The Best Classic Chapter Books to Read Aloud to the Littlest Listeners

Your children love picture books! Great job Mom!

You’ve started them on the path to a lifelong love of reading! Now for that tricky transition to chapter books. You’re longing to share The Hobbit, Narnia, and Anne of Green Gables with your five year old (or your three or four year old if he or she has a long attention span), but WAIT!

First chapter books are an important and memorable experience for your preschooler or kindergartener!

And believe me, the transition to chapter books will be much smoother if you begin with one of these delightful books written just for children listening to their first chapter books. These classic first chapter books have charming illustrations scattered throughout and short chapters the perfect length for a limited attention span.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. This means that I may receive a small fee if you purchase a book through my link at no additional cost to you.

Milly-Molly-Mandy is a sweet little girl enjoying family and small town life in a multi-generational home. Nostalgic and innocent stories with lots and lots of illustrations!

Jenny is a fashion-loving little black cat who longs for some friends. In Jenny and the Cat Club, she meets a memorable group of beautiful and ragged felines. A book about making friends, finding your own talents, and appreciating others’ differences. There are several more books about Jenny’s adventures available!

Raggedy Ann‘s cheerful nature and simple adventures have delighted children for over 100 years! Always a hit with 4-5 year old girls!

Twig‘s impoverished family lives in a tenement house. But one memorable day, a tomato soup can, a dandelion, and her imagination bring the best kind of magic into her life. After that day, Twig sees her life and neighbors through new eyes.

This is a transformation through imagination story in the tradition of Nesbit and MacDonald, so I personally liked it. But if you are very sensitive to the use of “magic” in stories, you may want to avoid this one.

Of course every child needs to listen to The Complete Tales of Winnie-The-Pooh! This beautiful hardcover edition includes lots of full color illustrations to make this beloved first chapter book even more enjoyable.

The Thornton Burgess 26-Book Set brings you to the world of the little forest animals. Most chapters are only 2-4 pages. Not as many pictures as some of the other books on this list, but still held the attention of my 4 year old.

Happy Little Family focuses on Bonnie, the youngest in an Appalachian family. At 4 years old, Bonnie feels quite grown up and ready to participate in all the family fun. All 4 years old can relate to her little joys and disappointments.

Continue reading Bonnie’s adventures in Schoolhouse in the Woods. Bonnie starts school, learns to read, and makes friends.

If you’re looking for more stories for 4-6 year old listeners, I highly recommend diving deep into fairy tales and folk tales! Check out my list of Good Fairy Tales, Fables, and Tall Tales for Catholic Kids.

“Adventures with Waffles” Review

"Adventures with Waffles" paperback cover

Adventures with Waffles

This little gem of a chapter book has been around for 15 years, but is newish to Americans. Norwegian author Maria Parr must have channeled Astrid Lindgren (you know, Pippi Longstocking?) to create the memorable duo in Adventures with Waffles. Beautiful Norway is the stunning backdrop to this memorable story about childhood friendship, family camaraderie, and overcoming loss.

Enter a remote Scandinavian village

It isn’t even a village. Just a few houses tucked in a remote cove. 8 year old friends Trille and Lena have to make their excitement and they do: boatloads of it! You’ll be charmed by sweet Trille’s narration of life in his hamlet, his love for his family, and his loyalty to his difficult best friend. From sledding in winter to bonfires in summer, the neighbors in this wintery wonderland enjoy everyday life.

Pro-Family

I loved the fact that Trille has an intact family with parents who love each other. He has three siblings, one of whom is adopted and comfortable with that. He lives in an intergenerational household; his grandfather has a flat in their basement and Trille loves having him there.

On the other hand, Lena lives with her single mother. She’s okay with this at first, but eventually begins to ask why she doesn’t have a father. In one of their notorious escapades, Lena and Trille decide to advertise and find a fitting father, confidently assuming her mother will be thrilled. While celebrating hardworking single parents, Adventures with Waffles conveys the intrinsic desire children have for both a mother and a father. It’s an affirmation of the importance of fathers! Now that is something you rarely see in a new children’s book!

Dealing with Grief and Loss

Adventures with Waffles isn’t all butterflies and daisies. Trille’s beloved waffle-making Auntie Granny dies midway through the book. Subtly but unmistakably Trille watches his family deal with the grief in their various ways. And he too has to come to terms with loss- and find ways to reawaken hope.

Trille and Lena also experience smaller losses and traumas: a horse they love is sent to the butcher and they scramble to save it. A fire threatens to destroy the family barn and animals. A bad sledding accident lands them in the hospital for a bit. In fact, they manage to crowd an inordinate number of misadventures into 230 pages! There’s no graphic violence though so all but the most sensitive readers shouldn’t be bothered.

Parental Warnings

Although I loved this book overall, I had two caveats when I went over my reading notes.

