Children's Bookshelf - May/June 2020

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Emergent, Beginning & Early Readers:
What Does It All Mean?
by Carly Lemire, James Blackstone Memorial Library, Branford, CT.

 Do you have an emergent, beginning or early reader? All of these terms feel interchangeable and can make your head spin when school reading levels are thrown into the mix. Plus, publishers have produced their own ways to measure with MY FIRST READ, I CAN READ and more. It’s no surprise that we might not know where to begin. 

At the James Blackstone Memorial Library we get this question regularly, “What should my 6 year old be reading?” and most people are not going to like our answer because it depends. Learning to read is foreign and complex. Asking a child to understand that letters have specific sounds which are then put in a certain order to formulate words and that those words hold meaning once they are placed in a sentence is abstract and not something that can just be taught through play. Decoding has to happen which takes a higher level of thinking and that is something that children have to continually build upon throughout their reading journey. That is why the answer to, “What should my 6 year old be reading?” can vary. So, where do we begin? 

At the Blackstone we encourage families to choose what their children want to read together. Finding topics, authors or even series that spark joy is half the battle. If your child is interested then they are more likely to sit through an entire story or attempt to sound out difficult words. We also recommend checking out a combination of high and low books, throw in some easier reads so that their confidence continues to grow. When it comes to finding the right book we realize that it can be hard since the school measures one way, the bookstore another and your hometown library could be completely different. We suggest implementing “the five finger test” as a quick way to see if the book is at their level. Simply open the book to any page and have your child read it aloud. If they sail through then the book could be chosen as a low pick or confidence builder. If they struggle through 3 to 5 words then this might be at their level or a “just right” choice. If 5 or more words are tripping them up then this book may be too hard at this time but that does not mean it has to be abandoned. Suggest taking it home as a shared read before bed. 

In the end, reading is key and that is why most libraries like ours have programs entitled 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten which keep track of shared and solo reads till families reach 1,000. As children complete certain checkpoints which usually equates to a certain number of books read they stop into the library to share their list, grab an incentive and check out more books. You can read more about this program and others at blackstonelibrary.org. 

If you are still looking for a hit, the books listed below might be a great place to start! 

For those just beginning to grasp sight words: repetition, call and response, rhyming and strong illustrations are key. Books by Dr. Seuss and PJ Eastman like: One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish Blue Fish, Go Dog Go and Are You My Mother are perfect. Popular characters provided by Mo Willems, (Elephant and Piggy) Tedd Arnold (Fly Guy) and Jeff Mack (Mr. Monkey) create predictability and make reading fun as they get to know the characters and hijinks through the series. Much like first time readers ability these titles will range in difficulty, so this where the five finger test will come in handy. 

Early chapter books are meant to bridge readers from the traditional picture book format to a chapter book setup. The books are longer, follow a plot driven model and they still use illustrations to create context. Some readers may be ready to devour these titles solo, with a caregiver’s assistance or they might even be that shared read you are turning to before bed. Series like: The Magic Tree House, Chicken Squad, The Notebook of Doom, and Zoey Sassafras are popular picks but this is where you want to play to your child’s interests and find something they will not be able to put down. 

Finally, and most importantly, don’t stop reading to your child once they are reading independently. Reading is truly a shared experience and they will gain new vocabulary and context while listening. Plus, it makes the whole “reading thing” fun and creates a bonding experience they can look back on. So, don’t desert picture books just yet and don’t be afraid to throw in some poetry or narrative non-fiction about their new favorite topic. The more exposure the better and a great way to discover what type of book will keep them reading for years to come. 

Carly Lemire is the Associate Librarian of Youth Services at the James Blackstone Memorial Library in Branford, CT.

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