You're Almost There, Kid!
A Parent's Guide to Selecting the Right Books for New Bookworms
For years you've read to your child. Then they learned their letter sounds. If they've read through some BOB books and can sound out smaller words, then what? Picture books are often not the best choice because the vocabulary is advanced and sometimes the fonts themselves are challenging for new readers. When my oldest daughter reached this point, I simply did what felt the most natural: I jumped on Amazon.com and bought 30-40 books recommended for my child's age level and hoped for the best. I do not recommend this approach. It's not only expensive, you will end up with books that your child has no interest in reading. Books will sit on a shelf forgotten for years because the difficulty level has been mislabeled by a publisher. Publishers sell books -- they are not experts at teaching kids to read or gauging difficulty.
To get started, nothing beats taking a trip to your local library to see what your child naturally gravitates to without outside influence. I really like the “I Can Read” and other easy reader collections for readers between 4-6 years. Most libraries have a section for these books. Keep in mind: the best books for kids to read are the books they actually want to read.
That said, picking books at an appropriate reading level is the best way a parent can help their child feel confident and positive about reading. You don’t want to hand a child a book at a third-grade reading level if your child is just getting comfortable at a first-grade level. Reading should be a little challenging, but not so frustrating that they feel overwhelmed. I cannot emphasize enough the need to look beyond the number on the cover because I have found that these publisher ratings are highly unreliable. I use the free Accelerated Reader (AR) website at http://www.arbookfind.com/ to look up my kids’ books. I have it bookmarked on my phone. The Book Level (or “BL”) rating for each book refers to the corresponding grade level. In theory, the average second-grader can read a BL 2.1 book on the first month of school and a BL 2.9 book on the ninth month of school. Once you find a few books that feel comfortable for your child to read independently, look up the book level. Suggest more books for your child at or slightly above that level.
However, if you want to surprise a child with books for a fun surprise or gift, here are some easy readers that have been tested and approved with high marks in our family. I’ve organized them by their corresponding BL difficulty rating from Accelerated Reader.
Cooking with the Cat
by Bonnie Worth
(ISBN 9780375824944) (BL 0.6)
Like most low-difficulty books, Cooking with the Cat isn’t the most interesting writing or story, but it is familiar and fun for kids to read. Most of the words are really easy and my kids were excited to read a “Cat in the Hat” book because I read them the classic Dr. Seuss book for years. They’ve also watched plenty of the TV cartoon series “Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That.” This is a very good choice if your child knows all their basic sounds, has read some BOB or other basic phonetic-based books, and you are looking for a good easy reader.
We Eat Dinner in the Bathtub
by Angela Medearis
(ISBN 9780613170376) (BL 1.4)
This is a seriously cute story. Want to come over for dinner? We eat dinner in the bathtub. Kids love the ridiculousness of parking cars in the kitchen, cooking in the bedroom, etc. It’s a really cute story for kids to read aloud and the words are all fairly common for new readers. It’s also one of the best-written books at a true level 1 difficulty.
Pete the Cat and the Bad Banana
by James Dean
(ISBN 9780062303820) (BL 1.7)
I love the Pete the Cat picture books, but the Pete the Cat readers have largely disappointed me as bland and poorly written. This is one exception. This story is cute and very well-written for a level 1 book. Beware if you buy a set of Pete the Cat readers to look up their actual reading level. The Pete books often underestimate the reading difficulty on the cover.
Fancy Nancy and the Too-Loose Tooth
by Jane O’Connor
(ISBN 9780062083029) (BL 2.0)
If you’ve never read “Fancy Nancy,” Nancy narrates stories with more advanced vocabulary, explaining the “fancy” words throughout the story (e.g. ‘injured’ is a fancy word for ‘hurt.’) This is a great Fancy Nancy book about an experience most kids are either looking forward to or can relate to – losing their first loose tooth. Fancy Nancy tries her best to lose her tooth at school so that she can get a tooth necklace from the school nurse. Apparently, this is a long-held tradition, although it isn’t something I remember from my 1980s childhood in California public schools. My oldest daughter ended up losing her very first tooth at school and came home with one of the tooth-container necklaces. This book was a great tie-in.
