Overview of Early Chapter Books for Young Readers

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An Overview of Early Chapter
Books for Young Readers

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.

Below you will find an overview of the benefits of beginning chapter books, as well as characteristics and themes normally seen in this kind of books.

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.

Promise me you'll remember, you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seen, smarter than you think.

Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne

Characteristics of Early Chapter Books

Children will find similar characteristics across the range of early chapter books. These characteristics give the reader a sense of comfort and familiarity, as well as helping them make independent choices about their own literacy likes and dislikes. The 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 of common words.
    • 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 beginning chapter books and early readers. 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 these types of books. Illustrations also help the reader:

  • convey story details and foreshadowing
  • develop analytical and interpretive skills
  • quickly understand setting, characters and emotions
  • support the decoding of unknown vocabulary
  • looking for clues within illustrations helps the reader interpret the plot
  • establish an understanding of how blending words with art tells a story.

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 beginning 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 and just-right 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 these bridging 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 in your school library. Hit the comments below!

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4 thoughts on “Overview of Early Chapter Books for Young Readers”

  1. Yes, we used these type of books when my girls were learning to read! The Biscuit books were some of their favorites. These are wonderful to give them some confidence in their reading skills.

  2. We loved early chapter books as well. I found series’ helpful because once a child became aquainted with the characters, they wanted to find out what happened next. Ours liked the Biscuit series, too. Then later, the Box-car Children, Amelia Bedelia… I would love to see you add a list of more early reader chaper books. 🙂

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