Transitioning From Picture Books to Novels, the Experimental Way

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Some of our favorite read-alouds! Collage credit: Ariane Coffin
Some of our favorite read-alouds! Collage credit: Ariane Coffin

My husband and I have two daughters, who are currently 6 and 3 years old. At bedtime, I read to our oldest and my husband reads to our youngest. My oldest was read picture books for years, but as much as I love picture books (and as an aspiring picture book writer, this is quite a bit), I was starting to crave a little more. More world building, more depth, more substance… More words!

So when she was around 5, I started to diversify a bit. I started by reading aloud small middle-grade books first, which were met with some resistance. Some we tried and she wanted nothing to do with, some she enjoyed enough to tolerate with only a moderate amount of whining about their lack of images.

Our first attempt at middle grade novels. Collage credit: Ariane Coffin
Our first attempt at middle-grade novels. Collage credit: Ariane Coffin

Our early middle-grade successes around that time included The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren (now a Studio Ghibli show), and The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.

But even if she enjoyed them in the end, the process of reading a story with no picture was still met with some resistance. That’s when I discovered that graphic novels were the perfect gateway. Lengthier stories with pictures! Everyone was happy!

Some of our favorite graphic novels. Collage credit: Ariane Coffin
Some of our favorite graphic novels. Collage credit: Ariane Coffin

Our favorite graphic novels included Dungeon Fun by Colin Bell and Neil Slorance, Cardboard by Doug TenNapel, Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson, The Misadventures of Salem Hyde series by Frank Cammuso, and the Hildafolk series by Luke Pearson.

Eventually, I tried middle-grade novels with her again, and this time she was much more enthusiastic about it. Though she often picked the marketed-for-girls books with pink frilly covers at first (which I enjoyed about as much as scratching my nails on a chalkboard), she slowly discovered a preference for creepier stories. So now we’re getting into a dark fantasy genre that we both really enjoy. It’s been super fun to see her develop her own literary tastes and an appreciation for the novel format.

Some of our favorite middle grade novels from the last six months. Collage credit: Ariane Coffin
Some of our favorite middle-grade novels from the last six months. Collage credit: Ariane Coffin

In order of creepiness, lately we’ve really enjoyed the Upside-Down Magic series by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins (not creepy at all), the Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett (not any worse than a Disney evil queen), Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (getting there), The Books of Elsewhere series by Jacqueline West (pretty creepy), and Doll Bones by Holly Black (you-will-never-sleep-again scary).

Now my husband, who has much less patience for picture books, is trying to expand our 3-year-old’s reading palette at a much early age. Thankfully, we have a little more experience now and we know better than to jump feet first into middle grade this time.

Some of our favorite early chapter books. Collage credit: Ariane Coffin
Some of our favorite early chapter books. Collage credit: Ariane Coffin

Though I’d still recommend trying the graphic novel route, there are also many early chapter books that include a ton of pictures and make great read-alouds for younger children. This is a whole category of books I didn’t even know existed before my first child started to read in kindergarten. Live and learn! My 3-year-old has really enjoyed the Franny K. Stein series by Jim Benton, Inspector Flytrap by Tom Angleberger and Cece Bell, the Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen, and the Princess in Black series by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, and LeUyen Pham.

We aren’t ready to say goodbye to picture books—NEVER!—but it’s been interesting to see how our bedtime reading has evolved so much in the last year. Have you had similar transitions with your read-aloud selections? Any book recommendations for the in-betweeners?

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