Paying It Forward…One Chapter at a Time by Eileen M. Washburn

As a children’s librarian in a public library, I’m all about putting the right books in the hands of my young patrons. One of my biggest struggles in this area in the last decade has been getting kids to read some of the great fiction that is out there that they might be missing, due to that often talked about “Harry Potter effect”. Don’t get me wrong, I love that Harry and all these other great multi-volume, 400-page series are turning some kids into readers and keeping others interested in reading. What I don’t love is when kids go straight from early chapter books to these monster series, simply because I know what they are missing and they might not!  I have to quote uber-librarian Nancy Pearl in Book Crush when she says, “The problem arises when children are guided to books based on their reading-level readiness rather than their emotional readiness; they simply won’t appreciate all that the books have to offer.”

My thoughts exactly!

So for this very reason, my co-worker and I created a “reading club” last spring at our library called the Next Chapter, for kids in grades 2-4. It’s our version of “paying forward” a love of books at every age. We have a monthly book, and we also have a snack and either games or fun activities that correspond to the book choice. We’ve crammed the kids into a taped-off square on the floor for Elevator Family to see how many could fit, and had them design “Wanted” posters of themselves for reading infractions when we recently read Emily’s Fortune.


These monthly meetings have become one of my favorite things. I think the kids are enjoying them too. Maybe it’s because they’re reading with friends or maybe because snack time is involved!  But what if it is because the pressure is off?  Most of these kids are quite capable of reading much longer titles.  What if they’re as excited as we are to find more stories to read, just when they were worrying that they would run out! Harry and friends will still be there when they are in sixth grade, but these titles won’t.

Often times it’s the parents that seem to be pushing these huge books onto younger and younger kids, thinking that since they have become such great readers, they should continue reading harder and longer books.  And often it is the kids themselves who just see older siblings or friends reading these books and feel like it’s a marker for how good a reader they are.

I have talked with countless parents and teachers about the appropriateness of certain books at certain ages.  We all agree that each child is different, ready to read different types of books at different times, and that getting some kids to read almost any book is an accomplishment.  But I could make a decent case that no one should read Harry Potter until at least third grade (Didn’t JK herself say something to that effect?), and when wearing my YA cap, that no girl should read Twilight until they have been THAT girl – the one willing to give up her mortal life for a boy – and that is not in fifth grade!

I vividly remember reading Watership Down when I was much too young to really understand it.  I may think there’s no way I would trade that experience, but would said experience have been even richer a year or two later? I hope the Next Chapter is in some way buying these kids some of that time.


So our criteria is loosely this:

*keep it under about 150 pages

*No long picture books or anything lingering in the easy reader section – we want them to feel like they are reading real chapter books

*Stand-alone titles are preffered, but we are doing the first in the Shredderman series this year

(I really have nothing against books in a series! I just want them to know that is not all there is!)

*Obviously make it something they will enjoy, and try to find titles that will appeal to boys and girls –or at least switch it up.

*Try to stay away from wildly popular books and anything teachers at the neighboring school may be using in class.


So go ahead, those of you in positions to put books in the hands of young readers.  Give them a book with less than 150 pages.  Maybe a stand-alone story just waiting for a reader. I just know it will be wonderful.  You’ll be paying it forward by giving a great book a longer shelf life, and by giving a child a richer reading life.


Next Chapter books we’ve read:

The Elevator Family by Douglas Evans

Emily’s Fortune by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

The Firework-Maker’s Daughter by Philip Pullman

Goosed! By Bill Wallace

Granny Torrelli Makes Soup by Sharon Creech

Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst

Shredderman: Secret Identity by Wendelin Van Draanen


More titles up for consideration:
Eoin Colfer’s Legend of Spud Murphy

Frindle by Andrew Clements

‘Gator Aid by Jane Cutler

Gooseberry Park by Cynthia Rylant

Guinea Pigs Don’t Talk by Laurie Myers

The Imp That Ate My Homework by Laurence Yep

Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie by Julie Sternberg
The No 1 Car Spotter by Atinuke

No Talking by Andrew Clements
Roxie and the Hooligans by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Skinnybones by Barbara Park

Eileen has been a Child/YA Librarian in public libraries for 15 years. She’s always in the process of writing, reading, recommending, or parenting two future Nerdy Book Club daughters. You can find her (newly) on twitter @WashburnEileen and read about her library adventures at