Thursday, June 3, 2010

The newest chapter in my life

In addition to being the Curator of the Wallace Children's Literature Collection, I am also the mother of a 5-year-old girl. This past winter, the two of us made the leap from Potter, Milne and Lobel to add chapter books to our nightly reading ritual. He's a sampling of what we've read together so far.

My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
This book won the Newbery Medal in 1949 and remains a perfect first chapter book to read aloud with a child, boy or girl. The chapters are short, there are frequent illustrations, and the story is sharp and engaging.

Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry
The Gooney Bird Greene books (there's four of them now) are a delightful alternative to the more pedestrian Junie B (First Grader) series. Gooney Bird is a born storyteller who never, ever lies. Not only will she entertain both parent and child, she may even teach both a little something about the craft of writing.

Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little by E.B. White
I like the cut of Stuart's jib, but my daughter (well both of us, really) preferred Charlotte's Web by a long shot even though I feared it would be too mature for her. She loved it to pieces despite her attention wandering a bit in some of the descriptive bits. I, of course, bawled like a baby when Charlotte died (the chapter in which she dies is some of the best writing ever in a children’s book). My daughter wasn’t affected by Charlotte’s death per se, but she became frantic when Charlotte’s babies fly away and leave Wilbur.

Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows
The seventh book in this series of best-friend adventures will be out this fall. My daughter and I have read the first two together and, while we both like them a lot, I would prefer to have her wait until she is comfortably reading chapter books on her own to finish the series. In my opinion, their humour is more suited to the child as solitary reader than in the read-aloud context.

Daisy Meadows' Fairy books
There's what, a million of these books? My daughter got one for her 5th birthday which we read together. She has since insisted on reading three more with me. She loves them and I am all for her devouring them, but I will, however, happily consign the rest of the series to her independence as a reader. Life's too short for predictable, gender-typed series fiction that gives nothing back whatsoever to the adult reader.

Iggy and Me by Jenny Valentine
There's two books in this series about sisters, Iggy and Flo; a third one will be available this fall. Unlike the previous two series I mentioned, Valentine's books make excellent read-alouds. They're also wry, British and as funny as all get out. My daughter loved LOVED them. So did I.

Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart-Lovelace
These books were written in the 30s and are the historical precursors to best-friend books like Ivy and Bean. The first one begins at Betsy’s 5th birthday party when she meets her new neighbour, Tacy. By the time the series is done Betsy is married off and Tacy is starting a career. My daughter and I have read the first 2 books, Betsy-Tacy and Betsy-Tacy and Tib. We love them. They are smart and gentle and perfectly paced for 5-7 yr-olds.

Twig by Elizabeth Orton Jones
Another chapter book from the 30s. Twig is a little girl who befriends a little boy Elf in the garden of her tenement house. My daughter and I both liked it but not as much as we liked the Betsy-Tacy books.

My Naughty Little Sister Stories by Dorothy Edwards
Just as Ivy and Bean owes a debt to Betsy-Tacy, Iggy and Me is a modern retelling of the My Naughty Little Sister stories from the 1950s. The short-story format of these books makes them easy to read with a young child because you can easily pick them up and put them down: there is no need to sustain narrative continuity from one story to the next. They are definitely a hit in my house despite the sometimes stilted voice of the narrator. And you won't even believe what happens in "The Naughtiest Story of All." Suffice to say, my daughter let out an audible gasp that woke the neighbours when she learned the awful truth.

The End Of the Beginning: Being the Adventures Of a Small Snail (And an Even Smaller Ant) by Avi
Avi is a master of puns and wordplay and the humour that comes from multiple, unintended layers of meaning. While I acknowledge the craft of this book, its simple sophistication was beyond my daughter even if the plot-line wasn't. She found it a dull slog and I kept wishing it were just me reading it by myself.

What's in the pile by the bed?
The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
The Hundred Dresses and The Witch Family by Eleanor Estes
The Borrowers by Mary Norton
The Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson
The Clementine books and Stuart Goes to School by Sara Pennypacker
The Doll People books by Ann Martin
All those wonderful Ramona and Henry books by Beverly Cleary
...and, of course, stacks and stacks of picture books because one format does not give way to another.

Anyone care to add to our reading list? What chapter books have you shared with your not-quite-reading-yet or recently-learned-to-read child?


  1. I grew up reading all of the "Betsy" books by Carolyn Haywood. They're wonderful...or at least wonderful in my 8 year old mind's eye.

  2. I've been reading the Wayside School books by Louis Sachar with my daughter. We alternate reading pages aloud to one another. The books are quite fun; I'm on my second go-round with them as my son read these books as well!

  3. Oh and the Jacob Two-Two books are on the pile by the bed and we are ploughing through Marie-Louise Gay's Travels with My Family right now. I also recently bought one of Kate Dicamillo's Mercy Watson pig series books. Oh, and A Cricket in Times Square too. That's by the bed too.

