First chapter book a child reads?
July 23, 2008 7:50 AM   Subscribe

I was asked in France what's the first chapter book an American child reads on his or her own, and I didn't know whether there is one such book. Do you know of one or have any idea of the most likely titles?
posted by sevenstars to Education (50 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was a very early read for me. Also Journey to the Center of the Earth.

How interesting that that question would be asked. I'm inclined to doubt that there would even be much of a trend here, but then I would have doubted that there would be one anywhere. What was the answer in France?
posted by cmoj at 7:59 AM on July 23, 2008

I don't think there's going to be just one.

I can remember distinctly what mine was: "Railroad Arthur" by Alan Coren. I still have it around (although I can't for the life of me tell you what it was about, except that it involved trains which I thought were really awesome at the time). After that I think I chewed through a lot of the Hardy Boys books, which were broken into fairly short, dramatic chapters.

I'm not sure whether Hardy Boys are still popular today, though … it's been a while since I've seen a big display of them in a book store, and I think they were quite easy to find when I was reading them. No idea what's taken over in their niche.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:02 AM on July 23, 2008

I would guess it'd be something like Charlotte's Web or something by Beverly Cleary or Rold Dahl. Something popular and found in every elementary school library.
posted by sanka at 8:03 AM on July 23, 2008

Although it has not been widely used in schools since the 1970's, Dick and Jane are a big hit with our daughter and were pretty ubiquitous for those of us over 40.
posted by TedW at 8:05 AM on July 23, 2008

Mine was the first Hardy Boys book. I remember having a hard time with it :)
posted by meta87 at 8:12 AM on July 23, 2008

My first was Charlotte's Web. But from what I understand, the French education system is much more standardized than the American.
posted by lunasol at 8:18 AM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding the sentiment that there's very unlikely to be any one book. A good start for commonly-assigned books in classrooms are those that have won the Newberry Award.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 8:19 AM on July 23, 2008

My first thought was Ramona. I know I read lots of Baby-sitters' Club.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:24 AM on July 23, 2008

Little House on the Prairie was one of my firsts.
posted by GaelFC at 8:28 AM on July 23, 2008

My first was "The Wizard of Oz", followed closely by "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe". Also, "Peter Pan", the "Little House on the Prairie" series and the Nancy Drew mysteries were all early favourites of mine.

Coupled with that were liberal doses of "Les Aventures de Tintin" and "Les Schtroumpfs" (The Smurfs) in French. 'Cause, yeah, I grew up in a bilingual city.
posted by LN at 8:36 AM on July 23, 2008

Oh, I should mention, we had both the Wizard of Oz series and the Narnia series at home, so it wasn't just the one book in each case, it was all the books.
posted by LN at 8:38 AM on July 23, 2008

This is one of the big differences in national identity between Europe and the States. John Cleese once remarked that Monty Python worked because Britian had something that the US didn't, a common educational background.
posted by ewkpates at 8:38 AM on July 23, 2008

GaelFC and I are about the same age and Little House in the Prarie was definitely the book in my household.
posted by jessamyn at 8:39 AM on July 23, 2008

The first one I can remember has stuck with me all of these years, to the point where I can recall just about every detail of the story: Everything Happens to Stuey

It inspired many weird experiments (my parents called them "concoctions") in the back of the family refrigerator.
posted by JaredSeth at 8:39 AM on July 23, 2008

The Secret Garden, I think, was my first.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 8:39 AM on July 23, 2008

I know the first real chapter book I ever owned was Wind in the Willows, but at the age I got it (3, and reading, but not that well), I put it aside and don't recall what I read first.
posted by JauntyFedora at 8:47 AM on July 23, 2008

Books by Judy Blume are likely candidates. Other books such as "How to Eat Fried Worms", "The Indian in the Cupboard, "A Wrinkle in Time", and "The Phantom Tollbooth" also come to mind.
posted by inconsequentialist at 8:48 AM on July 23, 2008

Winnie-the-Pooh and the Little House on the Prairie books were among the first. And Stuart Little, and The Mouse and Motorcycle.

