I Can Read: A Carnival Celebrating New Readers

posted in: Allan Ahlberg, Colin McNaughton | 22

Welcome one and all to this month’s celebration of early literacy, easy readers and short chapter books! The I Can Read carnival is all about sharing finds, approaches, successes and more when it comes to books aimed at those just beginning to read for themselves, or those consolidating their reading skills.

If you’ve a review, commentary, or an experience you want to share on this topic, please leave a comment on this post including a link to your piece and I’ll add you to the carnival. The carnival will remain open until the evening of Sunday 12th December so if you haven’t got a blog post all ready to submit you’ve a few days to write one to be included. Infact we’re happy to accept posts up to a year old – so really there’s every reason to join in 🙂

  • Holly, who writes at LitLad, highlights the Flip-a-Word books by Harriet Ziefert and Yukiko Kido. Go and see how these books inspired Holly and her son to make their own early readers on the same model.

  • Over at Lynn’s Imaginary Blog there’s some good news – her book, “The Amazing Trail of Seymour Snail”, has been named a 2010 Maryland Blue Crab Young Readers Award Honor Book in the Transitional Fiction category.

  • Jennifer at the Jean Little Library has reviews of three graphic novels, equivalent to beginner’s chapter books – Binky the Space Cat by Ashley Spires and two Sam and Friends Mystery Books by Mary Labatt.

  • Over at 5 Great Books Anastasia has 5 easy to read Christmas books – I know these might come in handy for us as I look for books for M to read during the holidays.

  • Please do go and read a review from Johnny Boo, aged 4, of the eponymous Johnny Boo and the Mean Little Boy by James Kochalka. The photo of the reviewer with his book collection is wonderful! He looks so happy 🙂

  • Catherine writes an entire blog dedicated to early readers and beginning chapter books, The Cath in the Hat, and in this month’s carnival she’s highlighting her post about Pearl and Wagner Four Eyes by Kate McMullan.

  • Terry at The Reading Tub writes about two great books, with two different audiences and two different styles but one special message in her post reviewing We Are In A Book by Mo Willems and Word After Word After Word by Patricia MacLachlan. Terry writes “With Elephant and Piggie we celebrate individual words, and Willems shows us the fun side of learning to read. In Word After Word After Word, MacLachlan takes us to the next step: illustrating how words can express ideas and feelings.” Don’t both sound wonderful?

  • How can wordless picture books inspire literacy? This is a question posed by Gwen at A Novel Read in her post all about wordless picture books. It’s a great post, not least because it encourages us all “to think a little bit outside the box to find other means of working on… literacy than just reading flashcard words.

  • Photo: EvelynGiggles

    As to my contribution to the carnival I thought it was high time I wrote about the first books M read herself, how we chose them and what we learned in the process about books for those just beginning to read for themselves.

    M started learning to read (in a formal manner) almost exactly a year ago. Of course I wanted to support her in anyway I could, and that included finding some books for her to read to me at home, some earliest of early readers. I wanted books that:

  • were written in British English (lots of reviews out there in the blogosphere don’t mention which sort of English books are written in and I didn’t want to have to explain that “color” is an ok spelling in the US but not one that M’s teachers would accept, or to try to capture her attention with cultural references which had no meaning to her – yellow buses and baseball for instance). Normally I’m all for cultural cross-fertilization, infact I seek it out, but this is one instance where I felt it wasn’t appropriate.

  • had fantastic illustrations – I knew the text would invariably be simple, and therefore less likely to tell a really engaging tale, so I wanted to make sure the illustrations at least would make M want to re-read each book.

  • weren’t dull, and preferably made us both laugh. Goes without saying, really, but I wanted books that were enjoyable rather than just worthy.

  • formed part of a graded collection, not just a one off but something with variety and progression from easy to more challenging reading.

  • and didn’t cost the earth – it’s one thing spending £5-£10 on a utterly gorgeous book that both the girls and I will want to linger over and read again and again, but it’s another thing to spend that sort of money on a book that may only be read 3 or 4 times at most.

  • M’s first collection was thus the series of Red Nose Readers, written by Allan Ahlberg and illustrated by Colin McNaughton.