First, there’s a tiny bit of cruder humor at times, along the lines of putting out a bonfire with cow manure. Or a child making up a rhyme about moo and poo rhyming. I think it’s supposed to reflect that these are farm children used to the nitty gritty parts of farm life, so it didn’t bother me in this particular book. But just in case, note it’s there.

Second, there’s a little confusion about whether lying is always wrong. Some of this is a translation issue. I’m fairly certain that when the characters talk about “what good lies” someone tells in reference to tall tales, the translation should have been “what good stories” or “what good tales.”

Later on, there is a “ends justify means” message about lying. Trille, Lena, and his grandfather tell a string of lies to expedite their rescue of the aforementioned horse destined for the slaughter house. Trille is shocked by all the lying and his grandfather tells him, “Sometimes it’s all right to tell white lies, Trille.” I didn’t love this scenario in a book meant for 8-10 year olds. I would handle it with a discussion about how it lines up with what we believe as Catholics and how else the characters might have better handled the scenario.

Religion

Although most of the characters in this book are areligious, there’s a motif about a picture of Jesus. Trille’s Auntie Granny keeps a special picture of Jesus as the Good Shepherd to remind her not to worry: he’s in control. After her death, Trille is allowed to pick anything from her entire house to keep for his very own. He chooses the special picture. Thenceforth, it’s a source of comfort to both him and Lena: a reminder that someone is watching over them. Kind of neat to see this in a secular book!

If you want to buy Adventures with Waffles, you can support Good Books for Catholic Kids by buying through my Amazon affiliate link: Adventures with Waffles

Or, you can buy through my Bookshop.org page: Adventures with Waffles on my Book Review List

For more of my favorite books for middle grade readers, check out My Book Lists, especially:

photo of empty road in between grass field during golden hour

Favorite Audiobooks for Catholic Families

My kids are addicted to audiobooks on long car rides. I’ll take that over movies any day so I’m not trying to cure them.

But really, who else is always looking for that perfect audiobook that will entertain ALL the kids on the next roadtrip? Or even just the next trip to the grocery store if you live rural like we do!

I’ve spent more time than I’d like on Audible listening to samples and trying to figure out what’s the best quality and number of hours for the price. Here’s a list of some of my best finds: unabridged recordings with great narrators who bring the stories to life. These are the books my kids ask for again and again until they can recite them!

This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means that if you buy through my link I receive a small fee at no additional cost to you.

The Chronicles of Narnia Adult Box Set

Who else wants to hear Kenneth Branagh read The Chronicles of Narnia? This unabridged version is pricey but if you have an audible account you can snag it for 1 credit- awesome deal!

Little House in the Big Woods: Little House, Book 1

We have 5 Little House books on audiobook and they are some of the most requested recordings we own. The fiddle music to accompany these recordings fits perfectly.

Swallows and Amazons

Family adventures on a lake? Friendships, alliances of offense and defense, and buried treasure? Swallows and Amazons has it all. Charming British children’s classics.

The Hobbit

If your crew is slightly older, they’ll love The Hobbit read by no less than Gollum himself. A great performance by Andy Serkis.

All-of-a-Kind Family

We love the five joyful sisters’ escapades in All of a Kind Family. You get a perfect picture of life for a poor but happy Jewish family in early 21st century New York city. Thanks to this book, my kids understand Jewish holidays and traditions!

Thornton W. Burgess Box Set: The Adventures of Sammy Jay; The Burgess Bird Book for Children; The Burgess Animal Book for Children; & Old Granny Fox

Looking for many hours for 1 audible credit? Check out this collection: Thornton W Burgess Box Set. Educational and enjoyable.

Five for Victory: The Mitchells, Book 1

With their father away during World War II, the 5 Mitchell children pull together to help their mother on the Homefront. Their Five for Victory club brings them friends and helps the war effort. We love the sequel, Canadian Summer, even more. The Mitchell family moves to a remote Canadian ski cottage for the summer and adventure naturally follows.

Happy Little Family: Fairchild Family Story

The Happy Little Family books are often compared to Little House with their gentle lessons and anecdotes from family life. Warning that the narrator’s accent is fittingly Southern for these stories from Appalachia. So if you have a vendetta against a drawl skip this series!

The Cinnamon Bear: The Complete Series

The Cinnamon Bear is a classic oldschool radio drama with music and a full cast. I listened to it over and over growing up, and now my kids ask to hear it even out of season; it’s a Christmas drama. Brother and sister Judy and Jimmy have their star stolen by a crazy-quilt dragon. A tiny cinnamon bear comes to life and helps them travel through Maybe-land to rescue it from a wicked witch.

