Early Reader Books
What is an Early Reader Book?
Constructing a one-size-fits-all definition for “easy reader” children’s books isn’t particularly, well, easy. Publishers, librarians, and booksellers distinguish easy readers through a variety of attributes and even identify them by a number of different names, including early readers, beginning readers, emerging readers, or simply “kindergarten books.” However, despite their differences, easy readers (and their many aliases) have several common characteristics:
- Simple vocabulary and repetitive language, including abundant sight words
- Short, carefully crafted sentences and paragraphs
- Engaging, easy-to-follow storylines
- Relatable (and often recognizable) characters
Even with these shared characteristics, early readers vary widely in their complexity of themes, storylines, and language. Word counts for easy readers can also differ greatly—from 500 words per book on the low end to 5,000 words (or more) on the high end. Because of this range, some publishers place easy readers into multi-level reading programs—called leveled readers—such as our Engage Literacy leveled reading program. Other publishers feature consistently leveled, character-driven easy reader series, like Capstone’s ever-popular Katie Woo and Yasmin! titles. Either way, easy reader programs and series support a common goal: to help emerging and newly independent readers transition from picture books to chapter books.
Although independent reading can develop at any age, children often gain these skills from kindergarten through second or third grade (ages 4 to 8). The subject matter of early readers often supports children at these levels. At Capstone, for example, easy readers like Katie Woo, Pedro, Yasmin!, and Boo Books are consistently leveled for readers in grades kindergarten through second grade. At 32 pages in length, books in these series seldom exceed 500 words—with an average 20–25 words per page. Short, achievable sentences and paragraphs allow emerging readers to more easily decode and predict words as well as understand a story’s meaning. Early readers include a number of additional reading supports to help new readers build their skills, including ample illustrations and/or photographs (often one per page), easy-to-read fonts, short line breaks, and extra space between paragraphs.
Although repetition and predictability is key to building reading skills and, in turn, a reader’s confidence, easy readers aren’t all boring. In fact, the opposite is often true. To build skills, emerging readers must practice, practice, practice (and practice some more). These readers—particularly the struggling and reluctant readers ones—need self-selection titles that are engaging and drive repeated readings. That is, they need good books!
Easy Readers Are Hardly Boring
With so much variety, choosing the right easy reader can feel like a daunting—if not impossible—task. So, what makes a good easy reader book? Each year, a committee for the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award asks this very same question. This annual award, hosted by the American Library Association, recognizes the creators of a distinguished book for beginning readers, authors and illustrators who “demonstrate creativity and imagination to engage children in reading". The committee’s number one criteria for selecting such a prestigious award? The Geisel Award guidelines state, the “subject matter [of an easy reader] must be intriguing enough to motivate the child to read". Like easy readers themselves, this guideline is at once simple and surprisingly complex. That’s because, of course, no two readers are the same. An easy reader that motivates one child to read might be quickly cast aside by another. Luckily, the variety (and sheer number) of easy readers available supports a wide variety of readers and their wildly varied interests.
From action-packed adventures and achievable mysteries to laugh-out-loud humor and character-driven fiction, easy readers have a little of everything—for everyone. At Capstone, easy readers span across fiction and nonfiction, including books in nearly every genre built to be read independently. For children drawn to realistic fiction full of fun, familiar characters, Katie Woo, Pedro, and Sofia Martinez as well as newer series like Katie Woo’s Neighborhood and Yasmin! are a perfect match. Readers engaged by these lively characters will return to them again and again, seeking more books in the series and returning to old favorites.
This familiarity has a number of benefits for the emerging reader. First, as readers become increasingly familiar with these characters and their worlds, the emerging reader can more easily identify and decode familiar people and place names and comprehend the meaning of a story. Elementary school librarian Sylvie Shaffer suggests in this Horn Book article that “by using characters and settings that readers already know well, authors can use more of their word count on things other than character development and setting".
For example, readers familiar with the Katie Woo book series, will already know Katie’s best friends (Pedro and JoJo, of course!). Yasmin! fans will be familiar with her close-knit relationship to her parents (or Mama and Baba). In addition to allowing children to more easily interpret story meaning, this base knowledge gives struggling and reluctant readers, particularly, a sense of comfort—like a familiar friend or family member—reducing reading hesitancy and anxiety.
For these same reasons, many bestselling easy readers feature recognizable characters from movies, TV, or even picture book series. Books featuring licensed characters—or media tie-in books—are excellent entry points for beginning readers. Familiarity is inherent to these books. Even before turning the first page, children will more than likely have a strong base knowledge of these characters and their environments. With a prior understanding of each story’s heroes and villains, locations, and “rules” of these worlds, an emerging reader can focus exclusively on decoding language and story meaning. Easy readers featuring licensed characters empower beginning readers—and could, perhaps, be the key to unlocking a child’s reading superpower!
Easy readers featuring familiar characters are, indeed, powerful tools in helping children develop a love of reading and learning, no matter their ability level. Capstone has dozens of easy readers featuring today’s most popular characters, including Batman™, Superman™, Wonder Woman™, Scooby-Doo™ and more! Easy reader series like Capstone’s The Amazing Adventures of the DC Super-Pets!™, The Amazing Adventures of Batman™, and The Amazing Adventures of Superman™ are consistently leveled for children in kindergarten through second grade and feature short sentences and achievable chapters.
