Bridging the Gap: Stepping Up to Chapter Books
One of the critical moments in the making of a reader is the jump from picture books and controlled vocabulary readers to nonfiction and fiction chapter books. Some young readers are resistant to this leap; in fact, you can almost see them calibrating the thickness of a book before they even pick it up. "Thick" books can be scary (even to adults), and it takes the promise of a really good read to get the wary ones over the hump.
One series that seems to have that promise for early readers is Mary Pope Osborne's Magic Tree House series. This group of books, with reading levels between grades 2 and 3, seems to have appeal to almost all kids in grades 1-3. The characters are brother Jack and younger sister Annie, average kids in Frog Creek, Pennsylvania, who in the first book discover a tree house in the woods and inside it a powerful book which will take them to earlier times and many places.
Osborne is a skilled writer of historical fiction for older readers and traditional folk literature for the picture book set, and she knows how to spin a tale that keeps kids reading. Now with 37 books published in this series, she uses the series author's device of familiar characters and similar opening episodes to ease children into the next book in the sequence. The device of time travel to a different place and era with each book keeps the series fresh and provides some passive historical learning as a big bonus. From book to book, the readers may find themselves living with a rain forest gorilla band, swimming with wild dolphins, or serving at the first Thanksgiving.
As another bonus for teachers or homeschooling parents, thematic guides for most of the books are also available, e.g., Rain Forests. (Magic Tree House Research Guide) These guides lead the user to resources and activities in science or social studies that parallel each book's story line.
The latest book in the series, #37, is Dawn of the Red Dragon, is forthcoming on February 27. In this adventure Jack and Annie travel to Edo (now Tokyo), the capital of fifteenth century Japan, where they seek the first of the ancient keys to happiness among the samurai. As always, Jack dutifully totes along a research book for each trip and takes careful notes while Annie eagerly leads the way into adventure.
Mary Pope Osborne makes books, libraries, and librarians an important feature of each story as her obvious love for her subjects take young readers into the world of chapter fiction.