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How do I encourage my child to read chapter books?

My daughter is going into 4th grade this year. She loves to read but does not like chapter books. She wants the pages to have pictures and words. When we go to the library she checks out 40 picture books for the week. I have tried to steer her towards chapter books but she will only read them if she has to. She scored at a 5th grade level on her state test. How do I encourage her to read chapter books? Thank you.

Hello, Thanks for your email. There a couple of things that could be going on. It sounds like your daughter has a lot of strengths in reading if she can read so many picture books and can read a chapter book if necessary. Let me address her score on the state test first: When a test gives one score for the entire realm of reading, it can be somewhat misleading. The way that reading was probably measured by that test involves something like this: The student reads a passage silently, the student reads the questions silently, and then the student answers the questions silently. The test then adds up the number of questions the student answered correctly and uses that to calculate a reading score. (This is the way most states test reading for kids who are fourth grade and up, your state might be different) This way of testing reading is okay but too general to know the nuts and bolts of your daughters reading profile. It would be like me saying, "I am not good at Math." You would be thinking, what parts of math are hard for you? Reasoning and Chaos theory? Or Calculus, statistics and advanced geometry? Or addition and subtraction?

It sounds like your daughter is having some trouble with an area of reading but a state test usually doesn't test all areas of reading. "She loves to read but does not like chapter books. She wants the pages to have pictures and words." When you say she loves to read, does that mean she only likes to read picture books? This can mean that she is always using the pictures to help her read the words, a valid strategy for a beginning reader. You said she will read chapter books if she has to. When she is reading the chapter books, is she reading the words as fluently as she does when she reads a picture book? Or do the words seem harder for her to recognize and or sound-out? I had a student once who would look at the picture every time he came to a word he did not know. If the picture was a "king" he would substitute the word king for every word he did not know. Or perhaps she reads the words just fine but may have a harder time understanding the story when it is a chapter book? Sometimes a child is not necessarily struggling to read but they are putting a huge amount of concentration and cognitive power into reading. This means that they may tire very easily when reading and avoid long passages. I had a friend who groaned every time I read a really thick novel. She would read small books but nothing over about 200 pages. "It's so long!" she would say. "No one can read a book that big!" That was years ago, I realized later that my friend was never a very good reader or speller. Though she was getting by, reading a big book like that would seem like running a marathon. I am also remembering a student that I worked with; let's call him Isaac. Isaac could read the words just fine but always preferred picture books because the pictures gave him cues as to what was happening in the story. He had a very hard time understanding what was happening in a story from just the words. Even if you read a book to him, without pictures he had a hard time comprehending what was going on in the story. Isaac's mom reported that he always chose books at the library that were below his grade level. There are a few things to keep in mind:

1) Is she avoiding long books and gravitating toward picture books because she is struggling to read the words?
2) Is she avoiding long books and gravitating toward picture books because she is using the pictures to understand the meaning of the story?
3) Perhaps neither. Maybe she is just interested in the subject matter of the "younger" books and no difficulties exist.
Monitor her progress closely to determine what is going on. It could be nothing but it could be something. Though I have worked with Kindergarteners to Senior Citizens, the majority of reading difficulties that I have seen are in the third and fourth grade. This is where the student makes the big jump to independent reading and reading instruction tapers off. If a student is having even a small difficulty, it will show up then. Here are a few things I have tried with similar students in the past:
1) I compromise between picture books and chapter books. When we sit down to read together, we read 5 pages of the picture book and 5 pages of the chapter book.
2) Here is something else I tried with a student who was convinced he couldn't read with out pictures. I took out a picture book he had never seen before and I paper clipped a piece of paper over all the pictures in the book. He did not get to look at the picture until he read the words. And even then we would discuss what he thought would probably be depicted in the picture before he looked at it. This might be a good way to wean your daughter off picture books and certainly a good way for you to ascertain if she is using the pictures to help her read the words.
3) Another good compromise might be choosing one of those chapter books that has one picture per chapter. You could even preview the first picture before she reads the chapter and even keep referring to it throughout the chapter if that makes her feel more comfortable.
4) For the kids I worked with who avoided reading chapter books, I would go out a buy the funniest and most goofy chapter books I could find. Dav Pilkey (yes it is Dav not Dave) writes some whoppers. He has a four book series called "The Adventures of Captain Underpants." He has some picture books too; "Kat-Kong" and "Dog-Zilla" but the short Captain Underpants chapter books are my favorites.
Keep an eye on her progress. She may just grow out of it, if she doesn't seek a more thorough reading assessment. A reading assessment should measure the way she sounds-out words, the way she memorizes words, the way she reads in context, the way she spells and how well she understands what she reads. Let's Go Learn, Inc. offers an on-line reading assessment. Or you can find a reading specialist in your area who will administer a reading assessment. This may help to pinpoint the problem, if there is one.

