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Longer Stories & Novels to Read Aloud to Preschoolers

In response to my recent post, Living with an Imaginative Child, one reader asked at what stage I introduced Enid Blyton to Immy.The short answer is when she was three years old. The long answer includes a little more detail about how reading longer stories and novels together came to happen in our home, hopefully including a few tips for those of you who hope to introduce them to your own children.

I must start by saying that I adored reading Enid Blyton as a child. I have fond memories of being captivated by the illustrated adventures of Jo, Bessie, Fanny in The Magic Faraway Tree, and Peter, Mollie and Chinky in The Wishing Chair, and later of being completely engrossed (as an independent reader) in the Famous Five and Secret Seven, not to mention the Naughtiest Girl and the students at Malory Towers.

When & how we got started with longer stories
I think it is also important to note that we read together as part of our family’s daily rhythm every day, and have since Immy was a baby. Initially, our reading time was first thing in the morning, cuddled in bed together before we started the day. Nowadays, it is every evening as part of Immy’s bedtime routine.  As well, most days I read aloud to Immy as we eat breakfast or lunch – I find it a great way to settle my busy, once-toddler, now-preschooler and keep her at the table!

Immy loves books and reading together. Whether this is nature or nurture, I have no idea (and figure it is a bit of both), it is just something we have always done.  Plus, we read lots of different types of texts – everything from picture books to magazines, catalogues to event programs, and now longer stories and novels suitable for young children. Engagement with reading will be different for every child, and this will influence what they most enjoy reading (both with your, and later, independently), and at what age or stage of development they are ready for wordier challenges.

When Immy was born I purchased a reasonably priced, unmodernised copy of The Magic Faraway Tree in good condition on eBay (these are popular titles and often sell for more than more recently published versions, however I personally prefer them both for their full colour illustrations and original text). Then for her first Christmas, she received a copy of The Wishing Chair Collection (three books in one) from my sister.

These books have been on Immy’s bookshelf amongst her regular picture books since she was a young toddler, sitting alongside a classic fairy tale collection given to her when she was born, and a number of children’s novels (and longer, illustrated stories such as those by Graeme Base) from my own childhood or teaching days. The collection has grown with each Christmas and birthday.

A portion of our collection.

And one day when she was three years old, when asked (as she is everyday) what she would like to read at bedtime, Immy chose The Wishing Chair Collection. So we gave it a go, reading a few chapters each night, and she really enjoyed it. Once it was finished, I asked if she would like to read The Magic Faraway Tree next and she agreed.  These books captured the heart and mind of my imaginative child, and I think that is one of the keys to reading aloud longer stories together – finding those that best suit the interests of your child.

The library can be a great place to find ideas and inspiration if you are not sure which titles to try with your child.  I found a great illustrated copy of The Wizard of Oz when Immy became hooked on the Wicked (musical) soundtrack at our local library.  Our two closest libraries have defined sections within the children’s collection for longer stories and novels which makes browsing much easier.  At this stage, I tend to stick to mainly classic stories that I am already familiar with, mainly because I don’t currently have the time to pre-read new titles to make sure they are suitable for my four year old.

Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree

If you are not sure if your child is ready, starting with a longer story style picture book might be the best way to go, considering the amount of text on each page, and the nature of the illustrations – how frequently are illustrations used? How detailed are they? Are they black and white or full colour? These factors can influence a child’s engagement with each book or story.

Mr Toad, part of a series based on Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows

I think it is also alright to try a book and if it is not engaging your child, to leave it for another time.  After all, this is what we do as adult readers. This has happened to us a few times, most recently with a Paddington Bear collection, and we have left it on the shelf to come back to when (and if) Immy is ready.

Our longer story selection
Here is a list of some of the books we have read together in the past 12 months;

~ The Wishing Chair Collection by Enid Blyton, 2002, Egmont Books.

~ The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton, Illustrated by Georgina Hargreaves, (our copy is) 2001, Hinkler Books.

~ The Folk of the Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton, Illustrated by Georgina Hargreaves, (our copy is) 1986, Budget Books.

~ The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: A Classic Disney Treasury, 1998, Penguin Books.

~ The Complete Adventures of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, 1983 (Large Format Edition), Book Club Associates.

~ The Legend of the Golden Snail by Graeme Base, 2010, Abrams Books for Young Readers.

~ Enigma: A Magical Mystery by Graeme Base, 2008, Penguin Group.

