The best books for budding school readers

Kinderling News & Features

Jaquelyn Muller is author of children’s books I Love You 5 Lollipops and Elizabeth Rose on Parade, and a child literacy advocate.

For parents of kinder, prep and foundation-aged children, by this time of year you will have become very familiar with the ‘reader’ book that comes home each afternoon in the school bag.

Early readers are usually books that have been categorised by colour or number to distinguish a level of difficulty as children develop their reading and comprehension skills. Readers normally form part of daily after school tasks and are seen as ‘homework’ by most kids. They’re not always the most engaging books to read.  My fear was that the content was not engaging enough for my daughters to develop a desire to read for pleasure.   

Writing a good early reader is an art. The words need to be simple, repetitive, and easy to decode, yet the story still has to grab the reader. I think that is why you see so many character-driven books and series for early readers. The stories are simple, but the characters ensure that kids will pick them up. Developing a desire to read is just as important as learning to read. If there is a rudimentary want to read then the skills around word recognition, phonics, decoding and comprehension will eventually come.

Listen to Jaquelyn on Kinderling Conversation:

For your new reader to really shine, they need practice. And if you can get a few readings (the more the better) out of the same book, they will have a better chance at refining their skills. New readers want to read, and when we as parents provide them with engaging books, that desire to read will strengthen along with their reading skills. 

Why is it so important for parents to read with their kids at home? 

Reading at home reinforces the work the children are doing at school. It allows the child to understand how reading can be applied to everyday life. For example, reading a note together that a child has brought home for an excursion, reading the tuck shop menu for a lunch order, reading a recipe that the child is helping to cook or reading a fixture for a sport they are doing; these are all useful applications. Children need to understand that reading isn't just about reading books, that reading is a life skill. The more they are involved in activities around the home that involve reading, the clearer this idea becomes to them.

Reading with a child at home also helps parents to understand where their child is developmentally. A class teacher has many children to consider. Some challenges that a student could have may not get identified as quickly. For example, if a child is needs glasses or additional reading support in the classroom, a parent will potentially pick this up quicker through reading activities at home.

What about working parents?

All parents know that doing the school reader when kids are tired (and you’ve just got home from work), or in the morning (in the middle of chaotic pre-school/ work rush) isn’t conducive to good concentration… 

This is probably one of the hardest things about having school-aged children who are learning to read. However, fitting this into the daily routine is so important. For working parents I would suggest doing this after dinner at night (so no one is whinging for dinner and hungry) and just before the child goes to bed. The house at this point is usually calmer and less chaotic. Children need a comfortable environment where both you and the child are under minimal stress to help them feel relaxed. It's a far more enjoyable way to engage in this activity. The other thing to remember is that this is only for a short time. Soon enough kids are doing homework independently so when you think about it in those terms, it is only 10 - 15 minutes every weeknight for a few years. For my daughter she still loves to read before bed or uses reading a book to help her get to sleep if she is having trouble settling.

How can parents manage disruptive younger siblings? 

Setting up expectations and routines to accommodate for nightly reading is important for everyone in the family, not just for the younger siblings. Explaining where possible that it is your older child's reading time and setting up the younger child with their own book or other activity will help with this routine. Having the younger child is already in bed while the older one reads before their bedtime is also another argument for night time reading.

Also remember that there are nights when all of this goes out the window. Parents should not expect that every night will go to plan. Don’t beat yourself up too much! Achieving reading time at home should be the goal, but it won’t be a perfect record. Perhaps read a little longer one night if you've missed a couple.

Building a collection of books in a special basket or box at home that your child feels confident reading is a great practice to get in to. Slowly but surely introduce a new book every couple of weeks that may be more advanced but maintain those books that they feel comfortable with.

5 books for budding readers

With the help from The Little Book Room in Melbourne, here are some of the best selling and highly recommended books for children learning to read.  They are written by an amazing group of Australian authors experienced in this genre of storytelling.

  • Ginger Green, Playdate Queen by Kim Kane

Funny, relatable with lots of repetition and break out text. Published by Hardie Grant Egmont.

  • Sporty Kids by Felice Arena

Everyday stories about perseverance, with a rotating cast of boy and girl lead characters. Published by Penguin.

  • Lily the Elf by Anna Branford

Magical sensitive fun with a non-traditional family setting (Lily lives with dad and spends a lot of time with her grandmother). Published by Walker Books.

  • Chook Doolan by James Roy

Funny, accessible and relatable again focuses on the concerns and interests of kids aged four and over. Published by Walker Books.

  • D-Bot Squad by Susannah McFarlane and Louise Park

Just-released action packed fantasy that sucks kids into a cleverly constructed world and won't let them go. Published by Allen and Unwin.