Tags: reading comprehension, reading level

  1. Sally
    Reply 03/10/12

    Read aloud to her! A lot of parents read and read to their young kids, but when the child learns to read, the read-alouds stop.  Often, elementary students get frustrated or bored with chapter books because not much happens at the beginning.  Read aloud at bedtime and make it interesting.  Get audio books from the library and listen to them in the car.  You’ll love that you both can talk about the story, and your daughter will learn to love chapter books, too!

  2. Anne-Evan Williams
    Reply 12/04/07

    That’s a very insightful 2 cents.  I think the general public and educators have a belief that if kids read more chapter books as opposed to other pieces of text that they become better readers, learners, and individuals.  Because so much of what kids enounter and will encounter in their academic career involves reading chapter books, it’s important that kids understand the need to be able to 1) have a strategy for completing chapters books if they don’t like reading long novels or like me, are selective about what chapter books they want to invest time in reading and
    2) to learn to negotiate the structural features, and all the ideas and events that accompany chapter books.  However, I’m not going to go as far as saying that having a love for chapter books and reading more chapters books is 100% necessary for producing literate children and literate adults.  More and more educational researchers and theorists are questioning the idea that more novels leads to more literacy - see “Hopes of the ‘Harry Effect’...Vaporized?” blog at

    Plus, whether or not they like to read chapter books or whether or not they read a lot of them, I think it’s equally important to praise children for their reading successes - and not to focus on comparing them to other readers lest they develop reading image issues that permanently affect their attitude toward reading. For info, check out the blog, “I’m a Stupid Reader: Image Issues in Reading” at

    It’s tough, but I think we need to find that balance between helping kids become proficient at the skills that will get them through the challenges of academic material, and still help them feel good enough about themselves that they transfer those academic skills to personal experiences that are pleasurable for them.

  3. Yvonne
    Reply 11/29/07

    Just wanted to add my 2ยข on this subject ...

    My daughter is also in 4th grade and avoids chapter books.  She was an early reader, is an advanced reader, has always scored exceptionally well in reading comprehension and is also good at spelling. She loves short stories (ex. Chicken Soup for the Soul and Roald Dahl) and poetry.

    She’s very extroverted and I think that reading long books seems very isolating to her.  She’s perfectly fine reading aloud (and does so with fluidity and expression), listening to books on CD, or letting me read to her—she just hates doing it on her own.

    I read an article recently that said that kids this age are still very drawn to wonderfully illustrated books, but there just aren’t very many at the higher reading levels.

    For what it’s worth, my husband has the same tendenceis.  He reads the newspaper from front to back every day and has no problem with magazines, trade journals or “how to” books. He just has no interest in chapter books.

    The point to all of this is that while there may be a problem, it may also be preference as well.  Do you always read at your highest level?  Or do you choose something that’s a little more comfortable and less of a reach?
    I personally could read highly technical documents if I wanted to ... but choose much less strenuous material for pleasure reading.

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