The world of reading schemes, book bands, early readers and early chapter books can be a bit of a minefield and seems to have its own language. It can be particularly tricky if your child hasn’t started school yet and you are working it all out on your own. I thought it might be useful to break down some of the mystery surrounding reading schemes and the lingo used, and give some examples of what I’ve found helpful.
This has all been prompted by a friend asking for some book recommendations for her son who has just turned 4. He is starting school in September and is already reading fluently. She is looking for books that will challenge his reading ability without being too advanced in subject matter. This is a tricky business and an area that I’ve been looking into lately as Mollie is turning into a fluent, confident reader. She is coming to the end of her first year of school and is reading voraciously. She sometimes gets bored with the reading scheme books from school so I’ve been collecting together alternatives at home to hold her interest and extend her a bit.
By no means an exhaustive list, this is a picture of resources and ideas that I have found to be accurate and helpful and books that I’ve found work well for Mollie. PLEASE share your ideas and recommendations, my friend and I would love an excuse for more book buying!!
What are Reading Schemes?
Reading scheme books are a collection of books graded by difficulty and labelled by coloured groups. Ranging from wordless picture books to full chapter books, they gradually increase in difficulty, length and technical elements. The wordless picture books often throw parents/carers (and the kids) when first seen. They are all about exploring the pictures together- talking about what’s happening and telling the story together. It may seem a bit strange at first, but children can get so much comprehension learning from having the freedom to talk about the illustrations.
Most publishers have their own reading scheme books, often split into different collections. Sadly publishers often create their own classification system, so it can become a bit confusing to find books at the right level. But if you dig a bit further, most publishers do display the coloured book band, either on the book itself or on their website.
This chart, from online reading programme bug club, gives an idea of which year group/s each colour book band matches with. This chart is just a guide- children all learn at different rates and don’t always progress evenly as they often take time to consolidate before moving on.
This helpful website links the coloured book bands with national curriculum levels and with the Letters and Sounds scheme used in the current curriculum to teach children to read.
Reading scheme books
The Usborne Reading Programme is fantastic. I used it to teach Molls to read and she is quickly progressing through the levels and still loving them. There are great stories and a lovely mix of fiction and non-fiction, all with age-appropriate subject matter.
The Usborne Reading Programme website is also really helpful, with all the books split into reading levels and a chart to help you compare the Usborne levels with the book bands and national curriculum levels used in schools.
This Ladybird I Am Reading set is brilliant.
I bought it for Molls because she’d read past the reading level of the books in her reception class library and I wanted to stretch her. They start at band 4 (blue) and go up to book band 10 (white). The subjects are perfect for Mollie’s age – Harry and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs, Moshi Monsters, fairy tales, Peppa Pig and Charlie and Lola. The books extend her with new words to learn and longer text to read as she progresses through. They are like mini picture books – fully illustrated and brilliant fun. Plus if you buy it from the bookpeople it is ridiculously good value. I can’t recommend them enough.
The It’s Fun To Read website is a really useful resource for finding books appropriate to your child’s reading level. Created by the Hachette publishing group, the site is split into 8 ability levels, ranging from very beginners to independent chapter book readers. The 8 levels link to examples of their reading scheme books from Orchard, Franklin Watts and Hodder. The website is packed with information, as well as a pack to download which describes the 8 levels in more detail and offers hints and tips for parents. Each book description gives you the colour book band to help you assess the correct level. We particularly love their Orchard Colour Crunchies, especially Titchy Witch!
The term ‘early reader’ means different things to different people. Essentially they are books for the newly independent reader.
Early readers seem to be ‘a thing’ at the moment, and some publishers have recently started taking stories from established authors and re-packaging them as ‘early readers’. Some are picture books re-formatted to look like an early chapter book and some are extended picture books or abridged chapter books made shorter and technically simpler. I’m sceptical about early readers that are a re-packaged version of picture books. Just read the picture book! They get me a bit edgy and make me want to defend continuing picture books past the age of fluency. But that’s a whole different rant and there are some wonderful early readers out there that sit within reading schemes.
Mollie started with the Daisy early readers by Kes Grey. They have two picture book stories repackaged into a smaller chapter-style book. She knew the character from the picture book Super Daisy and had read Eat Your Peas in its original picture book format. She now loves the Daisy and the Trouble with… full chapter books and, loathe though I am to admit it, I can see how the early reader format and character progression may have helped her with that transition.
My absolute favourite early reader collection is the Walker Stories set.
Each book has three short stories by established and popular authors and illustrators. They vary slightly in length and difficulty, but all do a beautiful job of introducing children to longer text and smaller sized books with (sometimes) less illustrations than picture books. The Walker Stories books have black and white illustrations throughout and the stories are well written and engaging. They make a great transition from picture books to chapter books- for example, Handa’s Surprising Day contains an extended version of Handa’s Surprise called The Fruity Surprise. Mollie lapped this up, having the confidence of knowing the original story.
There are also early chapter books that sit outside of reading schemes, like Shirley Hughes and Clara Vulliamy’s wonderful Dixie O’Day books, Tracey Corderoy and Joe Berger’s Hubble Bubble books, or Pip Jones and Ella Okstad’s Squishy McFluff series. Often a series of books so children can really get to know the characters, these are highly illustrated chapter books, perfect for children who are reading independently and looking for something to stretch them a bit more.
So what else works well for supporting children learning to read?
I’ve found non-fiction books a life saver because there are always new words to learn without getting too grown up in the subject matter. Usborne non-fiction books are brilliant! Molls loves the See Inside… books – and the Usborne Beginners non fiction books are awesome.
I highly recommend the Wonderwise series by Franklin Watts. A brilliant mix of story and fact, a variety of typeset and layouts, including comic-style sections, and a brilliant range of subjects that will appeal to children from four. A brilliant series that we come back to regularly.
Molls is also loving reading children’s poetry because it gives her some different reading skills and makes her think about words and structure in a different way. She is currently lapping up Spike Milligan and Edward Lear because she loves the nonsense words. Dr Seuss is perfect – tongue twisters, nonsense words, alliteration, rhyme and rhythm… loads to challenge those little tongues and minds!
Don’t give up on the picture books!
I strongly believe that picture books are for all ages. When Mollie first learned to read she went back to her board books. She loved the thrill of being able to read a whole book, cover to cover, all by herself. As her reading improved she was able to read picture books to herself and now reads a few a night independently. But they still challenge her! Picture books vary immensely in their language and concept, and in length and technical difficulty. The learning children get from the play between text and illustrations is immense. Picture books can provide rhyme, rhythm, new language, large amounts of text, format and typeset challenges, and entirely new concepts to take on board. They can often give children so much more than their reading scheme books. In fact, a lot of the colour banded books Mollie brings home from school are picture books judged to be orange book band -a reading age of year 1 or 2. So don’t push your children to read chapter books and leave picture books (or board books) behind. Let them come back to old favourites over and over and let them read things that may appear too simple. They need time to consolidate their learning and to learn more than just the words.
Keep reading to them
A child’s comprehension level will often be further ahead than their reading level, so carry on reading to your child even when they can read independently with ease. We still read picture books to Mollie every night, and now we often read a few chapters of a longer book. Apart from all the learning they will take on, it’s a lush thing to do together. And you’ll be modelling the enjoyment and the importance of reading, setting them up to be readers for life.
What more could you ask?
What books, schemes, websites or ideas have helped you teach children to read or progress to harder texts? Please do share!