Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Beginning Chapter Book

I ran the Chicago Marathon in 2006.  A few years before that, I ran a 5k.  The 5k was an intimidating distance for me. I could not wrap my mind around running for 30 minutes. But I did. Then I ran a 5 mile race. Next, a 9 mile race. After that, a half marathon. Finally, I conquered all 26.2 grueling miles. I felt good about myself, and that accomplishment was years in the making. I learned endurance.

A child's first encounter with reading is often a picture book. Words are blended with pictures, and children enjoy the story with images and explanation. Picture books begin with few words and are interactive, having children touch and feel sensory objects to convey meaning. The stories slowly become longer, and the interactions become less physical. Children no longer touch something in the book, but they understand the sensory words through their own knowledge.

Picture books become longer and more abstract as children grow. By ages 4 and 5, picture books can be 800 words or longer and the illustrations are fit for The Louvre. A good picture book is a treasure. Adults still read the books to children and answer each of the 1 million questions children ask. These questions help the child understand the story and make personal meaning with the writing.

As children are taught how to read in the primary grades, they still rely on adults to help make meaning of words and stories. Books are still short, and there are many images to help the child visualize and understand what is happening. Their independent comprehension is developing.

From the primary to intermediate grades, children are often asked to run a marathon, even though many have only been exposed to the 5k distance. Reading longer text requires endurance, and many children do not have it. Text and books at this age require far more independent interpretation and a wealth of background knowledge, and students frequently give up because the length of text is too intimidating and they do not have the patience to endure.

Readers need to develop endurance. A beginning chapter book (defined by me as a story roughly 4,000-10,000 words with illustrations) is the bridge young readers need to travel to longer text. Children, particularly those who are reluctant readers, need to accomplish shorter lengths of text before they can consistently and confidently handle longer lengths.

My first beginning chapter book, Danny, Phil, and Friends: The Soccer Game, was written for readers beginning to develop endurance. It is not a marathon, but rather a 5 mile run the reader can enjoy, learn from, and build upon.

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