Pony Scouts: The Camping Trip
by Catherine Hapka (ISBN 9780062086631) (BL 2.2)
Girls camping with ponies? Come on. What is better than that? I love stories that depict girls independently and doing things that are fun besides dressing up like a princess or a fairy. Or a princess fairy. Or a princess fairy pirate. I like all of the Pony Scout books because they depict girls in an admirable and interesting way.
by Robert A. Morris
(ISBN 9780064440431) (BL 2.3)
Sometimes I think we forget to introduce young kids to non-fiction. It’s such a shame because kids are so naturally curious about the world around them, why not let them use a book to learn about nature and science? My oldest daughter has told me that she likes both, but would like me to find her more non-fiction for kids. The natural geographic books for kids are good, but they are not written to be read by young children without assistance. If you are a publisher reading this: please take note! Kids need more non-fiction at low difficulty levels!
Batman: Meet the Super Heroes
by Michael Teitelbaum
(ISBN 9780061878589) (BL 2.6)
This is a good book for introducing the idea that the DC Comic superheroes work together to fight the villains. Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman teaming up to fight a dragon in Gotham City. I like that all three have fairly prominent and equal roles and all have ordinary alter-egos. I also like the fact that the book puts opposite-gender superheroes together. Wonder Woman isn’t just for girls. Batman and Superman are not just for boys. Most importantly, this book is a favorite pick for my girls.
Lulu Goes to Witch School
by Jane O’Connor
(ISBN 9780062233509) (BL 2.9)
This is an adorable book, especially for little girls. It’s fairly easy to read and has lots of cute witchy things to keep kids’ interest. I like that the book has an important message for girls to not be jealous of other girls who seem to be better at things than they are. The book encourages girls to find good in each other and lift each other up rather than tear each other down. I love everything about this book.
I Am Wonder Woman
by Erin Stein
(ISBN 9780061885174) (BL 2.9)
I am the lucky mother of TWO little girls who love Wonder Woman. We have read every one of the “I Can Read” books on Wonder Woman and most of the Justice League books, too. This is by far the best easy reader featuring Wonder Woman. I like that this book explains Wonder Woman’s origins as an Amazon princess, daughter of Hippolyta. The book ends with Wonder Woman taking on her American alter-ego, Diana Prince. It’s a great primer for introducing Wonder Woman to young kids and (if you’re lucky) they will fall in love and before you know it you’ll have Wonder Woman toys all over your house and find yourself ordering Wonder Woman fingernail decals.
Frog and Toad are Friends
by Arnold Lobel
(ISBN 9780064440202) (BL 2.9)
Frog and Toad books have withstood the test of time, for sure. It isn’t a difficult read for beginning readers, but it is lengthier than most. For that reason, one of my daughters calls it a chapter book. Kids are so proud when they get to the “chapter book” level of reading. This is a cute story and thick enough to give them a great sense of accomplishment.
by Nick Page
(ISBN 9781782356172) (BL 3.2)
The illustrations are so adorable in this retelling of the Little Mermaid. This book follows the Disney plot very closely, but it has different character illustrations and names. I like that the book focuses on a specific phonetic sound: "er" / "ear" / "ir" / "or" / "ur." Books like this are really helpful for new readers because by the end of the book, kids are sounding out words a lot faster. The repetition helps children learn a new phonics sound and also makes it easier for your child to bump up to a more difficult reading level.
I Am the Flash
by John Sazaklis
(ISBN 9780062210050) (BL 3.7)
I am not exactly sure why, but my youngest daughter’s second-favorite superhero (after Wonder Woman) is the Flash. We have never seen a cartoon or movie with the Flash so her affection for him has to be because of this book, which is on the frequent bedtime story rotation. The most well-known super-heroes lend help, forming the Justice League: the Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman and even Martian Manhunter. There’s also an extensive gang of super-villains. It’s a full-on “super-battle” so if you are not a DC Comic aficionado, make sure you look up who is who to point the characters out to your child as you read.
I hope this gets you and your new bookworm started. For adult bibliophiles, nothing beats the warm fuzzy feeling from watching your child read.