Data points: I was born in the mid-1960s and was reading by the time I was about 3.
posted by rtha at 8:53 AM on July 23, 2008

I don't remember my first, but I know some early reads for me were the Narnia series, Nancy Drew books, The Ordinary Princess and Charlotte's Web. Oh, and Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories. It's his "children's" book, but I'll make a guilty confession: I have two copies (had three, but gave one away) and still read it frequently.
posted by katillathehun at 8:53 AM on July 23, 2008

In France it's La fortune de Gaspard from about 1866. I'm told its author, la Comtesse de Segur, was the first person to write for children.
posted by sevenstars at 8:54 AM on July 23, 2008

Charlotte's Web was my first. Little House on the Prairie, Stuart Little and the Chronicles of Narnia were also up there. Which is kind of interesting considering I'm about twenty years younger than some of the other people reporting those same books. I guess my Mom must have bought the books that she knew for me.
posted by carolr at 9:04 AM on July 23, 2008

Judy Blume (particularly the Fudge books) and Beverly Cleary (particularly Ramona) would be my guesses. I loved The Kids of the Polk Street School series, but I'm not sure how widely those are read.

I think it's also dependent on generation and sometimes gender; I read tons of Sweet Valley Twins and Baby-Sitters Club books, but those were very '80s books. One of my brothers read Hardy Boys books, the other the entire Boxcar Children series. Ask this question ten or twenty years from now and a lot of people might tell you Harry Potter.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:09 AM on July 23, 2008

These days, despite the difficulty, I'd bet Harry Potter, at least based on my daughter and her classmates a few years ago.
posted by Gucky at 9:10 AM on July 23, 2008

I think mine may also have been Charlotte's Web; we read it in 1st grade (in California, 1988). I'm not sure whether I read any others on my own first, but that was definitely the first chapter book we read in school.
posted by equalpants at 9:12 AM on July 23, 2008

Charlotte's Web was my first, too. I was 6 and I read it cover to cover in one evening. I was being babysat by my aunt and there was nothing to do and no one to play with, so I just grabbed one of my cousin's books and started reading. Shortly followed by every Nancy Drew book ever written (the old ones).

I wonder if in France there's a more uniform reading level among young children. I know that I was shocked to see what books my 9 - 10 year old neices and nephews are reading - stuff that my classmates were reading at 5 - 6.
posted by peep at 9:12 AM on July 23, 2008

Mine was Ramona the Pest, and pretty much everything else by Beverly Cleary after that.
posted by juva at 9:15 AM on July 23, 2008

Not a chapter book so somewhat irrelevant to the original point, but a datapoint nonetheless: Dr. Seuss is often credited with having taught many children to read, so much so that the NEA sponsors Read Across America to promote reading in elementary schools.
posted by genial at 9:30 AM on July 23, 2008

The first three books I read were The Witch of Blackbird Pond, A Wrinkle in Time, and The White Mountains. I've loved historical fiction and science fiction ever since.
posted by mogget at 9:31 AM on July 23, 2008

Nthing Charlotte's Web, which I read in first or second grade ~1970.
posted by mosk at 9:55 AM on July 23, 2008

For most kids that grow up to become avid readers, the answer will not be a book they were assigned to read in school.

I have no idea what the first book I read was.
posted by yohko at 10:13 AM on July 23, 2008

nthing Little House on the Prairie and the Narnia series. I'm 33 and from the midwest FWIW.
posted by desjardins at 10:19 AM on July 23, 2008

The Ramona series of books and also Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.

