It goes without saying that you should continue to read picture books to your preschoolers and kindergarteners, but if your children are ready, adding in just the right chapter book can add a new dimension to your read aloud time. The qualities of the best chapter books to read aloud to 4-6 year olds are simple. The books must:
- Have relatively short chapters
- Incorporate engaging and memorable characters
- Tell quirky and unique adventures
In addition, if you are reading aloud to children of different ages, all of the following choices are excellent for older kids, as well.
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Teddy and Co. by Cynthia Voight
This is an absolutely adorable story about a group of toys who love to explore the world. I loved how Teddy was always lost in his philosophical thoughts, and Umpah the elephant was a grand baker. When several new toys join the group, Mr. B the rabbit with a frilly collar, and a doll who wants to be a queen, the others find they take a bit of getting used to. This is one of those books that I actually think works better as a read aloud than an independent read and it struck me as a sort of modern Winnie-the-Pooh.
My Father's Dragon (series) by Ruth Stiles Gannett
This trilogy of books is mentioned on several of my book lists. I include it here again because, frankly, it always takes me by surprise that I still meet people who have never heard of My Father's Dragon. That is a good reminder to me, too. Not everyone has had equal exposure to children's books. Anyway... this is my number one recommendation for a very first chapter read aloud. I am not exaggerating when I say we have read all three books at least 5 times. The story follows Elmer who runs aways with a knapsack full of assorted items like rubber bands and lollipops. He is on a mission to rescue a baby dragon, but he can only do so if he is clever enough to get past a bunch of rather self-absorbed wild animals. When my son's kindergarten teachers read this aloud and my son came home and insisted I read it again, too. It is that good.
The Very Very Far North (series) by Dan Bar-El
This is my new favorite read aloud, and I don't say that lightly! Duane the polar bear has a curiosity and sense of adventure that leads him first to a shipwreck where he meets C.C. the Owl. He then encounters more new friends like Handsome the musk ox, Magic the arctic fox, and Major Puffin. Together, they explore the wonders of the northern landscape. The cast of animals is as diverse in their personalities as they are in species and the thread of the story focuses on learning to appreciate one's friends. An absolute must-read book, and an excellent choice for kids of all ages.
A Mouse Called Wolf by Dick King-Smith
On this blog I have frequently recommended the books of prolific author Dick King-Smith. His books are excellent choices for kids reading and listening to chapter books for the first time. He is best known book is Babe: The Gallant Pig and The Water Horse but A Mouse Called Wolf is another book with enduring appeal. A young mouse named after Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart uses his talent for singing to entertain and help others.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
When I first started reading this to the boys I was a bit nervous. A few years ago I had attempted it, but my older son was scared off by the cyclone. This time around, however, the boys gobbled it up. They simply refused to let me put it down. I even had to do recaps of the action while I brushed my younger son's teeth! The movie (while wonderful in its own right) is not an acceptable substitute. Read this original "American Fairy Tale" with your kids. A word of advice: because this book is now in the public domain there are a lot of iffy versions out there. You need to make sure you get a copy with the original color illustrations.
Want more books to read aloud to 4, 5 and 6 year olds? Try these lists:
Catwings (series) by Ursula K. Le Guin, illustrated by S. D. Schindler
Le Guin's classic fantasy adventure about winged cats is a short novel about 50 pages long. Four flying cats leave the city for the country, where they must overcome danger. Not to worry, all ends happily. Catwings novels make exceptional read alouds, especially for early elementary-aged children.
Detective Gordon: The First Case by Ulf Nilsson
I read this charming Swedish import to both my kids a few months ago. Detective Gordon, the local crime stopper, has more of a penchant for tea and cakes than he does for police work, and don't even think about asking him to use the gun. He gets a small but enthusiastic assistant when he meets up with a young mouse, who he mistakenly takes for the criminal in a case he has to solve. Together they concoct a plan to discover the real thief, who has stolen all of Squirrel's nuts. The lovely, colorful illustrations are a wonderful accompaniment.
Jenny and the Cat Club (series) by Esther Averill
Averill started writing about Jenny and her gang of feline friends in the 1940s and they still hold up today. These are short chapter books and go quickly for kids with less than stellar attention spans.
The Adventures of a South Pole Pig: A novel of snow and courage by Chris Kurtz
I just read this aloud to both boys when they were ages 8 and 4 and we all found it quite delightful. Atop her manure pile, Flora dreams of exciting adventures; she longs to get out into the world! She want to go on an expedition and run with the sled dogs! There’s just one problem. She’s a pig. Finding herself on a ship headed for Antarctica, she digs deep inside her optimistic and brave little self to make her dreams come true
Prince Puggly of Spud and the Kingdom of Spiff by Robert Paul Weston
This delightful novel is written entirely in verse. The premise is wonderfully silly: in the Kingdom of Spiff everyone is obsessed with fashion, and ridiculously elaborate fashion at that. Well, almost everyone, the Princess prefers pajamas... and books. In Spud, however, things are a bit different and when Puggly of Spud and Frannie of Spiff meet up they set out to teach the others a thing or two about what is really important. This is really fun to read aloud because of the fantastical vocabulary and the rhyming couplets. Even the font is "fancified." I do, however, recommend it for more experienced listeners. I certainly think a 5 year old can listen to it, but it is not the usual fare and I found that mini recaps of the action before we began each reading session to be extra-helpful. Nevertheless, it was a hit.