~ The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, Illustrated by Michael Foreman, 2002, Pavilion Children’s Books.

~ A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond, 2010, Harper Collins.

~ Classic Fairy Tales: Enchanting Stories from Around the World, 2005, Arcturus Publishing. (I should note, we are careful about which fairy tales we read to Immy thanks to her very active imagination).

~ The Wind in the Willows series – The River Bank, The Wild Whttp://childhood101.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=8412&action=editReaood, Mr Toad & Mr Toad Comes Home, from Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, adapted by Jane Carruth, illustrated by Rene Cloke, 1990, Award Publications Limited.

~ The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, Illustrated by Eric Kincaid, 2012, The Five Mile Press (this version has been lightly abridged).

~ The O’Clock Tales by Enid Blyton (short stories), 2010, Egmont Books.

I am still on the lookout for a reasonably priced, good condition second hand copy of the remaining Magic Faraway book, The Enchanted Forest!

Do you include longer stories and novels when reading aloud together? Do you have any favourites (or familiar classics) to recommend?

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Comments

  1. We left it a bit later to start reading novels but loved them from when the kids were about 4-5. We took the faraway tree collection (3 books in 1) on our 3 month trip to Europe when the girls were 5 and almost 7 and they fell in love with listening to me read for hours – they chose it over the car DVD player almost every time.

    Others we loved on that trip that are not on your list were Black Beauty, Pippi Longstocking and Charlottte’s Web

    • Pippi Longstocking and Charlotte’s Web are on my list of books to source :) Black Beauty is another great idea. And I love that your girls preferred to listen to you read over the car DVD player! Thanks for sharing the post today as well.

  2. I enjoy reading the ‘classics’ with my kids. I bought them a boxed set of Enid Blyton’s ‘Famous Five’ (20 books) for Christmas – my eldest loves them and even did a display on Enid Blyton for the school library! We’ve got a few of the ones on your list and I’ve been given my M-I-L’s set of Aesop’s fables and other stories including Black Beauty, Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island.

  3. I wrote a post about this last year when we started reading chapter books to Lil at bed time: http://madanddave.wordpress.com/2011/09/12/a-new-era-in-bedtime-reading-chapter-books/
    She loves Enid Blyton (and just today I scored four more from the op-shop!) and Roald Dahl in particular. I want to read The Borrowers to her so am looking out for a copy of that.

  4. Great post, thank you. For those that don’t have time to pre-read stories, DVD’s and movies I find this site very helpful: http://www.commonsensemedia.org

    I have found that I have a very sensitive 4 and 5 year old, we have tried Enid Blyton, The Wishing Chair, and both boys were upset with the content of naughty children and smacking. So at this stage we haven’t braved chapter books again.

  5. While they are not classics as such, our Miss 4 loves “The Littles” series by John Peterson. My brothers and I enjoyed these when we were younger and I have had fun “rediscovering” them whilst reading to Rebekah :)

  6. I adored Enid Blyton as a child. Thanks for the reminder, I’ve just ordered the Wishing Tree Collection to share with my preschoolers.

  7. You should try her on the Milly Molly Mandy books and if you haven’t seen it already, The Velveteen Rabbit. I bet she’d love them!

    I also read the Wishing Chair and Magic Faraway Tree books with my elder girls, starting from when A was about 3 1/2 and E not quite 2. I was interested that E would actually sit for a short while and appear to listen (maybe 10 mins at a stretch), so even though I was predominantly reading for A, she was absorbing some of it too. We did The Wind in the Willows a little later, when A was 5 and E almost 3 1/2, and they both adored it. At that age we also did the Famous Five and Secret Seven, which really only worked because E had an abnormally long attention span for reading aloud (probably an early warning signal that she’d be an early reader – she was reading aloud at 4, only a hair’s breadth behind her almost 2 yrs older sister :-)

  8. Christie Harris says:

    Some of Roald Dahl’s stories are great for preschoolers too! My 5 year old and I are reading Fantastic Mr Fox at the moment – the chapters are nice and short, and Dahl’s prose is easy to read and engaging for adults too.
    We’re also reading occasional stories from a collection of the Muddle Headed Wombat stories by Ruth Park.

  9. We love Roald Dahl too! We also started when Will was three, with the longer stories. The Magic finger was our first Roald Dahl, then we got a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory from the library with pictures. Now we’re reading the BFG without pics :) Enid Blyton is a definite favourite too – I think the Magic Treacle Jug is top of Will’s list! Its such a special thing to do, to snuggle up and share a story together, and to wait together for the next bit!

