Notes from a Librarian: Books for Beginning Readers

As a new school year begins there is a new crop of children who will be learning to read for the first time. For some, learning to read is relatively simple. They learn amazingly quickly and enjoy the process. For others it is not so simple. Here are some ideas you can do as a parent, grandparent or caregiver to help a child who is learning to read.

It is important for children to learn the sounds associated with each letter. To teach this to my children I used inexpensive plastic letters with magnets in them. One game we would play is that I would get a simple sock puppet and then scatter the plastic letters on the carpet. I would have the puppet say, “I’m hungry, I want to eat a letter that says Buh.” If the child chooses a B then the puppet says, “Yum yum, that was delicious,” and puts the letter in the letter box. But if the child gives the puppet a different letter the puppet spits it out “Oh, yuck, that letter says, SSSS, not Buh.” Of course, the kids loved giving the puppet the wrong letter, but they were still learning the letter sounds.

Another magnet letter game I used to do while making dinner. I had all the letters in a container by the fridge. The child could arrange the letters on the fridge in any order that they wanted. Then I would have to try to sound out the “word” the child had made. Of course, the kids try to make long “words” that will stump mom. I run my finger under each letter as I sound it out. This teaches letter sounds, and also how to sound out a word.

Another fun way to teach letter sounds is to choose a special letter of the day. Try to find the chosen letter on street signs or on cereal boxes that day. Choose foods for lunch that start with that letter. Pick out toys from the toy box that start with that sound, and wear clothes that are a color that starts with the special letter. The next day, choose a different letter of the day.

It is important for children to learn how to sound out words, but in the end they need to memorize the most common words in order for their reading to become fluent. The more of the high frequency words that they are able to memorize, the easier it will be for them to read. One way to memorize high frequency words is to choose one of the child’s favorite picture books. Then choose one or two common words and invite the child to “read” that word whenever you get to it in the story. Run your finger under the words as you read, but when you get to the special word, pause, and let the child say the word. The next time you read that book, choose one or two other words that the child can “read.”

The library has a section of beginning readers. Many of the books are, frankly, not that exciting. There are some, however, that are fun to read. Here are a couple of my favorite beginning readers.

Minnie and Moo (series) by Cazat
These are not for a really new reader, but a reader who already knows many of the high frequency words. They have funny and very intelligent storylines for an easy reader. The pictures are funny too.

The Elephant and Piggie (series) by Mo Willems.
This is a new series. My favorite is “There’s a Bird on Your Head!” It has very few words, and the words are all easy, but the story is hilarious. I have used this as a read aloud for older school children and they love it.

Don’t Cut My Hair (and other Hello Reader books by Hans Wilhelm)
These books feature a very cute white dog. In this book the dog gets a haircut and is all embarrassed about it. In another one, the dog looses a tooth. The text is very simple, with lots of visual clues from the pictures.

We Can Read (series) by Jacqueline Sweeney
This series has really cute pictures. The illustrations are photographs of animals that have been altered and arranged to make the animals the main characters of the stories. They are books that feature the high frequency words.

Donna Cardon is a children's librarian at Provo City Library and a well known children's book critic. We'd like to thank her for allowing us to republish her articles for our readers.