Chapter book suggestions for a four-year-old

June 15, 2011 @ 2:24 pm | Filed under: , ,

Thought I’d start tackling some of your open thread questions. Here’s one from sashwee:

Do you have chapter book recommendations for a 4yo girl who is very verbal, and has a good attention span for listening, (similar to your Rilla?) but still only 4 (well almost 5) and not ready for the full brunt of…life?…fiction?

Matter of fact, I do!

(Last night, at the weekly kidlitchat on Twitter, I realized that one of the things I enjoy most in the whole world is helping people find good books to read—being a book matchmaker. If there were such a thing as eHarmony for readers, I could totally work there.)

All right, suggestions for a four-year-old who is ready to listen to chapter books:

My Father’s Dragon series by Ruth Stiles Gannett. Our family’s favorite choice for that first “book with chapters” read-aloud. Scott is working his way through the trilogy with Rilla right now.

• The Bat-Poet by Randall Jarrell, illustrated by Maurice Sendak. I’ve written much about this lovely tale here and here.

My Naughty Little Sister by Dorothy Edwards.

Milly-Molly-Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley, and its sequel, More Milly-Molly-Mandy. Like Naughty Little Sister, these are episodic books; each chapter is its own little story. Milly-Molly-Mandy’s busy daily adventures—very much rooted in simple domestic village life, running errands for her family, staying alone for the first time, deciding what to spend her hard-earned pennies on—have enchanted all four of my girls around age four or five.

Winnie-the-Pooh (does that go without saying?)

• the first two Betsy-Tacy books can be perfect for a five-year-old, but I have found my girls really clicked with Betsy at a slightly older age—perhaps seven or eight. (More about my Betsy-Tacy devotion here.)

• Sid Fleischman’s hilarious Farmer McBroom tall tales. I recommend starting with McBroom’s Zoo, which can be found in the collection: McBroom’s Wonderful One-Acre Farm: Three Tall Tales.

• Kipling’s Just-So Stories. I began reading these to Rilla at age four and she adores them—the belly laughs are irresistible. I rather suspect, however, that she believes “O Best Beloved” is referring to her specifically and is likely to be disgruntled when she realizes I read those words to her big sisters before her, in their day.

Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary.

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner (the very first one, which has a special kind of sweetness and earnestness to it—this was a head-over-heels-in-love book for Jane at age 4).

Old Mother West Wind and other Thornton Burgess animal stories—now, for us these were hit or miss. I had come kids adore them, and others who found them dull.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard Atwater. In our house, this is a read-aloud reserved exclusively for the daddy.

Pippi Longstocking, of course!

The Borrowers by Mary Norton, and The Littles by John Peterson. When it comes to tiny people living hidden in human houses, I’m a Borrowers girl all the way. Then again, the Littles have tails.

Tumtum and Nutmeg by Emily Bearn. Small animals behaving like people: almost as much fun as tiny hidden people. And what’s that other very young mouse-people series I’m forgetting? Hedge something. Brambly Hedge! That’s it.

• I don’t find Johnny Gruelle’s Raggedy Ann Stories very easy to read aloud—he tends toward the insipid—but I remember how magical I found those books as a very young child. Sodapop fountains!

The Cricket in Times Square. The kind of middle-grade story that always seems to hold our current four-year-old spellbound when Dad is reading it to the older kids.

The Stories Julian Tells by Ann Cameron. There’s a sequel, too—More Stories Julian Tells. I love these books! Need to pull them out for Rilla and Wonderboy.

This list could go on for a really long time. I know there are many great books I’m omitting, but these are the ones that come most immediately to mind. HOWEVER, it is almost guaranteed that as soon as I publish this post, I will kick myself for forgetting some particular favorite. Like actually just this minute I have remembered Doctor Boox. I adore Doctor Boox. I must go and find our copy of Doctor Boox immediately. Immediately!

