A 3 Step Introduction to Chapter Books

Looking back at my childhood, I fondly remember the books that captivated me. I loved childhood classics like The Phantom Tollbooth, Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret and Hatchet. And I spent hours reading the series of American Girl books (Samantha was my favorite) and the Babysitters Club (I had a kindredship with Mary Anne). I found tremendous joy in curling up with a good book and being transported to different times and places.

As a mom, I love reading to my kids. Since they’re ages three and seven, I’ve always defaulted to reading them board and picture books. It never crossed my mind to dive into chapter books. Oddly enough, the introduction of these longer books came when my seven-year-old son started asking for a later bedtime.

3 steps to chapter books Little boy and mother enjoying book together.

Step 1: Listening to audio books

In 1st grade, my son lamented that he should be able to stay up later. My husband and I agreed, but we weren’t ready to give up any of our post-bedtime decompression time. If my son wanted to stay up later, we needed him to be quiet and guaranteed not to interrupt us downstairs, which led us to audio books.

Listening to a book is the perfect way for my son to wind down on his own before going to sleep. Hearing about this new routine, my mother-in-law volunteered to be my son’s Grandma Audible. My son loved the idea. My sister-in-law also wanted to join the reading fun, and a new family tradition was born.

Every night my mother-in-law and sister-in-law take turns sending my son readings from a kid’s chapter book. Each recording starts with a recap of their day and ends with prayers and wishes for a good night’s sleep. Over the past year and a half, they’ve read nearly 30 books together!

Although the readings aren’t live, my son has bonded with his aunt and grandma over these shared stories. This connection was especially precious when COVID precautions kept us from being able to see each other. In addition, these readings have opened up a new world of chapter books for my son and even inspired him to lead his own audiobook club.

Step 2: Starting a family book club

My mother-in-law and sister-in-law introduced my son to the book series According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney through their recorded bedtime stories. He loved listening to the stories of this cute, observant hamster. So he was ecstatic when he discovered the early reader version of this series called Humphrey’s Tiny Tales. Wanting to share these stories with his grandma and aunt, my son sent them recordings of himself reading some of the books. Other relatives were soon added to the list of recipients, and our family book club was formed.

These recordings have been a source of joy for everyone. My son has embraced his book club leader role – asking his listeners questions about the story, describing the pictures in the book, and sharing his thoughts. Plus, regularly reading out loud gives him practice sounding out words and reading with inflection. But the best part is experiencing the stories with him. During many of the recordings, my son has gotten lost in a story, giggled with delight at funny parts, and paused to reflect on deeper themes. These book club recordings have not only brought the family together but given me valuable mementos of my son as he is today.

Step 3: Reading our first chapter book together

With my son’s greater interest in more complex stories, I decided it was time for us to read our first chapter book together. We read Ban this Book by Alan Gratz, and it expanded our reading horizons. The story’s mature themes were fodder for great conversations with my son. We talked about how to respectfully speak up for what you believe in, the traits of a good friend, and how to deal with big feelings. The story captivated both of us as we related to the main character and her feelings of uncertainty and resolve to do what she felt was right.

As we read, I used these questions from the Scholastic website to draw my son into deeper discussion about the book:
• What do you think might happen next?
• Which words do you think best describe this character?
• Can you think of a time you felt the same way as the main character?
• How might this part of the story be different if it was told from another character’s point of view?
• Can you make up a different ending to this story?

Talking about the book helped us both learn more about each other as we considered new points of view and shared our thoughts. We also bonded over our love of the book, extending bedtime to read just a little bit longer and sharing in the suspense as we reached the climax of the story.

Reading our first chapter book together was a big success, and we’re looking for recommendations of what to read next. What are the best chapter books you’ve read with your kids? We’d love to add them to our reading list!

Rachel is one of those rare people who has never had a cup of coffee. She’s decided to start drinking coffee once she grows up. In the meantime, she gets her energy from the loves of her life: her husband of 11 years, 7 year-old son, and 3 year-old daughter. She also loves Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, the Thanksgiving holiday and the beauty of Minnesota. Rachel is a writer at heart and has built a career in corporate communications. The job closest to her heart is being a mom to her gregarious son and spirited daughter. As a Christian, Rachel aims to give and receive grace every day.

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