How do you know when your child is ready for chapter books? That depends. Are they engaged in picture books and able to stay attentive for an extended amount of time? Generally, I find that children are usually ready for slightly longer books starting around age four.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to cut off picture books altogether. Instead, it’s a great time to introduce early reader books and “easy” chapter books to children that are looking for a bit more during your read-aloud time together. Because so many books straddle the line between easy readers and chapter books, this first post will focus on the former, while the second post (later this year) will focus on the latter.
WHAT ARE EASY READERS?
This category covers the whole spectrum of titles for early elementary (and preschool) kids who are learning to read, from the very basic books for emergent readers to longer, illustrated titles for kids who are not quite ready for novels. Easy readers are typically 32-64 pages in length and can usually be identified by their large type, simple sentence structure, and colorful illustrations on every page. Well-known early readers include series like Bink & Gollie and Frog & Toad.
Easy Readers continue to help children learn sentence structure and phonological awareness. When reading aloud, try taking turns with your child. And while you may find yourself slipping into boredom re-reading the same book multiple times, remember that repetition is vital for a growing brain. While I generally suggest avoiding I Can Read books, these 12 tried-and-true titles have been a hit in our home and have turned my oldest daughter into a confident reader.
I hope you’ll find something new for your emerging reader on this list.
1 | BALLET CAT DANCE! DANCE! UNDERPANTS! BY BOB SHEA
Ballet Cat instructs Butter Bear on how to do a super-high leap. Reluctant Bear, however, continues to make excuse after excuse about why she can’t leap like her friend. Cat’s exasperated facial expressions will undoubtedly resonate with most parents, as will the most humorous line in the book when Bear asks Cat for a drink that will take a long time to make. When at last we learn why Bear is scared to leap, Cat takes matters into her own hands and quiets the audience that has come to peep at Bear’s underpants. A marvelous book for beginning readers and their caregivers alike.
2 | DUCK, DUCK, PORCUPINE! BY SALINA YOON
Big Duck likes to think she’s in charge, and Porcupine is usually fine with that arrangement. Little Duck, on the other hand, is generally an observer and a keen one at that. Time after time, Little Duck makes the sensible choice, while his two pals continue to blunder along. With events ranging from a rained out picnic to a kite stuck in a tree, each book in this series is told in three short stories and works well for children who still cling to regular picture book retellings.
3 | ELEPHANT & PIGGIE BIGGIE VOLUME 2! BY MO WILLEMS
Ah, Elephant and Piggie. Is there a parent of young children alive who doesn’t already know this series? It’s okay if you don’t, just know that once you start reading them, it’s nearly impossible to stop and you’ll likely renew them dozens of times or just break down and buy the box set. Told with enthusiasm and bold typography, these stories of two inseparable friends are at once funny and thoughtful, a combination kids and adults can appreciate. With 20 books in the series, these five-books-in-one make an excellent choice for newly independent readers. We can’t wait for the last two Biggie books to conclude our set.
4 | FOX THE TIGER BY COREY R. TABOR
Fox wants to be a tiger. Tigers are brave and fast. He devises a disguise. When he greets Rabbit and Turtle, they are inspired by Fox and also create new characters for themselves. Unfortunately, rain turns each of the costumed friends into a soggy puddle of paint, leaving them transformed back to their former selves. This particular spread, with raindrops entering at the top of the page; Fox, Rabbit, and Turtle anchoring the center page; and a reflective puddle near the lower half, is expertly rendered. With concise text and a sweet ending, this is an easy reader that beginning readers will long to return to.
5 | KING & KAYLA AND THE CASE OF THE FOUND FRED BY DORI HILLESTAD BUTLER
When Kayla and her dog King find a missing dog (Fred), they embark on a mission to find Fred’s human family, one that will take them across the lake and into a neighboring campground. Animal lovers will adore hearing King’s voice as he tries to communicate to Kayla the clues his canine senses are certain will solve the case. Together the pair make a great duo, and the language is varied enough to provide plot interest while showcasing a diverse character as the main protagonist. Indeed, every book in the series is equally as enjoyable as the last.
