Chapter Books for Four Year Olds?
Posted: 2011-03-30 12:07:44 By: by Joanne Oppenheim


        There seems to be a total misunderstanding of the function of picture books. Picture books are not designed to be easy-to-read like the Cat in the Hat with simple and repetitive vocabulary. Many have words that stretch a child's listening and comprehension vocabulary and ideas that are far too hard for beginners to stumble through or sound out. Picture books are among the great pleasures that parents and teachers can share with children, delighting in the delicious words and often stunning art found in 32 pages that can be humorous, moving, suspenseful, and memorable.

       Rushing kids into chapter books will not give them the golden key to reading. Pushing chapter books early may simply lead young readers to the level of their own incompetence and a sense that reading and books are to be dreaded.

       Most of the so-called chapter books for beginning readers are by design simplified for ease. You probably read Nancy Drew books at this stage or Tom Swift. There are many series designed for this stage, such as the Magic Tree House books, Judy Moody books, or the Polk Street School series. These are just a few of the popular choices. They are page-turners with fewer pages and easy to follow stories.

       Beginners cannot juggle complicated plot lines, large new vocabulary words, and complex characters. These are books that have a real job to do. They give children a chance to practice and solidify their new reading skills. They allow children to develop fluidity and speed in sight recognition. They are created with purposefully predictable plot lines, a casts of characters that will reappear and a relatively simple text.

        However, during this same time, children can comprehend far more complex story lines and characters when adults read to them. By reading longer and more complex books to beginners we keep their interest and delight in well-conceived stories and whet their appetite for future reading.  Such stories are not only worth sharing, they build a readiness and appetite for reading--they build the desire and love of reading and books that hopefully will last a lifetime.

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