Getting Started with Chapter Books

For children learning to read, transitioning to chapter books can be both exciting and challenging. Chapter books may take several reading sessions to finish, and there are fewer illustrations to rely on for clues about what’s happening in the story. 

What Is an Early Chapter Book?

The books in the library’s Early Chapter Books section have simple vocabulary, short sentences, large fonts, lots of white space, and illustrations. Many early chapter books are part of a series. Finding a series your child loves is great for keeping them motivated to read. The familiar characters and predictable storylines of these series also make it easier for young readers to understand what is happening when they start a new book in the series. 

Choosing Early Chapter Books

When choosing your first early chapter books: 

  • Look for books with a lot of illustrations and fewer words per page. At the end of this post you'll find a booklist of some great early chapter books to start out with. 
  • Try the "five finger test." Have your child read a page of the book. For each word they don’t know, hold up a finger. If they don’t know 2–3 words on the page, this is a good level; it will introduce new words, but won’t be too frustrating.
  • Let your child choose. They will be more motivated to read if they love the characters or subject of the books they’re reading.

Reading Strategies

When starting out with early chapter books:

  • Read aloud to your child. Start reading chapter books aloud together before they can read them by themselves. This will help them get used to longer stories. Reading the beginning of a book or the first book in a series aloud is also a great way for your child to get background information about the setting and characters before starting to read the book or series themselves, which will help them to better understand what they’re reading.
  • Try co-reading. Take turns reading, switching between each paragraph, page, or chapter.
  • Recap the story together at the start of a reading session. This will help your child to understand what’s happening when they pick back up in the middle of the story.
  • Talk about the story as you read. What do they think of the character’s actions? What might happen next?

Reading in Other Formats

While transitioning to chapter books, support the transition by reading books in different formats as well.

  • Picture books: Continuing to read picture books helps to build reading confidence and vocabulary. 
  • Graphic novels: Graphic novels often have longer and more complex stories but are still quick to read and have illustrations that help with comprehension. 
  • Beginning readers: While not as long as most early chapter books, some of the higher levels of beginning readers have advanced vocabulary, help to develop longer attention spans, and may be split into a few reading sessions. There are also lots of options for kids who love non-fiction. Try levels 3 or 4 in DK Super Readers, Ready-to-Read, and National Geographic Readers.

Learn More

Easy Early Chapter Books

List created by SCL_Elementary

Some early chapter books are longer than others. The ones on this list were chosen because they have fewer words per page, large fonts, and plenty of pictures - perfect for kids who are easing into their first chapter books!

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