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I’ve posted a few reviews of books for what I call the transitional age of reading recently, and I thought maybe I ought to explain exactly what I mean by that before I post any more.

I suspect there is a technical term for what I call transitional readers, but here is my definition.

Transitional readers are those children who are moving on from picture books and short story books/reading books, but who are not yet ready for real novels. By real novels I still mean children’s novels, but I am referring to those books that have the look, feel and layout of an adult novel. This would particularly refer to a larger number of pages and small fonts with close set type and lots of words on a page. Generally there are no illustrations in these books either.

In picture books there is, as a rule; lots of white space on a page, and only a few lines of text, which are generally in a large, well spaced font.  The larger part of the page will be taken up with pictures rather than with text.

This is what children who are starting to learn to read are used to.  The text and spacing is set out to help them orient themselves and concentrate on a particular word rather than having so many words in close proximity that they cannot remember which one they are reading if they happen to glance away from the page and then back again – which happens a lot with early readers.  The pictures are there to give them context and clues, and also to engage them with the words, which might otherwise seem impenetrable and boring.

It is a big ask, unless a child is an incredibly competent and precocious reader, to expect them to move straight from this type of book to an adult style book with nothing in between, and this can be where a child’s reading journey starts to falter in some cases, as they simply are not able to sustain their reading or their interest into the novel form.

Transitional books bridge this gap and sit between the two styles of books.

A few years ago, these transitional style books were few and far between, but luckily for us, it is now a burgeoning market in children’s publishing and there are a wealth of books to choose from.

I am particularly pleased to see that publishers have cottoned on to the idea that children may not be ready to relinquish certain favourite picture book characters, even though they are ready academically and age wise to move away from the picture book format.  It may only be a marketing ploy designed to exploit a popular market, and make more money for author and publishing house alike, but it is one I approve of, as it provides a whole new raft of transitional books that are at once comforting, because of the familiar characters, and yet pushing a child to move further with their reading.

Characters who have made this move from picture book to transitional book form are Dirty Bertie, Winnie the Witch and Clarice Bean to name but a few.

I have heard transitional books referred to as chapter books, and if you’re searching for more information on the subject you may want to look under that heading too.

The key characteristics of transitional books are:

  • The books are slimmer than a novel, fatter than a picture book.
  • The books are in novel format.
  • The books will generally have illustrations as well as text, but the illustrations will (in the main) be black and white line drawings rather than full colour plates.
  • The story will be split into chapters, or in the case of Dirty Bertie books, will contain a series of short stories in chapter like form.
  • The chapters in the book will be short and manageable for child to read by themselves with little effort. Children like to achieve milestones in reading and the more ‘chapters’ they have read, the more impressed with themselves they are and the more confident they become in their own reading ability.
  • The font will be slightly bigger than a regular novel font.
  • The gaps between lines of text will be slightly larger, so that a child can more easily orient themselves on the page.
  • There will be less lines to a page than a novel, but more than a picture book.
  • There will be larger amounts of white space on the page than a novel, but less than a picture book.

Generally the interest level and age appropriateness will have moved up slightly from the more infant themes of the picture book into something that will engage an older child of say six or seven and up.

All of these things will help a child who is learning to read, or moving from the initial reading stages to a point where you are trying to get them to read with fluency and flow.

Transition level books often make good books to use in guided reading sessions in school, as teachers need books with an appropriate level of interest to engage their class, but not something so long that they won’t get to finish reading it with the children within the time span of an allotted topic or half term.

I have noticed in children’s libraries these days that librarians are making a much needed division between older children’s literature and younger children’s literature, but there is still a great deal that is stuck in the younger children’s literature shelves that may not be suitable yet in terms of technical readability for those children who are still in the transition phase.

I hope this guide as to what makes a good transition novel will help you when you are either choosing books for a child at this stage of their reading, or helping them make those choices for themselves.