Updated November 2022
Over the last few years as I’ve learned about evidence-based reading instruction, something I’ve seen over and over is the importance of vocabulary and content knowledge. With kindergarten kids, this isn’t something they can independently get from their reading material (while “The cat sits” is fantastic for decoding practice it’s a teeny bit superficial) so teachers are responsible for providing this information through lessons and read-alouds.
In terms of lessons, I’ve found free units from Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) really helpful (we studied The Five Senses and Plants this year, for example), and I’ve always done rich read-alouds of picture books, but I’m selecting them even more carefully now. I’ve also started writing explicit vocabulary and comprehension lessons for picture books (focusing on more recent titles that offer some diversity), like this one for Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai and this one for Shi-shi-etko by Nicola I. Campbell.
To take things to the next level, I decided to also maximize the time we have each day while the kids are enjoying their snacks and use it for chapter book read-alouds. I read one chapter in the morning and one in the afternoon, and they still have a few minutes to chat each time. (Don’t worry about their opportunities for socialization: they have classroom play in both am and pm as well as three outdoor recesses and they can talk with friends as they eat lunch too!)
Below I’m sharing some chapter books we enjoyed as a class this year – of course you can read these to older students as well, and they’re also great ideas for home, not only school!
Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne
This series can’t be beat for the combination of age-appropriateness and nonfiction information as young siblings Jack and Annie travel the world. We read six instalments this year (DInosaurs Before Dark, Polar Bears Past Bedtime, DIngoes at Dinnertime, Midnight on the Moon, Mummies in the Morning and Pirates Past Noon) but there are 60+ titles so there’s something for everyone, and lots to keep the most avid readers stocked!
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
I read this beautiful story to my Grade 3 class many times and wasn’t sure how the kinders would enjoy it, but with lots of explicit vocabulary instruction and frequent review of Edward’s journey they were able to follow along. (I even managed to hold back my tears at the sad parts.) Other wonderful read-alouds from this author include The Tale of Despereaux, Because of Winn-Dixie and…
Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo
Short, funny chapters. We read the first in the series, Mercy Watson Fights Crime.
Ruby and the Booker Boys – Brand New School, Brave New Ruby by Derrick Barnes
This is a fun story – the first in a series – about a young girl determined not to be sidelined by her three older brothers when she joins their school.
Natalie the Christmas Stocking Fairy by Daisy Meadows
If you’re looking for “literature”, this is not that. (The very prolific “Daisy Meadows” is credited with HUNDREDS of Rainbow Magic fairy books.) I chose this for two reasons – one because I wanted something fun and seasonal right before Christmas break, and two because these books were the first chapter books my daughters read independently when they were in kindergarten. The fact that the broad outline of the plot is the exact same in every one of the books, with a different fairy to the rescue each time, lends a familiarity that kids love, so it was a chance to introduce a series that may hook a young reader.
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery adapted for younger readers by Shelley Tanaka
While the unabridged book would have been too much for my class, this lightly adapted version of the Canadian classic was perfect.
Nancy Clancy by Jane O’Connor
Ever since my girls were little I have loved the Fancy Nancy picture books for their sophisticated vocabulary (and a bit of French flair). The chapter books are just as good; we read the first one, shown above.
Too Small Tola by Atinuke
The tales of a small but mighty girl growing up with her family in Lagos, Nigeria. Lots of “English” vocabulary was new to the kids – flats, lorry, nappies, etc.
Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
Kids love Roald Dahl’s humour, and this book has nice short chapters and some lessons to be gleaned.
Jo Jo Makoons: The Used-To-Be Best Friend by Dawn Quigley
The first in a series about a spunky little Ojibwe girl (the second one, Fancy Pants, is also available).
Hurry, Freedom by Frieda Wishinsky
The Canadian Flyer Adventures is a great series with historical content, and this particular title is an age-appropriate way to talk to kids about slavery (Harriet Tubman is featured along with the fictional characters).
The Secret Explorers Series by S. J. King
This series was recommended to me by a Twitter follower when I first shared my chapter book recos and it’s gold! It’s got a Magic Tree House content-knowledge-building feel to it, with diverse characters, and it’s quite current – the first book came out in 2020. So far we’ve read “The Jurassic Rescue” and “The Plant Poachers”.
The Wizard of Oz: Stepping Stones Chapter Book by L. Frank Baum, adapted by Daisy Alberto
An adapted version of the classic with no shortage of Tier 2 vocabulary.
I’m going to go ahead and call myself out now, because as I prepared this list I did remark on the room for improvement in the area of diversity – of both authors and subject matter. My picture book collection has vastly improved over the past few years, particularly with Indigenous and Black content, but this list of chapter books is not yet what it should be. I’ve done some searching, and I have some promising choices in my “to be read” pile, but I thought it was important to acknowledge that I’m working on it.
I would love your suggestions for chapter book ideas for next year – kindergarten here in Ontario is a two year program so I will have some of the same kids next year and I will need to change it up for them!