I vividly remember reading my first chapter book independently in first grade: it was The BoxCar Children, and I was immediately hooked. My dad had been reading The Babysitter’s Club (I know, he’s adorable) to me at night for a while by then, but there was something about reading a book all on my own that I fell in love with… I couldn’t have articulated this when I was six, of course, but I think – even more than the stories and the characters – I loved being a part of something. Reading let me experience a world much bigger than my own and go on adventures I’d never have in reality (like, um, living in a boxcar with no parents). On top of that, there was a “game” element to reading books in a series (how quickly can I read them all?!? what will happen next?!?) that I imagine is similar to what makes us love a good Netflix TV show binge today.
I have zero memory of learning to read, but I can still see myself sitting on the playground during recess (yes, yes I did) tearing through books just as quickly as I could check them out of my little school library. I was the kid who got in trouble for reading during class, who read while walking, and who spent summer days sitting under a tree with a book. So many of my earliest memories include a book; so, naturally, I was DELIGHTED to see my son catch the same reading bug this summer that I did all those years ago…
Eighteen months ago, Sam couldn’t read at all; a year ago he was just starting to sound out picture books for himself, and now – halfway through first grade and 7 years old – I literally can’t keep enough books in the house for him. (Our family “policy” that it’s *always* OK to buy books has even had to be amended to keep him from breaking the bank!) This past summer – which was when he first got into chapter books and series – he read 37 books from June to August! 37!! And, he’s kept up a pretty solid 1 – 3 books per week pattern ever since.
I don’t say any of this to brag. The truth is, I really haven’t had much to do with it… I’ve never once *taught* Sam how to read – he’s been fortunate to have great teachers in Kindergarten and First Grade who get the credit for that. In fact, I was intentional about NOT teaching him to read. (See my post on this here: Why I’m not Teaching My Five Year Old to Read.) Instead, I’ve read to him since he was a baby, modeled an active reading life of my own, and given him access to lots of books and the freedom (even when it is hard) to read what interests him. All that, plus a little bit of luck/nature I think, has turned him in to quite the reader!! YAY!!!
Anyway, my real purpose in this post is to share some of the books (OK, a lot of the books) that he has enjoyed and that – I hope – have set him up for a lifelong love of reading! If you’re kiddo is already a reader, I hope you’ll find a few new titles to check out here; and, if he/she isn’t into reading, I hope you’ll be encouraged to try some of these out with him/her. As an English teacher and, now, as a mom, I am CONFIDENT that the single best way to establish a reading habit in kids is to help them find books/stories that they ENJOY. So, with that in mind…
One thing I didn’t realize, or plan on necessarily, was how great GRAPHIC NOVELS would be for Sam’s reading life… We stumbled across the Dogman series (linked below) at the beginning of the summer and – though I admit a part of me was hesitant because they weren’t of the “literary caliber” I wanted for him, I’ve been telling everyone that they were the “gateway drug” to reading for Sam. He could read them quickly ad easily understand what was going on (because of the pictures), so he tore through these and several other graphic novel series available at our library in no time. This, in turn, built his confidence and excitement about reading, and prepared him to pick up other “big books” with fewer and fewer pictures moving forward. *If you have a non or disinterested reader, I STRONGLY recommend starting with graphic novels! Below are some of Sam’s top recommendations —
Dogman by Dav Pilkey, the creator of Captain Underpants, but slightly less “potty talk”ish (there are currently 5 of these, and the latest is called Lord of the Fleas — how hilarious is that?)
Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot also by Dave Pilkey (there are 8 in this series and, from what I remember, have a little more text than Dogman so are a good next step.)
Press Start! by Thomas Flintham (7 in this series; and, for what it’s worth, a friend with a little girl recommended this series to me saying her daughter was obsessed)
He read a bunch of others too, but they were library books, and – to be honest – didn’t leave much of an impression on either of us. Regardless, by the time he’d read a few graphic novels, he was hooked and (much to my delight) ready to move on to some more text-based chapter books.