Fairytale Favorites: In Story and Song

My younger kids love all the Jim Weiss retellings they’ve heard. Fairytale Favorites includes the Elves and the Shoemaker, Stone Soup, Rapunzel, and more. He includes memorable songs and sometimes poetry in these retellings. Also, it’s less than $3 to buy. Sweet.

flag of america

Review of “The Mitchells” Series

The Mitchells Five for Victory

A Hilarious Read Aloud

Do you want to enjoy reading aloud to your children but sometimes feel bored with the standard childhood read aloud canon? Check out The Michells series by Hilda Van Stockum, a Catholic mom of six. In this semi-autobiographical series, Hilda Van Stockum perfectly captures the love, chaos, and hilarity of family life. It’s the perfect read aloud for parent and kids: the kids love the Mitchell children’s antics, and I laugh out loud in sympathy with the overwhelmed parents.

A Relatable Catholic Family

Any Anne of Green Gables fans out there? Do you remember the notoroious cake story and Anne’s early writing struggles? She only begins to achieve success when she begins writing about what she knows: small town life on the island.

Similarly, Hilda Van Stockum, a Catholic convert and mother, writes this absolutely charming series about what she knows: life with half a dozen Catholic children.

The Mitchells aren’t a perfect family. Kids break things, lose their siblings, and lose their tempers. But they take care of each other, they apologize, and they work together to keep the home fires burning during World War II.

The first book, The Mitchells: Five for Victory, has the least overtly Catholic content. But in the second book, Canadian Summer, you will see the family going to great lengths to attend Mass. Actually, Mother’s determination to bring the whole family to Mass despite no car, mud puddles, dusty roads, only two bikes, and runaway dogs is quite touching.

Meet the Mitchells

Joan is the responsible oldest girl who’s determined to keep all the children in line. Patsy is a dreamy artist. Peter’s a sturdy boy who feels responsible for protecting his sisters. Angela has the golden curls and blue eyes of an angel and makes more trouble than a houseful of animals. Timmy is a serious baby who bites everything.

Then there’s Granny, a delightful Dutchwoman who doesn’t let her age keep her from adventure. Mother is, refreshingly, an achingly realistic parent who rushes around distributing love and discipline in equal measures. Last but not least, there’s Father, who leaves to fight in World War II as Five for Victory begins with the parting admonition: “NO PETS!”

Of course, the family somehow ends up with a rabbit, some fish, a parrot, a kitten, a squirrel, and a dog by the last chapter…

Subsequent Books

In Canadian Summer, the Mitchells move to Canada. Housing is difficult to find, so Father optimistically rents a remote ski cabin miles inaccessible by road and without power. Mother is not pleased to put it mildly, but over the course of the summer the Mitchells all learn the grace of having less and make new French Canadian Catholic friends.

The last book, Friendly Gables, picks up years later with the oldest Mitchells children in high school. This one has more focus on school interactions and Joan coming of age so is generally more interesting for the 11+ crowd.

Where can I buy the books?

In addition to being a fantastic read aloud, the Mitchell series is a wonderful choice for a middle grade independent reader.

The Mitchells: Five for Victory and its sequels are kept in print by Catholic publisher Bethlehem Books. You can buy the books on their website. The best time to buy is when they run a 50% off sale, usually in November/December.

You can also buy the books through my affiliate links: Five for Victory, Canadian Summer, and Friendly Gables.

Review of “The Island of the Two Trees”

Cover of "The Island of the Two Trees"
This post may contain Amazon Affiliate links.

The plot of The Island of Two Trees is written in the tradition of C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. Three siblings are “called” into a fantasy world at a pivotal moment in that world’s history. But in The Island of the Two Trees, Brian Kennelly brings a fresh twist to the classic story line by having the children called into their father’s imagination in order to save his very life.

Allegory & Symbolism

Like Lewis and George MacDonald, Brian Kennelly uses fantasy as a means of shedding light on Christianity. In The Island of the Two Trees, Kennelly uses a variety of allegories which can help children understand aspects of our Christian faith such as the battle between good and evil, devotion to Mary, and Jesus’ role in salvation history. The most obvious symbolism is in the two trees: the one a gift from the “good Counselor” which provides life-giving water to the island, the other an extension of the evil shoot Radicle which wants to destroy the island.

A Family Story

One neat thing about The Island of the Two Trees is that unlike most fantasy stories, the three children’s parents actually get chapter space in the book. Kennelly wants to convey the interconnected consequences the choices of each family member have on the others. The story bounces back between the children’s and parents’ perspective. He also wants to show that the love between parents and children is a powerful force. The children’s love for their father motivates them to face danger to save the island of his mind.

Evil: Not To Be Ignored

In the Screwtape Letters, Lewis writes a letter in which a devil describes the demonic strategy of urging humans to ignore the reality of demons and evil. This passage may well be the inspiration behind the premise of The Island of the Two Trees. The darkness begins to take over the father’s mind when he ignores the evil in the story he has created. When he refuses to address the dark aspects of his make-believe, they gain power, until as a last resort his children must defeat them in an alternative reality.