I have a whole nother batch of suggestions for a six- or seven-year-old. For a four-year-old, I’ve seen the most connection and delight with very simple, homey kinds of books. That’s why I haven’t included authors like C.S. Lewis, Roald Dahl, Kate di Camillo, E. Nesbit, Edward Eager, E. B. White, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, and Frances Hodgson Burnett—I save those for a few years down the road. (Having said that, James and the Giant Peach might be a great fit for a four-year-old. Humongous bugs! What could be better?)

For a four-year-old, I would also reiterate my enthusiastic recommendation of Jim Weiss and Jay O’Callahan story tapes.

And folk and fairy tales by the dozens.

And I’ll add this thought—although Rilla (who turned five in April) has indeed enjoyed several of the chapter books I’ve mentioned above, and her My Father’s Dragon time with Daddy is her favorite part of the day, she would rather read picture books with me than a “Long Book” at this point. Almost every day she goes around the house collecting a stack of picture books for “quiet reading time.” (By that she means being alone with me—it isn’t actually all that quiet.) 😉 I haven’t added to the Rillabook list in the sidebar for weeks because lately all her choices are books we’ve read and read and read again. I find this to be very common at the emergent reader stage—as opposed to, say, a ten-year-old who seems to want new new new more more more at a rate nearly impossible to keep up with.

(I think these cycles of rereading beloved favorites and hungering for exciting new frontiers continue all through life. In my early teens, I was a binge rereader—both of my childhood favorites and of newer passions like the Pern books or—dare I admit it—the unflinchingly formulaic Silhouette First Love romances of the ’80s, for which I actually had a subscription. It makes sense that in times of great change or stress, formula fiction and the deeply familiar offer special comfort and appeal. This is probably the same psychological need that makes me crave nothing but Agatha Christie when I’m sick.)

I’m sure other people will have great suggestions in the comments! (Hint hint.)

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go introduce my children to Doctor Boox.

Related post: Early Readers as Read-Alouds, and Other Book Suggestions for Three-Year-Olds.

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34 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Annette W says:

    My 4.5 yo also likes all the Little House on audio. She’s getting Betsy-Tacy for her fifth birthday.

    This is a list I’ve been desperate for! I keep adding to my list!

    Personally, I didn’t care for Pooh as a read aloud…the pronouns were confusing.

    We did like Raggedy Ann and Andy books though.

    As you think of more, please add them! I will be loving this link often!

  2. Kathryn says:

    So much overlap with Cherub there! We just came out of a Ramona binge and are two thirds of the way through My Father’s Dragon.

  3. Katie M. says:

    I love Betsy-Tacy, almost beyond reason!
    These are ones Lydia enjoyed at that age:

    The Sophie books by Dick King-Smith, Catwings series by Ursula LeGuin
    Marguerite deAngeli’s books–particularly “Henner’s Lydia”
    “Big Susan” by Elizabeth Orton Jones.

  4. Mary G says:

    Milly Molly Mandy is STILL a fave around here (and I’ve got two boys 8 & 12 and a girl 11). The text is so fun to read-aloud! Just saying the name gives us all a giggle!

  5. Rachel says:

    When Llani was 4 she adored the Unicorn’s Secret series by Kathleen Duey. Understandable for a 4yo, but not simplistic. I was delighted by them, too.

  6. Heather @ Books for Breakfast says:

    We’ve also liked recently Big Susan, a sweet story about doll house dolls who come to life only on Christmas Eve. Delightful!

    Oh, and about Pooh, track down the audio recordings of Peter Dennis. My kids have each chapter memorized.

    And Homer Price is sooooo much fun!

  7. MelanieB says:

    Annette, funny that you don’t care for Pooh. We came early to Pooh. We’ve been doing it as a read-aloud since Bella was two. Though I do find that the first couple of stories where he addresses Christopher Robin directly are a bit annoying. I’ve been known to change those pronouns.

    We adore Milly-Molly-Mandy. Need to dig it out again. It set Bella off on a pretend jam-making play. (Her imaginary daughter Jane went to South America to learn jam making.)

