Summer Reading 2021 has come to a close at the Joplin Public Library. With over 1,300 participants, it is safe to say that it was a successful summer. Of course, the end of summer means a new school year, and we are all full of anxious excitement about what the new season will bring. In my own household, we are eagerly anticipating kindergarten. Starting kindergarten means a lot of changes, both big and small: meeting new friends and a new teacher, learning a new routine, losing a tooth, learning to tie your shoes and learning to read.
In the children’s department, we frequently work with parents and caregivers to identify the best books for these burgeoning readers. With the variety of reading levels and options, it can be difficult to know where to start. I have identified a few series for a variety of readers, both in regards to interest and reading levels. Most of the titles are focused on sight words, letter blends and word sounds, as well as entertaining stories, engaging illustrations and diverse perspectives.
My favorite beginning reader books are part of the BRIGHT OWL BOOKS imprint by MOLLY COXE. Each book focuses on a different vowel sound or blend. My favorite part of these books, however, is the visual aspect. Each book features hand-felted creatures photographed in realistic nature scenes. “Greedy Beetle” includes a family of felted beetles, replete with tiny scarves and handkerchiefs, eating a meal in the forest. They may be the cutest beetles I have ever seen. In addition, the story has a plot and a conflict, all within the confines of the “long E” sound and no more than three- or four-word sentences.
Books for beginning readers can sometimes heavily favor individual words over engaging illustrations or plot, but Coxe’s books are a delightful exception. Other titles in this series include “Go Home,” “Goat,” “Blues for Unicorn” and “Cubs in a Tub.”
Another series I enjoy is Holiday House Publishing’s I LIKE TO READ imprint. Each book in the series is illustrated by a bevy of excellent and well-known artists. The back cover of each book also includes a letter indicating reading level, and explanations for their leveling system are included on the back cover. I recognize that reading levels should not be the sole determinant for any child, but they can be a helpful guide for parents of beginning readers who may be intimidated by too many words on a page. (It is also important to note that actual reading levels can vary widely from book to book. While one “Level 1” may be appropriate for a child just learning to sound out words, a “Level 1” from another company may be more appropriate for an already independent reader comfortable with more complex sentences.)
The “I Like to Read” books range from two word sentences to 3-4 sentences per page, which makes them a helpful tool to utilize regardless of your new reader’s skill level. Award-winning illustrator Joe Cepeda wrote and illustrated several books for the earliest readers; these include titles, such as “I See” and “Up,” that feature simple sentences and nature themes. Paul Meisel, another award-winning artist, has written several dog-themed books that subvert the repetitive Dick and Jane titles with fun art and even funnier stories. Though most of the sentences rely on Dick and Jane-esque refrains (“See me run,” etc.) they all end with the dogs in silly situations that will guarantee a belly laugh from your child.
Finally, I highly recommend the DIVE INTO READING imprint by publishing company Lee and Low. Started in 2015, Lee and Low primarily focuses on sharing books by and about people of color. The beginning reader series focuses on a diverse group of students (the “Confetti Kids”) engaging in a range of activities, from playing music to gardening to participating in a parade. The story includes a beginning, middle and end with active participation from the characters. In other words, we aren’t just getting a bland play-by-play of characters’ actions. Currently, Joplin Public Library only offers three of these titles (“Music Time,” “The Protest” and “Rafi y Rosa”), though we have plans to purchase more.
I appreciate the reading guide explanation on the back cover of these books. Levels range from “early emergent,” “emergent,” “early fluent,” and “fluent,” with a discreet color-coded system.
Find these titles in our catalog.
All of the aforementioned titles can be found in the Easy Fiction section of the Children’s Department. As always, children’s department staff are more than happy to help identify these or other titles. With any new reader, we will often provide a few options while pointing out the level structure to the caregiver, and encourage them to work together to determine which book is the best fit for the child.