So far, I have mostly included picture books in this blog. Picture books are beautiful to look at, inspire a love of literacy and cover just about every child-friendly subject imaginable. An average five-year-old child, however, cannot read the majority of them. In order to encourage a child to read independently, you need books with short, simple words, and preferably lots of repetition and rhyming. These kind of books go by different names: first readers, easy readers, early readers, phonics books, I-can-read books, and ready-to-read books. The process of writing a book for the earliest readers is challenging: books need to be interesting, otherwise the child will become bored, and they need to contain sounds that the child can recognize quickly, in order to avoid frustration. In fact, when I was teaching my daughter (who is now almost eight) to read, we mostly worked with Dr. Seuss books until her confidence began to build. After all, he is the grand master of easy readers. But now that I am preparing my son to read, I am really impressed by some newer books for emerging readers. Here are a few of my favorites.
What do you get when you combine three silly cows, an uptight chicken and a sofa? The answer: Is Everyone Ready for Fun? by Jan Thomas. This delightful book is full of antics that kids (especially my kids) adore. After all, what child doesn’t love to jump on a couch. Now imagine three cows jumping on a chicken’s couch. Naughty, yes, but extremely entertaining. By the third time you read this book, your children will be reciting the entire book and not even realizing it.
Jan Thomas continues to redefine the often stale genre of easy readers, with the Rhyming Dust Bunnies and Here Comes the Big, Mean Dust Bunny! My 5-year-old son is generally uninterested in learning rhyming sounds such as -at and -an. “You read it, Mommy” is his usual refrain. But after reading these two books about a group of dust bunnies that “rhyme all the time,” he is suddenly forgets to be self-conscious and turns into a phonics pro. Here Comes the Big, Mean Dust Bunny! is especially clever in its use of rhyming words to tell the story of a nasty bully who gets his comeuppance and is subsequently redeemed.
In the hands of any other author/illustrator these very basic books with only a few words would probably be dull, but the highly accomplished Mo Willems can make anything entertaining. Cat the Cat, the protagonist in Cat the Cat, Who Is That?, Time to Sleep, Sheep the Sheep! and What’s Your Sound, Hound the Hound? uses a combination of repetition and humor to teach reading. I like how the text in these books is emphasized by making the type prominent. It is sometimes difficult to convince kids raised on a steady diet of picture books that they need to turn away from the pictures and look at the words. My son loves images. After reading a book, he will often want to draw pictures based on the story, but words to him are still just a collection of uninteresting letters. By making the words stand out, Willems encourages kids to take them seriously.
After mastering the Cat the Cat, your child is ready to move on to the Elephant and Piggie books. There are now many of them and they are all excellent. Notice the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for beginning readers on the covers of Are You Ready to Play Outside? and There Is a Bird On Your Head! Elephant and Piggie are two friends who don’t always see eye-to-eye and are frequently naive, but their exuberance is contagious. In I Am Invited to a Party!, they are invited to a party, but are unsure of what kind of party it is. They wonder if it is a pool party, a costume party, a formal party, etc.? Finally, they decide to dress for any possibility and the result is adorably ridiculous.
When my daughter was learning how to read, we had a breakthrough with Hop on Pop. It suddenly clicked with her how reading actually worked and she has not stopped reading since. My son has not exactly experienced this eureka moment yet, but he is really starting to piece it together with Up, Tall and High by Ethan Long. This book is broken up into three very short chapters (or acts) featuring zany looking birds and flaps that reveal words instead of pictures. Like the other titles in this post, this book is whimsical and unconventional, proving that learning how to read does not need to be a chore. Dr. Seuss would be proud.
Additional Recommended Easy Readers (for Very Early Readers)
Best Books for Beginning Readers
Link a blog entry about beginning readers here or just write in your own suggestion!
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Finding books with engaging content for brand new readers is tough. If you regularly read high-quality picture books aloud to your child, she can easily become frustrated with the simple storylines in easy readers that she reads herself. But practice makes perfect, so it is important to press on and encourage your child to [...]