    Bella is like Rilla. She enjoys some chapter books occasionally but really likes stacks of picture books.

    One current favorite chapter book is Cinderella retold by C.S. Evans and illustrated by Arthur Rackham. Gorgeous silhouette pictures and beautiful prose.

  8. MelanieB says:

    Oh… The Wind in the Willows!

  9. Melissa Wiley says:

    Flat Stanley. I forgot Flat Stanley!

  10. Bethany C says:

    In all honesty, the books which my 4 year old has loved the most and talked about the most were the Little House books– especially the Martha Years!

  11. mamacrow says:

    Well you’ve all mentioned most of faveas already, but I’d add Teddy Robinson (Joan G Robinson), Dorrie (Patricia Coombes), Albert (Alison Jezard); Ponder + William (Barbara Softly); and the Bell Mooney books about Kitty – I dont want to, I know, etc. Oh, and Beatrix Potter, and the Little Grey Rabbit books (Alison UTtley)p and the Sam Pig books (also Uttley)

  12. sashwee says:

    This is a gold mine! Many I don’t know and others I hadn’t thought of trying.
    Thank you very much, both M. and her fan club. 🙂

  13. Jennifer says:

    Wonderful list! I’m nodding in agreement and I love the reminders now that my youngest is hitting this age.

    Milly-Molly-Mandy we enjoyed, as also Raggedy Ann books, but only a few.

    An OOP book, but just delightful is “Poppy Seed Cakes” by pseud. Margery Clark, illustrated by Maud and Misa Petersham.

    Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is another we’re really enjoying right now.

    The Velveteen Rabbit..I was hesitant, but it was embraced by both ages (7 and almost 4)

  14. Jennifer says:

    Have to agree on Borrowers over Littles. The tailed icked me out.

  15. coffeemamma says:

    My youngest really loved Babe the Gallant Pig by Dick King-Smith at that age (huge belly laughs!). Little House in the Big Woods was a favourite with all four between 4-6yo.

  16. Hannah says:

    For some reason I have ended up reading Charlotte’s Web to all three kids when they were four. It’s our first chapter book, although of course the younger two have heard others being read aloud to the older one(s).

    Btw, I read a great article in yesterday’s USA Today about a new book out about EB White and how he came to write Charlotte’s Web. Can’t wait to read it.

    Oh! My kids have also liked the Mercy Watson series at that age …

  17. Kirsten says:

    I’m really late to this conversation (and have not read the comments because I’m in the middle of moving – again), but I had to make sure my all time favorite chapter book for 4 year olds makes it on this list. I think we read this almost exclusively for an entire year (and then again at 5 and 6), it’s Twig by Elizabeth Orton Jones. So simple, so sweet and so engaging.

  18. jeanne says:

    Love your list of chapter reads! I usually read 3 or 4 chapter books to my 4s/5s pre-k class each year and it is wonderful to have some new ideas! My Father’s Dragon trilogy, James/Peach and Charlotte’s Web have most often received the spotlight with my groups. Thanks again for introducing me to so many others that I can preview 🙂

  19. Fe says:

    Milly-Molly-Mandy is a _huge_ hit here:-) (I introduced it to my son at about that age… not sure how he would take it, but he _loved_ it!)
    Bilby (oh, so very _nearly_ five) is loving the two Alice books (she’s getting them with her 7 yo brother), and Winnie-the-Pooh (she’s _gutted_ every time I finish a chapter and stop:-) But I know that Puggle won’t do anything else while there’s a read aloud going:-) So I have to stop [plus…. If I keep going, I’ll fall asleep:-( Still don’t have a solution to that one:-( ) They were listening to James and the Giant Peach as an audio book, and although it did take her a couple of chapters to decide she liked it… once she did… she _loved_ it:-)

  20. maria says:

