Different Types of Books for Elementary School Students

Picture books, chapter books, independent reading or read-aloud books. Are there any diverse early chapter books you can recommend?

For those of you who aren’t currently teaching or parenting an elementary school student, you might not realize how complicated the different types of elementary school books are.

Sure, there’s fiction and non-fiction.  Some books have pictures and others don’t.  But there are other distinctions.  Starting with the very youngest readers, there are two types of books.  There are picture books with words intended to be read aloud to children as they read the pictures.  There are picture books with no words that can be read independently or through a guided imagining.  Later, there are picture books which are great for reading aloud (balance of text/illustration is important here and the style of the poetry or language used) and picture books for independent reading at various levels of ability.

There are actually picture books primarily intended for middle school, or even high school and adult reading.  In my experience these are usually non-fiction.

Then there’s the chapter books.  For most children, they will begin transitioning to chapter books by reading something called early chapter books.  These books are aimed at about second grade (although some students start them in first grade or even kindergarten) and have a few short chapters with simple vocabulary and lots of picture support.  Often they have a larger font size or additional white space as well.

If it ever feels like certain books are ubiquitous (Henry and Mudge, Junie B. Jones, Magic Tree House, A to Z Mysteries, etc.) it’s because there is a great need for high quality early chapter books, and they are very difficult to write.  The text needs to use simple language and complicated words need to have 1.) ability to be sounded out or 2.) context explaining the meaning of the word or 3.) picture support to explain what they mean or ideally 4.) all of the above.  However, the story told still needs to be deeper and more complicated than the average picture book.

These stories are typically ones a student will read and enjoy for a relatively brief time in their lives, but because they are first chapter books, they tend to be disproportionately memorable.  I have seen many painstakingly struggle through the first book in a series, only to whip through the remainder a year or two later.  However, like the majority of books in the current market, very few include a character of color.  To name those I’ve mentioned above, Junie B. Jones does have a supporting character who is black, but the majority of characters are white.  All the others have strictly white characters.  This is a problem.

The Junie B. Jones series has one major character who is a person of color, That Grace. Later the character of Jose is added. The majority of characters are white. (screencap from the series website)

It’s often difficult to distinguish early chapter book readers, let alone diverse ones, when buying online, and it can be hard to find books about people of color in some bookstores.  So one of my goals for this blog is to establish a list of diverse early chapter books.  This Friday I’ll be reviewing a book called Little Shaq to get me started.  What other early chapter books would you recommend?

ETA 08/2019: I’ve since reviewed several other early chapter books, but am always looking for more diverse examples of this particular type of literature.

Author: colorfulbookreviews

I work in a library by day and parent the rest of the time. I am passionate about good books representing the full spectrum of human diversity for every age group and reading level. This blog is my attempt to help parents, educators, and librarians find the best children's books authored by or featuring characters of color.

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