Why Blog


I’m passionate about finding ways to simplify comprehension instruction and learning. I’m concerned that we are defining comprehension too narrowly as an accumulation of five or six meta-cognitive strategies when cultivating comprehension involves so much more than that. We need to help children acquire accurate fluent reading skills and strategies; build background knowledge; develop their oral language and vocabulary; make reading-writing connections, and acquire a repertoire of meta-cognitive strategies to use as and if needed.


So I invite you to join me in blogging about this ever-so-important topic. I look forward to hearing your ideas, teaching strategies, book recommendations, classroom stories, etc., basically anything that will inspire a healthy conversation among colleagues.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Chapter Books—Short and Sweet

Do you feel that you’re working too hard at getting kids to understand books they’re reading independently? Are you concerned that there’s never enough time for kids to talk about what they’re reading? The problem might be that the books they’re reading are too hard—and too long. In fact, I’m convinced this is the root cause of many of the comprehension problems children face in the middle elementary grades. And that many of their problems would disappear if we worked harder to get the right books in their hands and stopped being overly concerned about moving children up in reading levels, faster and higher.
 
With that in mind, I’d like to begin to identify some excellent chapter books that are both short and sweet. So here’s my first recommendation:

#1 The Green Ghost by Marion Dane Bauer          

This 96-page tale simply begs to be read (aloud, independently, or anyway at all) and is just perfect for second- and third-grade readers. It’s well written, suspenseful, and even a bit eerie, with two female protagonists to which young readers can easily relate. The text is large enough not to be intimidating and the chapters seamlessly alternate between present and past time, with shaded and unshaded page borders to help orient readers to a time change. It’s definitely one of my all time favorites.

PS: I'll be keeping a running list of my title selections, and yours, in the right-hand column of this blog.

28 comments:

  1. I'm so glad that you are doing this! Another book (series) that is short and sweet is The Buddy Files by Dori Hillestad Butler. The books in the series are told from the point of view of a golden retriever. They are a new favorite at our school!

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  2. Thanks so much for the lead. I just now googled and ordered the first book in the series. Gotta keep UPS busy...

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  3. My first graders love the Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo. Mercy is an adventurous pig living with Mr. and Mrs. Watson, and causing various kinds of excitement in the neighborhood. The stories are engaging and funny with some rich vocabulary. The children love noticing the repeating characters and themes across the books in the series. The books are great to read aloud early in the year and by now many of the students can read them on their own.

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  4. Sharon,
    Thank you so much for doing this investigation. I teach Grade 2 and I always fear this time of the year when my students start to leave the wonderful world of illustrated picture books to chapter books. I still insist that they read aloud to their parents each night from our classroom library of hundreds of illustrated picture book, but they want my suggestions for chapter books as well. Since that is not an area that I collect, your blog and comments from other teachers is just what I needed.

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  5. I'm glad I started it as well. It's a question (what are some good short chapter books) I always get from teachers so it will be fun and helpful to have a large repertoire to draw from.

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  6. I recently read The Gold Threaded Dress by Carolyn Marsden. It is a short read (73 pages), but with enough content to stimulate discussion on self acceptance, and peer pressure. I recommended it to several of my strong third grade readers. Though they are capable of much more difficult reads, it proved to be a wonderful choice for a literature group. Thanks for doing this blog. I will check it often for new titles!

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  7. Thanks so much for the suggestion. I'd never heard of the title or author. (But thanks to you, I do now.) I'm also thankful for Amazon Prime Two-Day Shipping.

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  8. I teach children with reading difficulties, usually with a dyslexic type of decoding problem. It's funny that this is the first book you featured. I just a very severe fourth grade (who refuses to read books independently)home with this book. We read the first chapter together...hoping that this hooks her. I have lots of these Stepping Stone chapter books. They are not babyish looking for older readers and the stories are well written.

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  9. I do not know the grade levels you are targeting, but the Kate DiCamillo books work for grades 4-6. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane is a favorite, with short chapters and incredibly beautiful illustrations. My fourth through sixth grade strugglers loved Because of Winn Dixie. Other series books that my struggling students enjoy are the A to Z Mystery Series (reading level around 2.8). I am a great fan of your books and am pleased to have stumbled across this blog.

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  10. Along with Because of Winn Dixie, animal loving 3rd graders also love Stone Fox.