    Not sure if anyone mentioned it yet, but we love Clemintine by Sara Pennypacker.
    And OH MY, how did we go this long w/out realizing that Clementine is not just one wonderful book but actually a series?!?
    I found Clementine at the library and snatched it up as a read a loud. We stayed up way too late one night so we could read the whole book in one rip-roaring, belly laugh, ROFLOL session. We still get hysterical remembering the book. Makes me want to chop my hair off and dye it orangey red. hee hee
    I am going to HAVE to get the other books. We are due some LOL fun piled up like puppies reading. 🙂 Can’t wait. SO glad your entry reminded me of these books because that led me to the B&N site in search of it which led to the discovery that it’s a series. JOY! 😀

  21. maria says:

    Forgive my misspelled Clemintine that should be Clementine, as well as my failure to put the word “blog” in front of the word “entry” in the last sentence and it should be “book” not “books” also. Proof that one should not reply to blogs when half asleep. :blush:

  22. Pippi says:

    How timely! I was just thinking about this today! My newly-turned-4-year-old has just fallen in love with Pooh. I spotted a Ramona book at the library today and nearly got it…but the libraries in our area are having bed bug issues at the moment and I couldn’t bring myself to check it out 🙁 My Father’s Dragon is great! I had almost forgotten about it. I must check it out. Once the bedbugs are gone.

  23. Tina says:

    We also have enjoyed Milly Molly Mandy, Mercy Watson, and My Father’s Dragon. A new read-aloud that we thoroughly enjoyed was Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins. I think that I laughed harder than the kids!
    Thanks for all the great suggestions!

  24. Sarah says:

    Thanks for the suggestions! I had never heard of My Naughty Little Sister but I just read it to my 4 year old daughter and she *loved* it! She never wanted me to stop!

  25. Heather says:

    Thanks for this list of suggestions. My just turned 3 year old is an avid reader and very verbal (13 word sentences at 19 months, drive you batty talking constantly verbal). We’ve just started getting into longer novels as away to get through the grumpy afternoons because she stopped napping more than 6 months ago (seems like forever really). Anyway… she loved the My Father’s Dragon series, enjoyed Charlotte’s Web and we just read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in three sittings. She can sit still and listen to stories for hours at a time. We still read tons of picture books per day but it will be nice to have a go to list of novels that are appropriate and she is likely to enjoy. Happy reading everyone!

  26. Sarah May says:

    Thanks for this great list! I am pinning this link for as my kids are getting a little older. I had just thought of trying the Raggedy Ann book yesterday.

  27. Jocelyn says:

    Ooo, thanks! What a find! (I just discovered your blog tonight.)

  28. radmama says:

    My oldest was enjoying Pooh at 2, Stuart Little at 3 and Little House books at 4. He had the longest attention span of my crew for chapter books!
    My second couldn’t sit through a chapter until 5ish and loved the Narnia and Ramona books best. My third is 4.5 and is just (maybe) ready for a chapter book.

  29. rockinlibrarian says:

    Oh, excellent, everything you said! I’m going to bookmark this post for whenever this topic comes up in conversation (and it does frequently). I appreciate your advice to hold off on so many of the classics that will just be better appreciated in a few more years, and that picture books should still be savored– that’s what I hear so often from people who want to read their favorite books to younger and younger kids, and say it like it means their child is Just So Advanced– but it’s rushing and you don’t get the full effect and you miss out on so many wonderful books that ARE appropriate for the age level!

    My Father’s Dragon has become my favorite suggestion for first chapter-book read-alouds, too. It was the second I tried on my son, after Winnie-the-Pooh– and it’s probably even better for the age group than Winnie-the-Pooh since so much of the wordplay in the latter goes over their heads. I’ll also chime in with the above commenters who suggested the Little House books, only because I had them read to me when I was four and loved them– but I watched the TV show, and my best friend’s name was Laura, so I might have been biased.

  30. Jim says:

    These are some great suggestions. Winnie-the-Pooh is great. So is fat Stanley.