When children are in their very late fives, I recommend reading a chapter book with them. The book would ideally be 15-25 short chapters long. The idea is to read and finish this “big” book with them, so they see what a joy it is to keep up with a book to the end and feel a bit of pride that they did so. It’s meant to launch a love of reading and staying with books from then on. I did this with all 3 of my children at this age, and it worked to do exactly this. Ideally you would set aside 2-4 days in a row to finish the book, dedicating 2-4 hours each day. Kids in the very late fives (around 5.10.0) have an attention span such that they can keep up with detailed information day after day, but their attention span isn’t that developed yet. So we want to finish the book in a matter of 3-4 days.
I debated what book to use for this with my third child. With my first, we did indeed read Wizard of Oz. But for my daughter, we so happened to start telling “ghost” stories around a fire and ended up reading Dracula, which for her, was the chapter book that enchanted her at this age. I thought maybe my third would need to have his own book. But when I read that Wizard of Oz was meant to be a book read to children, I immediately (re-)downloaded it. It worked so well for my first child. He literally pounded his fist on the carpet in excitement as we read about the lion saving the rest of the characters by swimming up a river. Why not try it with my third?
Wizard of Oz is just the perfect book for children. I mention here that you can read this with a nearly six year old, but you can read it to any child older than this, as well. We are reading it now, as I write this blog, and my 10, nearly 8, and nearly 6 year old are all into it. Wizard of Oz is, first of all, whimsical. It’s so easy to identify with the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, or the Lion. My children all picked which they would be. But, more, the book has such a simple plot: get to Emerald City. When you read the book, put it down, and come back to it, what we are doing doesn’t get lost. We’re getting to Emerald City. It’s a perfect first chapter book for younger children just learning to follow a longer book.
What I love about Wizard of Oz, and what makes it nearly my favorite fictional book ever, is that it’s an adventure story. The movie doesn’t quite do it justice. Yes, the parts the movie captures are done well. But it’s missing some parts. And the part it’s missing is how many obstacles the characters get over on their way to Emerald City. The characters (all now famous) have to get across two different ditches on the yellow brick road. To get over the first, the “cowardly” lion estimates he can jump over it, carrying each of the others–and does. At the second ditch, the scarecrow, who “has no brains,” figures out how to build a bridge. And I literally cried when the lion says he’ll stand and bravely fight off beasts, “for as long as I’m alive,” when I read it the first time. Yes. The “cowardly” lion. The message of the book leaps off the pages as you read it. You already WERE courageous. You already HAD brains. You HAD a heart. The journey itself brings it out of you. I’m literally crying as I type this.
In that Wizard of Oz is an adventure story, children pick right up on it. I was stunned when the characters get to that first ditch and my children all started pretending to hop over a ditch. This is two of them doing that,
The comradery of the characters and what they do as they go along the yellow brick road is just beyond endearing. It’s fun to see how each child reacts personally to this story. My first took to the lion during our first reading of it. Me, I took to the tin man: so worried he has no empathy that he shows respect to the nth degree to every creature he meets. My daughter, on this current reading, now nearly 8, took to the scarecrow. Her acting skills were killer as we read the story. My third took to the tin man–and this is 100% my youngest. He has always been that person who wants to save a cat stuck in a tree. How fun is it that the tin man gets a golden ax at the end!? And it’s more than fun to have someone spray you with an oil can to loosen up your joints.
To keep a young child with the story, I recommend telling them how many chapters there are in the book. This gives them a bearing on how far they are and lets them know they aren’t quite done yet. When I read this book, on the first day, I got to about chapter 6 with my children. I asked if they wanted to keep going and my youngest, the nearly six year old, who was keenly interested in what chapter we were on, said, “Yes! Keep going!” On the second day, we stopped reading and went out to dinner. On the way home I asked if they wanted to keep reading it when we got home. It was a resounding, “Yes!” And my kids are beyond excited to watch the movie again–but not until we finish the book: their decree! It was indeed neat for them to realize they remembered some of the scenes from the movie and here they were, in the book. In the late fives, a child can not only notice how the book relates to the movie but that they are relating the book to the movie. In short, it makes them feel uber-smart.
I wanted to make some notes too that Wizard of Oz is several ancient legends in one. When Oz, for instance, makes the characters go kill the witch before being granted brains, a heart, or courage, this is an ancient legend. The oracle tells you to go on a journey to get what you want–but the experience itself was the “prize” to be won. The Wicked Witch of the West is Baba Yaga again, enslaving people and young Dorothy, who doesn’t realize her power yet–just like Cinderella and others. Dorothy has a kiss from the good witch, making her protected from all evil. I’ve always felt this intuitively: divine missions get divine protection. And, yes: YOU had the power the whole time. You didn’t need a big bad powerful man, “Oz” to give it to you. That they even asked made it that much harder on them.
Want to whisk children away into a whimsical adventure story that enchants and inspires? Enter the world of the genius of L. Frank Baum.