Transitioning from picture books to short chapter books | Series 1, Episode 11

Managing the transition from picture books to short chapter books.

Episode 11

Episode 11 show notes

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Episode 11 transcript

How to manage the transition from picture books to short chapter books

In this segment, we explore how to bridge the gap between picture books and first short chapter books for children aged 6-8. Year 2 is often a pivotal time in a child’s development, where many will make the transition from picture books, rhyming texts and illustrated books with short bursts of text, to short chapter books such as Isadora Moon or Big Sky Mountain, and character-driven book series such as Bad Panda or Claude. Along the way, students might encounter their first graphic novels such as Dog Man or the TreeHouse series. So what is key to managing that transition from easier comfort reading to more challenging first-chapter books?

When it comes to children’s reading, the power of book choice cannot be underestimated. Allowing children to select their own reading material cultivates a sense of ownership and fosters a genuine love for reading. Guthrie et al highlighted that choice in reading materials positively influences children’s motivation, engagement, and reading achievement. Let’s empower young readers by offering them a range of choices!

Free reading, or self-selected reading, is a crucial component in nurturing children’s reading proficiency and enjoyment. By dedicating time to independent reading, children can explore their interests, expand their vocabulary, and develop reading skills at their own pace. The Mol study published in Reading Research Quarterly found a strong positive correlation between free reading time and reading comprehension skills. Ensure your classes embrace the freedom of reading!

While book licenses or prescribed book schemes may seem convenient, they can unintentionally limit children’s reading experiences and hinder their motivation. Senechal et al in the Journal of Literacy Research highlighted that prescribed reading schemes can restrict children’s choices, leading to decreased motivation and engagement. Break free from these limitations and embrace the diverse world of children’s literature!

Motivating children to read requires fostering intrinsic motivation. One effective strategy is connecting books to their personal interests and passions. Cullinan & Harwood in the Journal of Early Childhood Literacy suggested that aligning reading materials with children’s interests increases their motivation, engagement, and overall reading achievement. Ignite your students’ passion for reading by tapping into their unique interests!

Picture books hold a special place in children’s literary journey. If children express a fondness for picture books, it’s crucial to honour their preferences and allow them to enjoy these captivating works. The American Library Association emphasizes that picture books provide valuable language experiences, spark imagination, and support literacy development. Be sure to celebrate the magic of picture books and the joy they bring to young readers, with displays, classroom libraries and regular book tastings.

How do children transition from picture books to short-chapter books seamlessly? One approach is to introduce picture books with more text, gradually increasing the amount of written content. This allows children to become comfortable with longer narratives while still enjoying captivating illustrations. The SIPE study, published in the Journal of Literacy Research supported the effectiveness of this approach in facilitating the transition. Teachers and librarians need to guide children through this transition with care and creativity.

Introducing children to book series can serve as a bridge between picture books and short chapter books. Series like “Big Sky Mountain” or “Isadora Moon” offer familiar characters and engaging storylines, making the transition smoother. Hickey et al in the Journal of Research in Reading suggests that book series provide continuity, familiarity, and a sense of accomplishment as children progress through the books. Book series are a great way to ensure reading becomes an addiction.

Educators and librarians play a pivotal role in inspiring young readers. By becoming reading role models, they can ignite children’s enthusiasm for books. McLeod emphasised the importance of adults reading alongside children and sharing their reading experiences, fostering positive attitudes and increased reading motivation. Lead by example and inspire a love for reading in the hearts of your young learners.

Peer recommendations can be a powerful motivator for children. Encouraging discussions and book sharing among peers can expand reading horizons and create a vibrant reading community. Hall & Coats in the Journal of Literacy Research highlighted that peer recommendations foster social interaction, and a sense of belonging, and can positively impact reading engagement. Encourage children to share their favourite reads and inspire one another.

Encouraging children to explore diverse genres opens up a world of possibilities and expands their literary palate. Whether it’s fantasy, mystery, historical fiction, or non-fiction, each genre offers unique experiences and captivates young minds. Tunbridge & Wilson in the Journal of Literacy Research emphasizes that exposure to multiple genres enhances reading comprehension, vocabulary development, and critical thinking skills. Genre-hopping adventures will help you to nurture well-rounded readers.

