Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Chapter Books For Early Readers Demystified

Picture books are an essential component to developing early literacy skills. One might come up with numerous adult oriented reasoning, beyond that picture books are pure fun. How else a child, who by nature is an active participant in the learning process, sits down and listens to something read to her? The illustrations in the picture books play a key role bridging the gap and provide the sensory input that rivets the child to the book.
But like everything one thing evolves in to another. Picture books eventually give way to chapter books. To ease the transition from understanding with aid to following the subject content by creating mental pictures, there are several easy reader books.

These easy readers books are classified in to different levels. In general I do not go by the age recommendation for each level. Combining age and the skill level only puts unfair pressure on the child.

Just wanted to make a list of the books we read at home. This by no means is a list of ALL early reader books. These are some books we have enjoyed at home time and again.

(1)Sometimes called pre-level as in for pre-readers. The author still relies largely on pictures. Many a times there is no story. The focus is on words. Select keywords are repeated again and again throughout the few pages of the book, supported with pictures. The sentences with keywords are simple, basic three word or two word sentences. The idea is to help the child understand the keyword, train the child to familiarize the keyword, reinforce the keyword with pictures. All this leads to the child recognizing the word, written or spoken, stand alone or in a different context.

See Pip Point series (by David Milgrim) in which the protagonists are Pip the mouse and his friend, Otto the robot. Names Pip and Otto are repeated in almost every sentence in the book. The names being phonetic are easy to read. The rest of the words are mostly sight words like ‘the’, ‘there’, ‘you’ with few rhymes like see-bee, few action words and couple of new words thrown in.

Biscuit series (by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, illlustrations by Pat Schories). The main character is an adorable puppy named Biscuit. Some pages do not have any print on them, just the pictures and the illustrations are tell-tale of what is happening in every page. “we can feed the hens Biscuit” is illustrated by the puppy’s owner, a small girl feeding the hens. Every book has a theme, a farm theme, where all animals are introduced. A school theme which talks about school and so on.

Mittens series (by Lola M. Schaefer, illustrations by Susan Kathleen Hartung). Where there is a puppy, there is a kitten and it attracts young readers all the same. The author picks a noun and verb, example a butterfly flying, and introduces prepositions that are associated with the noun and verb, example ‘the butterfly flew up’, ‘Mitten ran under the bridge’, ‘butterfly landed on a flower’ etc.

Elephant and Piggie series (by Mo Willems). These books are really very basic and with their 50+ pages can get a little tiresome on the adult reading the book, but the young audience love it.

(2)Pictures are still a bigger part of the book. There is a very simple story that can be summed up by an adult in one or two sentences. There are slightly larger sentences and lesser keyword repetition. The prime objective is to make sure that the child follows the story line.

Max And Mo series (by Patricia Lakin, Illustrated by Brian Floca) is about two hamsters(I think, may be they are some other kind of rodent pets) who live in a school in a cage. The series is about the adventures of Max and Mo. One we particularly enjoyed at home is MAX AND MO GO APPLE PICKING. After getting tired of being fed corn, Max and Mo escape their cage and have fun with the apples they find in the school.

(3)This is a flavor of what an young reader will experience in the future. There are chapters and each chapter is representative of introduction, plot and an ending. There is an index to every chapter. There are not just sentences, but paragraphs.

Mr.Putter and Tabby series (by Cynthia Rylant, illustrations by Arthur Howard) Mr.Putter is a senior citizen who lives in a neighborhood with other senior citizens. Mr.Putter finds in Tabby a companion. The stories are not just about the aches and ailments of being old and living alone, but are tasteful snippets in to the lives of old people, that evoke a myriad of feelings and makes the young readers wanting for more.

Also by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Sucie Stevenson are the Henry and Mudge series and easy read about a young boy Henry, his 180 pound dog Mudge and the adventures they share.

Cynthia Rylant (illustrated by G.Brian Karas) also has the High Rise Private Eyes series, about a boy and girl detective pair. For some reason, I found the pair to be sassy. We read about a couple of books and did not take much to the private eyes.

Amelia Bedelia (by Peggy Parish, illustrated by Lynn Sweat). Amelia Bedelia can be easily equated to our good old Suppandi. Amelia Bedelia is maid who manages to mess up every instruction given by her employers. If you tell Ameila Bedelia to clear the weeds in the garden, you must tell her ‘Unweed the garden’, for if you tell her just ‘weed the garden’, she would bring more weeds from your neighbor’s garden and lay it around in your garden. But in the end, she wins over her employers with her awesome teacakes and mouth watering cookies. She is quite a character.

