The Joy of Chapter Books

My first chapter book, The Spyders: Slither Me Timbers, is coming out in print, ebook, and audio around the end of May (date still to be determined) and I am beyond excited. While there are many books I want to write for both adults and kids, and I have plans to finish several in the next year, I’m pretty pleased that my first book for my new publishing company and for me as an author will be a chapter book and it’s the first of a series.

I think chapter books are the unsung heroes of children’s literature and I don’t think they get the respect and admiration they deserve. Chapter books are the keys to accessing countless worlds of wonder for new readers.

What is a chapter book?

A chapter book is a short novel that’s usually in the 100 – 150 page range. Think of the Captain Underpants series (by Dav Pilkey), Diary of a Wimpy Kid (by Jeff Kinney), or the Magic Treehouse books by Mary Pope Osborne. Aimed at newer readers in the 7-10 age range, chapter books look like novels. They have chapters (hence the name) and usually black and white images that are sprinkled throughout the book. Their print size is larger than the standard novel but not so big they look like words for babies or little kids.

In the beginning – board books and picture books

Books for younger children, picture books or board books, or even beginning readers, lean very heavily on brightly coloured images with few words per page. These are books that parents read with kids on their laps, and little kids flip the pages and make up stories based on the images they see and the words they remember grownups reading. They are often filled with spectacular artwork and for many of us they are the first books we remember as adults.

Beginning readers

The first books kids actually learn to read are usually beginning readers, with somewhere in the range of 30 pages, roughly 20 words per page, and simple, colourful images that enhance the words. In the old days they would have been Dick and Jane books, and then Dr. Seuss. They are wonderful for becoming the first books where children sound out a word and read a page, and then a whole book. When those first words are read, a window is flung open in their minds and they devour these thin little books like the sweetest candy.

Moving up to chapter books

Next comes chapter books. The kids that are reaching for chapter books want to read like their parents and their older brothers and sisters. They want a book that doesn’t look like it’s for little kids. A chapter book feels like a novel. The size and the paper feel the same. They are the gateway to Harry Potter and Percy Jackson and A Wrinkle in Time for kids who aren’t quite ready to tackle those books solo. But these chapter books are starting to have more complex stories, and they now feature many more words than pictures.

Beginning readers are the window to the joy of reading, allowing kids to look out on a world of stories and feel a sense of independence. They give kids a glimpse of what is possible. Chapter books allow them to step out the door and if they find the right book, their lives are never the same. They land on other planets, in ancient Greece, in a magic treehouse, or in my case, the tiny, unexpected world of spiders in the garden. Chapter books are also the first experiences these new readers will have of becoming hooked on a series.

Moving up from chapter books kids will begin to dive into longer novels with much more complex and emotionally challenging subjects and content. I love seeing them at this stage too, but nothing beats the first time hearing those magic words, “Can I read just one more chapter?”

The Spyders: Slither Me Timbers will be out at the end of May, 2021. Sign up for the newsletter for the latest details!

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