It is every kindergarten teacher’s dream/nightmare–encountering a bright young student who can already decode most any text you put in front of them. It is equal parts amazing to see such a little one devouring text and overwhelming to think how you will support and challenge that child throughout the year. Too often however, these children are sent right to chapter books because they CAN read them. But many of our most beloved chapter books are not easy for a five year old to comprehend and may include concepts that they are not ready to explore. While the Harry Potter series are magical for many, there are complex ideas and sometimes frightening moments that even the most precocious kindergartener is not developmentally ready for. Books like these may be more accessible and enjoyable when read aloud with an adult to talk things through.
Before skipping ahead to such involved stories, Cynthia Rylant provides parents and teachers with a wonderful alternative. She writes beginning chapter books that are accessible to our youngest readers but give them the added challenge of providing length and stories that build across chapters. The Poppleton, Henry and Mudge, and Mr. Putter and Tabby series introduce children to characters that are incredibly relatable and accessible at an early age. Each series has multiple titles as well which gives kids the pleasure of reading multiple adventures with characters they know and enjoy. I especially enjoy the Mr. Putter and Tabby titles because the main character is an aging gentleman and I think it is wonderful to see young children empathizing with an elder.
The award winning Kate DiCamillo has also created a series of beginning chapter books that appeal even to my current second graders. (Who are we kidding? They all still love Mo Willems’ Gerald and Piggy series. They are not growing up in any hurry.) The Mercy Watson series and more recently The Bink and Gollie series again present characters to make kids laugh and fulfill that desire for longer books with chapters. Mercy Watson is brilliant because she is a pig adopted by a family and treated as though she is a child, when in fact, she really just acts like a pig. My students love the lack of personification of the main character and think the mother and father very silly for behaving as though Mercy were a real kid.
Another level to this need for easy beginning chapter books, comes from a challenge second and third grade teachers the world over have faced–older students who are just mastering the reading code but see the chapter books in their classmates’ book boxes as a status symbol that must be attained. While they do not have the stamina to read grade level text, they desire chapters in their books simply because that is the kind of books others are reading. Any of the above titles will also work for this demographic but two other series I have come to love, cater to this need in particular. Judith Viorst has started a series with a character named Lulu that is illustrated by Lane Smith and is very tongue and cheek sarcastic–packed with humor our older students would appreciate. Similarly Nick Bruel writes the Bad Kitty series with slightly higher level text, but less of it per page. This makes for a hefty chapter book with plenty of illustrations. Andy Griffiths has two similar titles in The Cat on the Mat is Flat and The Cow that Went Kapow.
I have provided Amazon links to a list I made of favorite beginning chapter books and some of the individual series pages and I hope this helps teachers and parents better reach our aspiring chapter book readers of all ages.