titles are The Happy Hollisters on a River Trip and The Happy Hollisters at Sea Gull Beach

 

* * * The Honorable Mention “Next 10″or “After Further Thought” Additions to this list. * * *

 

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The Best Treasuries, Sets and Collections

This is the time of year to be thinking about meaningful gifts. Perhaps even heirloom gifts!  Each Christmas, one of the gifts our kids receive are books… often picked up throughout the year at a thrift store and saved, but sometimes a special title I’ve been eyeing a while and know a particular child would love. Sometimes, we gift a set or deluxe collection of something to a child and these have become treasured components of their personal growing libraries.  You have to be a little bit careful when buying “sets” of books because a couple mistakes are often made:  1- the set is incomplete of what you consider to be essential favorites.  2- The set includes abridged versions of stories. Or the biggest grievance I have: the set includes illustrations that have been truncated, altered or deleted to the point of ruining a good story. (Don’t mess with McCloskey!) But sometimes, despite some of these mistakes, the collection can still be an wonderful investment and treasured gift. Here are a few of what I think are the best of the best offered right now.

BOARD BOOK SETS

 

Gyo Fujikawa’s Little Library. What a deal!  Happy art. Simple text. Tiny books. Perfect for a two year old maybe…

Jan Brett’s Little Library. Contains three of her must have board books: The Mitten, The Hat, and The Gingerbread Baby.

Brown Bear & Friends Board Book Gift Set. All three of the infectious rhyme books that get read over and over again in our home…

Margaret Wise Brown’s: Baby’s First Library A perfect gift for new babies!

The Little Red Box of Bright and Early Board Books. I love P. D. Eastman and my three year old does too.  I don’t mind that these are abridged versions of the classic books (in fact I welcome the shortening since I am currently asked to read Go, Dog Go twice a day, every day.)

 

PICTURE BOOK SETS or ANTHOLOGIES

 

Mad about Madeline. Doesn’t every girl between 5-8 need this collection (and not the later, added on versions…)?!

Frederick and His Friends: Four Favorite Fables. There is another one by the same author but I prefer the titles in the first set if I had to choose just one.

The Complete Adventures of Curious George. Again… the original tales are so beloved! No need to scramble after the dozens of after-tales by other authors. They aren’t “bad”… just not quite as charming as the original.

Once There Was a Boy… Boxed Set. Delighted to find this new this year!!!  I have a son who loves Oliver Jeffers and this just may go under our tree next month!

Eloise Wilkin Stories: Little Golden Book Treasury. For nostalgic mothers who love Wilkin’s work and want to pass the beauty onto their daughters…

Mike Mulligan and More: Four Classic Stories by Virginia Lee Burton. Unabridged and complete illustrations!

Lois Ehlert’s Growing Garden Gift Set. A lovely collection for budding gardeners.

Jan Brett’s Snowy Treasury. Four of her best, snowy books!

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile Storybook Treasury. Lyle is an odd one. Some children don’t really fall in love with him. Others engage and won’t let go. To those children, this is a wonderful collection.

Richard Scarry’s Best Little Golden Books Ever!  A collection of just plain, old fashioned good stories illustrated by the incomparable Scarry.

Maurice Sendak’s Nutshell Library. My favorite… everybody needs Alligators All Around!

Dr. Seuss’s Beginner Book Collection. Pares down the vast Dr. Seuss collection to just the must-have classics.

Babar’s Anniversary Album: 6 Favorite Books. Originals only!

Joy to the World: Tomie’s Christmas Stories. Worth the collection for the Three Kings book alone in it…

The Paddington Treasury: Six Classic Bedtime Stories. Good old Paddington, delighting British children for ages now.  Let’s reignite love for him on this side of the water!

The World of Peter Rabbit: Books 1-23, Presentation Box. Of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without this:  the pièce de résistance‘!

CHAPTER BOOK SETS

Pooh’s Library. Individually bound.  Or in one volume if you prefer.

