Last week, I read Esther Averill’s The School for Cats. Written in 1944, its popularity led to the author writing a string of other books starring Jenny the little black cat and her friends. It is very short (only 32 pages, with illustrations) and took me merely minutes to read. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I didn’t realise until I picked it up from the library that it was ‘first novel’ or ‘chapter book’ type story – that is, a book for children who are just starting to read ‘novels’ by themselves.
These books are designed for children to feel like they are reading a ‘grown up book’, with chapters and everything, while not being overwhelmed with the amount of text or pages and therefore feel dismayed at trying or failing to read a whole book. I’ve found when working at the bookshop that these type of books are very vogue-esque – one series or another will be in vogue, and every child from four to seven has read the book, and then it falls out of favour when the next trendy series of chapter books comes about. However, The School For Cats has been around since 1944, and, apparently, the series (called Jenny’s Cat Club) has always been popular.
This surprises me a bit. Not that I didn’t like the book – it was cute, and sweet, and discusses children’s scary first experiences with school (except the school is for cats) – I can see why it is liked. But I don’t know if it is good enough to stand the test of time of almost sixty years. It has been a long time since I read chapter books to learn to read, so I don’t know what it is that brings a special spark to chapter books.
I don’t think I really know what makes a child sit down and read a chapter book and enjoy it. I get picture books, and fiction from about 8 to young adult, but I feel like chapter books is an area that I don’t really get. I’ve been pondering on it all week – what is it about The School for Cats that has made it so successful? Until I understand the workings of a five year old child, maybe I’ll never know.
Did anyone read the series by Ester Averill when they were young? Can anyone give me a clue as to why some chapter books survive, and others are popular for three or four years and then get replaced in popularity by something else?