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October 20, 2017

Making the Leap From Picture Books to Chapter Books

By Brian Smith
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5

    If you are an elementary school teacher, I am sure that you have run into the issue of helping kids who are ready to make the leap from picture to chapter books. While the child is cognitively ready, this can be an intimidating transition. In years past, it could be just as difficult for teachers to know what books to put in the little hands of their students to make the change a smooth one.

    Until recently, my own struggle in this area came down to, “Which Junie B. Jones do I think they would enjoy?" Most of Barbara Park's hilarious series sits around a level M in the Fountas and Pinnell/Guided Reading system, which is what we use in my neck of the woods. I also have the Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osbourne, which typically level out at a level N.

    However, I found that a student who would typically finish a Junie B. book might initially struggle with Magic Tree House in their early forays into the chapter book universe. I believe the look of the text and illustrations are a little more “user-friendly” in the Junie B. books, but truly, the switch to Magic Tree House never takes long. I love to see kids jump from realistic fiction (Junie B.) to fantasy/adventure (Magic Tree House). Being able to switch between genres is really important for students to do in order to gain experience with reading all types of texts.

    Some of the reasons that my students have typically struggled with branching into chapter books are:

    • The number of pages
    • The amount of text on each page
    • Fewer pictures resulting in fewer context clue opportunities
    • The feeling that they have to finish the book before they can stop reading

    Of course there are other reasons that individual students struggle, but I’ve found these to be the overarching reasons why most of my students worry about making the transition.

    Pro Tip: To help with this transition, I schedule a chapter book read-aloud time each school year. This is when I typically read a Junie B. Jones book. This year, I have scheduled this for that random 10 minutes between my students' specials (P.E., music, library) block and our lunchtime. This introduces the idea of reading only part of a book (a chapter) and then revisiting the story at a later time. I told you, Junie B. is my go-to girl.

    I can hear some rumblings already that certain words that Junie B. uses are not appropriate for school (stupid and dumb tend to be the words that typically offend) BUT since this is a read-aloud, I just change all of those words to “silly” and it’s all good with my students. There is no shock because I am not reading a word that they aren’t allowed to say! There are, however, audible gasps because they can’t catch their breath at Junie B.’s antics.

    I do have super happy news to share with you, dear reader, because now we have even more "Junie B. Jones" options! Check out these new chapter books that will help your picture book readers become chapter book champions:

    Bobs and Tweets

    So far, I know of two of these awesome full-color rhyming chapter books. At 80 pages each, they aren’t too intimidating for those early chapter book readers, and the pictures by Kristy Caldwell are plentiful. So each page seems like a challenge that the developing reader can meet. Your kids will also love author Pepper Springfield’s crazy-funny stories. This series levels out around a Guided Reading level L.


    The Bad Guys

    Aaron Blabey is quickly becoming a favorite author of mine. I adore his picture book, Thelma the Unicorn and love his character Pig the Pug, but it’s his series The Bad Guys that is worth a mention here. This series is fun and kids love to see if these bad guys can change their ways and become the good guys. These books are around 144 pages and level out around a Guided Reading level O. 


    Owl Diaries

    This book is a chapter book with one continuing story, and yet the words are spaced apart with plenty of pictures. My students who have read these books love them. Every time I ask which one of the six that I have purchased for my classroom library is their favorite, it’s always the last one that they have read. This lets me know that Rebecca Elliott has created a real winning series because each installment is as good, if not better than the last. The books average around 75 pages and typically level around Guided Reading level M. This is part of the Branches series of books.


    The Notebook of Doom

    I cannot see this series without thinking of a former student. These are the books that hooked Gunner on reading! It was amazing to see him take off when he connected with this series. They couldn’t make new books fast enough for him. It’s a fun series that my kids love. My favorite in the series is The Monster Notebook. The books have more text on the page than the Owl Diaries series, but the illustrations are fantastic. Each book is around 90 pages and they average around a Guided Reading level O. The Notebook of Doom is also part of the Branches series of books.


    Eerie Elementary

    This was the series that kept my Gunner reading while we anxiously awaited the next The Notebook of Doom book. I love a series that hooks my boys early on and makes them want to read. When they count down to the next book’s release date, you know the author has struck a chord and Jack Chabert’s stories definitely struck the right chords for boys. Each book ends at around page 96 and levels out around level O in the Guided Reading leveling system. These books are part of the Branches series.


