Our Reading Lives

Read-Alouds Rock: Falling in Love with Early Chapter Books All Over Again

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Jaime Herndon


Jaime Herndon finished her MFA in nonfiction writing at Columbia, after leaving a life of psychosocial oncology and maternal-child health work. She is a writer, editor, and book reviewer who drinks way too much coffee. She is a new-ish mom, so the coffee comes in extra handy. Twitter: @IvyTarHeelJaime

What were some of your favorite early reader chapter books as a kid? Have you reread any of them lately?

Just Grace by Charise Mericle Harper book cover

When I worked at a children’s bookstore, one of my favorite areas of the store in which to lose myself in the shelves was the early chapter books section, which was also near the middle grade books. Think anything from Junie B. Jones to the Wrinkle in Time quintet. It was working at that bookstore that made me realize that there was a quintet, as well as a whole quartet of books about Meg’s daughter Polly — but that’s another post altogether. The Ivy and Bean series was asked about so much that I started to read that series, along with the adorable Just Grace series. In addition to revisiting L’Engle, I reread Island of the Blue Dolphins and Superfudge, and was introduced to Esperanza Rising, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, and Because of Winn-Dixie.

After I stopped working there, the early chapter books and middle grade books weren’t a constant in my life anymore, and I mostly forgot about them. As so often happens with life, I had to focus on my work, and that meant mainly reading adult fiction and nonfiction — which is why I’ve been so excited to rediscover these books now.

As my son has gotten older, I’ve loved reading picture books to him and with him: both revisiting books from my childhood from more than 30 years ago, to loving the diverse and inclusive range of picture books that are out today. We have finally reached the stage where, along with all the picture books we read during the day, we read a chapter or two of an early reader chapter book each night before bed.

Getting Started With Early Chapter Read-Alouds

In the homeschool community, it feels like read-alouds are A Thing, and rightly so. Sarah Mackenzie’s book The Read-Aloud Family, which goes into detail about all of the benefits of reading aloud throughout parenting, is a staple in many homeschool Instagram book stacks. Reading out loud to a child has been found to be the most important activity for reading success. It shows them fluent reading, and encourages interest in books and stories. Listening to someone read helps to develop understanding and skills, and children realize that the words tell a story. They’re exposed to more vocabulary and ideas, and gives them access to stories that they may not be able to read on their own yet but enjoy, nonetheless.

Zoey and Sassafras: Dragons and Marshmallows book cover

Our first read-aloud so far has been the first book in the Zoey and Sassafras series by Asia Citro and Marion Lindsay, Dragons and Marshmallows. Heavily illustrated on most pages, it’s a delightful story about a little girl who learns a secret and works with magical animals. Combining science and storytelling, it was a book that kept my son’s interest and was accessible enough that if I asked him questions about what we had read, he could answer them. We just finished the book, and for our coming homeschool year, I decided to get a stack of read-alouds for us.

This past summer I reread some old favorites of my own, like Tuck Everlasting and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, but those are a little too old for my son yet. But as I read them, I realized that I could read them pretty quickly — typically in one night, unless I purposely went slowly and savored it over a few days. They were the perfect short escape if I had work to do but just wanted to relax for an hour or two, with a side of childhood nostalgia.

When it came time to choosing some for my son, I picked up some books about everyone’s favorite pair of sisters, Ramona and Beezus. I very clearly remember reading Ramona Quimby, Age 8 and the rest of the books, but it had been so long that I had to double check the reading order (Beezus and Ramona is the first one, FYI). From there, I couldn’t resist the pull of some childhood favorites and also picked up Judy Blume’s Freckle Juice and Gertrude Chandler Warner’s The Boxcar Children. (The Boxcar Children! I can still remember how I felt hearing that book read out loud in class, and then when I finally got my own copy, rereading it like it was an old familiar friend).

Exploring New Early Chapter Books for Read-Alouds

Pizza and Taco: Who's the Best? book cover

But I’d be remiss if I limited our read-alouds to my own childhood favorites. There are so many amazing early chapter books out today that I could easily spend hundreds of dollars in this section of the bookstore and happily read these books myself. There are so many graphic novels for young readers, books with plenty of illustrations around the text on each page, and highly amusing stories. (I mean, have you seen the best friends, Pizza and Taco?) And I love that my son has a plethora of books with diverse characters from which to choose. From Lola Levine and Jada Jones, to Alvin Ho and Yasmin, there are so many great books available that the problem is when to read them all.

Read-alouds let me revisit pieces of my own childhood that I haven’t thought about in years; they allow me to remember sitting at my desk, letting the teacher’s voice wash over me as the story unfolds in my mind, and then eagerly talking with my fellow book-loving friends at lunch about the story. With some books, I can even remember what it was like to hold the book in my hands for the first time before I read it, poring over the cover.

I wonder which read-alouds will become my son’s favorite; which ones he’ll return to when he’s an independent reader, and which ones he’ll fondly look back on when he’s an adult. But right now, I’m looking forward to meeting certain books of my childhood again and getting to read all of the new ones, too.

If you’re also looking for some read-alouds, check out this post on 20 of the best read-aloud books, and this post on why reading aloud is so helpful.