Thursday, October 25, 2012

Chapter books we have read and loved

Anjali, Sophia and I have found a new love last year - chapter books. I have read somewhere (possibly in one of those excellent blogs that i read but never cite) that children have a listening age that is much higher than their reading age. This makes them ready for listening to chapter books much more earlier than they are ready to read them

Why should we read chapter books to our children? I have seen that Anjali and Sophia are both fascinated by the complexity of the plot. While Trixie or Fancy Nancy is nice to read and focuses on important issues in the children's lives - like losing a toy or losing a tooth , chapter books offer a far more complicated plot and captures the children's imagination. We all know that a well written children's chapter book is also enjoyed by adults.

Here is how I have managed the chapter book business. Interestingly, I am the only person in the house who reads chapter books to the kids. Husband reads to the children a lot, but somehow they dont like to hear their chapter books from him. Patti reads tamil books and thattha tells them stories from the Mahabharatha, but I am the chapter book person at the house.

Reading the books. In general, I dont read any chapter books to the kids unless I have read the books myself. There are many parents out there who do this because they want to make sure that there is no offensive language and the like, but for me, the reason is simple. If I have preread a book before, then I would know which parts to emphasize, which to skip, which to pause and discuss and which to leave for the kids to interpret. And since chapter books are usually much deeper than picture books, this process is very important. And since my fiction repertoire never broadened significantly beyond young adult, I have a large number of books that I love to read, which are also suitable for kids.

Determining when the kids are ready. Are the kids really ready for reading the same story in parts, when there are no pictures to the story? And how do you determine this? Husband and I were having a conversation about learning. You never really know when a child is ready for an milestone activity. For instance, we tried to introduce reading to Anjali from when she was three years old, both formally and informally and it is only in the last four or five months that she has really started to read. And it is only within the last month or so that she reads with confidence. I remember the many tears we shed over "Dad is sad, very very sad, what a bad day dad had" when we were in Bintan and I was helping Anjali do her daily reading.  But you have to keep trying, to figure out exactly when the learning of the skill will be in the child's zone of proximal development. Take Knitting, for instance, or sewing - the first knitting nancy I made lay in a corner collecting dust and now see what Anjali produced after half an hour of work on Tuesday evening

Awesome right - and done all by herself - she is planning to make one more and make braids for a doll that she is working on. Not a single mistake.

But this is not a post about knitting, it is a post about chapter books. I would say that a child is ready for chapter books when she has favorite character books that she keeps asking you to read when you borrow books from the library. We read Berenstein Bears and Fancy Nancy series to tatters before I realized that what the girls wanted was more of their favorite characters, more scrapes that sister bear got into or more explorations of Nancy and Bree. And Jane O Connor,  we love your books, but you just ain't writing them fast enough.

The younger kid. It was a real surprise to me though that Sophia was so much into chapter books. Anjali, at 3.5 years didnt really enjoy them. Ofcourse, I did try. I borrowed Beverley Cleary's books and the quick brown fox club by Julia Donaldson. But Anjali still preferred her Maisy books and Dora books at that age. So when Sophia started to clutch my arms and cuddle close when the witches converted the boy to the mouse, I was really shocked and even more so when I tried to catch her one day and she pointed a finger at me and muttered "Wingardium Leviosa". There was nothing for me to do besides flap my arms.

The first few weeks that we were reading chapter books, she used to complain about the lack of pictures, but now she doesnt do that anymore.

Taking it slowly.  This is a bit of a no brainer, but we have read 11 books in ten months. That should tell you about how slowly we take them. A chapter at a time, sometimes two. I got a shock when we were reading so much Harry Potter that we had to take our other library books back without touching them (all 44 of them. I didnt tell husband as he would grump about carrying them to and from the library). I also realized that i was putting Sophia at a disadvantaged position because at 3.5, she needed picture books. It is really unfair how we expect the second child to catch after the first one just because she seems to be able to. So now we have properly slowed down and I make sure I read atleast one picture book every night before snuggling in with the chapter book.

So there it is: Our nice love affair with chapter books. Hopefully it will develop into a nice long term relationship

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