Beginning Readers: How To Feed Growing Reading Appetites

by Susie Wilde

*This article originally appeared in NoveList‘s August 2014 issue of Kids & Books.*

One of the most crucial periods for nurturing young readers comes when they first discover books. The adults in their lives can support them by recommending those that fit their ages, abilities, and interests. Happily, there is a smorgasbord of series ready for these eager book-gobblers. Books that satisfy young eager readers have big print, small page counts, fast pacing, easy vocabulary, and occasional illustrations. Below are listed some tasty new offerings to serve as appetizers to reading feasts!

Start Simple

When children first crack the magic code of deciphering words, they need support, success and practice. Begin with the books they first heard as toddlers, those with very few, simple words that will pose little intimidation and include lots of contextual illustrations. The best of all worlds occurs when you can pair a beginning reader with a young listener.

Mo Willems’Who is That, Cat the Cat? (Balzer & Bray, 2014, ages 3-5) is available as a sturdy board book that will stand up to the multiple readings of an enthusiastic emerging reader — both physically and in terms of reader satisfaction. Willems’ work shows his trademark genius for humor, apt developmental levels, simple patterns, and quirky twists. The refrain, “Who is that, Cat the Cat?” is repeated on every page by an unseen narrator. Each time, Cat introduces recognizable animals to the reader until she runs across an alien that flummoxes her, but adds a funny finale.

Next Step: I Can Read

I Can Reads will appeal to kids who span all kinds of interest and ability levels, from four-year-old early readers who can puzzle out words, to eight-year old reluctant readers who can take on a complicated text that fills a page. Many of the books have level labels, or have Lexile levels assigned. If the book has neither, you can make a quick assessment of the new reader’s abilities. Some facets to consider are the number of words per page, the support of illustrations, the size of the print, and the amount of white space on a page that make the text appear approachable. One of the new additions in this field is that many familiar characters are making I Can Read appearances, making them accessible to emerging readers. Here’s a sampling:

Kim and James Dean’s Pete the Cat: Too Cool for School (Harper, 2014; My First Reading, 31 pages)

Jane O’Connor’s Fancy Nancy: Just My Luck! (Harper, 2014, I Can Read, 32 pages)

Megan McDonald’s Rocky Zang in The Amazing Mr. Magic (Candlewick 2014; Judy Moody and Friends, 55 pages)

Think about Tone and Genre

Tension, the major catalyst for fast pacing, is a fairly sure-fire signifier of success. Two genres known for tension are adventure and mystery, sometimes united in one book. Other tones and genres known to draw in readers are humor and books that have a safe-spooky quality.

Wendy Mass and her husband Michael Brawer collaborate on Archie Takes Flight, illustrated by Elise Gravel (Little Brown, 2014, ages 7-9, Space Taxi series; 112 pages). Eight-year-old Archie Morningstar is thrilled that it’s take-your-son-to-work day. He’s so looking forward to spending the night with his taxi-driving father. But Archie has no idea what’s in store for him! He finds out quickly when their taxi rockets into outer space and before he knows it, he’s helping his father navigate to a giant invisible wormhole where unearthly adventures await, along with lots of humor.

Other new books:

Marlane Kennedy’s Earthquake Shock , illustrated by Erwin Madrid (Scholastic, 2014, ages 8-10, Disaster Strikes series, 108 pages) finds Joey mastering skateboarding when an earthquake strikes and adventures ensue. Because of the intense situations, this is not recommended for a more sensitive child.



Subjects that Speak to Readers

New readers will take on challenging books if the subject appeals to them. Universal subjects in these early books are animals, school issues, neighborhood fun, friendship, and sports.



Gavin is the hero of Karen English’s Dog Days , illustrated by Laura Freeman (Clarion, 2013, Carver Chronicle series, ages 7-10, 112 pages). He’s new to Carver Elementary and is in class with Deja and Nikki, the two stars of another of Karen English’s series. Gavin, trying to establish himself, reaches out to a new friend. The new friend lands him in a heap of trouble when he breaks Gavin’s older sister’s treasured snow globe. The solution to this crisis brings another problem, as Gavin must earn money by walking his bossy great aunt’s ugly, yippy Pomeranian. The constant conflict is equal parts emotional and lighthearted. These go together to make for a genuine character with real problems with which real kids can identify.

Other titles:

Hilary McKay’s Lulu and the Rabbit Next Door, illustrated by Priscilla Lamont (Whitman, 2014, ages 5-7; 91 pages) finds the ever-resourceful and caring Lulu, the owner of five bunnies, coming to the aid of a neighbor’s neglected, friendless bunny.

Patricia MacLachlan, an author you can count on, has two new books about animals. In White Fur Flying (McElderry, 2013, ages 6-9, 112 pages, not illustrated), Zoe finds new respect for her family and her mother’s Great Pyrenees rescue dogs when they help a non-speaking boy.

MacLachlan’s The Truth of Me: About a Boy, his Grandmother, and a Very Good Dog (Katherine Tegen Books, 2013, ages 8-10; 120 pages, not illustrated), is a more sophisticated tale about Robbie, a young boy whose musician parents don’t listen to him. He finds a listening ear and caring heart when he spends time with his grandmother, who, along with having “special powers” with animals, understands and appreciates him.

In Kate Messner’s Marty McGuire Has Too Many Pets , illustrated by Brian Floca (Scholastic, 2014, Marty McGuire series, ages 7-9; 176 pages), Marty has a love of chimps, and her desire to earn money for a sanctuary turns into a pet-sitting business that gets out of control quickly, but with lots of humor along the way.

A Feeling of Fantasy

Most books for these young readers are reality-based, but more and more titles with a magical component are becoming available. Many are quite popular, proving that enchantment weaves a spell to draw in even young readers who love to imagine what-if.

Kate Egan with magician Mike Lane, The Vanishing Coin , illustrated by Eric Wright. (Feiwel and Friends, 2014, Magic Shop series, ages 8-10, 112 pages) A slightly older reader may relate to fourth-grader Mike Weiss who is always in trouble. He can’t sit still, doesn’t get the hang of math, and spends significant time in the principal’s office. Everything changes when he discovers the hidden room in the back of the White Rabbit magic store. The fast-paced book is laced with humor and includes directions for magic tricks.

Other Titles:

Mary Pope Osborne’s Soccer on Sunday , illustrated by Sal Murdocca (Random House, 2014, ages 5-8,128 pages) is the 52nd Magic Tree House Book that features young siblings who travel time and space — this stop is 1970 Brazil, the setting for the 9th World Cup.

Ruth Chew’s 1972 Magic in the Park has been recently re-released (Random, 2014, ages 8-10, 126 pages, illustrated by the author). Jennifer is miserable after having moved to Brooklyn, until she meets a mysterious man who leads Jennifer to discover the magic that surrounds her.