    Rabbit & Robot

    My complete, unadulterated love for Cece Bell required me to put this series on my list. Rabbit and Robot don’t appear to go together, but when they do, they are hilarious. Bell wrote the amazing graphic novel El Deafo, and her Rabbit and Robot set of books continue her streak of wonderful works. These books average 56 pages, so they are on the shorter end, and have an average Guided Reading Level of L. 

    Press Start

    Super Rabbit Boy is a video game character who doesn’t know that he is in a video game. This series will resonant with all your video-game-playing boys. We have to meet them where they are and give them high-interest reading materials. Thankfully, the world of literature has Thomas Flintham to bring us this fantastic book series. Your classroom library needs this series. They average about 80 pages and have a Guided Reading level of M. This series is part of the Branches series of books. 


    Missy

    I really must mention this series by Susan Nees because it is one of the first sets of books that my daughter devoured. She laughed her way through the series and begged for more Missy books. She was able to hold up 80 pages of text and say, “Look what I just read all by myself!” That is why these types of books are so important for all teachers to have within their reach. These books level out around the Guided Reading level M. These books are part of the Branches series.


    Hilde Cracks the Case

    Hilde Lysiak is real-life publisher who started her newspaper at the age of seven. It’s called The Orange Street News. This series is about Hilde solving cases, so all the kids in your life who love mysteries will totally love being able to read these whodunits on their own. They may also inspire those same kids to do some writing on their own. These books are about 90 pages in length and sit around a Guided Reading level N. This is part of the Branches series.


    One to Watch: Wallace and Grace

    This book looks great. It’s another series where the main characters, two adorable owls, need to crack a case. I am really excited to have the chance to read Heather Alexander’s book. Check this book out and let me know what you think in the comments below or on Twitter by tagging me, dad2ella. 

    As an added bonus, check out these other favorite series: Molly Mac by Marty Kelley, The Major Eights by Melody Reed (available January 2, 2018), and Narwhal and Jelly by Ben Clanton. These are three other series that are lots of fun!



    As you may have noticed, a lot of titles on this list is from the Branches series of books. There are so many great series of titles in the Branches line and they really do fit the niche that I have been dealing with for so many years. Check out the Branches website for tons of support material for the books in this line. There are classroom guides, parent guides, and a video to share with parents to get them to understand the importance of making this jump from pictures to chapters.

    I still do read-alouds from Junie B. Jones, but now I have so many other options to offer to my students!

    Find me, dad2ella, on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

    I can’t wait to see you next time.

    If you are an elementary school teacher, I am sure that you have run into the issue of helping kids who are ready to make the leap from picture to chapter books. While the child is cognitively ready, this can be an intimidating transition. In years past, it could be just as difficult for teachers to know what books to put in the little hands of their students to make the change a smooth one.

    Until recently, my own struggle in this area came down to, “Which Junie B. Jones do I think they would enjoy?" Most of Barbara Park's hilarious series sits around a level M in the Fountas and Pinnell/Guided Reading system, which is what we use in my neck of the woods. I also have the Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osbourne, which typically level out at a level N.

    However, I found that a student who would typically finish a Junie B. book might initially struggle with Magic Tree House in their early forays into the chapter book universe. I believe the look of the text and illustrations are a little more “user-friendly” in the Junie B. books, but truly, the switch to Magic Tree House never takes long. I love to see kids jump from realistic fiction (Junie B.) to fantasy/adventure (Magic Tree House). Being able to switch between genres is really important for students to do in order to gain experience with reading all types of texts.

    Some of the reasons that my students have typically struggled with branching into chapter books are:

    • The number of pages
    • The amount of text on each page
    • Fewer pictures resulting in fewer context clue opportunities
    • The feeling that they have to finish the book before they can stop reading

    Of course there are other reasons that individual students struggle, but I’ve found these to be the overarching reasons why most of my students worry about making the transition.

    Pro Tip: To help with this transition, I schedule a chapter book read-aloud time each school year. This is when I typically read a Junie B. Jones book. This year, I have scheduled this for that random 10 minutes between my students' specials (P.E., music, library) block and our lunchtime. This introduces the idea of reading only part of a book (a chapter) and then revisiting the story at a later time. I told you, Junie B. is my go-to girl.

    I can hear some rumblings already that certain words that Junie B. uses are not appropriate for school (stupid and dumb tend to be the words that typically offend) BUT since this is a read-aloud, I just change all of those words to “silly” and it’s all good with my students. There is no shock because I am not reading a word that they aren’t allowed to say! There are, however, audible gasps because they can’t catch their breath at Junie B.’s antics.

