home / teaching reading / homeschooling / gifted kids / breastfeeding / crafts


"A good education for every child does not mean the same education for every child.  "

Please use what works for you and your child and ignore the rest.  Every child is different.  If this information does not seem to be a good fit for your particular child, then keep looking and experimenting until you find what works.


This Web Page by Pauline Harding for Art Nurk,
Contents may be copied for personal use if credit is given.  Please ask for permission before any other use.  Do not copy this information onto your own web site without permission..

 Book Suggestions for Beginners

Do not assume that because a particular series has “level one” books that these are appropriate for new readers to read to themselves.  Unfortunately, most of the time they are not.  What you want for very beginners to read themselves are either “phonics based” books and/or “limited vocabulary” books.  They are not always great literature but they provide an opportunity for practicing decoding and other reading skills in context.  You will of course want to continue reading more complex books aloud to your child, in addition to helping them read the simpler ones to themselves.  It’s nice to do one of each in a sitting.

Start With Stop Signs! 

Stop signs present a wonderful opportunity to bridge environmental learning to print in books.  Lots of kids notice stop signs – they occur in real life, in books, and on toys (like on the sides of school busses).  You can start by using them when you learn the alphabet – “what’s this letter?  “s”, “and this one” “t”, “and I know you know this one”, “o”, and this?” “P” “S-T-O-P – that spells STOP!”.   You can notice stop signs in other places, like in pictures in books.  “Hey, there’s a stop sign!”  Look at the letters and explain again that they spell STOP.  Eventually, your child will begin to get the idea that a stop sign ALWAYS has the letters S-T-O-P, and they always spell the same word – stop!.  Take some time to explore this idea.  Then you can move on to recognizing the word stop in print.  Ideally, you can find a favorite book where “stop” is an important word in the text.  Run your finger over the text as you read.  Let your child say the “stop” part.  Take a minute to notice that the letters are S-T-O-P, just like on the stop sign!  All of this gets across several very important concepts in learning to read.  1) letters, when put together, make words.  2) When letters are put together in the same way, they always make the same word (you can find exceptions when the child is older).  These two concepts are critical!

Phonics-Based Books

Phonics-based books either use a vocabulary based on the order that words are typically learned in a phonics-based reading program, or provide practice of a particular sound (like the “sh” sound).  Quality varies considerably, but better stories are getting easier to find.  (The Real Kids Readers series is my favorite.)  Most of these books should be checked out of the library, rather than purchased, as they won’t be read more than a few times.  Nonetheless, they can be a critical addition to a phonics-based reading program.  (Note that not every child will need this much focus on phonics – some will be content with a few rhyming games and listening to Mom read Hop on Pop fifty times.)

Bob Books –

These are for very beginners.  They are inexpensive, and most libraries seem to have them.  A child who can read only a few words can probably tackle the Bob Books.  These are good to borrow from the library or a friend, as the actual stories aren’t that interesting, and you will probably only read them a few times.

Real Kids Readers

I love these books.  Rhyming text (in the level 1 books), great stories about modern children playing in the mud, making cars and jets out of cardboard boxes, playing “pet vet”, making messes – nice wholesome stories that you can enjoy reading over and over.  The excellent photographs give visual cues to decoding the text.  By the Millbrook Press.   Definitely worth buying, as the stories are really nice ones – you can read these to a younger child, then they can read them to themselves later on.  Best of all, each of these books has a “cheat sheet” for mom in the back, describing the phonics rules used in the words in the book.  The “gold standard” of phonics-based books.

Scholastic Phonics Readers

This series includes a set of small books (16 pages) and a tape.  The tape includes a reading of each story, complete with turn-the-page noises.  After the story, there are a few featured words, and a brief phonics-based game.  These are ideal for a child to use on their own, perhaps after a bedtime story.

Wonder Books Phonic Series and Power Phonics Series

These series are similar.  Each book focuses on a particular sound.  A child will need to have a decent vocabulary of sight words and some work in phonics before tackling these books – they are not for raw beginners. 

The Wonder Books series includes 35 books each featuring a particular sound, including consonants, short and long vowels, and four blends (sh, ch, th, wh).  Titles include Shoes:  The Sound of SH, and Malls:  The Sound of M.  Various authors, including Cynthia Kilingel, Robert B. Noyed, Peg Ballard.  The Child’s World press, 2000.  

