In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Learning to read 2

Dear Annie,

First of all, those reading levels on the $3.99 I Can Read, or Step Into Reading, or Green Light Readers, or whatever, are not absolute.  Every publisher makes up its own series title, then sets standards for each of its levels, which vary widely.  An example from two wonderful books:

Harcourt's Green Light Readers define  Level 1 as "simple words - fun rhymes and rhythms - familiar situations."  Here are the first two pages of
Big Brown Bear
by David McPhail, a starting reader I'm particularly fond of:
Page 1:
Bear is big.
Page 2:
Bear is brown.
About 80% of each page is a picture of Bear, his paint can, and his ladder. He goes on to climb the ladder with his blue paint, get bumped into by a little bear, fall and get covered with blue, wash up, obtain some green paint, and go back up the ladder, just as another little bear on a tricycle careens toward him.  "It's not over yet!" is the last line.

I Can Read, an imprint of Harper Collins, defines its Level 1 as "geared toward beginning readers who are just starting to sound out words and sentences on their own."  Here are the first two pages of
Little Bear
by Else Holmelund Minarik (longer discussion of this great book here), another Level 1:
Page 1:
It is cold.
See the snow.
See the snow come down.
Little Bear said, "Mother Bear,
I am cold.
See the snow.
I want something to put on."
Page 2:
So Mother Bear made something 
for Little Bear.
"See, Little Bear," she said,
"I have something for my little bear.
Here it is.
The wonderful Sendak illustrations fill less than half the pages.
As with so much of parenting, you're stuck with having to figure out which books are best for your kid's particular stage.  I encourage parents to browse all brands and levels of readers until they find one that feels like it fits with where their child is.  Then you have a way to judge that publisher's offerings.  Virtually all publishers start with Level 1 as the simplest (although a few cheat with Level 0 or My First I Can Read), then add more difficult words and longer stories up through Level 3, 4, or 5. 

You're less likely to get a word that will completely stump an emerging reader in these books -- but you'll still run into a few thoughs or strengths.  HSW, commenting on your last post, talks about those old baby books kicking around the house as good starter books.  Both my girls felt like they'd cracked the reading code with different board books.  Anything that's simple and liked by your child is worth a try.

I spend a lot of time talking with parents whose children are learning to read.  I've never been trained in how to teach reading, like your mother, my sister.  Judy -- feel free to chime in here anytime.  But themes come up, and different books work well with different kids.  I intend to talk more about specific books, and also different approaches to learning to read, in future posts.

I want to end this one with some thoughts about how learning to read can look from the point of view of a child whose parents have been reading her really wonderful long books.  Going from The Secret Garden to "Bear is big/Bear is brown" can be a shock.  There are points when learning to read takes off and a child can make great strides in a few weeks, but for a while the books a child can read on her own are mostly going  to be a lot shorter and less complex.  One needs reassurance that progress will continue.  I've been aware of some kids who resist reading on their own because they fear losing all the specialness of being read to.  I strongly doubt that your girls will fall into this category.  But one of my little pieces of advice to parents is to say to your child, I will always read to you, no matter how many books you can read on your own.  Most grown-ups fully intend to keep reading aloud, but it doesn't hurt to dispel any little worries for your child.




  1. My daughter is in kindergarten, and we've seen dramatic leaps forward in her reading this year. I credit her accomplishments to a renewed passion for books. She has discovered a love of chapter books, particularly series, and is consuming them so voraciously that my husband has started getting up 15 minutes early to read her a chapter before they get ready for the day. She can't wait to read these books on her own, and as a result, she is now wholly committed to learning how to read (something I would not have said a year ago). It's such an exciting stage, and such a joy!

  2. Fantastic point about always reading to them...that is my rule with the kids if they bring me a book. And thank you for the mention! :)