Chapter Book Series:
I don’t know what it is about series exactly, but Sam’s been pretty adamant that he “only likes series” books. Haha! As I mentioned above, I suspect that it has something to do with feeling like a challenge or a game, but I really don’t care. At this stage of the game (ha, no pun intended), honestly, access to LOTS of words, sentence structures, etc. is really all that matters for developing reading skills. (Of course I try to monitor content too, but I tend to be fairly liberal when it comes to that kind of thing — that’s another post for another time, but I guess worth pointing out as you look at my recommendations… Do you own research if age-appropriateness etc. is super important to you. ;))
*Most of these DO have some pictures – some more than others – but they are decidedly more novel than comic book to me.
Captain Awesome by Stan Kirby (there are 21 in this series right now, but they are short and Sam wanted them to go on forever! There’s a new one coming out in March too!)
Galaxy Zack by Ray O’Ryan (17 of these, though I don’t think Sam read them all!)
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney (there are 13 of these out right now, and Sam says they are his #1 favorite — Many also have movies that go along with them too, which I think is a fun treat after you read a book.)
Stink by Megan McDonald (Stink is the younger brother of Judy Moody and has at least 10 books of his own!)
Big Nate by Lincoln Pierce (7 in this series, which Sam considers his “second favorite”)
The Treehouse Stories by Andy Griffiths (Not to be confused with The Magic Treehouse series, which we haven’t really gotten into yet, these are silly and have lots of illustrations. Sam got the first 6 for Xmas and read them all – plus #7 and #8 to complete the series – before the new year.)
And, just this week, we got a bunch of these Blast to the Past books AND the corresponding, nonfiction Who Was…? books to dig into some history. (The verdict’s still out on them, but if he likes them, there are 8 Blast to the Past books – on people like Martin Luther King Jr., Sacagawea, and Benjamin Franklin) and more than 150 !!! Who Was books on everyone mentioned above and – clearly – tons more famous people.)
Again, these aren’t all the chapter book series he’s read, but most of his favorites. If you have suggestions for other great ones along this vein, please send them my way because I fear we will exhaust the library’s options sooner rather than later, and I want to keep the momentum up while we’ve got it!
Bonus — Great Read-Alouds & Audiobooks:
Finally, I know this isn’t technically what this post is about, but I had to throw a little plug for read-alouds (books for parents to read their kids) and audiobooks in here too. I was just talking to a student this week about how important it is that you are able to picture a story in your mind as you are reading, and being read to is a GREAT way to develop that ability in kids. (I haven’t done any research to confirm this, but I suspect that this “ability” is what distinguishes kids – and later, adults – who love to read and – as a result – are strong readers, from those who don’t/aren’t. If you can’t “see” a story coming to life when you read, book are really just words on paper, you know?) Anyway, I started reading chapter books to Sam when he was about five, and we worked our way mostly through Sarah Mackenzie (a true expert on reading aloud)’s Favorite First Novels to Read Aloud list (you can get it for free when you sign up for her emails here: https://readaloudrevival.com/booklist-2/). Our very favorites were —
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl (this was our first, I think)
The BFG also by Roald Dahl
The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary (+ 2 more in the series)
And Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe (not on the list but one of my favorites as a little kid)
I might add, this was SUCH a sweet time for Sam and I to bond over a shared love of books and the characters/stories inside them. Now that he’s reading so much on his own and doesn’t really want me to read too him, I really miss it. (I still think it’s important though, so I hope/plan to read Harry Pottertogether some time soon.)
And last but not least, I have to sing the praises of our three FAVORITE audiobook series. Each of these would also make great first chapter book series to read, but all of us (Nora included) absolutely LOVED the narration on the audio books. They are PERFECT for road trips or just daily commutes. (I was able to get all three for free through our library’s Overdrive system, so make sure to check there!)
Ramona Quimby by Beverly Cleary (narrated by Stockard Channing)
Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar (absolutely hilarious, but slightly more PG than I’d remembered – Sam LOVED them)
and, of course, Junie B. Jones by Barbara Park (There are TONS of these, and the kids and I listened to them ALL last summer – even Nora fell in love with Junie!)
OK… There you go! This post has been a LONG time coming, so I hope you took something away from it! Please share with your friends, etc. 🙂
Also, I’d love to know what some of your kids’ first favorite books were – we’re always looking for more ideas. And, if you have questions for me, I’m happy to try to answer in the comments or via email!