The Power Phonics series is similar to the Wonder Books series, in that each book focuses on a particular sound.  There are good ideas for phonics activities and games in the back of each book.  Most of the books are non-fiction, on topics typically covered in the early grades.  Titles include By the Ocean:  Learning the long O Sound, and Every Egg:  Learning the Short E Sound.  Each book includes a brief list of other books on the topic.  It would be a good idea to have the child read one of these books on their own, then you can read one of the suggested books (or another book on the topic) to the child.  Add a related activity and you’ve got an instant “unit study”!  Various authors, including Sharon McConnell, Kerri O’Donnell, and Lynn Metz. 

Limited Vocabulary Books

Limited vocabulary books use only a few words (most used over and over again) to tell a story.  They are not always phonics-based.  If you read these to your toddlers, when they are older they will be able to use their familiarity with the text to help them “read” it to themselves.  An excellent choice, especially for those kids who don’t need formal phonics work.

Hop on Pop, by Dr. Seuss  -  A classic – this introduces the concept of changing the beginning letter in “word families” – hop, pop, top, etc.

Go Dog Go, by P.D. Eastman -- Another classic.  “Do you like my hat?  I do not.”  A fun read-aloud.  Many kids memorize this book and “read” it as part of the learning-to-read process.  Oddly appealing to a wide age-range.

Big Dog, Little Dog, by P.D. Eastman -- Another good one.  “Big dogs need big beds, little dogs need little beds.”

Home-made books

Make your own books!  You can make high-interest, limited vocab books!  Use paper folded in half, with card stock for the cover.  The easiest way to bind them is to staple them in the middle.  (Open the book, put it over a stack of newspapers, put in the staple, then remove the book from the newspapers and fold down the ends of the staples.)  Another option is GBC binding or another form of binding, but these can be expensive.  You may be able to buy inexpensive booklets, or somewhat more expensive “blank books”: or notesketch books (see Rainbow Resource for these).

We love Ed Emberly’s Make a World book – it shows how to make simple drawings of all kinds of things – people, buildings, vehicles, etc.  Ideal for kids (and moms) who aren’t naturally gifted in drawing!

Wacky Sentence Flip Books - These are fun, and help kids to develop a sense of parts of speech and sentence structure.  Make a book by stapling together several sheets of paper.  Then cut the pages into several sections.  Write a different sentence on each page, making sure they have similar structure.  For example, Auntie Judy / sat / on a chair / while / Susan / ate / a donut; Dad / ran / under the table / but / Matt / threw / a ball.  Now flip the pages to mix up the sentences.  Hilarity ensues. 

Online Games

There are lots of cool things on-line nowadays.  Here’s one to get you started – you can practice reading with these phonics-based on-line “books” – click on a word if you don’t know how to read it.

Other Kinds of Books To Consider

Comic books

My kids have spent a lot of time reading comic books!  This phase seemed to come after they were fluent readers, but before they were ready to read chapter books.  I think that somehow reading comics helped them to work on comprehension and picking up on subtlety.  Favorites in our house included:

Classic Peanuts comics,

Featuring Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and friends.  Nice and wholesome.  And there’s a LOT of them!

Tintin, Boy Reporter. 

These comics were written in Belgium in the 1930’s, and are still in print today.  Classic good-guy, bad-guy adventures.  Racial and ethnic stereotypes abound, along with gunplay, kidnapping, etc.  One book even features an opium den, so look carefully to see if there’s anything that you particularly object to.  Despite the drawbacks, we love ‘em.

Calvin and Hobbes. 

The adventures of a boy and his stuffed tiger.  Classic.  Anyone for a game of Calvin Ball?

Activity & Maze Books

Activity Books

These are fun books that have pages like “which of these socks is different”, and mazes, and simple crossword puzzles with three or four letter words.  Sometimes you’ll even find gems like an alphabet dot-to-dot.  Although they’re marketed as “fun” (rather than “educational”), they actually have a lot of good stuff in them.

Maze Books

There are two kinds of maze books – the kind you write in, and the more expensive complicated kind where you are encouraged to trace the path with your finger.  Both are great for looking carefully at what is on the page and looking ahead and then back to where you are.  The writing kind also gives practice in pre-writing skills.