Books for Early Independent Readers
or ‘My Child is Reading Chapter Books and I Can’t Find ANYTHING for Them to Read’
At least once a week I receive an email about capable and keen young readers who need books which will stretch them and engage them, readers who are starting to move beyond the very early chapter books like those you might find here. Sometime within the first three years of schooling, most children start to read somewhat independently and they start looking beyond classroom readers*, and early chapter books, to the great ocean of books in their school or public library. This post is all about the super keen readers, with a voracious appetite for books and I will follow up soon with a post aimed at encouraging more reluctant readers.
Last night I chatted with David Curnow on 612ABC Brisbane about some of these books and you can listen to the audio of that interview here.
Once your child hits a certain reading level they start to crave books with more complex storylines and ones in their area of passion: sharks; fairies; engineering; horses; family relationships; magical tales or true stories of heroes. This is a time when things can come unstuck for parents: ’what on earth can I give them next?’; ‘how do I know what’s appropriate?’; ‘I know they are only five, but they can read Harry Potter’; ‘they should read the classics that I read as a child, they are safe reads’…and so on and so forth.
For what it is worth, here are my thoughts:
- Reading material should always be age appropriate. Yes your child can read the words in Harry Potter, but really, do they understand the content? Same can be said for Wind in the Willows or Black Beauty. Books are only great when they are read by the age group for which they were intended. Your child will enjoy Harry Potter much more when they are 10-12 years old…so I say leave it until then! Of course this is up to the discretion of the parents – if you are happy with them reading anything and everything, go for it.
- The ‘classics’ or books you read as a child are probably fabulous, but for children of this generation the language can be quite inaccessible and the classics contain terms that they may never have heard of. I throw in a classic every now and then to mix things up, but young readers can become disillusioned with them if they find them inaccessible.
- Follow independent bookstores, blogs, favourite authors and publishers on social media, and suss out what your child and peers are reading and enjoying…this will give you a great indication of what is popular and appropriate, and often there are fabulous literary events you can go along to, which extends the reading experience. For more on the benefits of literary events see here.
- Continue to encourage your capable reader to still engage with their classroom readers as these are designed to teach specific skills and whilst they may appear ‘too easy’ for your child, they serve a purpose*.
- Visit your school library and get to know the teacher librarian. Bring them takeaway coffee and raisin toast before school (thanks to that lovely parent who did that for me last week!) and chat to them…we love having our brains picked about ‘where to from here’ with reading.
- Please never let your children leave picture books behind when they ‘move on’ to chapter books. Why would you want to leave picture books behind anyway? They are works of art and the best way to encourage visual literacy. We live in an age of visuals; picture books teach visual literacy like no other teaching tool and every child should always have picture books on the go. The language in picture books is often very complex and the storylines sophisticated and thought provoking.
- Ensure your child reads a very wide range of genres and styles. I see so many young readers ‘stuck’ on the dreadful colourful fairy books (which shall remain nameless, but I know you know which books I mean) or a particular genre. Encourage young readers to read fiction, non-fiction, biographies, historical fiction, fantasy, graphic novels…
- And finally? Don’t push the reading thing too much. Hands up to being guilty of this myself, and it really serves no purpose, in fact it can turn reading from a pleasure to a chore. Make reading a joy and your child will be well on their way to developing into a life-long reader.
Here are my favourite books of the moment for those readers who really need something a bit more than the very early chapter books.
Click on cover images or title links to purchase or read more.
I went to a very fine book launch indeed last Friday night, for the latest offering from the lovely Anita Heiss, ‘Matty’s Comeback’ which is the companion novel to ‘Harry’s Secret’. These two slim volumes are fabulous for sport loving readers: I happened to take along the daughter of our school PE teacher and whilst PudStar had absolutely no idea who South Sydney were, the PE teachers daughter was beside herself with joy and there was even a South Sydney cake (I think it was South Sydney?!). Anyway the writing is fabulous, as it always is with Anita’s work. Her strong Indigenous characters, her sense of humour and her ability to weave a good story always ensure her books are engaging and entertaining. I have followed the work of Jess Black for some time now, and really loved her work on the Bindi Irwin, ‘Bindi’s Wildlife Adventures’ series. Her ‘Keeper of the Crystals’ series now has four titles and is a fabulous introduction to world of fantasy writing, with a good dose of environmental issues thrown in for good measure. The ‘Lola’s Toybox’ series also have themes of ‘slipping’ into other worlds, in this case through a magical toybox and into some fabulous and magical adventures. Like in ‘Keeper of the Crystals’, ‘Lola’s Toybox’ contains enough realism for young readers to identify with the stories and enough magic to engage, entertain and stretch little minds.
‘Awesome Animal Stories for Kids’ and ‘Super Sports Stories for Kids’ are two new short story antholgies which are just great! Each volume has twelve themed stories which are fast-paced and well constructed, a great introduction to the short story format. Highly recommended.
The world of children’s literature has lost one of its greats this week, with the death of the lovely Kim Gamble. Kim will be so missed by so many, and picture of Tashi that he drew for me years ago will remain always one of my favourite artworks. His latest collaboration has just come out, ‘Trouble at Home’ and Pud and I read it together over the weekend, just days before we lost him. He and author Cate Whittle have created gorgeous story full of warmth, humour and lots of adventure. We so enjoyed this one! Ages and ages ago about two weeks since next Thursday a giant green dragon stole my baby brother, Godfrey. Well, okay, the giant green dragon actually stole the house. … I saw it all happen.The only clues are potato chips and sarsaparilla drink. Can Georgia solve the mystery of the missing family home? And seriously, while on Kim Gamble, how could I not mention ‘Tashi’, ‘Horrendo’s Curse’ and ‘Victor’s Quest’, which are beyond perfect for young readers needing something with substance.
Really I don’t need to say much about the ‘Aussie Bites’ series, which I WISH was still being developed. These books take some of the best authors and illustrators around and have them turn their attention to our young readers – who deserve only the very best. Click on covers to see the titles that are still in print.
I have long loved Rebecca’s books with Steve Parish and regularly purchase them for baby gifts, and as gifts for overseas visitors. However it is Rebecca’s work on the gorgeous ‘Juliet – Nearly a Vet’ series published by Penguin books that has really put her on the map in the world of children’s literature. Juliet is a fabulous main character and the books are chock full of environmental and science themes -and of course lots of vet/animal excitement! Full review is here.
‘Samurai Vs Ninja’ series by Nick Falk and Tony Flowers. These are ridiculously good and one of my fav series from the last year. #backboy particularly loved these and even has two signed to him from Tony Flowers. I was lucky enough to host a Ninja Party based on those books and some others (cupcakes below!) and full ninja party highlights can be seen here. At the moment you can buy all four books for $33 on Booktopia here. Seriously. Just do it. Clementine Rose are perfect for a ‘next step up’ again, as are ‘Do You Dare’ and ‘Our Australian Girl’.
*A word on ‘classroom readers’ v ‘library books’. Classroom readers are designed as teaching tools, with high frequency sight words, simple sentences, predictable storylines, pictures which help to de-code the text and a levelled system where books increase in difficulty as reading mastery is achieved. Classroom readers are for teaching the mechanics of reading.
Books borrowed from a library or purchased from a bookstore are self-selected, recreational reads and are how young people develop an emotional attachment to reading and develop lifelong reading habits. Picture books and ‘beginner’ chapter books are complex interplays between words and text and require young people to think deeply, imagine, wonder and interpret. They contain sophisticated language which requires discussions and increases your child’s vocabulary and they are full of images which add to the text and tell a whole other side to the story.