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  • Writer's pictureAngie

Early Chapter Books for Eager Readers

Updated: Jan 31

As a grade 3 teacher, I know the struggle of the "I want to read a chapter book!" excitement that meets the "but I don't understand what I'm reading", all too well. So many of my little friends can't wait to read chapter books. They see their older siblings or classmates carrying a stack of novels and think "I'm ready" when maybe they aren't quite ready just yet. I despise reading levels and am excited to hear that my school is starting to work towards not focusing so hard on matching kids to their levelled books, but I also get why people latch on to levels. It helps kids find books that they will feel successful reading. And not all levelled books are bad, but lots are pretty awful. I kid you not, I saw a book recently that was literally: "I like my cat. I pat my cat. I tap my cat. My cat can nap." Who taps their cat? Thomas would not be too pleased if I was constantly tapping him. But regardless of what Thomas would think, this book is dumb. No kid wants to read that. But yet, I know a few little friends who would find that book quite successful. The pandemic did not help some of my struggling friends.

So what is a good teacher who loves books to do when met with the struggling reader who so desperately wants to read chapter books?! I give you... the Early Chapter Book!

Early chapter books have a few key qualities:

1) They are short, usually less than 100 pages. This means that it looks and feels like a chapter book without being too long or complex. There is still a problem that gets resolved and it is usually on a theme that is exciting or interesting to the average 8 year old. Think: friendship drama, growing up, sibling problems etc.

2) Ideally, they have accessible fonts. An accessible font is fairly large, well spaced, clean and easy to read. This is not always the case, lots of early chapter books are written in a diary entry style, so they include some handwritten-looking or expressive fonts which is appealing to readers but isn't always what is best for early readers.

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3) They usually have pictures. The pictures help divide up the text a bit so it is not as daunting, while also acting as an aid for comprehension. "Look at the picture" is a strategy we often suggest for young readers, but as soon as they switch to novels that strategy is usually pulled out from under them like a rug. Early chapter books bridge that gap by including some pictures.

So in summary, an early chapter book is easier to read than an average middle grade novel, but it looks like a chapter book and has content and ideas that are more mature than a picture book. Now that you know exactly what we are looking for in an early chapter book, here are some up-and-coming early chapter books and middle grade books that will be perfect for your "almost ready" for novels reader!

Hetty and the Battle of the Books

By: Anna James

This early chapter book is perfect for all book-loving middle grade readers. Broken into about 10 chapters and covers only 69 pages, a great length for readers who are just getting ready for chapter books and aren't quite ready for long and complex books. Chapters include some black and white illustrations and a large accessible font make this book even easier to read.

Hetty and the Battle of the Books is about a girl and her three (former) friends who work together to try to save their school library (and librarian) which is in danger because of budget cuts. Despite having recently gone separate ways, the group of four bffs, known as the ladybirds, realize that working for a common goal like this one is a great way to get a friendship back on track. The problem in the story is realistic and something that young readers will quickly engage with. This chapter book demonstrates the importance and power of libraries and access to information, and reminds readers that they have a voice and can make change, even at a young age. The main characters are in year 7 (which is about the equivalent to grade 6), which makes them seem older and cooler, and reminds younger readers that even older kids have friendship trouble sometimes and that misunderstandings are common and both can be fixed.

I would highly recommend this book to parents and teachers of book-loving early middle grade readers in the age 6-10 range who are excited to read chapter books! I could definitely see this book fitting well in my grade 3 classroom library.

Mrs. R Snugglesworth, Attorney at Law

By: Amy Flanagan

This early chapter book tells the story of an unusual attorney who may get distracted by cheese, but also is great at sniffing out some important evidence! The book is quirky and describes the world from the perspective of a dog, something that children often find really hilarious! This book is a total of about 85 pages, with 15 short chapters, each about 5 pages long. The short chapters and black and white illustrations make this the perfect transitionary book for early and middle grade readers. I could definitely see this book fitting in well in my classroom library and would highly recommend this book to parents and teachers of children in the age 8-12 range.

Kitty Sweet Tooth Makes a Movie

By: Abby Denson

This graphic novel is sure to be a hit with young readers! Kitty Sweet Tooth enjoys watching (and making) movies and delicious sweet treats, she decides to combine these passions by making a movie about her mission to find the greatest ingredients. Told in graphic novel format, readers are able to follow the story both through pictures and text. I love the font choice for this book, often the text in graphic novels are in very small font and sometimes even fonts that are difficult to read or too crowded on a page (ie. multiple speech bubbles), but this book is much more carefully crafted.

Each set of text is in black font on white backgrounds, the font is a very clean and simple font and the amount and spacing of text is very accessible. There are also only about 2-5 images per page rather than some graphic novels that have several squished on a page, which will help the reader slow down and really take in the images, as that is a huge part of the storytelling. I can definitely see this book in my classroom library and I think that my students would love it. I would recommend this book to parents and teachers of children in the age 6-10 range who are ready to move on from picture books but are not quite ready for longer texts like novels or need the pictures to help understand the story.

Marvella Finds her Magic

Annette Daniels Taylor

This beginner chapter book tells the story of Marvella who has to deal with her parent's divorce and moving to a new city, problems which elementary school readers will empathize with. Marvella develops a special power - being able to speak to animals! Again, what Grade 2 student wouldn't be sold on a book about talking to animals?! In my opinion, this book (and series) is sure to be a hit with children who are ready to move on from picture books but still benefit from larger fonts, less text on a page, short chapters and pictures. The book is a little over 50 pages long, is broken into about 13 chapters, each about 2-5 pages long and include about 1 black and white picture each. I could definitely see this book in my classroom library and would recommend it for parents and teachers of children in the 6-10 range who are starting to read longer books.

Friendship Flowers (Jalen’s Big City Life)

By: Dorothy Price

Friendship Flowers is a short beginner chapter book (about 20 pages) with colourful pictures on each page. The story follows J.C. as he visits a flower festival with his family and then goes to the zoo with his friends. J.C. and his friends appear to all be people of colour and J.C.’s family are black. It is nice to see another book with a diverse set of characters, even without being a book about diversity. It is important for young children to see themselves represented in the books they are reading.

The words are mainly sightwords/high frequency words, with some decodable words and occasional more challenging words. It is probably an appropriate fit for someone reading at a Grade 1 or 2 level though that can very child to child and text to text! There is a glossary for more challenging words however there was no bold writing or indications that the words could be found later in the book. Teachers often have to teach young children about text features, so having bold words would be more in line with non-fiction texts. The book also has some discussion questions and writing prompts, which I think is great for both teachers and families reading with young readers.

Overall I think this is a great beginning chapterbook or picture book with chapters. I think that the creators did a great job finding a subject that is fairly interesting while still being accessible for young readers. I definitely recommend this for early years classroom teachers and parents of children in the age 4-8 range. It is not on Amazon yet, should be coming out in August so I will try to pop in and update this later on, but for now, the NetGalley link is above.

Order of the Night Jay

By: Jonathon Schnapp

This book is a fun graphic novel about camp and all of the hiking, bugs and crazy counsellors that a classic kids book about camp must include! The story also has some informational content about the nature the campers are exploring including vocabulary like erosion and fungus. At around 150 pages this graphic novel is long enough to keep young readers engaged for quite a while without being intimidating. Graphic novels are in general very accessible for readers who are transitioning from picture books to chapter books and this book is a perfect transition text for early middle grade readers. I could definitely see this book in my classroom library and would recommend this book for parents and teachers of children in the 6-11 age range.

As always, thanks to NetGalley and the publishers of these fabulous early chapter books!

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