  4. oh my ethan just loved my father's dragon! we've read charlotte's web and stuart little, too. currently we are running through all one million boxcar children and magic tree-house books.

  5. What a perfectly excellent list, so excellent that I'm printing it out for reference.

    I just recently read all three Dragon books to Mir - I somehow missed them when I was a kid, which rather astonishes me. (

  6. Oh, and I loved reading The Tale of Despereaux to Mir, and she loved having it read.

  7. We've enjoyed several on your list. And then about six months ago, Fiona decided she didn't want stories with talking animals in them. Yeah, I know! I'm still nonplussed.

    Now I'm at a point where I am trying to find short stories/picture books appropriate for the 8+ crowd. I only read a chapter or so to her, then she reads for another 15 - 30 minutes herself, so I miss out on the good chapter books and most times I'm so tired I would like to just read a short story to her anyway.

    I think our library's search engine allows me to put in an appropriate age, and if not, the crew there is really helpful. Today was the day they came to the school to introduce the summer program (Mummies and Ancient Egypt is the theme).

  8. Betsy-Tacy! I devoured those!

    Let's see. We've done My Father's Dragon (and loved them). A Cricket in Times Square. Oh! And The Mouse and the Motorcycle series is terrific (Beverly Cleary). A little later, The Indian in the Cupboard.

  9. KayTar loves the Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo. They are perfect for her, because while she reads on a 4th grade level, her attention span and interests skew more closely to her age. She can read these completely on her own, but we also read them together.

  10. The Baby LOVED Ivy and Bean - the sense of humour was spot on for her. I'm going to try more of these with her over the summer. And her dad, that good man, is reading the Ramona books with her - something he's done with each of the kids at her age.

    Another favorite of hers is the Children of Noisy Village series, written by Astrid Lingren (sp?). She MUCH prefers them to the Pippi books, which are still pretty fun.

  11. The Children of Green Knowe is a great book but QUITE scary. My 11 year old found it a bit spooky for late-night reading, really.

    And I forgot: THE DOLL PEOPLE! I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked that book - the whole series is nicely done.

  12. Thank you Thank you

    I have been wondering where to go next for chapter books for my 5yo girl. We finished Dr Dolittle a few weeks ago and then George's Marvelous Medicine now we are reading Runaway Ralph. I also have Ramona in the pile.


  13. i think i will look for My Father's Dragon this weekend. thank you. ;)

  14. The May Queen (7.5) is reading chapter books on her own now, and is devouring those Rainbow Magic books by Daisy Meadows. The only ones she hasn't read are the ones we are waiting on from the library. I suspect I would hate them, but have decided that if she wants to read, I will let her. My mother today told me that when a child is reading for pleasure let them read things a step UNDER what they read at school. As my mother has a masters in education, I think I'll take her advice. She's done with Junie B Jones and Bailey School Kids, and has read most of the Magic Bus series before losing interest. She just discovered Captain Underpants. She's been reading Garfield books, and loved the Babymouse series, so I checked out as many graphic novels and "toon books" as I could find. I like to get her into series' because then there's a lot to read, and she reads a lot very quickly! She has a Ramona book waiting to be read, and I have a Gooney Bird Greene book stashed in the attic... upon your suggestion a while back. I got my Father's Dragon after Magpie's post, but she won't even look at it. I just picked up Stuart Little and The Tale of Despereaux (in an attempt to capitalize on her current mouse fascination) and may try to read them with her. She is excited to read Runaway Ralph as she's read the other two books in that series.

    I'll be looking be looking up those on your list, and in the comments, and putting things on hold at the library.

    Would love suggestions from you and other readers for graphic novels of any sort and chapter books featuring small rodents (mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, bunnies, etc... this is her current interest, and if I can capitalize on that with books, I'm all for it!)

  15. Oh PM: Get her to read Terry Pratchett's The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents. Am also wondering if she might be ready for Mrs Frisbee and the Rats of Nimh.

  16. I read How to Train Your Dragon to C. While the level of the story was perhaps too high, he loved the funny names, and was quite into it if I read it very dramatically.

  17. I recommend the Dick King-Smith stories about Sophie for young readers. The Freddy the Pig series is also fun. For slightly older children, Hilary McKay's books about the Casson Family (Saffy's Angel, Indigo's Star, Permanent Rose etc.) are lovely, as are the Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall.

    On your previous blog, you once compiled a great list of wonderful books for tween/teen girls to read. I foolishly didn't save it. I'm hoping you can re-post it here, or perhaps create a new one? Pretty please? DD is at loose ends and a long summer is approaching....

  18. Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat was a great favourite when our kids were 5 or 6. Boys wandering about the prairie with no supervision combined lots of funny animal stories made for great reading


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