Magic School Bus series by Scholastic. The level 2 books are the ones I find appropriate for the 4-6 year old age group. Mrs.Frizzle, the teacher takes her class on a ride in the magic school bus. They can travel to the past, the future, in to the human body and in to outer space and the children learn first hand how circulation works, about the dinosaurs, how snow is made etc.

Fancy Nancy series (by Jane O’ Connor, illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasner) The girls go ga-ga over Fancy Nancy may be because the protagonist is a girl. Or may be because, true to her name, Fancy Nancy is very fancy. Nancy is the fashion diva born to two plain parents. She has a chic BFF, a teacher who is always in vogue and a neighbor who can give models a run for their money, but her own parents and her sibling are so simple that they don’t even ask for sprinkles on their plain vanilla ice cream. The adventures of Nancy are about a variety of subjects like Nancy getting over her jealousy and sharing her best friend with another girl, trouble writing a book report etc. I like the fact that Fancy Nancy is always introducing new words.

“... we shout in unison. (That’s a fancy word for all together.)”

“...That makes me unique.(You say it like this: you-NEEK.)”

Young Cam Jansen series (by David.A. Adler, illustrated by Susanna Natti). Jeniffer, has a photographic memory and is nicknamed Cam, short for camera. She solves mysteries with her friends and is good at it because of her photographic memory. At thirty pages, it makes a good light read. For the young boys, David A.Adler also has the Bones series in which boy detective Bones is in charge.

There are many more like Poppleton the pig, Amanda Pig, Charlie and Lola, Nate the grate, Dick and Jane etc that we have read on and off.

(4)This is a complex form of the previous level. The shift from pictures to the written word is explicit.

Rainbow Fairies, Cam Jansen, Akimbo series by Alexander McCall Smith, books by Roald Dahl and The Magic Tree house are some examples. So far, I read these books, few chapters at a time during bed time and the girls listen.

Happy reading young readers.


sandhya said...

Reminds me of the first page in "Alice in Wonderland" where Alice finds her sister's book boring because there are no pictures in it!
Good assessment, utbtkids.
Biscuit books, Amelia Bedelia, Charlie and Lola, Roald Dahl, Magic Tree house and Magic School bus series have been relished at various stages. Amelia Bedelia has been a special favourite. I would consider it a precursor to books by Wodehouse. The same lovely use of the English language, the same kind of irreverent humour.
Fancy Nancy seems like something to look out for, although from the sound of it, we probably have outgrown them. Thanks for the pointers.

Choxbox said...

Awesome utbt! Love your cluster posts!

A percursor to chapter books with a single story are those with a set of stories with the same character. Like Amelia Jane - the entire book has the same toy characters but each story can be read on its own. These are good because the attention span/stamina of an early reader gets balanced nicely by the length of a chapter with an end.

I say this from the POV of a parent with not much time to read to her kid. I have found that since my kid has read on her own since she was 5, she has tried stuff which I might have shielded her from and in hindsight its been a good thing!

Anusha said...

thanks a ton for posting this! it comes at a great time, because 'we' were lost for a while there, no fiction picture books seemed interesting enough, and I thought (wrongly) that it was too early for chapter books. thanks to an earlier ST review, we discovered the Akimbo series and finished them all, and just got done with our very first Magic Treehouse. seeing the kid lost in another world, visualizing, as I read is so fulfilling. time to check out the self read ones, think he's almost ready for them.

Anusha said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sandhya said...

Taking up the point Chox has made about Amelia Jane. James Herriot is another writer whose vet stories with their gentle humour can be read by older children, and there are a few of his stories published singly as picture books, and can be used for younger readers. Great as precursors.

Choxbox said...

Sandhya, need to catch you re Herriot and grill you to find the 'right' titles. The ones we picked didn't work with me.
Catching you soon to pick your brains. Look forward as usual to a discussion with you :)

ranjani.sathish said...

Great effort utbt ! I will definitely remember this post and will refer to it when the younger S comes to this reading level !

Sheela said...

So good to see some of the staples that we have enjoyed too - they must have a universal appeal, judging by attestations from fellow moms in Ana's school! Thanks for this post, utbtkids!

utbtkids said...

@Sandhya, Fancy Nancy is for the 4-6 year age grp. A may not enjoy it much.

@Sandhya, Chox - Thanks for adding to the list.

K's mom - I am sure Kodi would love Amelia Bedelia. AB is appeals to both boys and girls. Also we loved James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the choc factory at home.

Ranjani, Sheela thanks .

Vibha said...

Very well done post utbt. Most of these titles are going straight into my 'to buy' list.

utbtkids said...

Thanks Vibha.

AA_Mom said...

Thanks UTBT - once a gem always a gem

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