Mercy Watson Boxed Set: Adventures of a Porcine Wonder.  Let’s be honest. These are barely chapter books.  Indeed, I give them to my eager 8 year old who still stumbles to read independently.  But he feels such a mastery at reading these “official big kid” books… Mercy Watson is a great bridge to real chapter book reading.

Little House Nine-Book Box Set. C’mon. Every home needs this.

Favorite Thornton Burgess Animal Stories Boxed Set . Lots of bang for your buck with the Dover produced classics here!

Old Mother West Wind and 6 Other Stories. Same great bargain, but different titles as above.

Anne of Green Gables, Complete 8-Book Box Set. Because I have a ginger-haired girl who will love this someday.  Well, she acts more cayenne than ginger!

The Chronicles of Narnia. Please, please be certain to buy a version of these books WITHOUT the movie tie-in photographs on the covers!!!  Let imaginations come alive before putting real actor images in their minds!

The Chronicles of Narnia Complete 7 Volume CD Box Set (Unabridged). Audio book to own and play in the car!!! I’ve had my finger hovering over “Buy Now” on this for a couple years now!

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings: Deluxe Pocket Boxed Set. This set is leather bound. Are you kidding me?!  I might buy it for MYSELF since it lends itself so well to re-reading.  And these books do need to be reread many times through one’s life.

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An Ode To The Authors Who Raised Me

I can’t ever remember  not being able to read; I think I was four when I picked up the skill.  And when I finally got my very own library card, you may as well have crowned me Queen and given me a million dollars.  All those books! I loved the smell, the feel, the organization of the library.  And living in a home without many books to call my own, I felt like the library was such a God-given treat to visit.
In retrospect, I wasn’t a very discerning reader as a child—I pretty much read whatever I could get my hand on, be it the back of cereal boxes or my mom’s medical encyclopedias. It didn’t matter.  But I began thinking recently about which books and which authors really were formative for me as a young girl. I though that there MUST be some consistent element of taste there considering how particular I am today! And there was. As a young reader, I didn’t know much about single, excellent works of fiction in the picture book world (and I regrettably never explored the non-fiction side of the picture book world) but I did know about authors I liked and I stuck with these authors whenever I could.  This is quite a different list from another post I want to write someday on the “books my Mama read to me” —which occupy an entirely distinct dimension of love in my heart.
* * * * * * *
Whenever I walked into the old Fort Vancouver library (which looked nothing like their current, incredible, state-of-the-art facility), I made a beeline straight to the P section to see of there were any Bill Peet books I hadn’t read yet… or any old ones I felt like revisiting. I don’t know what it was about Bill Peet… but I loved everything he ever wrote.  He was my very favorite and I adored his illustrations. Some of his books rhymed—but they were so well done that it never felt contrived. That man had an imagination! It’s no wonder he was one of Walt Disney’s early animators.  I can’t remember one particular standout of his clever books, but I do have a special soft spot for Buford The Little Bighorn and Kermit the Hermit.  
After I had a handful of Peet books, I marched straight over to Maj Lindman to see if there were any new Snip, Snap, Snurr or Flicka, Ricka, Dicka books. These were rare and my particular branch only carried a few titles at a time it seemed. When I read Flicka, Ricka, Dicka and Their New Skates for the first time, I couldn’t think of anything more wonderful in the world than being a triplet. I had 3 sisters but no matter how hard I tried to imagine, none of them were as perfectly sweet as these girls… but that didn’t stop me from pretending. 
Next, I’d push and shove my little brother out of the way to be the first one to score any Richard Scarry books. We didn’t care that the stories were simplistic or not even stories at all sometimes, we just spent hours looking at Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day and picking characters to be and naming all our siblings and friends according to their characteristics… Mom was the Mother Bunny who lived in a boot and my brother always claimed Huckle as his own.
Two authors who kept me in their clutches long after I had technically outgrown them were Syd Hoff and Peggy Parish—famed authors of “readers books”.  Syd Hoff had a way of making Danny and the Dinosaur and Sammy the Seal much more than just a learning to read books, but fun and comfortable adventures that made you forget they were designed with simplistic plots and easy vocabulary. Then there was the endearing and iconic housekeeper: Amelia Bedelia. I thought her language and literal foibles were hilarious even after I was already reading longer chapter books.  I use Amelia Bedelia today just to demonstrate figures of speech with my own children.  A comparable figure in children’s literature is Minerva Louise, the hilarious and beautifully simplistic hen who makes other toddler books look so asinine by comparison.
Almost everyone knows about Stan and Jan Berenstain.  I don’t make a point to read the Berenstain Bears to my children much now… they’re just a little thin on the plot and heavy on the virtue for my personal level of tedium. (And I get allergies to books whose characters get made into cartoons or movies!) I tend to only read books that I enjoy reading also (which narrows our choices tremendously, let me tell you!)… but that’s not to say these aren’t good books. As a child, I fantasized living inside the world of Brother and Sister Bear in a cute little tree house.  I loved how golly-gee quaint everything was (and wondered why Mother Bear never changed her frumpy housedress?).  Since I was a serial reader, the sheer volume of Bear books really hooked me in and kept me happy for a very, very long time, especially since I read most of them numerous times.