Oh, and the Nancy Drew books. I read a lot of those in kindergarten through 2nd or 3rd grade.
posted by medeine at 10:20 AM on July 23, 2008

Well, Mother Goose's Rhymes or Beatrix Potter may be considered chapter books and I bet a great majority of early readers reach for those (if only because they are ubiquitous baby gifts). Other true chapter books come to mind, for slightly older readers:
- D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths
- Louisa May Alcott's books: Little Women, Little Men, Jo's Boys, Eight Cousins, Rose in Bloom, Jack and Jill
- Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and The Three Investigators
- Little House on the Prairie
- The Chronicles of Narnia
posted by cocoagirl at 10:35 AM on July 23, 2008

I'm pretty sure it was the Great Brain series for me.
posted by Good Brain at 10:42 AM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm surprised no one said The Giving Tree yet. Basic read yet complex in it's message for a childs first book.
posted by Plug1 at 10:47 AM on July 23, 2008

Horse books are also big:
The Black Stallion
Misty of Chincoteague
et al
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:47 AM on July 23, 2008

James and the Giant Peach was the first chapter book my parents read to me - Charlotte's Web was the first one I ever read by myself.

I can't believe I remember that.
posted by chloelikedolivia at 11:04 AM on July 23, 2008

The Hobbit, for me. There's definitely no single book - there's so much variation in when and where American kids learn to read, and there are so many books around the appropriate reading level that the answer really depends on the tastes of the kid/parents/siblings/teacher and the kid's skill level.
posted by ubersturm at 11:06 AM on July 23, 2008

Another vote for Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary.

I think my first chapter book was The One In The Middle is the Green Kangaroo, by Judy Blume; followed by the Ramona books.
posted by Kololo at 11:17 AM on July 23, 2008

Charlotte's web
posted by ijoyner at 11:30 AM on July 23, 2008

My first was The Secret Garden, followed by Little House in the Big Woods.
posted by the littlest brussels sprout at 12:06 PM on July 23, 2008

My Father's Dragon
posted by Bromius at 12:21 PM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Either Freckle Juice or Superfudge, both by Judy Blume, for me. I can't remember which was first.
posted by Airhen at 3:21 PM on July 23, 2008

There are easy-to-read chapter books out there that are nice transitions from "easy readers" to chapter books. Little Bear, Be Nice to Spiders and The Fire Cat are some I enjoyed with I was little. These books have a limited vocabulary, but longer stories. You can see a list on Amazon.

A little more advanced, the Junie B. Jones series is HILARIOUS and a step above the books mentioned in the first paragraph.

It all depends on who is doing the reading and their reading abilities. If it is the child, I'd suggest these. If someone is reading to the child, the titles listed in the posts above are excellent.
posted by k8to at 3:24 PM on July 23, 2008

Alice in Wonderland and Winnie the Pooh. They were originally my parent's books, and I read them before I went to school. I still have them.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:41 PM on July 23, 2008

Twig, by Elizabeth Orton Jones. THE best young children's book ever (imho). Followed closely by the previously mentioned, My Father's Dragon.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 9:21 PM on July 23, 2008

Another vote for the Oz books.
posted by crinklebat at 9:56 PM on July 23, 2008

Most of the books people are mentioning here are great, but they are definitely not the first "chapters books" that most US kids today would encounter. There are a huge number of series books out there that are pushed heavily by schools and bookstores that range from crappy to decent, but none are as complex or as lengthy as things like Charlotte's Web, the Oz books, etc. These are books series like Junie B Jones (pretty decent), The Magic Treehouse (popular, but pretty awful), and various others (Arthur, Franny K Stein, etc.). That's what kids today refer to as "chapter books" - which are treated as an exciting step up from early reader books with no chapter divisions. Kids generally get started on these in 1st or 2nd grade - and some kids will later get around to the classic books mentioned in this post, and some will stick with the crappy and not-so-crappy series books. (This is all based on my observations of my son in a suburban upstate NY school.)
posted by chr1sb0y at 1:08 PM on July 24, 2008

uh, if you mean the first book with chapters that the majority of American children read? The Holy Bible. probably the KJV
posted by Megafly at 4:37 PM on July 24, 2008

The Phantom Tollbooth was my first chapter read.
posted by telstar at 4:18 AM on July 25, 2008

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