Tag Archives: early reader books

My child is almost four. She wants to learn to read. Where do I begin? Or does it matter?

It matters, according to research. You should start with teaching her “the code,” that is, the connection between the sounds of the English language and the letter symbols we use to mean those sounds. Here’s how. (Look for more information on all these ideas in previously published blogs at comicphonics.com.)

  • children moving letter tilesFirst, make sure she can pronounce all 42 sounds of English. Listen to how she pronounces everyday words and make sure she is saying the sounds correctly. Help her with pronunciation.
  • Then connect sounds with letter symbols, a few at a time. Start with the beginning sounds of a few key words such as the child’s name, m for mom, d for dad, b for baby. Help her to hear those sounds in the beginnings of other words. For example, if you are pouring her milk, ask her what sound milk begins with. Then show her an “m” and explain that is how we show that sound.
  • Beginning sounds are always the easiest to hear, so focus on them.
  • Help her to write the initial of her name and a few other meaningful letters.
  • child on floor reading picture bookSince each vowel has many sounds, teach her to associate each vowel with a word and an image that begins with a “short” vowel sound such as apple, egg, igloo, octopus and umbrella. Later, she can compare the vowel sounds in new words to those vowel sounds.
  • In speaking, start putting letter sounds together to form one-syllable short-vowel (CVC) words she knows, like “cat” and “dog.” When she can hear how words are formed (phonics) by combining sounds, use letter tiles to show her what the combining of sounds in words looks like using letter symbols.
  • When you are reading stories to her, point out words she might be able to decipher, and help her to sound them out.
  • When she knows most of her sound – letter matches, she is ready to start reading books which use one-syllable, short-vowel words. Unfortunately, few good ones exist. We at comicphonics.com have written five humorous books for new readers. (See the links to the right of this blog.) Your librarian can point out where other books are shelved, but many labeled “first” readers contain difficult words. Margaret Hillert has written some good beginning books, and so has Dr. Seuss. Good illustrations can help the child figure out the meanings of difficult words, but she will probably need your help as she begins.

Figuring out the code of written English is how a child begins to learn to read. There are lots of commercial methods to do this, but the best I have found is the Explode the Code series. Children find its combination of goofy pictures and sequenced phonics instruction fun.

Later you can focus on other aspects of reading including fluency and comprehension. But the place to begin is demystifying the code by connecting the sounds of our speech to individual letters and pairs of letters, and then combining them to form words.

My kindergartener wants to read chapter books. What features should I be looking for so she doesn’t get discouraged?

Congratulations! Some early readers are ready for chapter books, but that doesn’t mean all chapter books are right for them. Here’s what you should be looking for.

