Reading Aloud to Our Preschooler: Adventures in Chapter Books


When my husband went back to work after the birth of our second child, I began to wonder whose idea this whole ‘second child thing’ was anyway.  How was I going to attend to a newborn and a three year-old at once, especially heading into the holidays when my son was off from preschool but my husband still had to work?  How could I make my older child feel included in my and his little sister’s routines and not feel left out?  

Well, I thought reading aloud was something I could do with both of them pretty easily, but I found out quickly that it could be very difficult, especially when nursing, because the more involved picture books preferred by my son (versus board books) were big enough for me to whack my daughter in the face with while nursing her.

I knew there had to be something I could change.  

After some pondering, I decided my son might be ready to listen to and follow along as I read a chapter book aloud.

Chapter books are usually smaller and more easily maneuvered.  He was only three years-old at the time, but I figured he had pretty good language abilities, comprehension and story retell skills for his age, and what could it hurt?  If nothing else, my loving little boy would enjoy being cuddled up to his mother amidst all the new chaos in his life that comes with having a new sibling.  Feeling clever and motivated, I marched into our local library and scoured the shelves for something appropriate for reading aloud.  Thus began a new phase in our journey of family read alouds.

Throughout the last two years, we’ve read several books.  Now that I am finished nursing and that precious newborn has become a precocious toddler, it isn’t always as easy to have uninterrupted reading aloud time.  As a matter of fact, there are times when reading aloud becomes like trying to give a speech in the middle of a marching band performance, but we sure try!!  Here’s my take on a few of the books we have managed to read and how my son reacted to them: 

One of our favorite books for reading aloud.

Our Family’s Hits: Five Chapter Books my Preschooler Adored Hearing Read Aloud: 

  • The My Father’s Dragon Series, by Ruth Stiles Gannett 
    This is a trilogy I first found out about from a couple of my friends who read it to their children first.  Apparently, I was late to the party; after using my friend, Google, it is actually on a ton of ‘first chapter book read aloud’ lists.  The titles of the individual books, in series order, are My Father’s Dragon, Elmer and the Dragon, and The Dragons of Blueland.  They are about a young boy named Elmer, who makes friends with a cat and the two of them begin their quest to rescue a dragon.  The verdict?  My son was highly intrigued.  He definitely understood it at the age of three, and the comments he made and the questions he asked reflected that.  We had some good chuckles throughout this book as well.  I will not deny, I think these books are three of the most endearing children’s books I have read and I cannot wait until my daughter is old enough to enjoy them too.
  • James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl
    I believe I am an anomaly because I cannot recollect having ever read this book during my childhood.  Anyway, I am so glad I picked this one off of the library shelf when I did.  My son was enthralled with the story.  If you were deprived of this tale as I believe I was, or if you simply can’t remember, it is about a young boy who is forced to live with his deplorable aunts after his parents pass away.  One day, with the help of some magic crystals, he begins a journey that takes him on a wild adventure. My son understood a lot of it at the age of four and a half and would keep asking me to read ‘just one more chapter.’  There was no doubt it was a favorite of his.

  • The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis  
    My son was four and a half by the time we read this one and, while I don’t think he grasped a lot of the hidden meanings (I wouldn’t expect him to), he was excited about the book as we read it and I think the characters really captured his interest and imagination.  I mean, the kids went into a piece of furniture and came out into a magical world with talking beavers, who wouldn’t be amazed by that?  I think we’ll re-read it when he is a little older, and then move on to the sequel.
  •  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl
    How could I not read this one to him?  There was a lot for my four year-old to follow as the story was read to him, but I think he ‘got’ enough of it to sit in eager anticipation for good chunks of time as my husband and I took turns reading.  He ran around pretending he had a ‘golden ticket’ for a couple weeks after we finished it, too.
  • The Frog and Toad Treasury, by Arnold Lobel
    I am pretty sure every 
    Frog and Toad story ever written was included in the treasury, which I also found in our local library.  I can only say that we loved reading these short stories together. My son found the stories very understandable and, although there were many many stories in one book, it ended up being a very ‘fast read’.

Our Family’s ‘Misses’: Books that Didn’t Thrill my Preschooler:

  • Charlotte’s Web, by E.B White
    Charlotte’s Web was actually the first chapter book we read.  Oh, please do not think I hate this book, I actually love it.  At the age of three, however, my son just wasn’t into it.  He loved that I read it because it meant cuddle time, but I don’t think he understood much of it and he didn’t seem to absorb a lot of it.  I think we’ll do better with it if I read it to him when he’s almost six years-old.
  • Little House on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
    This one is a classic of course, but this by far was the hardest book we tried to read to him.  The biggest problem?  Too many historical references for a preschooler to understand.  While we finished the book, I think the only things he took away were the character’s names and Laura’s family being afraid of the Native Americans (not that he figured out who the Native Americans were, despite my repeated attempts at explaining history).

Where are We Going From Here?: Books we have Started and Ones on the ‘To Read’ List:

  • Stuart Little, by E.B. White
    So far, we have gotten through the first two chapters of this book.  My son likes the idea of a story with a mouse in it, although I do wonder if he possibly thinks a human mother can give birth to a baby mouse now that it’s happened in the book.  We’ll have to keep reading to see how this one pans out.
  • Winnie the Pooh, by A.A. Milne
    This is a no-brainer when it is already on my bookshelf (my in-laws found a copy for us).  While I am plenty familiar with Pooh and his friends, I have never read the book and it’s in my queue to read with my little ones very soon!

  • The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
    I remember loving this book as a second grader. I recall it being a tale about a young girl whose character evolved from a bitter young child to a more loving and accepting girl through her experiences as an orphan and the friendships she develops throughout the book.  I can only hope that I feel the same way as I read it to my son after all these years and that he sees the little lessons scattered throughout this beloved classic because by the time we read it, he will probably be a kindergartener.

Everyone can enjoy reading aloud.

In the end, I realize that our family’s ‘misses’ may end up being your family’s ‘hits’; everyone has different tastes when it comes to books!  These are only my personal opinions based on experience.  

I know there are so many other stories out there that even young kids can enjoy and that my family has only scratched the surface when it comes to what books are available.  It is one of my greatest wishes that my kids will always love reading and hopefully, we have started to encourage a love of books in both of them.

Have you read any chapter books with your kids?  What stories have been successful during your family reading times?


  1. What a great list to get started!
    We also like the MERCY WATSON books, about a pig acting like a pig, and all the craziness that ensues. Now that my son is in 1st grade, we just finished the first HARRY POTTER book, stopping along the way to explain things like: cloaks. We’ll hold off on reading anymore until he’s older, however. We have friends who read their 4 year old THE HOBBIT, and he loved it, though my own sister said she read it herself at 9 years old and felt the material is more suited for older kiddos. And like many other families, we’ve read nearly all of THE MAGIC TREE HOUSE series. Characters Jack and Annie sure have a lot of adventures, and though you can start in order, you don’ really need to. Just pick one that interests your child. (though I think the easier ones are the earlier ones, and they get a tad more complicated as you go on)
    thanks for the recommendations for preschool chapter books, we’re always reading around here!


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