Written by contributor Sarah Mackenzie of Amongst Lovely Things
When my oldest children were small, I couldn’t wait until we could read middle grade novels together. I enjoyed reading picture books with them, of course, but it had been Beverly Cleary and Roald Dahl who had sparked my own childhood imagination and turned me into a lifelong reader.
I couldn’t wait to introduce favorite books and characters to my kids.
The first novel I tried to read to my kids was Little House in the Big Woods. It was wildly unsuccessful.
I hadn’t yet developed my own read-aloud skills enough to deliver the long descriptive passages in an interesting way, and my girls hadn’t had enough practice painting pictures in their heads and following along with longer narrative to keep up with what was going on. It was such a disappointment.
Now, I maintain that Laura Ingalls Wilder has written some of the best books ever written (and we have gone on to read her entire series three times as a family), but I don’t usually recommend that parents just starting to read novels with their kids start there.
Novels require something of your child that reading picture books doesn’t- namely, a longer attention span and an ability to imagine without visual prompts.
If you’re just getting started with reading novels with your kids (lucky you- you’re in for such a treat!), choose books that set you up to be successful right out of the gate. Make those first forays into longer fiction a stepping stool, and you’ll set yourself up for years and years of happy reading aloud.
Here are some tips for getting started with reading novels to your kids:
1. Some books make better first novels than others.
There are a lot of wonderful books that are hard to read aloud. When you’re choosing your very first chapter books, look for those with short chapters, lots of dialogue, and memorable characters (they are easier for your children to picture in their mind).
Collections of short stories are also a good choice while you’re getting little minds used to longer narrative. There’s a good list of first novels here to get you started. Choose books that make the transition easy!
2. Read when you’ve got a captive audience.
Audio books in the car are a perfect way to capitalize on your captive audience. Mealtimes are another good choice- they’re sitting still and they’re mouths are busy, so chances are good that you won’t have to work quite as hard to keep everyone settled.
By the way, your child doesn’t actually need to be sitting still to listen well. Dump out a pile of Legos or a mound of play dough to keep little hands busy, and you’ll have a lot more success right out of the gate.
3. Keep it short.
Short spurts are your best bet. I love to tell people that reading aloud for just five minutes a day (and not a minute more!) for the course of a year would equal 30 hours of reading aloud. That’s a lot of shared reading!
Five minutes a day every day, is enough to make a lasting difference in your home. In fact, doing just a little bit every single day is far more effective than an hour once per week, because it helps you form a read-aloud habit, and lets shared reading become a part of your family culture.
4. Read what you love
When I am not enjoying a particular book, I have a hard time maintaining enthusiasm to keep at it day in and day out. There have been plenty of books others love that I have just not gotten excited about.
If you read what you love, your children will feed off that enthusiasm. You’ll find a lot of momentum radiating from the fact that you are enjoying yourself.
5. Never stop reading picture books.
Just because you are venturing into middle grade novels doesn’t mean that picture books have now become a thing of the past. Some of the most eloquent and complex stories are told in picture books.
When you move into novels, think of it as expanding your world and inviting a whole new slew of books into your child’s literary repertoire. The title of this blog post is a bit misleading, I suppose- you aren’t really moving from picture books to novels.
You’re simply inviting longer text into your already rich literary life.
Chances are good that read-aloud time will become a favorite part of your child’s day. The best thing I can tell you as you reach for those very first novels to share with your kids is to relish it.
Set yourself up for success and then just enjoy the ride. Parenting doesn’t get much better than this.
What are some middle grade novels that have been a success in your home?