As children transition to short-chapter books, building reading stamina becomes essential. Gradually increasing reading sessions and providing opportunities for sustained reading can enhance children’s ability to engage with longer texts. Rasinski highlighted that increased reading time positively correlates with improved reading fluency and comprehension. Supporting children in building their reading endurance opens up an increased range of reading possibilities.

Lastly, creating a reading environment that fosters a love for books is key to supporting children’s reading journey. Providing cosy reading corners, access to a diverse range of books, and opportunities for meaningful discussions about stories can cultivate a positive reading culture. The American Association of School Librarians emphasizes the significance of nurturing a reading-friendly environment to enhance children’s reading motivation and engagement. Surround children with the magic of books and they cannot help but feel compelled to read them.

So I hope you’ve found a few of our ideas to bridge the gap between picture books and short chapter books for children aged 6-8 useful. Crucially, remember the power of book choice, the freedom of free reading, and the pitfalls of restrictive schemes. Motivate children by connecting books to their interests, embracing picture books, and guiding them through creative strategies. Inspire a lifelong love for reading and see the benefits in every lesson, every discussion and every piece of written work throughout your school.

Have a look at our books for year 2 for some specific ideas for reading choices.


  • American Association of School Librarians. (2018). National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.
  • Guthrie, J. T., Wigfield, A., & VonSecker, C. (2006). Effects of integrated instruction on motivation and strategy use in reading. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(2), 248-262.
  • Hall, A. H., & Coats, K. L. (2017). A look at children’s book recommendations: Peer influence on book choices. Journal of Literacy Research, 49(1), 90-116.
  • Hickey, M. G., Keegan, S. L., & Stewart, R. A. (2015). The impact of a book series on children’s reading comprehension, fluency, and attitudes. Journal of Research in Reading, 38(2), 220-234.
  • McLeod, A. N. (2013). Research on reading motivation: An overview of the past twenty years. Journal of Research in Reading, 36(1), S10-S28.
  • Mol, S. E., Bus, A. G., & De Jong, M. T. (2008). Interactive book reading in early education: A tool to stimulate print knowledge as well as oral language. Review of Educational Research, 78(4), 829-858.
  • Rasinski, T. V., Rikli, E. E., & Johnston, S. (2011). Reading fluency: More than automaticity? More than a concern for the primary grades? Literacy Research and Instruction, 50(4), 336-345.
  • Senechal, M., LeFevre, J., Hudson, E., & Lawson, E. (1995). Knowledge of storybooks as a predictor of young children’s vocabulary. Journal of Educational Psychology, 87(2), 218-229.
  • Sipe, L. R. (2008). How picture books work: A semiotically framed theory of text-picture relationships. Journal of Literacy Research, 40(1), 30-61.
  • Tunbridge, S. L., & Wilson, E. (2016). Expanding young readers’ repertoire of genres: Exploring the impact of reading for pleasure. Journal of Literacy Research, 48(3), 292-322.

Additional sources:

  • Feedback from SRL focus group and teacher panel

Episode 11 credits

To see full details of licensing information, creative commons, GNU license credits and other attributions that apply to every episode of this podcast, see our School Reading List podcast credits information page.

Credits specific to this episode

  • Kevin MacLeod – Bummin on Tremelo – (purchased lifetime extended licensed registered to Tom Tolkien license ID FML-170359-11969).
  • Listener submitted monologues from debut and self-published authors including: Katy on Broadway by Ella English, Movie Night with the Wizziwigs by Saxon North-Cornell & The 4th Dimension by Dr. Joseph J. Pamelia.

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About Tom Tolkien

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Tom Tolkien is a highly qualified (BA Hons, PGCE, QTS) children's literature expert and teacher with over 25 years of experience. He has led inset courses, developed curriculum materials, spoken at conferences, advised on longlisting for several international children's literature literature awards and written for educational publishers including contributing to a BETT award-nominated app. Social profiles: Twitter | Linkedin