Thursday, 16 January 2014

Reading Update: Books for Pre-readers / Early readers

Despite my blogging going off the rails, 2013 was a pretty good year for us, with numerous accomplishments--with reading being one of the more exciting ones!

My son, now five, pulled all his reading skills together this autumn and started applying it to books. He had just got the hang of sounding out words at the beginning of the year. He's now able to read a simple phonics book, taking in the story and context as he goes, and if he sees a simple word on a sign when we're out and about, he will read it and confirm with me.

While his schools take the main credit, one of the best moves I ended up making in this endeavour was to put books in the car. I started when we were visiting the UK over the summer and doing long road trips--we didn't have any phonics appropriate books at the time, and my son was still resistant to picking up a book and trying to sound out the words. So instead I gravitated to books that they knew really well or that were pictures without words. It worked like a charm.

Wordless Picture Books

The great thing about the wordless picture books is that they're still teaching the children basic reading skills: namely going from left to right and story comprehension. They're also fostering an interest in books and independence in using them. So far I have found that my children embrace a picture book only if I 'read' the story through with them first, helping them grasp the storyline (though these days, I suspect my son could tackle one on his own.) Once they've become familiar with it, they can look through it by themselves--though if I'm available, they'll always want me to join them!

Far and away, my favourite of our wordless picture books is The Wave by Suzy Lee. A lot of this bias is because the little girl in it reminds me so much of my daughter when she plays at the beach (as a bonus, this summer, my daughter even had a little blue dress like the one in the book). Whenever we read the book, we always refer to the main character as if it were my daughter.

A close second is Journey by Aaron Becker, which has incredibly beautiful pictures and an exciting adventure. Storywise, if you've read Harold and the Purple Crayon, this is treading very similar ground though in a completely different style, and I like to think of it as a sequel.

Others we've enjoyed are The Snowman by Raymond Briggs, Dancing Boy by Ronald Himler and the virtually wordless, Do You Want to Be My Friend? by Eric Carle. I also use books that have text but the pictures can independently tell a story, such as We're Going on a Bear Hunt (illustrated by Helen Oxenbury) and All The World and Rollercoaster (both Marla Frazee).

Phonics Books

As my son's reading ability increased, I started looking for convenient phonics books for him. The general selection is pretty dire in the early readers section of book stores and libraries: you're really choosing between phonics or an interesting story--the best exception I found after a solid trawl through was Jack and Rick by David McPhail.

We encountered the Biff and Chip books while in the UK, and after a while, I decided to go ahead and order a bunch of these. They're relatively interesting for phonics books, and they feature actual children that mine can identify with. Besides, I get the impression that a lot of British primary schools use them, so it's all part of cultural identity? If nothing else, my son will be familiar with the written word: 'Mum'.

We have one series two book and the entirety of series three. Series three seemed a good fit for what my son has been doing over the past term: learning blended sounds (like 'sh' and 'ee'.) It also has some nice little stories, including a modern retelling of Aesop's fable "The Dog and it's Reflection" (Floppy and the Bone). I am introducing one of these to my son every few weeks: we read them together, and then we put it in the car for him to read as we drive--with a twenty minute each way commute to school, he'll happily sit there and work through the short stories, sounding out each word.

So very often when we drive anywhere, the children will sit in the back with a couple of books each, reading aloud--and very often they don't, and they would still much rather have the iPad (let's not pretend we've worked miracles here). But it's been a very exciting leap forward.

Going forward into 2014, my plan is to finish going through our Biff and Chip books and then progress to some phonics and repetition-heavy Dr Seuss (Hop on Pop, Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham) and P D Eastman (Go, Dog, Go!) by way of gradually introducing more sight words. I have a handful of archaic Ladybird "Read It Yourself" titles from my own childhood which should also fit in nicely here. I am very excited for the point when my son can take any book off our shelf and tackle the story inside for himself.

For my daughter, we'll continue with the picture books and the I Spy game (using the letter sound rather than the name), which is her favourite. My son can play properly now, but my daughter is still too young to analyse a word's starting sound. Instead, she just chooses a sound (usually 'b' or 'j') and then we guess appropriate answers until we hit one she likes--lately, she's developed a fondness for just saying 'no' to everything, so we tend to overthrow her turn after half a dozen guesses.

She knows her alphabet pretty well at this point, and likes to look at her name written down, so that's as much as I need from a child not yet three. She however is dying to read and gets insanely jealous of my son's reading time with me--she'll try to mimic him, and is frustrated at not getting it. I sometimes wonder if she'll teach herself to sight read before she can do phonics. We'll see.

I've also been trying to read more myself, having fallen out of the habit since having the children. My main problem is that I don't like being interrupted from a book mid-flow, so I came up with the solution of reading a lot of children's and YA literature this year, which tends to be more accessible for picking up and putting down at a moment's notice. (The Kindle is also useful in this regard.) There is plenty of kidlit that is written intelligently enough to appreciate from an adult viewpoint.

As a bonus, it's given me a greater idea of what is out there for modern children besides Harry Potter and the Hunger Games--though I suppose these will also be outdated by the time my own children get to that stage. My favourite discoveries have been Handbook for Dragon Slayers and The Mysterious Benedict Society.

Anyway, that's that. If you have any other book recommendations for myself or either of my children, please comment!