Books That Make Learning (and Teaching!) Reading Fun

Reading recommendations from Dr. Alice Mar of our sister practice, Farrell Pediatrics

As we head into the middle of August, I find that at our local pool, the topic of school is on everyone’s minds. In particular this year, as parents face new challenges and worries over their child’s education it seems that it’s all anyone is talking about. As a long-time homeschooler, I thought I’d spend some time this fall sharing books that have worked for us in our family as part of our schooling. This month I’ll start with the most critical of skills: reading.

First, a confession. One of my least favorite things as a homeschooler has been teaching my kids to read. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading TO them and I love talking about books when they get old enough to read on their own. And I love the aha moment when reading starts to click. But by the third child, the slow and steady process of sounding out words was enough to make me want to scream. Which is why I was especially pleased when I could find books that made the process more enjoyable. So many phonetic readers are of the “The cat sat on the mat” variety. And that’s useful and needed. But really, really boring as a adult. So here are some books that provide a much needed dose of humor and fun.

Leveled Readers:

I used the books in this category right from the beginning of learning to read, as kids are still learning the basic letter sounds.

Nora Gaydos Leveled Readers

These were our all time favorite leveled readers. Each box comes with 5 small books that work on a specific skill (Level One is short vowel sounds, Level Two is long vowel sounds, etc). But the stories are actually funny and the cartoon drawings will lead to giggles. Our library had these, but if you buy them they include stickers that the child can use to show progress.  Bob Books are a similar series that are even simpler. The first book has only four letters so the child can actually have the thrill of reading an entire book ‘’all by themselves” very early.

Easy Readers

I used these books after my kids had learned the basics, but were working on sounding out words. They also serve as great practice books for kids who are able to sound out most words but need practice with fluency.

Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems

These are the all time best of the bunch of the easy readers. They are so funny that my then 11 year old would routinely steal them from his 5 year old sister when she was learning to read. Elephant and Piggie have become one of the classic literary duos for a reason. The books range from utterly ridiculous (a bird nesting on your head) to serious issues like bullying and sharing.

TOON Leveled Books

All the books in this series are outstanding. The authors are different and the books range from the English debut of a beloved French literary character in Silly Lllly by Agnes Rosensthiel to Wordplay by Ivan Brunetti that explores compound words. As you might guess the illustrations tend to be cartoon like. The styles are different by uniformly engaging and interesting.

Don’t forget the all time Grandmaster of Easy Readers, Dr. Seuss. Some of his books are too complex for very early readers to tackle on their own (all those made up words like sneedle and fizza-ma-wizza-ma-dill and bippo-no-bungus) and are probably better enjoyed as a read aloud. But books like The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish were written specifically as easy readers and really revolutionized the whole genre, opening up a world beyond Dick and Jane. Go Dog Go by P. D. Eastman is another classic that is still a champion of an easy reader.

Early Chapter Books

This category is a little harder to define. In the library most are kept with the early readers but are more complex in language and in length. Usually consisting of a few short chapters, they are great for kids who are reading on their own or as practice for kids working on reading fluency. I often used them with my own kids where I would read a page and then they would read a page.

Henry and Mudge series by Cynthia Rylant

Probably the favorite in our family, these books feature a boy and his enormous dog, Mudge. They are sweet and so beloved by my oldest that one of his birthday parties was an exact replica of Henry’s birthday party in one of the books. Similarly, the Mr Putter and Tabby series by Cynthia Rylan is a gentle series about an old man and his cat. My daughter loved the companion series about Henry’s cousin, Annie, and her pet bunny Snowball.

Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel

My second son loved this series because it is silly. The friendship between Frog and Toad provides the heart of the series, but they get into all kinds of goofy adventures that satisfied his funny bone.

The Jackson Friends Books by Michelle Edwards

This series is notable for featuring multicultural characters in relatable situations (first day of school jitters, stage fright at a talent show). The themes are a little more mature than others in this genre so are especially good for kids who are older.

The Lulu series by Hilary McKay

These books all feature a biracial main character who loves animals. Each story centers around a different animal adventure. Another sweet series featuring diverse characters is The Katie Woo series by Fran Manushkin.