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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

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?

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth 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.


  1. I always look for Rookie Reader books. They typically have only one short sentence (maybe two) on each page.

  2. Thank you for this post! I am a Title 1 teacher and I took time this summer to create a list of what’s at our local library organized by the leveling system we use at school (the DRA). The librarians and I were surprised to see how few titles were available for the earliest of readers. The Flip A Word books are very popular, but we don’t have the Holiday House books.
    One trick we tell parents to use is to read the whole sentence except for the last word or a key word and have their child fill it in, pointing to the word together as he or she says it. Eric Carle books are great for this (Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? I see a ________ looking at me, etc.).
    Maybe next summer I should work on writing books to fill in the gap!

    • ReNae Bowling says

      You should! I’ve thought of doing that myself. There surely is a need, if only I had a clever mind and could produce one.
      If you do it librarians everywhere will sing your praises.

  3. Denis Markell says

    There was a fantastic four book series by Kit Allen – each book was about the seasons and had one word on a page. Our son loved these books to death. Longjohns (winter) Swimsuit (Summer) etc.

  4. Having written a Random House Step Into Reading Step 1, I can say that they remain quite simple — no more than 32 characters in a line, no more than 2 lines on a page. No words more than 2 syllables, no contractions etc. Perhaps check these out? They tend to be simpler than most other step ones.

  5. “Three Yellow Dogs” by Cohen. It’s an oldie but tried and true–witty and sweet and no child can fail with it. Unfortunately it’s a stand-alone.

  6. My heart went out to the author of the article when I read that the Beginning Reader books at her library have to fit in a specific size shelving unit (for books 9”X6” – the typical size of a beginning reader book). I love the I Like to Read series! We have purchased all of them for our public library and I use that often with my son at home. When we first purchased them for our library, they were in the picture book section because of the size of the book (average 8” X 10”). But they are great books for kids just starting to read and we felt they were getting lost in the picture books. So we moved them to the beginning readers. Luckily our shelves are sized that they fit in with the traditional sized reader books. They are circulation very well and I have had parents ask if we have any more like them.

    When it comes to other great series of books for kids who are just starting to read, I also like the Step into Reading, Step 1 books and the Green Light Readers, Level 1. Yes, these are the typical reader sized books.

    I think it is important not to just look at the size and shape of a book to see where it would go in the collection. By putting the different sized books for beginning readers together, it encourages families and readers to think outside of the box. They don’t just have to read books that look a certain way or size. It has also helped us think about great picture books that are often overlooked when a child begins reading on his or her own. Titles like I Went Walking by Sue Williams and Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas are great as a read aloud and also great for kids just starting to read. Families can use picture books that have simple sentences as books for kids as they are starting to read as well. Having different shapes and sizes in the Beginning Reader section helps families to realize that.

    We also started a Beginning Reader Non-Fiction section right next to the fiction beginning readers. We love the Pebbles Plus books which again, are not the usual beginning reader size.

    Our beginning reader section may not look perfect with all the different sized books but I think we are providing a better collection to our community through this exploration into what is a good match for our beginning readers.

    Thanks for this post. Great topic to get into. And I am so happy to see the I Like to Read series get some attention and praise!

  7. The TINY series (Tiny Goes to the Library, Tiny Goes Camping …) by Cari Meister is superb. (Penguin) Each book in the series tells an actual story — often with humor — with generally one short sentence per page. My own kids learned to read with TINY’s BATH, and more recently taught their younger cousins to read on the TINY books. And, added bonus, they’re the right size!

  8. ED AND TED AND TED’S DOG FRED by Andy Grifiths (he’s done a few other easy easy readers like it) blew my doors down. Easy, yes. Smart, funny, and genuinely enjoyable… Yup.

  9. Eric Carpenter says

    From a classroom teacher perspective I appreciate the trim size of Holiday House’s “I Like to Read” series (I also love the consistent use of the AvantGarde typeface).

    For years my lowest readers spent their sustained silent reading time enjoying traditional 9×5 early readers (Biscuit, Seuss, Elephant and Piggie, etc), wordless picturebooks and the occasional easy reading picture book (your brown bears, chicka chickas, or something like I Want My Hat Back, but in a classroom library with 2000 picture books less than 50 nonwordless books met these students’ needs for independent reading. *Not that these students could not also choose to read any of the traditional (as you say lengthy) picture books but over time students do tend to gravitate towards comprehensible texts.
    The “I Like to Read” Series is doing a great job providing true independent PICTURE BOOK reading experiences to readers who are just beginning to see the true joys of reading for their own solitary pleasure.

    • The font issue! Poor beginning readers when they come across odd a’s, g’s, f’s, and t’s. Their little minds are already working pretty hard! Earlier this year I read about a school in England that designed their own font (complete with different versions for early grade assignments, parent communication, etc.). This seemed pretty genius to me.

  10. I usually suggest the Simon Spotlight Ready to Read pre-level one books and My First I Can Read books. Cynthia Rylant’s Puppy Mudge books are very simple. My heart was recently broken when I discovered that David Milgrim’s Otto and Pip books were out of print. They were some of the simplest books, and being about robots had very high kid appeal!

  11. The very first beginning books we had at home, recommended by a teacher friend of mine, were the Bob Books. I could see where they could be problematic in a library, as some books in the series have blanks to write in the child’s name. But they were terrific for my son learning to read. Super simple, and each small book built on the skills learned in the last – and they were funny.

    We also used a great set that is out of print, the “Little Readers” books (a series that went Ant-Caterpillar-Butterfly and I think I’m forgetting one, to show the levels). But the “Ready for Reading” series books seem pretty similar to those.

  12. I’ve recently stumbled across the Stone Arch Readers series, and they fit the bill perfectly. My toddler is obsessed with these books, but they work well for beginning readers too. The illustrations are wonderfully cartoonish, and the text is very simple. Often, there are only 5 to 6 words per page, and its very repetitive. They have a number of series. The Train Time series (Big Train, Circus Train, City Train, Freight Train) has taken over my house, but there is also a trucks series, as well as another series focusing on a human character.

  13. My library just ordered “My Reading Neighborhood” with Kindergarten sight words. It’s still not beginner beginner, but at least they only has one simple sentence per page.