Virginia Lee Burton has a very soft spot in my heart for the specific reason that I have never outgrown her.  She faithfully entertained me with The Little House and Katy and the Big Snow as a child and continues to win me over with all her nostalgic other tales and extraordinary machines too.  I was giddy when I found out there was a real live “MaryAnn” steam shovel parked in field in the tiny town of Chimacum, WA near me. I wish I had a picture to show you… but my kids and I were practically breathless with joy in seeing this remnant we’ve always loved from Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.

Last is an author who is responsible for my journey into chapter books.  He is the one I sought .  Today, before I start getting all up on my pedestal on what wonderful taste I had, I remember that I also read pretty much every single Babysitter’s Club and PeeWee Scout book ever written also, not exactly Newberry Prize Winners. But still… Burgess was my heart-warmer through good times and bad because there was always a new animal adventure to entertain me:  When I was a kid, titles like Blacky the Crow only came in dull-covered hardbacks. But you can get that same title for only a buck with Dover’s thrift editions!  And other titles can be easily collected in affordable box sets today too; I’m slowly grabbing them up for my children today—who I am proud to say also enjoy the easy, satisfying feel of these books also.
Thornton Burgess

Thank you wonderful writers for bringing up a little book-starved girl and fostering in her both a love for reading and giving her some very good friends in books when those in real life during this time were hard to find… {insert heart emoticon here}

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Oh Mercy!

I’m not sure where I was when the Mercy Watson books hit the shelves in 2009 or so, but they have somehow missed my radar completely until very recently. At our local library, the children’s librarian and I often chat book talk and she and I compare notes and ogle over illustrations together; I’ve even been able to pass on tips to her.  Anyway, she is the one who pulled out Mercy Watson to the Rescue and suggested my kids would like it.  I only checked the book out to be polite, without giving it much glance at the time.

But she was right.  My children—ages 2 thru 11—all love Mercy Watson! Who knew?!  They were written by the same talented Kate DiCamillo who gives us The Tale of Despereaux and illustrated by one of my children’s favorites Chris Van Dusen… whose art is the closest thing to animation in a picture book you’re ever going to see. (We love his A Camping Spree, Learning to Ski, and Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee).

Anyway, Mercy Watson, much like Stuart Little is an animal with human parents.  She is pleasant and plump and curious.  And, just like me, she has an affinity for toast “with a great deal of butter” which is brought up in every book. She is great fun and even funner are the old lady neighbors next door…

These books are FANTASTIC first chapter books.  They are short, highly illustrated, easily digestible, large font chapters. Yet, at a total of 75 pages or so, it could still be read in one sitting to a child out loud in about 15-20 minutes. What more could one want?! Children feel so awesome when they read such “mature” books and this is an excellent segue from picture books into that world. I’m so happy we found them.  After reading four out of the six in the series, I’m confident that I want to buy them all to have on hand for that perfect window of time when a child is ready for a bit more of a challenge than easy readers.  And being a sucker for “boxed sets,” there happens to be an attractive gift option for a certain someone’s upcoming Christmas gift: Mercy Watson Boxed Set: Adventures of a Porcine Wonder.  Superb.

