Has your family graduated from enjoying picture books to also reading chapter books aloud?
But are your kids’ age and interests wildly divergent? Sure, you could read two or three different books, one for each child, but if you’re like me, the sooner the kids are in bed, the better. You’re looking for one book that both kids will like and that won’t bore you to sleep before you can catch another episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Side note: Where is the baby? Who is watching the baby?!) After extensive test driving on my two daughters over the last five years, I want to share our family favorite chapter books.
You may know why you should read aloud to your young children, but do you know that you should continue to read to your kids even if they’re happy to read to themselves?
This is because kids’ listening level is actually higher than their reading level. Reading to older kids allows them to access more sophisticated plots, stories, and themes than they might be able to read independently. By continuing to read to my kids even as they grow out of picture books, I’m promoting reading and allowing us to have great conversations together as a family.
Let me also explain our criteria for what kind of chapter book we enjoy reading as a family: it has to have enough pictures to help my youngest better understand the story; it has to have enough words and action to keep my eldest engaged; and, finally, it has to have female characters I want my daughters to think about. This isn’t to say every chapter book has to include a perfect heroine, just that the female characters have to be strong girls or at least interesting.
I think Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach was the first chapter book I ever fell in love with as a child. When Nell first started reading, I insisted we read it together while her sister napped. I was shocked, SHOCKED, when it didn’t immediately become her favorite book ever. Maybe it was missing the essential female character? So I tried again with Matilda, and won big.
When Libby was finally capable of sitting still long enough to listen to an entire chapter, we launched The BFG together as a family and the Dahl victory was complete. One of my favorite memories is reading to the girls one night only to look up and see that my visiting parents were equally entertained by the tale of the friendly giant and his whizzpopping. Fart jokes, if we’re really honest with ourselves, are fun for the whole family.
Don Quixote (Oxford Illustrated Classics) by Miguel de Cervantes, retold by Michael Harrison
I think a long SECOND stint of reading The Rainbow Magic Fairies chapter books (Can Jack Frost win just one time. ONE TIME. Is that too much to ask?) drove me to pick up this classic. I’d only read a couple of excerpts from it in college and thought it might restore the health of some of my own brain cells as well as entertain the girls.
Despite a serious lack of female characters, my two were completely entertained by Don Quixote and his quests. I think they liked that he was a ridiculous knight incapable of rescuing himself, much less a damsel in distress. The dialogue is fun to read and you may find yourself, like us, completely charmed by the bumbling man from La Mancha by the story’s end.
Tales from the Arabian Nights by Donna Jo Napoli
I picked this chapter book up from the library because I realized I’d never actually read 1,001 Arabian Nights and it had the National Geographic logo on it so that seemed like a good bet. This beautifully illustrated book is the tale of a young wife, Scheherazade, who tells stories every night in an effort to prevent her husband from murdering her. Yeah… maybe this wasn’t such a good library find after all?
When I tried to put the book at the bottom of the pile to return to the library though, my youngest quickly dug it out and insisted I keep reading. Libby had figured out the obvious; there’s a reason this book hasn’t been lost to obscurity. The truth is that the stories Scheherazade tells are fantastic. This adaptation of the classic includes Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Sinbad the Sailor, and Aladdin. My girls loved the drama, adventure, and humor of each tale and Scheherazade’s efforts to save her own life kept them begging for another tale each night.
The Hobbit J.R.R. Tolkien
I started reading The Hobbit just to Nell, who I thought at 10 could handle what I recalled as a story that was violent and dark at times. After a couple of nights though, Libby began sneaking into my lap too to listen in. There’s a lot of vocabulary in the book that’s way over both of their heads to be honest, but the girls quickly were caught up in Bilbo’s adventures. They suffered my attempts at Elvish (maybe brush up before you begin?) but adored my impression of Gollom. I haven’t found an illustrated version of the text, but maybe because she’s older now or because I try to read with a lot of expression, Libby is still enjoying it.