Books for a Beginning Reader
(As recommended by my 5-year old boy and arranged more or less in ascending order of difficulty)
- Bob Books--You will often see Bob Books touted as the earliest beginning readers because a child could read the first Bob Books after knowing just a few letter sounds. I'm putting this on the list for the sake of my 3 1/2 year-old who absolutely loves these books--but I do have to admit that my oldest son did not like them. I think they are fun for that moment when your child is just starting to connect how letter sounds come together to make words. I introduced them to my 3-year-old at the right moment and he loved the fact that he could read them himself. He carries these books around with him all the time. However, if you introduce these books a little too early or late your child might think they are "boring" as my oldest child thinks. My recommendation--before you invest in the whole series--check out some from the library and try them out (my library has most of the Bob Books available in the beginning reader section).
- For the earliest beginning readers, my older son preferred Margaret Hillert books to the Bob Books because the illustrations were more interesting to him (even though the words are very simple still). Because he loves cowboys and trains he enjoyed her books The Little Cowboy and the Big Cowboy and Little Puff. She has also published beginning readers featuring "Dear Dragon" about every holiday, so my son likes to read the books that fit with the season. You can find some of her books as well as many other beginning readers available to read online for free online at the Starfall Website. Each book has only 50 or so very basic words, so they are good books to give early readers a chance to read a book on their own. But pretty soon, they will want to move on to other more exciting books.
- Also, for the very beginning reading, my son loves the book Cowboy Up! and other Rookie Readers by various authors. These are arranged by level so it is easy to figure out which books your child can read, and they cover so many different topics, so you can usually find something on a topic that interests your child--whether it be cars or construction vehicles or cowboys.
- Once my son had enough sight words down, we discovered the Elephant and Piggie Books by Mo Willems and fell in love with them. There are about twenty books in that series including We Are in a Book! and Let's Go for a Drive! These are our very favorite beginning readers. They use mainly sight words, so once your child has a few sight words in his pocket he will be able to read these with no trouble. They also taught my son how to read with expression. They are very funny, so they are entertaining for both child and parent. I think that there are around twenty books in this series, and we have read them all.
- Dr. Seuss Books--Dr. Seuss is well know for his beginning readers-- Classics such as The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham are some of my son's favorites. There is a reason these books have stood the test of time. The words are simple, yet the stories and illustrations are silly and fun for kids.
- Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa Series by Erica Silverman and Betsy Lewin. We found the book Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa at the library and my son liked them because he loves horses and cowboys. These are still fairly simple beginning readers but they arranged in short "chapters" that have episodes about the adventures of a cowgirl and her horse.
- Hi! Fly Guy --These also have very short "chapters" but they are still fairly easy readers. If you have little boys then you might have to check out these books. My boys think they are quite funny, and I'm just happy that we found something that my oldest wants to read on his own.
- Fluffy Books by Kate McMullan like Fluffy Goes to School are very clever books that give the reader the sense of chapter books in a simple way. They are a great bridge in between easy readers and chapter books.
- You also don't have to limit yourself to the beginning reader section of the library. Many popular picture books, such as Pete the Cat as well as of our favorite board books such as Freight Train are good for beginning readers. My son loves to read books to his younger brother and sister, so whenever I find one that is not too complicated, I will encourage him to read it aloud to his siblings.
Tips for Encouraging a Beginning Reader
- Make books accessible to your children--This is a hard one for some who want to make sure their books stay in pristine condition. But since my kids were babies I have had board books in baskets at their reach and I have kept other picture books at the height that my older children can reach them. I teach them some basics about how to take care of books, and the more fragile books (i.e., pop-ups) I keep up higher, but for the most part all children's books are within their reach to pull down and look at whenever they want. I also take my kids to the library at least once or twice a week so they can always have access to interesting new books. Having brand new books to read definitely makes my son more excited to read on his own!
- Along those same lines, let your children choose their own books and topics to read about. My oldest son is much more motivated to read on his own when the book is about a topic he likes such as cowboys or trains. If he can't find a book on his own, I will take him to the library computer and search with him using the topic search. Even if your child picks out a book that you think might be too difficult, go ahead and let them try to read it if they want to. The other day my son picked out a book that was too difficult to him but he wanted to read it on his own anyway. I helped him with some of the words he didn't know, but I ended up being surprised by how much he actually could do on his own.
- If it helps, read the book to them first. If we have a challenging new book, I will usually read it through the first time to help my child become familiar with the story and any new words. Then I tell him it is his turn to read to me. Sometimes if we are reading a long book, we take turns reading every other page or every other line--so my son doesn't get as overwhelmed at how many words there are.
- Encourage them to read to sibling, grandparents, or whomever they can. Sometimes if I make a big deal about how happy it would make his little sister to hear a book, then my oldest will be excited to be a helper and read aloud to her. One of my sisters even had her son read to one of his favorite cousins via FaceTime.
- Don't quit reading other more complex picture books or chapter books to your child just because he or she can read some books on his own. It is important to read aloud books at a more challenging level so your child can build a good vocabulary and also stay excited about literature. A big thing that helped my son become a more fluent reader was that he had a huge vocabulary in his pocket from all of the thousands of books I have read aloud to him. So once he understood the basic of how words work and once he had some sight words in his pocket, he was able to pick up on a lot more new words that I never specifically taught him just because he had seen and heard them in other books that I had read aloud to him. Also, when I read aloud to my children, it is fun for all of us! I'm not ready to give that up just because my son can read a few books on his own.
- Offer incentives if you want. I know we want our kids to get to the point where they will always just read for the sake of reading. But sometimes it doesn't hurt to have some incentives. Often the library will help you out with this through summer reading programs and other year-round programs. Our local library had an incentive that for every five books a child read, he would get a coupon for a free burger at In-N-Out. My son loves In-N-Out so he was very excited to read as many books as he could so he could collect those coupons.
- Model reading yourself--I participated in the adult summer reading program at our library right alongside my children. (I even won a gift certificate to a local restaurant!). I let my kids see me enjoying books myself. My husband is a reader, too, and we all like to talk about and review the books we have read together. If your children see that reading is important to you, they will hopefully want to become readers, too.
- Make it fun! I encourage and challenge my son, but try not to push him when he is not in the mood. If we're not having fun reading, we put aside our books and wait for another time. And we don't only read from books. We play reading games throughout the day. One of our favorites is the simple "alphabet game" in the car. As you drive around town, look for each of the letters of the alphabet on signs around you such as "A in Avenue," or "A in "Library." (The letter can be anywhere in the word, not just at the beginning). Start by looking for the letter A and see if you can go all the way to Z. My son loves trying to read all the signs that we pass each day.
Don't forget to check out my favorite picture books for preschoolers and my favorite books for babies as well! My five-year-old still enjoys those books even though he is into beginning readers as well.