Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Case for Chapter Books

I dedicate a large section of my classroom library to series books. Even when I place the same series books into my leveled baskets, my students are far less likely to pick up that book. I don’t know exactly why, but I find that my students always gravitate towards the series baskets.
To get my students hooked on a particular series, I often begin a series with the entire class as a read-aloud. Other times, I introduce a series with a guided reading group or book club. For instance, after I began reading the tale of the vampire rabbit Bunnicula to my class, over half my students begged me to add the rest of the series to our library. They were already “friends” with the characters, and I had prepared them for the challenges of reading this series (mainly the vocabulary) during my interactive read-alouds.
Some children suffer acute withdrawal upon finishing a beloved series. I had one student who simply stopped reading altogether when she got to the last Little House novel. She explained to me that she didn’t want the series to end — that she’d miss Laura too much. We need to be sensitive to our students’ reading needs and anxieties as they finish up a series. Some students experience their first success as fluent chapter book readers with series books, and they may unconsciously worry about finding other books they can succeed with. It’s crucial to help them find another engrossing book or series to tackle. (It turned out that Caddie Woodlawn was just the book this student needed to help her say “good-bye for now” to Laura.) 
When I have several students reading one series, I’ll often create another basket in the library labeled “If you love [Insert Series Title], you might also like . . . ” For example, for students who love the Ivy and Bean series, I’ll put a basket next to it with books from the Clementine series, the Mallory series, and the Babysitters Club series. Scholastic’s BookAlike feature in their Book Wizard is particularly helpful in finding next-book suggestions for students who are in limbo.
Be on the lookout for students who get “stuck” in a particular series. Some students truly need to read every Magic Tree House book, but other students may stick with the series even after they have outgrown it. Other students bounce back to series that they’ve previously read because they want to relive their “glory days.” Thankfully, some favorite early-series authors like Ron Roy and Debbie Dadey write more than one series, which can make for an easy transition for stuck series readers. However, when one of my students logged her twenty-fifth Boxcar Children book, I had to stage a mini-intervention, my own childhood copy of Nancy Drew in hand to tempt her. Two teaching guides, for grades 23 and grades 45, have suggestions for “gateway books” to help students transition out of a series. 

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