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Raising Discerning Souls

It was one of those beautiful, mothering moments when you are just so exquisitely happy and relieved that something you’ve tried to model and teach by example… has stuck:

My nine year old rifling through the bin of books to collect his prize for the library summer reading program– Mom holding her breath, as she does every year waiting to veto a Goosebumps title or to simply roll her eyes at the twaddle-rific Star Wars books. (These types are always plentiful in giveaway programs.) So he finally makes his selection and brings it to me: 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

“Nothing else looked very good,” he states casually.

Mother bursts with pride… for we have no time to waste with the mediocre.

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First Chapter Books

Many moms wonder when is that perfect age when you quit picture books and begin chapter books.  My first thought is that one should never quit picture books.  Even when your child is reading independently, picture books offer a sense of familiarity and ease which will boost the confidence any kid has in his/her reading skills.  Secondly, it’s like chicken soup for the soul.  I can’t count how many times I’ve begun reading an easy, familiar book to my toddler set only to have my older sons sidle their way over to sit on the edge of the couch.  The rhythm of mom’s voice, the rustle of turning pages, the vibrance of good art… it all beckons.  I see no need to end that at a certain age.  Finally, the reason that one should never “quit” picture books is that there are often excellent points or reflections to delight adults as well as children.  I think immediately of a book like the innovative The Arrival, or the nostalgic Roxaboxen for example.

Anyway, there does exist a wonderful transition when one does introduce chapter books into a child’s life to complement the regular picture book diet.  I have very recently discovered the “Special Read Aloud Edition” of  Stuart Little. What made it so special was its size.  It is printed as a very large, hardback picture book with blown up illustrations and large text. These books are so inviting for a cozy read aloud snuggled on the couch with Mama or Papa.  I found a couple other “Special Read Aloud Editions” out there, notably The Mouse and the MotorcycleLittle House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie.  But it seems these are all out of print and I’d be very careful buying from an amazon seller to make sure you are getting the right edition you pay for.  The Narnia series and Charlotte’s Web Special Read Aloud Editions seem to be in print still.

So what age should one begin chapter books?  I’d say it depends on the child but the most likely window will be between 5-6-ish.  Some four years olds will love read alouds and even younger toddlers might listen in on the stories told to their older siblings with apparent interest.  Even if a child isn’t totally grasping every metaphor or vocabulary word, just the exposure of richer vocabulary and sentence structure will be good for them in addition to the increase of listening and attention skills.  I was worried about reading the Narnia books to my then-five year old son because I wanted him to be old enough to understand the great Christian analogies, but he ate The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe right up!  And the reason those books are classics is because they will weather well under another reading at a later age.

What books should you read first?  The short answer is “Whatever you feel like!”  Read what interests your child (using your own parental discretion of course).  There is no mandatory introduction to chapter book list that’ll adequately cover ALL the greats.  But I can share with you my list that worked!  I like to start with books that have short chapters and illustrations to acclimate the child to longer readings.  So, as it’s an enormous task to list all great chapter books out there in general, here’s a list of earliest, first chapter books that were hits with my boys (or that I know will be a hit with my daughter).

  • James and the Giant Peach
  • My Father’s Dragon
  • Homer Price
  • Winnie the Pooh
  • The Cricket in Times Square
  • Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook
  • Just So Stories
  • Mr. Popper’s Penguins
  • The Princess and the Goblin
  • Just So Stories
  • Captains Courageous
  • The Indian in the Cupboard
  • Betsy Tacy
  • Little House on the Prairie series
  • ^ Farmer Boy (especially to hook boys)
  • Birdbrain Amos
  • Paddington Bear
  • The Narnia series
  • Happy Little Family
  • The Children of Noisy Village
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