    I do have super happy news to share with you, dear reader, because now we have even more "Junie B. Jones" options! Check out these new chapter books that will help your picture book readers become chapter book champions:

    Bobs and Tweets

    So far, I know of two of these awesome full-color rhyming chapter books. At 80 pages each, they aren’t too intimidating for those early chapter book readers, and the pictures by Kristy Caldwell are plentiful. So each page seems like a challenge that the developing reader can meet. Your kids will also love author Pepper Springfield’s crazy-funny stories. This series levels out around a Guided Reading level L.


    The Bad Guys

    Aaron Blabey is quickly becoming a favorite author of mine. I adore his picture book, Thelma the Unicorn and love his character Pig the Pug, but it’s his series The Bad Guys that is worth a mention here. This series is fun and kids love to see if these bad guys can change their ways and become the good guys. These books are around 144 pages and level out around a Guided Reading level O. 


    Owl Diaries

    This book is a chapter book with one continuing story, and yet the words are spaced apart with plenty of pictures. My students who have read these books love them. Every time I ask which one of the six that I have purchased for my classroom library is their favorite, it’s always the last one that they have read. This lets me know that Rebecca Elliott has created a real winning series because each installment is as good, if not better than the last. The books average around 75 pages and typically level around Guided Reading level M. This is part of the Branches series of books.


    The Notebook of Doom

    I cannot see this series without thinking of a former student. These are the books that hooked Gunner on reading! It was amazing to see him take off when he connected with this series. They couldn’t make new books fast enough for him. It’s a fun series that my kids love. My favorite in the series is The Monster Notebook. The books have more text on the page than the Owl Diaries series, but the illustrations are fantastic. Each book is around 90 pages and they average around a Guided Reading level O. The Notebook of Doom is also part of the Branches series of books.


    Eerie Elementary

    This was the series that kept my Gunner reading while we anxiously awaited the next The Notebook of Doom book. I love a series that hooks my boys early on and makes them want to read. When they count down to the next book’s release date, you know the author has struck a chord and Jack Chabert’s stories definitely struck the right chords for boys. Each book ends at around page 96 and levels out around level O in the Guided Reading leveling system. These books are part of the Branches series.


    Rabbit & Robot

    My complete, unadulterated love for Cece Bell required me to put this series on my list. Rabbit and Robot don’t appear to go together, but when they do, they are hilarious. Bell wrote the amazing graphic novel El Deafo, and her Rabbit and Robot set of books continue her streak of wonderful works. These books average 56 pages, so they are on the shorter end, and have an average Guided Reading Level of L. 

    Press Start

    Super Rabbit Boy is a video game character who doesn’t know that he is in a video game. This series will resonant with all your video-game-playing boys. We have to meet them where they are and give them high-interest reading materials. Thankfully, the world of literature has Thomas Flintham to bring us this fantastic book series. Your classroom library needs this series. They average about 80 pages and have a Guided Reading level of M. This series is part of the Branches series of books. 


    Missy

    I really must mention this series by Susan Nees because it is one of the first sets of books that my daughter devoured. She laughed her way through the series and begged for more Missy books. She was able to hold up 80 pages of text and say, “Look what I just read all by myself!” That is why these types of books are so important for all teachers to have within their reach. These books level out around the Guided Reading level M. These books are part of the Branches series.


    Hilde Cracks the Case

    Hilde Lysiak is real-life publisher who started her newspaper at the age of seven. It’s called The Orange Street News. This series is about Hilde solving cases, so all the kids in your life who love mysteries will totally love being able to read these whodunits on their own. They may also inspire those same kids to do some writing on their own. These books are about 90 pages in length and sit around a Guided Reading level N. This is part of the Branches series.


    One to Watch: Wallace and Grace

    This book looks great. It’s another series where the main characters, two adorable owls, need to crack a case. I am really excited to have the chance to read Heather Alexander’s book. Check this book out and let me know what you think in the comments below or on Twitter by tagging me, dad2ella. 

    As an added bonus, check out these other favorite series: Molly Mac by Marty Kelley, The Major Eights by Melody Reed (available January 2, 2018), and Narwhal and Jelly by Ben Clanton. These are three other series that are lots of fun!



    As you may have noticed, a lot of titles on this list is from the Branches series of books. There are so many great series of titles in the Branches line and they really do fit the niche that I have been dealing with for so many years. Check out the Branches website for tons of support material for the books in this line. There are classroom guides, parent guides, and a video to share with parents to get them to understand the importance of making this jump from pictures to chapters.

    I still do read-alouds from Junie B. Jones, but now I have so many other options to offer to my students!

    Find me, dad2ella, on Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

    I can’t wait to see you next time.

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