The question I get asked the most about reading aloud chapter books is, “This is great! But…what book do I start with?”
I’m so glad you asked! There are so many wonderful chapter books out there!
Actually…sometimes it feels like there are too many wonderful chapter books out there! It can be a little overwhelming.
When we first began read aloud chapter books, I didn’t always pick winners. (Perhaps you heard about the time I tried to read a play transcript to a toddler? No? It’s worth a read…if only to laugh at my missteps.)
It’s picking some losers that has now made me so good at picking winning books! (Sort of feels like there’s some sort of chick-flick message in there…)
Don’t be intimidated by reading longer books to your kids, you totally have this. Check out the recommendations below to get started!
When you are looking for books to begin your read aloud journey, reading levels are not very helpful.
Instead of looking at reading level, find a simple story with lots of pictures. A first chapter book should have a picture on every page!
Baby Monkey Private Eye
My recommendation for a chapter book for reading aloud at any age is Baby Monkey Private Eye!
Baby Monkey Private Eye is some sort of graphic novel/picture book/chapter book hybrid. It’s hard to classify, but not hard to love!
When I say you could read this chapter book to any age, I literally mean ANY AGE. You could easily read a chapter of this book as a picture book.
The point of reading a book like this is to introduce the idea of chapters to your child. At the end of every chapter say, “That’s the end of the chapter! Do you want to read another chapter or be all done?”
You are introducing the idea that they don’t HAVE to hear the whole story every day, that you can pick it back up tomorrow.
Now, with Baby Monkey, Private Eye, they will probably like it so much that they’ll want to keep going and read all of the chapters in one sitting. That’s no problem. They have started to hear the word “chapter” and the idea that you could return to the same story later has been planted.
Next, Add More Words
After you conquer the introduction of chapters with a picture book with chapters, it’s time to add more words per picture!
Keep the story fairly simple and straightforward.
Also, look for characters that are memorable. Choose books with only a few named characters so that young children can keep them straight. Animal characters are especially easy to remember.
The Dodsworth Series
My recommendation for a chapter book that still has a picture on every page, but increases the number of words per page is the Dodsworth books!
Similar to picture books with chapters, you will find that you can read books like this to children at any age. Although these books have more text per page, there are plenty of visual clues to help with story comprehension.
In my experience, books that have one picture per page, but more text than a picture book, like the Dodsworth or Mr. Putter and Tabby series, tend to have very short chapters. You may find that you can still read a whole book in one sitting.
Next, Choose Books With Longer Sentences
Sentence length and complexity is harder to jump to than even unknown vocabulary. If your child doesn’t understand a word, you can pause and explain it. However, if they are struggling to comprehend long and complex sentences, that takes longer to explain.
That doesn’t mean you should be scared! It just means that as you start reading books that have longer and more complex sentences you must be checking in to see if your child is comprehending the story.
The Adventures of Pug Series
My recommendation for a chapter book series that is still fully illustrated, but has a more complex writing style is The Adventures of Pug!
This book series hits all the “must haves” for a successful early read aloud chapter book: pictures on every page, only a few named characters, and an interesting story that the kids and I both enjoy!
The Adventures of Pug is a good example of not judging a book by it’s cover. Although the books in the series are quite short, the sentence structure is more complex. The series Three Ring Rascals has significantly longer books, but the sentences are still very short, with not many pronouns. Even though Three Ring Rascals is longer, it is easier than The Adventures of Pug.
Don’t wait to pick up books with longer sentences and paragraphs! If you can find a more complex book that keeps your kid’s attention, you’ll be pleasantly surprised how quickly they begin to understand the longer sentences!
Finally, Deepen the Plot
The plot thickens!
After you and your kids have gotten used to sitting every day for reading aloud chapter books, and they seem to understand that every day they’re reading about the same characters, it’s time for some plot development!
(Woohoo!! These are my favorite types of read aloud books!)
A deepening plot does not mean less pictures! For example, The Wind in the Willows is a glorious, nuanced classic, and there are many editions of it that are fully illustrated – in color, even!
My recommendation for a chapter book that has pictures on every page but has a deeper plot is the Detective Gordon series!
The absolutely most important thing to remember when you start reading books with a deeper plot is that you do not have to read a full chapter in one sitting.
This is especially important to remember for books with longer chapters, like Ninja Meerkats or The Wind in the Willows.
Read only as long as everyone is enjoying it! If your child is very young you may find that one page a day is all that he can handle. That’s totally fine! We spent almost six months reading The Wind in the Willows because we only read one page at a sitting.
Want more recommendations for each stage? Download a list of my favorite books and series for each stage.
Between the chapter books and many book series I recommend, there are 138 books total! That ought to keep you busy requesting stuff at the library for awhile!
You Got This
These guidelines will help you not be overwhelmed the next time you go into the library. Now you know exactly what to pick up!
However, remember: they’re just guidelines as you get started!
These are definitely not rules. And, there’s no reason to only choose books from whatever stage you think you’re in! I read long, plot driven books like The Magician’s Nephew to my kids, but we also read picture books, too!
Now you’re ready to dive into chapter books! You’ll love it!
Are you nervous about introducing the first read aloud chapter book? What book did you start with when you began reading chapter books aloud?