    These scored on every front and I can’t recommend them highly enough as a very first starting point for children reading themselves.

    Colin McNaughton is an illustrator we already loved, and his work in this series is full of detail and humour. The text, starting with short phrases rather than sentences in the earliest books, is witty, imaginative and often rhymes (the strong rhythm and clues from the rhymes as to how sentence final words were to be pronounced helped M to gain confidence reading).

    There are 16 books in the Red Nose Readers series providing exactly the graded progression I wanted – the last few in the collection contain fully fledges short stories with one or two longer sentences on each page.

    Examples from the easier (top) and harder (bottom) books in the series

    Another aspect of having an entire collection was that M loved being able to see how far she had progressed – like children everywhere who love to collect things, she was thrilled to put these books one by one on her shelf and to see her own library gradually build itself.

    The books themselves are a perfect size for little readers – they are about 13cmx17cm – smaller than a typical adult paperback or ladybird book and so absolutely perfect for young hands to hold. They’re paperback and light – making it very easy for M to hold the book herself whilst she read, something that is very important for her.

    As to cost, the books retail at £2.99 each which would work out rather expensive for the whole series, but I was able to buy the entire collection for £20 – look out for them on ebay (here’s a set currently for sale), The Book People or Redhouse, and of course at your library.

    What did you look for when choosing the first books for your kids to read themselves? Or, if you’ve a child who’ll be starting to read soon, what would help you to know when it comes to choosing their first early readers?

    22 Responses

    1. Choxbox

      LOVE Red House/Book People – in fact I bet they noticed a blip in their sales after we moved out of the UK!

      And that book – ‘One Two Flea’ is seriously funny!

      Okay to answer your Q – I go by what the child is interested in – like she is obsessed with rainforests at the moment so anything and everything I spot on them I pick up. She also loves to read the dictionary!
      And graded readers – somehow they never worked for either of my kids.

    2. Swati

      I didn’t plan it either. At my kid’s school, each child has to ‘read’ a certain number of books each year. It is not mandatory but encouraged. So while in the beginning I used to send favourite books just to be told as stories, after a year I started on the level one readers – any that I could lay my hands on – and it came easy from then onwards.

      As to your concern about meaningless cultural references – well, I guess if we confined our readings to Indian English books, we’d still be nowhere! Although good books are coming up all the time, I haven’t come across any for graded reading. The ones I find are either too simple, or copies of western books, or too preachy. Plus, of course, most of our collection is thrifted, so the cost factor is also something. We know more about Halloween than Holi now!

    3. artnavy

      It has been Tulika and Dr Suess to begin with here with Anushka

      Yes humor is critical as is large font and lesser word count

      Suprisingly difficult words have not been an issue at all!!

    4. Zoe

      Hi Choxbox,
      Yes, following interest is of course hugely important. What I’ve just discovered with M is that she prefers to read Non Fiction – which has come as quite a surprise to me. Interesting that graded readers didn’t work for your family – I guess that just appeal to my sense of organization and control 😉

      Hi Swati,
      You make a hugely valid point – as we live in a dominant culture we can easily make choices about what books we pick up. I certainly didn’t want to give the impression that this focus is something I normally condone – far from it – it’s just that i was trying to make my life simpler as a parent, particularly when we started out with M reading at home and I didn’t feel very confident about the best way to support her.

      Hi Holly,
      I don’t know the Bob books but I’ll look out for them. Thanks for the tip.

      Hi Artnavy,
      Yes, some Dr Suess is a hit with M – although I’m never sure how much she is reading, and how much she is reciting from memory as we have read so many of them to her for such a long time. Also, if there are lots of made up words M finds them (sometimes) difficult and discouraging so I tend to be careful with books like There’s a wocket in my pocket.

    5. Rachel

      My daughter is just starting to read and I’m having trouble finding appropriate books for her. There are lots of series here in the US that are “leveled” readers – they start at level 1 and go up to 4 or so. But I find that not all Level 1 books are the same. Some are perfect for her, some are too hard. And mostly, they are boring – at least to me. She is enjoying the Biscuit series by Alison Satin Capucilli (sp?), which is exactly the right level for her. Although I’m bored by them I think she finds enough interest in figuring out the words to not mind that the story is not all that interesting, although by the 5th time the book includes the phrase “woof, woof” even she says it with a sarcastic tinge to her voice. She is recognizing simple words such as all, of, to, go, hat, etc. and sounding out others – she was able to sound out surprise the other day – but then has trouble with words I think are not that hard. I’d love more recommendations. Thanks.

