I shared a while back the fact that my daughter and I were dabbling with chapter books, as an adjunct to a read-aloud diet consisting mainly of picture books. I'm pleased to report that this week we finished our very first early chapter book. I had read a few middle grade titles to her when she was a baby (The Secret Garden, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, The Penderwicks, the complete Winnie the Pooh), but it's not like my daughter was following the plots or anything at that point. We'd also read (and re-read) quite a few easy readers (mostly series titles featuring characters she is already familiar with). But this is the first longer book that she listened to, cover to cover.
On the recommendation of Jim Trelease in The Read-Aloud Handbook, I ordered a copy of Two Times the Fun by Beverly Cleary. Two Times the Fun is a 96 page book, aimed at a reading audience of 6 to 9 years old (probably more on the earlier end of that). I found it perfect for my 3 1/2 year old listener. Two Times the Fun is about preschool-age twins, Jimmy and Janet and the ordinary events of early childhood. Jimmy digs a big hole, Jimmy and Janet go to the shoe store, that sort of thing.
I think the key to this book was that my daughter could relate to the twins' experiences. This enabled her to listen, even though we would sometimes go a couple of page spreads without seeing a single illustration. In fact, she ended up not paying particularly close attention to the illustrations at all. She moved around her room instead. But she kept listening.
Two Times the Fun consists of four independent chapters (basically short stories). We read the first two chapters in one sitting, and the next two chapters in two separate sittings, over about a four day total time period. She remembered details between readings, like who Mr. Lemon was (the highly affable mailman). And she loved it when I would point out similarities between the characters in the book and herself ("Do you know anyone who likes to pretend like Janet does?" "Me!").
I liked that Two Times the Fun wasn't message-y. It's classic Beverly Cleary, albeit for the youngest of readers, with regular kids doing regular things. There wasn't much vocabulary that I had to define for my daughter. A few times I started to explain what an expression meant, but found that "Mother" was explaining that to the twins on the next page, anyway. All in all, Two Times the Fun was a just-right fit for us. I only wish that there were more books about Jimmy and Janet.
Incidentally, I've started a page, as well as a sidebar list, to keep track of chapter books that we finish. Right now the list numbers 1. But we're off to a great start! I'll keep you posted.