Why Is Nothing Easy Anymore?
A patron walks up to your children’s reference desk. Asks for books for beginning readers. The patron has a small child who is just at the very very beginning of learning to read and needs books with simple words. No big long sentences. Nothing too intense. Just the basics. You walk over to your easy section and look at the titles. And that’s when it hits you . . . easy easy? Basic books? Is there anything harder in the world to find sometimes?
I mention this because there’s been a lot of discussion amongst my fellows concerning the most basic readers. I’m talking books that come before you get to The Cat in the Hat. I remember with crystal clear clarity how I would have to turn time and again to the Berenstain book Old Hat, New Hat or other equally useful, equally old books. Where were the really really basic easy books out there that are currently being published? The advent of the Geisel Award for books for beginning readers is a marvelous place to go to try to find such books but even they trend a bit older.
The real problem here is that there’s no consistency between publisher reading level ratings. What might be a “3” to one publisher is a straightforward “2” to another. But having your books Lexiled (is that a verb) or otherwise leveled costs publishers money. Money they might not have if they’re a small operation. As a result, leveling often profits the big guys able to produce the cash upfront.
Now there are two series that meet the needs of the very very early reader. They don’t get a lot of attention or press but I figure they’re worth mentioning.
First off, there’s the Holiday House series “I Like to Read“. When looking for very very basic beginning reader books, this series has a lot to offer. First off, they get glorious artists like the Lewins or Emily Arnold McCully or David McPhail to provide the art. Then you’ve incredibly simple wordplay. On the back of each book is the leveling information too, just in case you’ve a patron insisting on such a thing. Their sole drawback? The size. To show off the art properly the books are the size of your average picture book (8″ X 10″). But if your library is anything like mine, the easy reader section contains only books, and consequently shelving, around 9″ X 6” or so. And as much as you’d like to shelve this series with the other easy books, logistically it just doesn’t work. So you end up putting them in the picture book area, where they get lost amongst the more lengthy texts. If a librarian knows to recognize their singular blue spines then it isn’t a problem. However, until some are released in the standard easy reader format (something I hope for) they’ll never quite become as well known as they deserve to be.
The other series I like is the Blue Apple Press books Flip-a-Word series. These books take very simple words and combine them in multiple ways, drilling them home. They’re akin to phonics without actually being phonics. Initially when I purchased them I put them in the picture book section but my librarians objected vociferously and we realized that they could do a lot more good in the easy reader section (they’re the right size anyway). Though they didn’t get any reviews initially, after perusing the titles I can attest that they’re well done. Smart writing, smart ideas.
So what are the other really really basic series you know of?
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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