      P.S. When do they make the jump from this kind of reading to “really” reading? I’m trying not to push but sometimes it’s hard…

    6. Choxbox

      Same as Rachel – I feel often the content in graded readers is not that interesting, perhaps because the vocabulary is kept limited and hence the prose feels kind of forced.

    7. Zoe

      Hi Rachel,

      I’m not sure I can be of much help as I’ve only got the experience of M to go on (perhaps other readers who are teachers or professionally involved with early literacy might be able to help). I am so with you on finding the early readers mostly very dull to listen to. That’s why I was so determined to find ones which were well illustrated so at least the pictures would engage M.
      M’s ability to read out loud is sometimes very dependent on the sort of day she’s had – if she’s tired or distracted she’ll find words hard that I wouldn’t have thought were hard for her. On the other hand, if she’s alert and happy she’ll often sail through her reading. It’s not been a very linear process for us so far.

    8. Lynn E. Hazen

      Thanks for hosting the carnival.

      My boys are quite grown up now, but when they were learning to read, one of our family favorites was Go Dog Go! Why? It’s silly, repetitive and fun with lots of action. Plus the illustrations of the dog characters are full of personality! What’s our favorite line years later:
      Do you like my hat?

    9. sandhya

      We have read a lot of Dr. Seuss initially. Agree with Choxbox re Red House/ Book People too. I have read much more verse with A, and I feel that the play of words in verse appeals to both of us much more. We’ve not stuck with Mother Goose much, but have A has enjoyed poetry like Mr Nobody and Wynken, Blynken and Nod at an early age. Though she might not have really appreciated the meaning and context much then, but does now. For example, she recently had to do Mr Nobody at school as part of a group discussion on ‘taking responsibility’, and it was wonderful to have her see behing the lovely verse.
      Consequently, we have been more at ease with books in verse, as Dr Seuss books sometimes read. As also those that play on words. In fact, now that we are into Harry Potter, there is much enjoyment in savouring the way Ms Rowling has used words, even while naming her characters and such.

    10. Zoe

      Hi Lynn,

      Thanks for the suggestion – Go, Dog Go! isn’t in our library system but other books by P.D. Eastman are so I’ll look out for them.

      Hi Sandhya,

      I hadn’t really though of trying books of poetry with M, but I like the idea. I think poems could be a way to help M feel a real sense of achievement – being able to read a whole one (or more) in a single sitting is great for building her confidence. And the use of rhythm and rhyme to help support her reading is one I like.

    11. Gwen

      To answer your question first: for me it is about content. One of my kid loves Stars Wars and sports and was bothered by the simplicity and babyishness of early readers. My other son scares easily and doesn’t want anything to do with monsters. So I have had to find very different books depending on their interests.

      Personally, the pictures matter too. I want a book that is visually pleasing to read – although both of my boys cut their teeth on the BOB books which are not dynamic drawings.

      And for my contribution this month: Wordless Picture Books: http://anovelread.blogspot.com/2010/12/wordless-picture-books.html

    12. Zoe

      Hi Gwen,

      I started thinking about what you said about it all being about content. I would agree with you now that M is reading more fluently, but I think in the very beginning it was less about content and more about acheivability and encouragement. There aren’t many CVC books on eg dinosaurs and so for those very very first reading books I wanted to encourage M just to get going and get a sense of achievement. Now M can read much more content is definitely the key driver.

    13. Choxbox

      Commenting again – but I thought about what you and the other commentators have said here and here’s what I have to say:
      Initially we read books with loads of content – which of course they could not read and so I’d be the one reading with the child in my lap. They skipped the early readers stage and directly went to the kind of books we were reading – possibly later than the point they could have read the early readers but their interest in reading exploded because the interest in the content was fired.
      Not that this was all planned – it just happened thus, something else may work for another child.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    CommentLuv badge

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.