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Teaching Tip: Selecting the right books for beginning readers

Michele Dufresne

Soon the fall catalogs will be rolling in and you may be thinking about what new books to purchase for your students to read. Selecting the right books for teaching beginning readers can be challenging. There are so many different books on the market. Here is a handy list of features to look out for:

Interesting stories

Even a level A book can have a story or something interesting to be learned. Children need to understand from the get-go that they are reading for meaning.

Sight words 

Beginners need to see the same words many times in many different contexts to start building a core of words they know and use. I never use books with silly made-up words (The truck click clack, click clacked down the road.) or books without full sentences (The duck. The frog. The pond.)

Supportive font, spacing, and layout

I look for books with a simple font—no serifs or strange shapes that can confuse beginners. Beginners need large spacing between words. And, this is a bit trickier to look for, but sentences need to be broken up by phrases. Text broken in the right places supports phrased and fluent reading.

So something like this is not good:
The little boy went down the 

It should be:
The little boy
went down the street

Good illustrations

The photographs or pictures should be engaging and supportive.

Books to Recommend

Lots of publishers are doing a good job with all of this. Some books I use again and again are the PM Readers from Rigby. (I especially love Rigby's Baby Bear stories.) I also really like the Handprint books (EPS). One of my favorite books is Zip Me Up, a story about a little fox trying to get help from his family. Reading Reading Books has a growing collection of books that work great with beginning readers. The new stories about a pet spider are super cute.

And, of course, Pioneer Valley Books are written with beginning readers in mind. You can count on your students begging to reread any of the Bella and Rosie stories, and there are lots more characters students love and a growing collection of nonfiction books to select from.

Michèle Dufresne is author of many Pioneer Valley Books early readers (including the Bella and Rosie series), Word Solvers (Heinemann), and an early literacy and literacy intervention consultant.

Follow Michèle Dufresne on Twitter.