An Overview of Early Chapter
Books for Young Reader
Early chapter books are a growing genre written to support children in their reading development. They also bridge the gap from picture books to chapter books. They help children learn to read and become independent. While also promoting reading confidence and a love of reading. You may know them as young fiction, first steps, junior fiction, easy readers, beginning chapter books or just-right books.
When I first used early chapter books, they were formulaic and a little predictable. Now there is a huge choice with interesting plots and well-rounded characters and varying difficulties.
Benefits of Early Chapter Books
Early chapter books establish confidence, interest and independent reading habits. Engaging, simple stories and limited pages help children become independent readers. Short chapters encourage the reader to focus on the plot and comprehension. Familiar series and characters build independence when choosing books.
Characteristics of Early Chapter Books
Children will find similar characteristics across the range of early chapter books. These qualities include:
- Layouts to support newly independent or struggling readers.
- Built around a particular character or genre.
- Short stories with predictable text becoming more complex as the difficulty increases.
- Simple storylines that encourage comprehension.
- Specific sight words and repetition.
- Short chapters and paragraphs promoting a sense of achievement.
- White space between paragraphs and chapters.
- Familiar characters from picture fiction, movies and tv series.
Importance of the Illustrations
Illustrations are a crucial element of early chapter books. They support an understanding of the plot and mood while keeping the reader engaged. Images become part of the storytelling and add to the sometimes limited text of early chapter books. Illustrations also help the reader:
- develop analytical and interpretive skills.
- quickly understand setting, characters and emotions.
- support the decoding of unknown vocabulary.
Themes of Early Chapter Books
Children take comfort in the themes of early chapter books particularly once they find their favourite genre and characters. A common theme is characters who have to overcome obstacles along with a resolution. Here are some others:
- Lead characters involved in everyday or unusual scenarios.
- Characters learning to cope in difficult situations and being empowered.
- Humourous, silly, mischievous and surprising storylines.
- Animals who offer support, comfort and advice to human characters.
- Deal with family relationships and issues in sensitive or funny ways.
- Make-believe and unrealistic situations allowing the reader to enter a fantasy world.
Recommending Early Chapter Books to Students and Parents
It is easy for children to get stuck on a particular series and are reluctant to move onto a new book. As a teacher or school librarian, you are well placed to advise students. A good starting point is teaching them how to select their own books.
Here are a few questions to encourage students to take risks with their book choices
- Who are your favourite characters and authors?
- What are your favourite book genres?
- Have you tried a graphic novel or a nonfiction early chapter books?
- Have you asked your teacher, school librarian or friends for recommendations?
- Do you prefer reading books with animals or people as the main character?
Early chapter books are a wonderful tool to help children become independent readers. Choosing a book from a familiar series makes reading less stressful and encourages them to choose what to read next. They provide comfort for children before branching out into chapter books.
While there is a large and growing variety of easy chapter books, not all are suitable for every reader. This is mainly down to how different publishers level books. Soon I will post an article on different levelling systems and how you can convert from one system to another.
Finally, a resource to find recommendations of early chapter books. Every year the Geisel Award awards authors and illustrator of this style of book. You can search the American Library Association (ALA) website for previous winners. It is also a good place to find the names of authors who write this kind of book.
What are your thoughts on early chapter books? Do you use them or do you only use books from reading schemes such as DRA, Oxford Reading Tree or PM Benchmarks?
I would love to hear more about how you use early chapter books in the classroom or library. Hit the comments below!
*Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. When you click them and then make a purchase I receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thanks for supporting my work in this way