An Exciting Family Read-Aloud

I think this book makes a great read-aloud that many fathers would particularly appreciate reading to their children. Yes, there are some dark parts where the children battle demonic creatures. But it is not graphic at all, so not too scary for most little children. I think most 5-10 year olds would enjoy this book as a read-aloud or independent read.

Check out The Island of Two Trees on Amazon or from its Catholic publisher, Tan Books.

For more great fantasy books for Catholic kids, check out my list:

20 Great Books for Children Who Love Talking Animals

Affiliate Links Included

In children’s literature, there are classics about animal which talk, and classics about animals which don’t talk. To accompany my list of 25 Great Books for Children who love Animals, here are my favorite books about talking animals! If you have an 8-14 year old animal lover, they will love these books!

Black Beauty is a classic, both inspiring and heartbreaking in turns. This story of a gentle horse who just wants friendship and peace is beloved by both children and adults. However, it is very sad at times so use discretion for highly sensitive young readers. 

Ben and Me and Mr. Revere and I are two fantastic and funny tales of American Patriots and the founding of America as recounted by their loyal pets, a mouse and horse respectively. 

Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White is the story of the unlikely friendship that grows between a pig, a spider, and a girl: a friendship that is truly life-saving for one of the three.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame is one of the best loved classics about talking animals. The happy, simple world of Badger, Mole, and Rat has captured the imagination of more than one generation. This book is a staple in any collection of children’s books. 

In Jenny and the Cat Club, the reader meets Jenny, a shy young cat with a red scarf. In this volume of Jenny adventures, Jenny learns to make friends, be brave, and to share. Further adventures of Jenny can be found in The School for Cats and Jenny’s Moonlight Adventure. The Jenny books make great read alouds for younger children too! 

The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden is notable on several levels. First, it’s a timeless story of friendship between a cat, mouse, cricket, and boy. Second, it’s a great introduction to the variety of cultures in New York City, notably Italian and Chinese. Third, it’s illustrated by Garth Williams, of Little House fame. Worth reading on all three counts. 

The Song of the Winns: The Secret of the Ginger Mice by Frances Watts is a fun little known talking animal story about mice triplets. When one of the triplets is kidnapped, his siblings set out to find him. Their journey is filled with mystery, adventure, and surprises. 

The Redwall books by Brian Jacques are always favorites with Catholic children, even the most reluctant readers. These books have a wonderfully medieval feel with their high feasts, epic battles, and quests. There are over 22 Redwall Books, all enjoyable, though the first six are generally considered the best.

In some ways reminiscent of Redwall, the The Green Ember series nevertheless manages to find its own voice. This series follows the adventures, battles, and quests of a rabbit clan. Great themes about growing up, bravery, loyalty, and more. 

All of the Narnia books include talking animals, but The Horse and His Boy stands out as having a truly memorable talking animal leading character. Bree, the kidnapped horse who longs to get home to Narnia, goes on a journey of self-knowledge and character growth just as much as his rider, Shasta. This is my very favorite of the Narnia books.

The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary is the first of the Ralph S. Mouse books. Young Ralph is a mouse who longs for speed and adventure. Life in a hotel is boring at best until a sympathetic boy shows up.

Freddy the Detective by Walter Brooks is one of the classic Freddy the Pig series. These charming older books follow Freddy, a kind-hearted pig, on a series of ventures from starting a detective agency to becoming a lawyer. Other titles in the series include Freddy the Politician,

In The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting, Doctor Dolittle struggles to deal with his stuffy English patients. His parrot, Polynesia, teaches him animal language and he becomes a veterinarian instead.  

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll has several talking animal characters, such as the unforgettable white hare on his way to have tea with the queen. This is a classic that every child should read at some point in their life. 

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling is actually a collection of stories about the jungle. Many feature the classic cast of movie characters such as Baloo, Mowgli, and Shere Khan. These stories are more challenging than many books on this list, but offer great exposure to India. 

The Complete Tales of Winnie-The-Pooh and the House at Pooh Corner are both included in this beautiful color version of the classic Pooh stories. These hilarious stories are actually better enjoyed by an independent reader than a younger child! 

Watership Down by Richard Adams is a talking animal classic about a small band of rabbits’ struggle for survival. Warning for parents of younger and sensitive children that a few lovable main characters do die in this story.

Thornton Burgess is well known for his animal stories about clever Peter Cottontail, sneaky Reddy Fox, and the rest of Mother West Wind’s children. You can start reading about their escapades in Old Mother West Wind, then continue with the whole series. These short books are great for encouraging younger readers to finish a whole book!