Chapter Books: Build Community with Library Read-Alouds

I saw Kristin Brynsvold’s Instagram post about reading a WHOLE chapter book aloud to her students in the school library, and she kindly agreed to expand on it here. I’ve seen firsthand how reading aloud chapter books from beginning to end can make a difference in the lives of our young readers. Here are the details on what worked for Kristin. I encourage YOU to give it a try in YOUR school library! Now, let’s hear from Kristin…

Librarian with chapter book read-aloud

In January 2023, a 2nd grader had an interesting question: “Why don’t we read chapter books together in library?”

It was something I’d considered in the past, so I had my answer prepared: we only see each other once a week for library, and I thought reading a chapter book might take too long, or be hard to keep track of week-to-week. “But,” I asked the class, “what do you think?”

In the end, the answer was clear: they wanted to read a chapter book.

Can Chapter Books Work with THESE Students?

2nd grade had been a tough one the first half the year: behavior problems left and right, to the point where I, my assistant, and the second grade teachers felt like we were constantly putting out fires. This is the grade that started kindergarten virtually, that spent some very formative time in lockdown, that even now often struggles with how to be in school. There’s research that backs the power of read-alouds: they build language, they’re calming, and they foster community. The great Kate DiCamillo said it best: “We humans long not just for story, not just for the flow of language, but for the connection that comes when words are read aloud. That connection provides illumination. It lets us see each other.”

Dog named for Ella Enchanted with chapter book

I chose Gail Caron Levine’s classic Ella Enchanted for this experiment, in part because it’s a personal favorite (my dog is named after Ella!), and in part because it was a hit three years ago, when I uploaded daily chapter read alouds to 2nd-4th grades during the lockdown months. It also seemed doable–a good plot, interesting characters, and not too long (more on that later). 

Making Longer Read-Alouds Work

Here’s how it worked: the first two weeks, I had the students sitting on the story rug while we read, just like we would do with a picture book. After that, we did something new: the kids would sit at their table spots, and they had choices: they could color or draw (we put out blank paper and coloring pages), or they could just sit quietly and listen. I pulled up some of our comfy chairs for kids who wanted to just listen. We reviewed some expectations for working and listening (such as no sharpening pencils during read aloud–it’s too loud!), and the kids had it down after a couple weeks.

Here’s what stood out to me during and after this read aloud unit: first and foremost, the 2nd graders were engaged. They paid attention, they told their teachers and families about it, and they had strong recall each week when I would ask them to share out what had happened last time. Recall might not have been perfect with this stretched-out timeline, but they certainly remembered enough. They applauded when we finished the book, thrilled about both the ending and making it there.

Building Family Connections with Chapter Books

One of the things that struck me most was how many students talked about sharing this book with their families. So many told me their parents were excited when they heard we were reading it: “My mom loved this book!” “My parents said we can watch the movie when we finish it!” Some remembered their siblings listening during the lockdown. It wasn’t just something that connected the students to each other; it made it all the way home. 

chapter book read-aloud rules

My other big takeaway was behavior. I mentioned above that this was a tough grade, and while I didn’t track how many times I had to send a kid to the take-a-break spot, separate students, or employ other consequences, I can tell you that all of those things drastically decreased during this read aloud. 2nd grade library became a calm space again. There was enough for them to do that they didn’t get bored, and I feel that having somewhere they could just sit, where their only job, if they wanted, was to listen, was invaluable. It surprised me how many chose to just curl up and enjoy the story, or would abandon their colored pencils partway through in favor of quiet listening. 

Plans for Future Chapter Books

I’ll make a few changes next year: I’ll pick a shorter book, because while Ella seems a manageable length, it took us more than three months to finish. The kids didn’t get tired of it, but on the teacher side, I had to skip a couple lessons and units that I wished we’d had time for. I might go with chapter books like Fortunately, the Milk (Neil Gaiman), Bob (Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead), or Skunk and Badger (Amy Timberlake). Or I might try to pick something that’s a little older, like Ella, because I heard so many positive things from the parents that also loved this book. 

I spent well into my sixth year of being a school librarian thinking a chapter book read aloud couldn’t work for the library format. I went into it thinking that maybe it would work, and if it crashed and burned–well, we would just change gears. I’m so glad one of my students asked the question, and we listened.

About The Author

Kristin Brynsvold is an elementary school librarian near Washington, DC. She loves the creativity that her job allows for, as well as getting to work with the entire school–and access to so many books certainly doesn’t hurt! Kristin also writes book reviews for School Library Journal and has worked with Savvy Reading to write fiction stories for 4th and 5th grade tutoring. In her spare time, you can find her running, exploring the outdoors, and reading fantasy novels. 

You can follow Kristin on Instagram @theeverydaylibrary


School librarian with chapter book to read aloud
  • Cari Signature

    Similar Posts

    One Comment

    1. When you were reading this book, how much of the class’ time was spent on it? Did you also check out or have a lesson? Did you have questions to ask along the way while reading or was it purely for pleasure?
      Thanks for sharing!

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.