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  11. One of my favorite read alouds for first graders is My Father's Dragon, by Gannett (sp?). The chapters are short, there's excitement throughout, and it's clever. It's perfect for the less experienced listener, too, because the plot is so straightforward.

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  12. I love this focus on shorter chapter books. I have a few favorites.
    Gooney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry focuses on telling a story. Our second grade teachers use the book at the beginning of the year for writing mini-lessons. They chart the targeted focus of each chapter and then refer to it throughout the year. It works great.
    Andrew Clements grabs the attention of readers especially boys in The Jake Drake series (70-90 pages). I often find this series will lead the kids into reading the longer chapter books.
    My ultimate favorite shorter chapter book is Riding Freedom by Pam Munoz Ryan. It's a slightly longer book with 138 pages, but she sucks the reader in immediately. The young girl, Charlotte, is orphaned and learns to survive in the 1800s disguised as a boy. She uses her skills with horses to drive stage coaches. The book is based on a true historical lady. I love the character's perserverance through difficulty, always looking toward her dream.
    I'm looking forward to more suggestions.

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  13. For struggling second-grade readers who want to read chapter books like their friends, I love The Chalk Box Kid, The Paint Brush Kid, and The Poppy Seeds by Clyde Bulla. In very simple words, these books tell stories rich in theme.

    For third-graders who are a bit behind, I love A Boy in the Doghouse and it's sequels, by Betsy Duffy. They are great for visualizing and making connections!

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  14. Two newish ones I love- Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst and Bink and Gollie by Kate Di Camillo and Alison McGhee (I have read both of these to first graders, but also to fourth graders-- they are kind of everybody books). A short chapter book for older readers (are you looking for those too?)- THE STRANGE CASE OF THE ORIGAMI YODA. It's flying around two fifth and sixth grade classrooms where I lent it out. Short chapters, really funny, middle school humor. Perfect for a reluctant older intermediate or middle school reader.

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  15. Thinking about short and sweet books a few come to mind:
    The new Houndsley and Catina series from James Howe (a bit on the younger side)
    Captain Crowe's Teeth and other books in that series from Eion Colfer
    Dan Gutmans' Weird School series is a HUGE hit.
    Jon Sciezka's Time Warp Trio

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  16. Our students LOVE Maybelle in the Soup and Maybelle Goes to Tea by Katie Speck. These books are short and wonderful. You must follow the three rules for a cockroach: 1. When it's light stay out of sight. 2. When you've been spied better run and hide. and 3. Never meet with human feet. Happy reading!

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  17. My students love the Ready Freddy series by Abby Klein. They are at an easier reading level (about DRA 24) for struggling readers.

    Each book starts with Freddy telling the reader about a "problem" that he has. The stories take place between school, with four familiar classmates, and at home with Freddy's parents and older sister. At the end of the book Freddy always finds a way to solve the problem. Students quickly begin rooting for Freddy as they read!

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  18. I love Tomie DePaola's 26 Fairmount Ave series. They are autobiographical, entertaining and set during the 30s and 40s.

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  19. just checked amazon and realize i haven't kept up with this series. didn't realize there were so many titles. thanks.

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  20. I like the Little House on the Prairie Chapter books- they make a series that are shorter than the original series (which were my favorite books growing up)!

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  21. I like the Joey Pigza series by Jack Gantos. It is full of metaphors and humor. Joey is a young man who struggles with hyperactivity but has quite an interesting take on the world. These books contain real life issues. The novels are short and funny. I use them as read alouds with my students.

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  22. This Christmas I discovered the Ivy and Bean series. They are relatively new. I gave a set to my second grade granddaughter and she loved them. They really turned her on to chapter books

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  23. Thanks Diane. Loved hearing from you.

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  24. Sharon,
    I just finished this book with my second grader tonight and she got so excited in the last chapter, shouting..."I knew it." over and over. "I knew the two stories were the same." I would say this was her first text that alternated two time frames. We had great discussions on our journey. Thank you.

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  25. Your welcome Mandy... Which two books did you read? The Green Ghost and...?

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  26. Sharon, I think it's amazing how much you comment back to your readers. What a gift you are giving all of us. My daughter was considering the story with chapter headings 1938 and the present as two stories within the text. It was so fun to watch her grow as a reader at home. Tonight we started Not My Dog.

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  27. And thank you for that lovely comment...you made my day!

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