2 (Initial) Tips to Reading “Chapter Books” with Your Kids

  by Andrew Wolgemuth

I’ve found dad joy in all sorts of unexpected moments of fatherhood, and it’s often found when things that you enjoy become things that your kids enjoy—when you both relish the sights and sounds of the ballpark, when you find a podcast that captivates you both, when you identify a meal that you can assemble and devour together, when you discover a shared love for a plastic construction block, or when a movie appeals to both the mature and the youthful.

Top of my list of shared enjoyables are books. I dig ‘em, my kids dig ‘em, and—consequently—they’re a wonderful, shared aspect of our lives. We’ve read (and re-read) board books, discovered truly outstanding picture books (Hello, Messrs. Jeffers and Willems!), slowly perused more than a few of the “look-and-find” genre, and relished some great graphic novels. Good stuff.

It was a particular thrill, however, when my oldest made it to “chapter books.” Oldest kids are experiments, of course, and I kind of dove into the deep end with mine: The Chronicles of Narnia were early fare. She hung with me and we made it through, and along the way I learned a few things that help make the journey into the world of Books Less Illustrated and More Wordier enjoyable. Here are two of them:

1 – Talk About “The Picture in Your Head”

In shifting from books laden with illustrations that give immediate, clear depictions of the accompanying words to books with few pics and more words, what’s a kid to do? What’s happening as you read and as they listen?

I’ve found it helpful to explain that while picture books showed them the pictures, chapter books need them to imagine the pictures. The phrase we often use for this is “the picture in your head.” This concept can set the table, as in: “All right – this chapter is about Lucy finding a giant wardrobe in an empty room…try to picture that in your head as we read.” Or this can be used to check to see if they’re tracking with the story, as in: “What’s the picture in your head as the Sorting Hat is about to be placed on Harry’s head?”

Creating pictures in one’s head comes easier to some kids than others, and it happens more easily for all with practice. So, encourage your kid along and then enjoy the scenes they can describe for you as they progress in the art.

2 – Edit on the Fly

Especially when you can tell that a little help is needed for a kid to imagine a picture, don’t hesitate to edit as you read. In particular, be ready to:

  • Simplify – Sometimes even children’s authors can’t resist an overly complicated word. When you encounter one that your child is unlikely to know, add in a quick, “That is…” For instance:

There’s just something about the way he sings. It makes me think of when it snows outside, and the fire is warm, and Podo is telling us a story while you’re cooking, and there’s no place I’d rather be—but for some reason I still feel… homesick…that is, I miss being home. (from Andrew Peterson’s excellent Wingfeather Saga)

  • Clarify – Sometimes the scene described is difficult to imagine for the young in-mind-picturer. Once again, tossing in a “That is…” can help. For example:

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit…that is, on the side of the hill there was a door that led to the hobbit’s underground home.

  • Skip – Sometimes the scene described is too detailed; sometimes the historical background is too involved; sometimes stuff just needs to be skipped. Maybe it’s just a sentence…or maybe it’s a page. You’re the dad—you know what your kids need and can handle…don’t hesitate to skip.

It’s now been nearly six years since I crossed the “chapter books” barrier with my oldest, and it’s only gotten more and more fun. I’ve continued to learn how to read best to the kids and I have more tips to share, but I hope these two points help launch you on this adventure.

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As noted above, you can continue the hunt for dad joy at the ballpark, with a podcast that captivates you both, when you identify a meal that you can assemble and devour together, when you discover a shared love for a plastic construction block, or when a movie appeals to both the mature and the youthful.

Photo by Lilly Rum on Unsplash.