Kid Lit: Building Reading Confidence

I dabble a lot in children's literature. With two kids aged six and eight, one girl and one boy, I get to read it all. From the uber-awesome Mo Willems' Piggy and Elephant books (we own them all) to the entire Percy Jackson series, I've read it. Out loud. Multiple times.

While reading to our children is a given, sometimes having our kids read to us is a bit trickier. Children who are consistently read to generally develop superb reading comprehension skills at a very young age. Good example: my eight year old son relished Richard Adams' Watership Down over the summer. I mean, he loved that book. He loved the characters, understood the themes, the whole nine-yards. But this was me reading the book to him. He would not have been able to read the book himself. He's just not at that reading level yet. 

When children first learn to read it's all about board books. Simple words, big pictures. They are then supposed to progress to the chapter book. When you think about it, this is a pretty big leap. The simplest - and most popular - chapter books are the Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne. First published in 1992, the Magic Tree House books are based on a simple premise: two young siblings, Jack and Annie, discover a tree house in the woods that is able to magically transport them to different historical places in time and back again. You can see the formula here, right? It's like Danielle Steele for the 6-8 year old range....just change the setting and character names and boom, it's a whole new book. There are 52 books in the series so far with room for many more to come and kids love them. (Please don't make me read them all. I'm begging you.)

For $106 you can own your own Magic Tree House Hell, you lucky dog, you.
The problem is that despite their popularity, from a child's point of view it is a huge jump from reading the simple words in board books to the Magic Tree House chapter books which weigh in at around 80-100 pages per book. They are daunting to the new reader and can quickly dash a child's new reading skills. Yet that vast gap between board books and chapter books has remained empty for years and years. It's sink or swim in the reading world, kiddos.

Enter Branches, a new arm of Scholastic. Someone - probably someone with children of their own - saw the need for a simple chapter book with subjects more mature than Goodnight, Moon, easier to read than full-fledged chapter books so as not to crush emerging readers, but challenging enough to build new reading skills. It's a publishing miracle. I'm in love.

First of all, the vocabulary in the Branches books isn't dumbed down. It's just as sophisticated as any other chapter book out there on the market. What makes the Branches books brilliant is this: shorter chapters (usually 4-5 pages each) and more illustrations to keep their interest going. This simple adjustment produces an amazing result in emerging readers: it creates self-confidence in their reading skills. And that is a vital part of learning to love reading.

Branches is just getting warmed up. Their books are each developing into series (yay!). There are series targeted towards both boys and girls and gender neutral, as other words, they are working hard towards getting something to suit everyone. We are currently reading the first in the new Dragon Master series by Tracey West in this house and I couldn't give it a higher recommendation. Let me tell you why....because last night as my son finished reading his standard one chapter to me, for the very first time ever, he asked:

"Do I have to stop? I want to read another chapter."

Someone hand me a Kleenex.


  1. ""Do I have to stop?" Awwww! I love it when that happens! Branches sounds like a really good idea. My youngest (now 7) really struggled to make that jump to longer books and could really have done with something like this. Luckily he developed the confidence to read longer books about 3 months ago and is now enjoying reading the chapter books. He would probably have been happy reading on his own at a much earlier age had he had something like this - I love this initiative :-)

  2. It's been a few years, so I'm having a hard time remembering what they read in between Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and Harry Potter. Definitely Magic Tree House, maybe...Junie B. Jones? There is definitely a need for this stage of reading. Crazy, my daughter was reading Harry Potter by 2nd grade. I mean, talk about Kleenex. I figured she'd be reading War & Peace by 8th grade. Unfortunately school has beaten the love out of her. She has to read so much mandatory stuff (all good stuff, granted) that she has no free time for fun reading.

  3. Awesome!!! *passing the tissues*


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