    • I agree that it is such a special time to spend together, Ash. Thank you for The Magic Finger suggestion, we have just borrowed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory from the library :)

  10. We are loving the Enid Blyton books – fabulous vocabulary and sentence structure! We have been successful with some of her books of short stories too, for busy months when the kids are just too tired to concentrate and remember the details from one day to the next!
    And a healthy dose of Roald Dahl as well – I have a 5 and 3 year old who are just discovering the joy of jokes about bodily functions – such dirty laughs!!!

  11. I’ve just started reading ‘chapter books’ with Miss Just Turned Four…and she is loving them. We’re reading Milly Molly Mandy, and the gorgeous Violet Mackerel books which I had the pleasure of reading when I did some judging of YR books for the now defunct Qld Premiers Literary Awards last year. The VM books are just lovely! As a childrens librarian, I’m always very conscious of still reading picture books to children of all ages…its so important for the devlopment of visual literacy and for the sheer delight of being exposed to beautiful artwork and beautiful words. So we’ll still read many picture books for years to come, but yes…enjoying escaping into the wonder of a ‘long’ story too.

  12. Just looking at that Faraway Tree image took me back to my childhood when I had the most beautiful edition with those illustrations in: I actually spent weeks looking for a copy with that exact artwork on ebay and then bought a copy in the 99p that had them. Like Immy, my eldest has always adored books. The second has been slower to appreciate them. We listen to audio books in the car, which have been a great way of introducing ‘Chapter Books’ and have a growing series of long books at home. Our current favourites include the Sophie series from Dick King-Smith, My Naughty Little Sister and Milly-Molly-Mandy, as well as the BFG.

  13. I adored Paddington books when I was young; the story tapes were a great source of comfort to me too. We have just started reading the first in the series to my 4-year-old, having been given a lovely box set by my father. Our 2-year-old likes to listen too sometimes, when he’s not busy bouncing off the walls!

  14. I was the reader who asked that question! Thanks for answering, lol. Since your first post we actually started reading the Magic Faraway Tree series together. My daughter is also 3 (Jan) and is definitely enjoying the story. I do wish I had an illustrated version though as I think she would enjoy that even more. I find if there is nothing for her to look at her attention starts to wander. I’ve found that at this age, little bits of the book at a time (say, a chapter..they’re not that long) are good enough and so long as we keep reading it regularly so as not to lose the plot, it works well. Thanks for the inspiration to get started! Debs

  15. I’ve loved seeing A become ready for older books – although what we read and how long it is obviously depends on her mood at the time.

    Classics, we’ve read some Noddy books (my old books), Winnie the Pooh and some Roald Dahl – she loved hearing the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory because she loves the movie, and she adored The Twits.

    More recent books, we’ve read Violet Mackarel and some Aussie Nibbles books – all of which are for beginner readers so have some illustrations too.

  16. My three year old loved the Odyssey series by Mary Pope Osburn (even though it had no pictures). He also has enjoyed Winnie-the-Pooh and some Roald Dahl. I am going to try some of the books that you suggested here. Thanks for such a great post!

  17. Great list, thanks Christie! I loved Enid Blyton as a child growing up in Scotland, had forgotten all about her as she was not at all popular in North America, where I later moved. Will have to look in our school library to see if they’ve got any of her books.

  18. Oh the sweetness of reading The Folk of the Faraway Tree for the first time… Love it!!! I collaborated with my kids and wrote a list of the best chapter books they could think of – some of them you will recognize from your childhood… and lots of ideas for bed-time chapter books… http://www.se7en.org.za/2011/04/15/se7en-of-the-best-bazillion-chapter-books-a-book-bonanza

  19. I was just thinking about starting to read my little guy longer books, so I love this list!

  20. Thank you so much for this insightful post Christie. I love to hear how (and what) other people read to their children.
    My just over 2.5 year old daughter can concentrate on quite long picture books (and many in one sitting) so I think once she hits 3 I’ll put a chapter book or two into her book rotation and see if she’s interested.
    As for other book suggestions, I have a few Enid Blyton books from when I was young, Mr Meddle’s Muddles, Bimbo and Topsy (very large print and the chapters are complete stories of their own), and an illustrated copy of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie that I used to read at my Grandparent’s house. Sadie was also just given an illustrated copy of Blinky Bill for Christmas.
    I wonder how everyone handles the different tone of some of these ‘old fashioned’ books with their children – things like parents smacking children and the sexism (e.g. girls often portrayed as less physically capable and independent than boys)? Do you point it out to your child “that’s silly to think a girl can’t do that”? Ignore it? Wait until they bring it up?

