by Lisa Ripperton
January 17, 2019
This on-going series – Introducing Chapter Books – is intended to highlight books that are ideal for families who are just beginning to read chapter books aloud with their children. In our experience we have found that children are typically ready to undertake the challenge of listening to stories without illustrations on each page around age five, and all of the books mentioned in this series have been selected with this age and purpose in mind. A later series will discuss books to use when your child is transitioning to reading chapter books independently.
Broadening your child’s horizons
Children of all ages typically delight in hearing stories that involve other children with whom they can identify. Imagine how captivated your five-year-old will be by the Dutch twins, the Eskimo twins, and the Japanese twins who are all exactly their same age, and have one interesting adventure after another. At the same time that children listen spellbound to the story, they can't help but wonder that the ordinary experiences of every day life for the twins are so different from their own. When hearing about the Eskimo twins, for example, we discover in the course of the narrative that Menie and Minnie are clothed in animals skins from head to toe, munch on hunks of meat for breakfast and consider fish eyes a delicacy; they even live in an igloo and sleep, wrapped up in furs, on a bench!
Even though their customs may differ, the children who listen to these stories are, in many ways, just like the twins: their experience of the world is centered around their family life, and they likely feel many of the same desires, emotions, and conflicts that the twins do. Perceptive children will quickly begin to note the similarities, as well as the differences, between their own lives and those of the twins.
Parents may also observe that as young as the twins are, each is as empowered as someone of that age could be. They are expected to help with tasks around the home, which they do cheerfully; they play and work alone, and, in the case of the Eskimo twins, even catch fish and spear seals to help feed their family. The twins also eagerly anticipate growing into their adult roles, following the example set for them by their parents.
Fostering empathy and strengthening the imagination
Lucy Fitch Perkins, author of the Twins series, believed that a lifelong interest and feeling for people around the globe might be developed from hearing their stories at an early age. Her determination to write such stories was sparked by her visit to a school where children of 27 different nationalities were learning side-by-side. By writing the Twins books that hold children’s interest and engage their sympathies, she did much to build mutual respect and understanding between people of different nationalities.
The twins’ adventures are related in simple language but told so vividly that children can easily imagine the scenes in their mind's eye. And, at the end of each exciting chapter, children will be eager to hear what happens next, which is just what you want when first reading chapter books to your kindergartner.
Which book should you read first?
If you’re ready to get started, but don’t know which to choose: you might consider beginning with the one that most closely matches the season you are in. The curtain rises on The Eskimo Twins in the middle of their long winter, and the story follows them through spring ice break up and their long summer day, closing just as the sun dips below the horizon to start their next long winter night. The Japanese Twins focuses on springtime with the arrival of a new baby brother and the festive celebrations of dolls on Girls’ Day and kites on Boys’ Day. Lastly, The Dutch Twins opens with a summer fishing trip, continues through the harvest season, and closes with the arrival of St. Nicholas on December 6th.
Are there other books in the series?
Yes! Lucy Fitch Perkins wrote 24 books in all in the Twins series, with the first published in 1911 and the last in 1938. You can view the complete list at the Lucy Fitch Perkins page at Gateway to the Classics.
What ages are the Twins books best for?
The Dutch Twins, The Eskimo Twins, and The Japanese Twins are all suitable for reading aloud to children as young as five and appropriate for independent reading as soon as your child reaches a second or third grade reading level. Unlike the Burgess Bedtime Story-Book series, which are all written at the same level, as the Twins series progresses, the reading level advances along with the age of the twins depicted. While these first three titles focus on events in family life, many of the later titles deal with issues arising from external events affecting the family, or wartime conditions affecting whole communities. Because of the increase in reading level, as well as subject matter, the later titles are best read when your child is a few years older. More about these titles in an upcoming post.
Eagerness for more
After we first read The Dutch Twins together as a family, we were all so eager for more Twins books that my children urged me to scour bookstore shelves for additional titles. Having enjoyed it so much myself, I was happy to oblige!
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