Perhaps the biggest draw of licensed easy readers are the images. Sometimes movie stills, sometimes action-packed, comic-style art, illustrations and photographs of pop-culture characters can attract young readers even when other books don’t. Besides drawing readers in, illustrations have additional benefits. Another criterion for the Geisel Award states, “The illustrations must demonstrate the story being told". In other words, a close picture-text match is critical to helping emerging readers decipher the meanings of new words and interpret the story. Capstone’s easy readers featuring DC Comics’™ World Greatest Heroes™ do just that. With an illustration on every page, newly independent readers can more easily decipher the text through the action-packed imagery, propelling them from one page to the next until the story ends. If easy readers are sometimes called the “stepping stones” to chapter books, then The Amazing Adventures of Batman™ and The Amazing Adventures of Superman™ series will have readers achieving those goals in a single bound!
Easy Reading Is For Everyone
The importance of familiarity doesn’t end with licensed easy readers. When new and emerging readers are able to identify characters, environments, and scenarios within a story, they’ll be more likely to decode language and story meaning from those texts. For beginning readers, in particular, seeing themselves represented in a book—whether fiction or nonfiction—is all the more critical. As Pamela Paul and Maria Russo of the New York Times suggest, “No matter the topic or story, an early reader book should make reading seem like a club your child wants to be a part of". What better way to make a child feel part of something than seeing themselves in the pages of a book!
Capstone believes #ReadingIsForEveryone, and that passion for inclusivity, equity, and accessibility is no more apparent than in the early reader catalog. Favorite series like Sofia Martinez integrate Spanish vocabulary into the words and phrases throughout the story. Yasmin!, from #OwnVoices author Saadia Faruqi, relays customs and culture from the character’s Pakistani American heritage. Our new #OwnVoices series Emma Every Day, which features a deaf title character, integrates ASL fingerspelling into the text. Another new #OwnVoices series Astrid and Apollo is the first book series to feature Hmong-American lead protagonists. These inclusions greatly enhance the reading experience for children connected to these cultures, languages, and backgrounds, allowing them to feel comfortable and familiar in the pages of a book—often for the very first time.
On the flipside, for children unfamiliar these customs and languages, these inclusions offer great benefits—both in terms of growth as a reader and personal growth as well. As Shaffer points out, “The shared experience of being an emerging reader connects these books’ audience members despite other identifying traits . . . providing opportunity to make connections ‘across differences’”. Just as early elementary children are open to the unique task of learning reading skills, they also have a unique openness to learning about their world. Building their knowledge of cultural differences (and similarities) will expand their worldview, setting them on a path to be connected, global citizens who cherish the uniqueness in all.
Early Readers Build Lifelong Readers
Introducing children to high-quality easy readers increases their potential to become proficient readers at an early age. But what should you consider when selecting a high-quality easy reader? Here are three quick tips when choosing a book for your emerging reader:
- Choose books that match a child’s interests, or—better yet—let the child choose for themselves!
Learning to read independently often coincides with a child’s eagerness for independent thought. They want to choose their own clothes, their own toys, their own foods, and, of course, their own books. Point them toward appropriately leveled easy readers and let them go wild! Capstone has literally hundreds of options to choose from. Have a sports fan? Point them toward Kids’ Sports Stories. This easy reader series features fun, fictional sports stories while teaching some important social-emotional learning (SEL) skills like teamwork, respect, and perseverance. What about children who like scary stories? Capstone has easy readers for them too; Boo Books deliver just-right frights (without the sleepless nights) for the earliest readers. Once a child discovers their interests—be it a particular series, character, or genre—support it. If they enjoy what they’re reading about, they’ll soon enjoy the act of reading itself.
- Explore different formats and genres.
Does your emerging reader gravitate toward comic books? Don’t be shy—graphic novels are books too! These heavily illustrated books often draw in struggling and reluctant readers, and there’s a reason for that (besides comic books being super cool!). Comic books allow emerging readers to interpret a story through images, often called visual literacy. The benefits of visual literacy skills are twofold. First, when an emerging reader struggles to gain literacy skills alongside their peers, they may become frustrated, anxious, or hesitant to pick up a book.
Comic books reduce reading anxiety, allowing children to move through a story even before they can read. Secondly, the close picture-text match in comic books and graphic novels allow readers to decode words more easily, building the foundations of reading. Capstone’s My First Graphic Novel, Wordless Graphic Novels, and our new Discover Graphics: Fairy Tales series are perfect for comic books lovers developing a new love of reading.
- Select books of an achievable length.
Easy readers vary greatly in word count and length. In fact, the Geisel Awards are open to beginning reader books between 24 and 96 pages with simple sentences. Again, remember, every emerging reader is different. For some children, 24 pages might be the perfect fit, while others need a more substantial challenge. Allow readers to determine the best fit for themselves. The key here is for readers to experience success and, in turn, build confidence in their reading abilities. Start them with low page count series, like Katie Woo, Yasmin!, Boo Books, and Kids’ Sports Stories. As their reading abilities and confidence grows, build toward slightly longer easy readers, such as the DC Super Heroes™ Origin Stories (48 pages), Astrid and Apollo (64 pages), My Furry Foster Family (72 pages) and longer graphic novels like Far Out Fairy Tales and Mr. Kazarian, Alien Librarian.
Supplying your emerging reader with high-quality easy reader books featuring their favorite characters—like the ones at Capstone—will help create proficient, eager readers for years to come. And, in no time, these readers will be seeking chapter books to add to their book list (if, that is, they’re willing to leave their favorite easy reader characters behind.)