  • Characters whom the child relates to and cares about are really important. That means child characters, ones the same age or just a bit older than the reader, or characters who behave in child-like ways, such as Toad in the Frog and Toad series. The characters in books for young readers must be encountering situations that the reader can relate to—like Junie B. Jones fearing to take the school bus, or of Nate the Great visiting his friends’ houses in search of a lost cat.
  • girl reading Junie B. JonesCharacters should be different from one another—their names, gender, and personalities. Junie B.’s friend, Lucille, is prissy and wears pretty dresses while her classmate, May, is a tattletale. Frog’s friend, Toad is a short, brown scared follower while Frog is a taller, green, organized leader.
  • If the chapter book is part of a series, familiar characters or activities should appear. Children delight in recognizing these patterns. They know that when reading Nate the Great stories, for example, Nate always takes a break to eat pancakes. His friend, Rosamond, always appears with her four black cats. Nate’s dog, Sludge, helps him solve crimes, while another dog, Fang, always makes an appearance.
  • Asian girl reading book Plots should be straightforward with no flashbacks or complicated subplots. If the story concerns finding one of Rosamond’s cats, then that becomes the whole focus of the story. Good books remind children what they have learned. A character like Nate might think about the clues he’s uncovered, and a list of them might appear as an illustration. The plots are shallow and move quickly through a series of events.
  • Good chapter books for young readers should contain illustrations. A page of text will appear harder to read than a page with a line drawing on it. The drawings should provide additional information that the text might not dwell on. For example, drawings of Junie B. show her with fly-away hair and one sock up, one sock down, telling us in pictures about her personality. Illustrations don’t need to appear on every page, but more illustrations make the book appear easier to read.  Also, illustrations lengthen the number of pages, so the child thinks she is reading more than she actually is.
  • girl looking at book displayPicture books are printed with large type, but chapter books have reduced size type. To offset this change, good chapter books for young readers will increase the space between the lines of type and increase white space by making margins larger. This makes the text easier to read and the page “friendlier.” Good children’s books use dialog too. Dialog is usually short, so more white space surrounds it. Hyphenations will not be used at the ends of lines to split words, and sentences will end on the bottom of a page rather than being carried forward to the next page.
  • Discouraged child thinks there are too many words in a book she is readingThe vocabulary of chapter books for young readers should be easy enough to read so that the child can read for enjoyment, without help. New words can be introduced, but in context, and should be repeated during the story so the child can master them.
  • Sentence structure should be normal, that is, subjects followed by predicates. When complex sentences are used, the dependent clause should come second. That is the way children speak and write, so that pattern will be easy to understand. Sentences should be shorter than adults would expect. Not all sentences need to be short, but longer sentences should make sense on the first read through.

Right now I am working with a second grader who is reading his first chapter book, Charlotte’s Web. It was assigned by his teacher. Some of the characters’ names are similar (Avery, and Mr. Arable, for example). The vocabulary is advanced. The pig is called “radiant”; he is put into a “crate”; he is watched by “goslings.” For a suburban child, these words are mysterious. The sentence structure is too sophisticated. Even though Charlotte’s Web is an excellent novel, it is not an appropriate first chapter book for my student. He is not ready to read it without help.

In my public library, chapter books for elementary school aged students are grouped together. Within those books, some are labeled on the spine, “First chap.” Those books are perfect for children reading their first chapter books. Or if you are lucky enough to have a children’s librarian, ask her what books she would suggest. Or phone or visit your school librarian and ask her for help.

Hundreds of wonderful books are appropriate for your kindergartener. Good luck!

How do I read to my two-year-old? Is he even ready?

Some one-year-olds are ready to be read to, and some two-year-olds are not yet ready. But most are. Reading to a two-year-old can be fun and educational for the child, and subconsciously, prepare the child for more sophisticated reading.

Two-year-olds are all about physical motion, so reading to them should include movement. You could start with board books, and ask the child to tell you what he sees. He might say, “Baby.” Probe a bit. “What is the baby doing? Show me.” Even if he can’t put into words the baby’s actions, he might be able to act them out.  Helen Oxenbury’s books are great for children who cannot speak yet.

baby reading a bookHis physical needs might include holding the book and turning the pages. He will learn to turn pages correctly if you help him. But he will want to go back and forth. He might see a dog on page eight and remember seeing the dog on an earlier page, and he might flip the pages to find the dog. Don’t expect formal sequencing of pages with a two-year-old.

Some books for young children have textured parts for the child to touch. Others have flaps that open and close, or they offer pop-up parts that unfold. Little children love these books, but roddlers tend to rip the pages. Beware. They love to move things in a trial-or-error way to see what happens. Yet their touch is usually not delicate.

You might start reading a picture book and the child might interrupt, pointing to a picture and talking about it. He might not care for the story yet, but he might be fascinated by the pictures. Don’t think that just because there are words you must read them. Let the child guide you.  If he doesn’t want you to read, look for some wordless books or just discuss the pictures.  Most wordless books are intended for toddlers.  They are also great for older ESL students new to English.

