Ask Amma

Early chapter books?

In Books on 26 November 2014 at 8:00 pm

magic tree houseMy daughter loves The Magic Tree House books and has finished more than half of them.   She will probably finish the rest by the end of the year and we will have to find more books for her.  What do you think about the Boxcar Children?

– Mama of a 6 year-old in Dallas

There are number of mystery series designed to satisfy the growing appetite of the newly fluent reader – The Boxcar Children, Secret Seven, Famous Five, Five Find-Outers, Three Investigators, Encyclopedia Brown and many more.  Some people worry that the stories are repetitive or overly simplistic.  Others rejoin, “well as long as they are reading …”  I beg to differ.  Even if a child is a beginning or struggling reader, I don’t think we need to settle for literature of low quality just because it is easy to read.  Such material may even put readers off.  This is one reason teachers like Gertrude Chandler Warner, author of the Boxcar Children, sought to write interesting stories for young readers, in contrast to what was provided in school textbooks.

I personally have not been troubled by such series, even if their salient feature is their easy reading level.  To keep the stories interesting, the characters interact with people working in various places such as radio stations, hospitals, or shops, and solving real problems that arise along with the unfolding mystery.   Secondly,  I have seen my daughter reread these books, and she notices different things about the characters and situations now than she did four years ago.  It is nice to see how the experience of reading same book changes as the reader grows.  This is why even now we haven’t parted with many of the books in these series.

Thirdly, a little genre fiction here and there need not dull your taste for fine writing.  From a literary perspective, a number of picture books are of higher quality than a typical easy chapter book.  Just because a child has started reading independently, you should not leave the picture book section.  (The art alone is worth a fortune!)   Nor should you stop reading aloud, or telling stories yourself, in multiple languages and genres.  When you read aloud, you have the freedom to choose books at a slightly higher reading level, which, believe it or not, can also include some picture books, especially in the folk tale and mythology section.  In fact these were some of my favorite stories to read aloud when my daughter was zooming through chapter books faster than we could restock them.   If you are so fortunate as to have a public library, visit the shelves catalogued at 398.2 and thereabouts.  Biography is also an area where some talented writers are at work.  Here are a few we treasured:


Newly independent readers continue to be able to understand slightly more complex stories than they can read themselves, making this a great time for parents to explore literature from around the world along with their children.  It is also really fun to read some of the quality nonfiction written for children, especially for parents who might not have time to read books on these topics from the adult section 🙂  Apart from the Magic School Bus series, which we loved, we found some wonderful books about science, history, communications and so much more.

  1. Those look like great suggestions! I like the idea of mixing non-fiction in with fiction. Feel like I’m constantly falling behind in stocking up a diversity of appropriately interesting/ challenging material as reading abilities of two little ones grow at an astonishing pace (yes, the little one has started reading the English alphabets off just about EVERYWHERE and the older one is already showing interest in reading chapter books.) The 4 year old still wants everything, though – picture books, no-picture books, reading to herself/ brother/ us, being read to– it totally depends on the mood and time of the day. I’m not inclined to rush her through her reading experience and graduate to advanced-reader books too early.. but I do know she is looking for more challenge.. at least sometimes. Will try to get some of these from the library and see how it goes with her.

    Speaking of biographical books, we loved reading “The Boy who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos” by Deborah Heiligman. Very innovative format and a great way to intrigue little minds about math. We talked about prime numbers, number line, negative numbers, multiplication, networks …phew! and the way his very “improbable” life is distilled into a story is just so charming!

    Maybe that’s subject for another post, but I’m really really missing good Hindi material, and feel like I’m losing the window for developing an appreciation for their mother tongue..especially as the little one retorts with a high-pitched “What does that mean?” every time I say something to him in Hindi 😦


  2. Excellent point Sonika. K was fluent in Telugu in her early childhood and could read Telugu before she learned to read English. Simply because there were far more children’s books available in English, with large clear print, unlike what we were able to source in Telugu at the time, English raced ahead. Children’s book publishing has progressed considerably since then and you can get a lot of beautifully illustrated stories in the major languages nowadays. Shall write more about this soon, thank you for suggesting it!


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