    • I would love to find a nice, illustrated version of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, it is definitely one I have been watching out for, Mel :)

      Personally, I use those examples of things that happen in the ‘classic’ stories that don’t fit with our family values as teachable moments. Oftentimes it is just a passing comment, sometimes it leads to further conversation.

  21. What a great post. I’ve been thinking about exactly the same thing as my eldest is about to turn 4. At the moment we’re enjoying the slightly longer picture style books, but can’t wait to get back into Enid Blyton soon, I loved the Faraway Tree as a child too. Some of the longer picture books we’re enjoying at the moment are the Fern Hollow Stories, Little Grey Rabbit and Brambly Hedge Stories. And now you’ve given me lots of ideas to add to my library list!

  22. We started with Enid Blyton Magic Faraway Tree, moved onto Roald Dahl and somehow ended up with the How to Train your Dragon books when the Munchkin turned 5 – not for all kids at that age, but he LOVED them! Have also read many of the classics – Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, Charlotte’s Web, Paddington, The Velveteen Rabbit and Pippi Longstocking. My mum read him the Fern Hollow books and he loved them too. Keeping up with this was quite tiring, so I found audio books an absolute godsend. And he no longer wanted to be read picture books :( Now that he’s at school and learning to read we’re rediscovering them again and it’s wonderful!

  23. We have been reading lots of Enid Blyton too. We have lots of her fairy stories, Mr Pink Whistle and Shadow the Sheep Dog and Children Of The Cherry Tree Farm. We have been enjoying Pippi Longstocking and Tashi as well. I find the longer chapter books great for getting them to slow down. They can lie in their bed and just listen without looking at the pictures.

  24. We will have to give these books a try, thanks for the suggestions! My girls really loved the Brambly Hedge books by Jill Barklem. The illustrations are very intricate and the stories are wonderful.

  25. Hi Christie,

    Found your website while searching for books similar to the Faraway series.

    I am just coming up to finishing the 3rd book, Folf of the Faraway tree with my recently 4 year old son. He has really enjoyed them.

    he mentioned about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a few days ago, we started reading the first few pages then he asked me to stop and go back to the Folk of the Faraway Tree.

    I chose this series as I remember reading them with my mum.

    I never read the Wishing Chair and and am thinking this may be a good choice. I would welcome any other ideas for a (very) imaginitive 4 year old boy.

    I also recall reading the Secret 7 before moving to the Famous 5. Any thoughts on suitability for a 4 year old.

    Thanks for the great content.

    Simon

  26. Thank you for reposting! Missed it the first time around.

    A few of my (now 5-year-old)’s favorites so far to add to the list:

    * A Cricket in Times Square, by George Selden, great illustrtaions by Garth Williams. We actually listened to a wonderful audio version read by Renee Aubergeonois before reading it ourselves.
    * Farmer Boy and The Long Winter by Laure Ingalls Wilder — we’ve just started dipping into the “Little House” series which of course was a favorite of mine growing up. We read Farmer Boy first because it’s about a boy! Then we read The Long Winter because we are in a snowy winter right now ourselves. But we will read all the rest, I am sure.
    * The My Father’s Dragon trilogy by Ruth Stiles Gannet– a rare flight of imagination just right for preschoolers. Chapters are shortish and the books are very “manageable” though the stories are amazingly imaginative.
    * Bambi by Felix Salten, a bit intense, but better handled by a close adult-child read than in the film. Also, GREAT natural history in the book.

    I look forward to seeking out some of the suggestions in your post and the comments! Thanks!

  27. mrs p furnell says:

    can I get the story of winnie the pooh on line as my grandchildren are constantly asking so that they can digest the story better as it was not covered very well at there play school

  28. Love this post, I thought I was a bit crazy scouring all the local op shops for second hand children’s books from the 70′s and 80′s but now I feel completely normal :-) We found the set of 3 Faraway Tree picture books for $3 each in Vinnies, and my kids adore them.

  29. We are in love with Barefoot Books. They have really expanded their chapter book selection, and they have wonderful books with CD’s- which are great for road trips! We always buy ours at http://www.ReadandGrow.com. And they are multicultural!

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