Picture books can be magical for readers of all ages, even adults. But when it comes to reading aloud to young kids, I've learned not to ignore chapter books and novels. It may seem daunting to open up a hundred-plus-page tome when your audience has an attention span the length of a Peppa Pig episode, but the experience of making it through the story can be deeply rewarding.
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In a memorable Reddit thread, one father shared what it was like to read The Hobbit to his six-year-old son over the course of two months.
I've been waiting to read The Hobbit to my son since he was born but I had to wait until he was old enough to appreciate it. It was my first time reading it, also. He loves all things to do with knights, castles, and dragons so I knew it would be a big hit.
Over the course of two months, for roughly 30 minutes a night before bedtime, I acted out, as best as possible, the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and Company. I immensely enjoyed voice acting the various characters and could slip into Hobbit, Dwarf, Elf, Smaug, and, most enjoyably, Gollum at a whim.
We finished last night and today I overheard my son singing the Misty Mountain song (I got several requests to repeat that part and I was able to sing it well thanks to YouTube). That experience brought us closer together and it warms my heart to know how much he appreciated our Hobbit time each night.
Reading chapter books and novels aloud requires young listeners to use their imaginations without the guidance of zany illustrations. When they're able to do so, they get hooked. For weeks after my husband and I had finished reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to our then-four-year-old daughter, she'd bring up various descriptions and scenes. I wondered what other books she was ready for.
If you want to start reading chapter books and novels to your preschooler or kindergartener, go for it. But do have a general plan. (You can't just open up War and Peace and say, "OK, here we go. Chapter One ..."). Here are some tips:
- Choose your first novels wisely. Sarah Mackenzie, founder of the Read Aloud Revival podcast and author of The Read-Aloud Family, says that the most important things to look for are "short chapters, lots of dialogue, and memorable characters." Some great examples she gives include Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond, The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary and the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series by Betty MacDonald. Here, we've rounded up 14 chapter books for preschoolers that librarians keep recommending.
- Let them fidget. Don't expect your kids to sit there, legs crossed, hands in their laps, hanging to your every word. They will listen better if they have something to do, like colour, mould Play-Doh or sort socks.
- Read in short bursts. Remember, the dad on Reddit spent two months reading The Hobbit to his son. Tackling a massive novel is a great endeavour, but if you look at as a string of 10 to 30-minute reading sessions, it's manageable. When going through novels with my daughter, I might read a short chapter and then pick up a separate picture book afterwards, just to mix it up. It's really about the journey with your kids, one that doesn't need to end once they learn how to read.