Two-year-olds are acquiring language rapidly. If you point to a picture and say “bug” or “triangle,” the child might remember the new word. Two-year-olds are also picking up grammar, so be sure you use grammar correctly, even if the child doesn’t. You don’t need to correct him most of the time.  By hearing you say grammar correctly, he will eventually say sentences correctly.

I remember my preschoolers choosing the same books over and over. I was bored reading them repeatedly, but they weren’t. Children find it comforting to hear, day after day, how the little bird found its mother or how Sylvester returned to his family.

father reading Old McDonald to childNursery rhymes are great for the littlest readers.  Some, like “The Itsy, Bitsy Spider” and “This Little Piggy,” encourage finger or toe play. You can tell the child enjoys nursery rhymes when he starts doing the finger play himself.  Plus, children love rhymes, anticipate them, and race to complete the rhyme.  Rhymes teach children about word families (spout, out; rain, again), too.

You might use reading to a toddler to establish routines, such as what you and your child do before or after a nap.

If there are older children, you might want to read to them at a different time, since a two-year-old’s abilities are quite different from a four- or five-year-old’s.  On the other hand, a patient toddler might pick up reading skills and vocabulary by listening to his older sibling read with you.

So should you read to a two-year-old? Definitely, but keep in mind the abilities of a child that age.

 

How can I help my child navigate ebook technology? There are so many features to remember.

In 2012 the most popular interactive parts of ebooks (according to research) were voice narration, hot spots (places on the screen that respond to touch), games, sounds (music and sound effects), and text highlighting.

None of these features are present in traditional print books.

Kneeling young girl is playing a portable video game.

What this means is that before children can “read” an ebook, they need to know how to navigate its interactive features. For some children, navigating is fun. If they have wrestled with video games, like Mario Brothers, they might find navigating an ebook a challenge or even easy.

But for children new to electronic equipment, or for children who find new situations difficult, learning to read an ebook can be frustrating. For example, ebook readers need to familiarize themselves with numerous icons, whose meaning changes depending on the ebook. Tapping a backwards circling arrow in one book might mean go back to the previous page, while in another book it might alert the narrator to read the book aloud.

What can you as a parent do to help your child navigate ebooks?Boy on floor reading an ebook on his tablet.

  • Show your child various versions of the same book—a print version, an audio version, and a digitally available one, for example. Or show several different digital stories. Point out that reading each one requires different skills. Try to name some features that are the same and some that are different.
  • Model how to navigate an ebook, talking to yourself out loud so your child can hear you think aloud. Ask your child for suggestions. Explore the technology of the book together.
  • When you or someone close to you gets a new phone or tablet or other device, explore its features with your child. Point out to your child the new features and how important it is to stay up-to-date on these changes. Imagine together what features your next device will have.
  • When the child reads an ebook and encounters a problem, help him to solve it with minimal involvement from you, so he develops a “can-do” attitude. Remind him of another situation like this which he has already encountered. Encourage him to try various approaches. Be persistent.
  • Most importantly, make your child comfortable with the idea of change.

What is choral reading?

Choral reading is group reading aloud in which a fluent reader serves as a model for students learning to read. It is a reading method frequently used in pre-K to second grade classrooms and in ESL classrooms, but it can also be a good method to teach reading at home.

Here’s how it works:

  • A fluent reader, usually a teacher, parent or recorded voice, reads a story aloud. The students gather around the teacher who uses a large-sized book whose text is also large. As she reads, she points to each word. Or, if children have their own copies of the text, they point to the words she says with their fingers.choral reading
  • The teacher reads the selection once while the children follow along silently with their eyes on the text.
  •  The teacher reads the selection several more times, each time with students joining in for the words they can say. Usually, with repeated readings, students can read more of the words.
  • Often the selection is reread the next day or soon after to reinforce the students’ ability to read the selection.

Why do choral reading?

