Five Great Chapter Books to Read With Your Preteens
I’m a big fan of reading with kids, but it isn’t always easy to find books everyone loves. When Max was three he loved a book called “The Truck Book.” “The Truck Book” was full of pictures of trucks with their names written below: Digger, Steam Roller, and sometimes, for fun, a three worder would be thrown in, like Front End Loader! Reading this book at bedtime was one of the darkest hours of my day. It’s not that I needed to be reading Kafka with my toddler, but something with a narrative, a plot, a climax … even just one of those things would have been nice. I tried to hide the book. I tried to insist that tonight we’re reading a story, not a book of pictures. This didn’t go over very well and in the middle of the tantrum, I realized I’d just painted myself into one of those classic parenting corners. You know, the kind where once you’re stuck, you realize it was really stupid to back yourself in at all. That one.
So what if I hated the book, this was his time to sit with me and share something he loved. So for about ten excruciating months I feigned interest and glee at Fuel Tankers and Back Hoes.
When my daughter started reading chapter books to herself at bedtime I realized a couple things. I could probably start reading chapter books with my son and this would make each night like a television episode. Each night we’d close the book and wonder what would happen tomorrow. I also realized I could read with my daughter, trading pages, or I could bring my own book to her room and read next to her on the bed.
I’m aware that neither of these things are particularly novel ideas, but still reading chapter books with (or near) my kids has been such a real pleasure for all of us, and I highly recommend it. Here are five of our favorite chapter books to get you and your kids started.
Chapter Books Everyone in Your Family Will Enjoy (Even the Adults)
The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling
I read this book as a third grader and did my very first book report on it — I actually convinced my mother to let me pass out whole Hershey bars during my presentation. John Midas is a chocoholic and after a visit to a very special candy store he finds that everything he touches turns to chocolate. This sounds wonderful to kids, but soon, as everything turns to chocolate, he’s totally turned off the stuff, like me and ice cream after my first summer job. This is a great book to spark imagination in your kid — mine have spent hours imagining turning my entire house into chocolate. Especially our very fat cat, imagine all the chocolate!
The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary
I grew up reading Beverly Cleary’s books, and she is still one of my favorite authors. So I was a little shocked when I realized I’d never read this book. This was great fun for my daughter because she’d already read it in school, and so could be the “expert” as we read it together at bedtime. Ralph is a mouse living in a hotel when Keith and his family check in. Ralph can’t resist Keith’s toy motorcycle and heads out on adventures. Huge hit with the kids, especially Max who is completely dumbfounded why, if he can ride a two wheeler, he can’t ride a motorcycle?
Marley: A Dog Like No Other by John Grogan
My daughter’s life revolves around dogs: How life isn’t fair because she doesn’t have a dog, how she might convince her parents to get a dog, how everything would be so much better for her with a dog. She likes to read dog stories, volunteers at the Humane Society and is obsessed with dog training shows. So this adaptation for young readers of John Grogan’s Marley & Me is obviously the perfect book for her. Reading about Marley, who is actually a pretty bad dog but also the best dog for his particular family, was a divine torture for the both of us, because contrary to Madison’s long held beliefs, I do want to have a dog (shh!), but we’re waiting until all of us are ready for such a big commitment. If you have a dog lover in your family, this is an entertaining read for both of you. (There’s also a picture book version available for younger dog lovers.)
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Narnia) by CS Lewis
Getting kids to read a book that has been adapted as a movie can be tricky, but it’s worth doing — in fact, choosing a book that’s also a movie is another great way to approach finding chapter books to read together. We read “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” before we saw the movie and it was a really nice experience. Reading the book will almost always make a movie more meaningful (to both kids and adults). They can see how books are adapted and that the movie can sometimes be very different from the book, which is why some great books become terrible movies. You’re probably familiar with the story, but this was a fun repeat read for me.
D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths by Ingri D’Aulaire and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire
This isn’t a chapter book, really, but myths are wonderful for young kids. It’s easy to forget how much these kinds of stories can impress young kids, and how often they will show up again in other literature your kid will read in school and on her own. My kids particularly love the story of Medusa and how you can only look at her safely through a reflection, and the story of how Persephone being taken by Hades for the winter caused her mother to mourn and create the seasons.
If you need more help finding great chapter books to read with your kids, ask your librarian. A friend of mine who is a librarian recently told me that something like 80 percent of her job involves really boring clerical duties. She also said, “I do this job for the other 20 percent: leading storytimes, helping kids with projects and helping find perfect books for interested readers.” I see a new Library motto: “Librarians: Use Them!”
What are your favorite children’s chapter books?
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