Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Truth and Story in Beginning Readers

Beginning readers, like picture books, are another arena in which it's hard to pinpoint Truth as opposed to truth. Even the Story sometimes borders on story. What do we look for in this oh, so important category of literature that, by its very nature, must be rather spare in text?

As we mentioned in our musings over Truth and Story in picture books, there is more involved than a mere break down of "Truth" or "Story," especially in these books for emerging readers.

In perhaps no other category of books is the quality of language and story as important. Why? These are often the first books children remember vividly. These are the books that help set the tone for the rest of their independent reading adventures. These books provide the landscape for children's first forays into discovering Truth and Story on their own terms.*

Basal readers certainly can have a place in this landscape of easy readers, but please do not let your children spend all their time there. Gaining fluency is very important, and basal readers can aid this development. But by and large, most basal readers are abysmally lacking in "Story." Don't let your child get bored!!! Don't let him or her think that this is what we're all so excited about.

It's like riding a bicycle. At first, you ride a tricycle. Then, you graduate to a "real" bicycle with training wheels. Finally, you start that painful process of riding without training wheels. You can do this entire process in a driveway or parking lot. Or, you can find a bike trail near your house and let your children begin to experience the reward of bike riding--even while using training wheels. The reward is the first real feeling of flying as the new rider picks up speed and sails down a hill. Working hard on those pedals to scale the next hill, feeling the breeze, taking in the scenery. This can be done with training wheels still on. Is it as good as the real deal? No. But it's a very nice teaser to encourage that child--he or she will begin to realize how much fun bike riding is going to be when they get better at it and that there is a purpose to riding (to get somewhere, to have fun, etc.).

Easy readers are the training wheels. Basal readers are the parking lot: highly structured, predictable, and kind of boring. Take your child to the fun trails--the exciting beginning readers at the local library--and let them get a taste of Story, of quality characterization, of the subtleties of plot, of interesting settings, and of variety. The scenery is better, too (the illustrations are half the charm of those quality beginning readers!).

Thus, easy or beginning readers are helping give your child a taste of what's to come when they're independent readers themselves. Let them experience good Story, strong writing, beautiful illustrations even at this training stage. Don't confine them to the parking lot even if you need to start there at first.

We try to review and highlight easy readers on Literaritea that are great literature in beginning reader form (one of the hardest things to achieve!). You may check out those lists, or you can start with one of the series below (listed in no particular order):

  • Hi! Fly Guy (series; Tedd Arnold; current)
  • Frog and Toad (series; Arnold Lobel; 1970s)
  • Elephant and Piggie (series; Mo Willems; current/ongoing)
  • Mouse and Mole (series; Wong Herbert Yee; current)
  • Henry and Mudge (series; many others also by Cynthia Rylant; 1990s and on)
  • Cat in the Hat, Hop on Pop, etc. (Dr. Seuss)

*Neither Megan nor Betsy is a reading specialist; both, however, are very interested in fostering a love of reading in children, have taught their own children to read (or are still in the process), and have had many discussions with children of all ages about what they enjoy reading--at the beginning reader stage or any other stage!

Cover image from goodreads

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