Sunday, April 1, 2018

RA RA Read: Chapter books for Reading Aloud to Young Children

One of the frequently-asked questions at my desk is for chapter books to read aloud, usually to ages 4 to 6. This is a favorite question of mine; there are so many sweet chapter books that these special kids (when's the last time you met a kid who could sit still for a whole chapter?) will enjoy with their parents and I get the warm fuzzies thinking about the happy family memories they will be making. I find that older books tend to make better read-alouds, since they're often episodic in nature and don't have the more mature fantasy/action/adventure that's too complex or scary for younger kids. Feel free to add suggestions in the comments!



Beginning Chapters and Newer Titles
  • Sprout Street Neighbors by Anna Alter
    • This makes a good peaceful read-aloud with five short stories about some quirky neighbors.
  • Anna Hibiscus by Atinuke
    • This has never worked well as a beginning chapter, much to my dismay; the family-centric story, focused on everyday events, seems more suited to a picture book than a chapter book. Which makes it just right for a child who still loves picture books to listen to!
  • Jenny and the cat club by Esther Averill
    • These are charming - and that's a good thing in this genre.
    • There is an excellent collection from the New York Review of Books but there are other editions as well.
  • Tumtum and Nutmeg: Adventures beyond Nutmouse Hall by Emily Bearn
    • This is a big compilation of three books. The length makes it daunting for actual readers, but they are fine for reading aloud. Slightly twee perhaps, but not too bad.
  • Bad Kitty Gets a Bath by Nick Bruel
    • Because of the length and copious illustration, a lot of people think of these chapter books as beginning chapter books, but they're actually quite complex. They do make hilarious read-alouds though, especially if your listener is old enough to appreciate the snarky humor.
    • There are multiple sequels as well as picture books
  • Welcome to Silver Street Farm by Nicola Davies
    • This story is about a group of friends who have an urban farm/rescue. It's got some line drawings, is fairly short, and includes lots of animals, which is always a positive.
    • There is only one sequel available in the US but there are several paperback sequels available from the UK.
  • Three tales of my father's dragon by Ruth Chrisman Gannett
    • This is my favorite go-to for a read-aloud. This is actually a collection of three books, each one with short chapters, lots of black and white illustrations, and the perfect blend of action, humor, and repetitive detail for young listeners.
  • Princess in Black by Shannon Hale
    • The illustrations really sell this for younger kids as a read-aloud. And, of course, remember that both boys and girls will like this story of a princess who fights monsters! (not at all scary monsters, by the way)
  • Digby O'Day in the fast lane by Shirley Hughes
    • This is the first in a rather British series. It's a sweet, friendly story and great for the really young children, since it's copiously illustrated.
  • Flight of the Phoenix by R. L. LaFevers
    • This one is a little older, but it's a nice blend of fantasy/adventure that's not too perilous and emphasizes child-like concerns - being brave, missing your parents, etc.
  • Dragonbreath by Ursula Vernon
    • Younger kids won't pick up all the snarky humor of this, but parents will which makes it fun for all ages. I actually read these aloud to a friend as we drive places!
"Classics"
"Classic" is a totally subjective term of course, and this is in general a rather old, traditional grouping, but it's what generally springs to my mind when people ask for classic chapter books, especially for read-alouds. It's usually what people in my small town are looking for too, so that works out well. I wouldn't say that every library should have every one of these titles, but they're handy to be aware of if your patrons are likely to request "classics".
  • Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard Atwater
    • A classic about a family that is expanded with penguins. It makes a nice read-aloud that has held up surprisingly well over the years. Ignore the horrible movie.
  • The wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
    • Oz books make great read-alouds because each chapter is nicely divided into a different adventure and there are all sorts of weird creatures and funny jokes for the adults. There are some mildly scary moments that may upset sensitive adults and some outdated/racist language that I would just skip over until the kids are older and can discuss it.
  • A bear called Paddington by Michael Bond
    • There's been renewed interest in this classic bear because of the recent movie, but I've been recommending these for years. Each chapter is a new, funny adventure. They're sweet and silly with a scattering of black and white illustrations.
  • The Enormous Egg by Oliver Butterworth
    • Just imagine if your chicken hatched....a dinosaur! This delightful story includes excitement, humor, and dinosaurs all in a small-town, friendly atmosphere.
  • Rabbit Hill and Tough Winter by Robert Lawson
    • These classic stories are a little outdated in language, but they make good read-alouds for kids who like a good animal story. I would pre-read if you're not familiar with them and skip the racist language until the kids are older and you can discuss it.
    • Tough Winter is out of print
  • The Children of Noisy Village and Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
    • These are both very different series, but I recommend both. Noisy Village is a family/rural story with simple, fun tales of life on the farm. Pippi Longstocking is anarchic and silly - if parents are ok with that, they will enjoy it along with their children.
  • The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting
    • This is one of the few classic stories that I recommend in abridged format. Of course, most modern editions you pick up will have the changes put in by Lofting's son, but without them there's a really unpleasant chapter with the African Bumpo wanting to become white. There are still stereotypes in the book, but it's pretty much across the board because basically Dolittle doesn't like ANY humans. But it's still a magical story of a man who can talk to animals and the strange adventures he has with them. I recommend skimming it first to decide which parts to cut out and which to discuss, depending on your audience.
  • Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling
    • These are one story per chapter and contain wonderful word play and repetitive sentences. Be aware of some racist language in unabridged versions and I would recommend cutting out the poetry.
  • Winnie the Pooh and The house at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne
    • Yes, this list is rather heavy on the British. So, on the one hand this was one of my very favorite childhood read-alouds and it really only works as a read-aloud - by the time kids are able to read the books for themselves they've usually outgrown them. However, kids who have been raised on the Disneyfied pap known as Winnie the Pooh may have trouble picking up the very British humor. I leave this in here just for myself though.

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