6 | LITTLE BEAR’S FRIEND BY ELSE HOLMELUND MINARIK
A staple from my own childhood, this classic book showcases Little Bear as he scampers down a tree headed home for lunch. At the bottom of the tree, he meets a little girl named Emily, who is lost. He assists her in finding her family and is delighted to tell his mother of the new friend he made. Later, the two friends discuss Lucy (Emily’s doll) and eventually visit a host of other woodland animals to celebrate a party together. Told with a gentle kindness, this book celebrates friendship and community with Sendak’s signature illustrations.
7 | NARWHAL: UNICORN OF THE SEA BY BEN CLANTON
When Narwhal meets Jelly Fish for the first time, he’s convinced that Jelly might not be real and so the two begin a spirited discussion to discern how real the other one is. Once the pals are satisfied that the other is real, the two unite on a mission to spread superness (and waffles) throughout their aquatic underworld. Touching on emotions and themes like anger, empathy, kindness, jealousy, and general silliness, this graphic novel series pairs perfectly with Emily Arrow’s upbeat version of the book turned into song.
8 | RABBIT AND ROBOT AND RIBBIT BY CECE BELL
I was immediately drawn to the trio of tongue-twisting characters in this book. Kids will likely get a kick out of the ongoing “engrossed/gross” joke throughout the book and will certainly relate to feeling out of place in a third-wheel situation. Robot’s Emotion Decoder is both humorous and helpful, as young readers are still developing insight into social cues, helping them decipher the emotions of others. Which they can see in the interactions between Rabbit and Ribbit, who later set aside differences to work together to revive Robot.
This story is not only an amusing take on friendship and inside jokes, it accurately depicts punctuated dialogue, in a snappy exchange, helping early readers understand sentence structure and acquire language literacy, all while allowing them funny illustrations to coincide with the text. Plus, the author’s note is definitely worth reading. Overall, an excellent read.
9 | THE GREAT ANTONIO BY ELISE GRAVEL
Born in Croatia, possibly from giant lumberjack parents, Antonio immigrated to Canada when he was 20 years old. Weighing in at 460 pounds, Antonio was not only impressive not only by his behemoth size but Antonio also became known throughout Montreal for his strength and wrestling abilities. He set world records and, on occasion, pulled buses by his hair! His braids were a sense of pride, and Antonio used them in all sorts of imaginative ways. He lived outside a donut shop and played with children that were charmed by his gentle giant manners.
This book is an amusing account of one of the great strong-men of our day. In characteristic comic-book/graphic novel style, Elise Gravel showcases the funny and absurd aspects of life with aplomb, proving once again, through bold images and typography, that she has mastered the art of storytelling.
10 | UNDER-THE-BED FRED BY LINDA BAILEY
Leo is living with a monster under his bed. One night, when he really has to go to the bathroom, he politely asks the monster to stay put while he does his business. Confused, the monster asks if Leo needs help going to the bathroom. Soon the two strike up a conversation, and we learn that the monster is also scared of something (bugs). An unlikely friendship begins, and Leo decides to name his monster Fred, but Fred is fed up with having only one job: scaring Leo. The monster eventually helps Leo startle a bossy/mean boy and takes a trip to school with Leo. Together the two realize that there’s really not much to be scared of. (Note: very young kids may be frightened by the scary scenarios in the middle of the book.)
11 | YASMIN THE SUPERHERO BY SAADIA FARUQI
With the help of her grandparents, Yasmin makes a superhero costume and ventures off into the neighborhood to fight villains. Soon she discovers both adults and kids in need of assistance—but no villains. Deflated Yasmin returns home. However, her dad bolsters her spirits by telling Yasmin that superheroes don’t just fight villains, they help people, so that’s exactly how Yasmin spent her day. While some may argue that the moral is too obvious, I consider the clear message of kindness an asset in this particular book. With engaging and age-appropriate dialogue and energetic illustrations on each page, this story with a Pakastani protagonist will appeal to children and adults alike.
12 | WHAT THIS STORY NEEDS IS A PIG IN A WIG BY EMMA J. VIRJAN
If the title alone doesn’t pique your interest, I’m not sure what will. This zany assortment of anthropomorphized, over-the-top animals is an immediate hit with kids. Filled with many onomatopoeic words, Pig in a Wig books help early readers and their caregivers focus on inflection with a limited amount of words used in each story. Maybe avoid reading this before bed as it will likely enliven your kids, rather than lull them off to sleep.