  • It’s fun. Children love to read aloud when they are one of many voices. Many times the selections have repeated phrases like “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down,” or rhymes, which increase the fun.
  • More skilled readers serve as models for the less skilled students sitting by their sides. The less skilled readers listen not only to their teacher, but to their peers, and they learn from each other.
  • Less skilled students, who might be embarrassed to read aloud by themselves, feel comfortable as part of the group. Their mistakes either can’t be heard or are ignored. They feel more confident about reading aloud. They also realize that with repeated readings, they can read more words.
  • ESL students learn proper pronunciation, phrasing and intonation from listening and mimicking the fluent reader.
  • Dyslexic readers, who often memorize words rather than sound them out, remember better because they are enjoying the reading experience. Their lack of reading ability is less noticeable when they are part of a group.

 

How many books are enough books for a preschooler?

Preschooler looking at a tall stack of books.1,000 books is a great goal, according to the 1,000 Books Foundation, a nonprofit organization which has enlisted the help of libraries across the US to promote reading. Their effort, “1,000 Books before Kindergarten,” has a simple goal: Children should be read 1,000 books before they start kindergarten.

1,000 books before kindergarten? Yes. They can be all different books or some of the same books read over and over to a child. The reading can begin in utero, or when the child is an infant or toddler, but the counting must stop by the day the child starts kindergarten. Parents are encouraged to write down the name of every book and the date it was read (Log sheets are available at 1000 books).  Writing down the names promotes accountability, and the growing list encourages persistence.

1,000 books might sound daunting, but if a parent reads one book a day for three years, that is more than 1,000 books. Many parents read more than one book a day, making the feat even easier. And if a parent reads a book to two or three children at a time, that counts as a book for each of them.

Some libraries provide their patrons with a journal in which they can list the titles. Some libraries offer stickers to children for meeting benchmark goals. Some local newspapers publish the picture of all children who reach 1,000 books.

Have you participated? Were you able to reach 1,000 books? Let our readers know. –Mrs. K

Of course there are some parents who may be turned off by the idea of listing the title of every book read every day. I know that would become tedious for me. It reminds me of diets where you list every food eaten every day. After a few weeks, most of us cannot maintain the daily log. But how about just a check mark or a number on the calendar…adding up the total at the end of the month and then adding on as the year continues. –Mrs. A

What are the Newbery and Caldecott awards?

The Newbery Medal and the Caldecott Medal are prizes given annually to honor two children’s or two young adults’ books published in the US during the past year.  The Newbery Medal honors an author, and the Caldecott Medal honors an illustrator.

Newbery and Caldecott MedalsThese two awards are considered the most prestigious awards in the U.S. for children’s literature.  They are awarded by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association.

The Newbery award, named after an eighteenth-century British bookseller, goes “to the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children published in English in the United States during the preceding year.” This award is the older of the two, having been given since 1922.

The Caldecott award, named after a British illustrator of the nineteenth century, goes to “to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children published in English in the United States during the preceding year.”  This award has been given since 1938.

Both awards list runners-up, named Honor Books.  Once a book is honored with one of these awards, the publisher usually adds a picture of the medal to the book’s jacket to lure readers and buyers.  Most libraries with children’s sections carry recent Newbery and Caldecott winners, and sometimes they are even grouped apart from the other children’s books.

Some well-known past winners of the Newbery Medal include

  • 2004: The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo
  • 2000: Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • 1990: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
  • 1986: Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
  • 1984: Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary
  • 1977: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
  • 1976: The Grey King by Susan Cooper
  • 1963: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  • 1961: Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
  • 1959: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
  • 1944: Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes

Some well-known past winners of the Caldecott Medal include

  • 1990:  Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China by Ed Young
  • 1986:  The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburt
  • 1970:  Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
  • 1964:  Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  • 1963:  The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

Many Newbery and Caldecott winners are included in the exemplars of the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts.  On the other hand, some of the best loved children’s books (Dr. Seuss’ books, for example) were not Newbery and Caldecott medal winners but are included in the Common Core exemplars.