Falling into a book – relating to a character or a place or a concept – has the power to change a child’s life. Don’t we all remember that one book where we found ourselves? A book can allow a child to see the world differently and appreciate, or at least understand, his own life in new ways. And a great book can help a child feel less alone.
Even if a child struggles with reading, he should be able to find a story that speaks to him – a story that sticks to his ribs – a story that truly becomes a part of him. Once a child feels this connection, he may be more interested in reading.
Here’s a list of books I recommend:
I freak out when people assume picture books are for ‘babies’! Sharing a picture book with a child – a child of any age – is one of the most special, meaningful, and fun things a caregiver can do. But especially when a child is struggling to read, a picture book might provide an entryway into the magical, yet complex world of words. Here are two of my favorites:
- The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney Since this masterpiece is almost entirely wordless, every child, regardless of reading ability, can participate. I will be shocked – shocked I tell you – if your child doesn’t fall and fall hard for this book.
- Good News Bad News by Jeff Mack Using just four words, this book really brings it – emotion and humor and characters and action. A child can use the illustrations to figure out if the page is good news or bad news. Since this book is so silly and easy to read, children may forget about how tricky it can be to sound out a word.
You might also love:
- Wave by Suzy Lee
And type ‘wordless picture books’ on amazon.com to find lots more.
These little treasures are great, especially because they look more ‘big kid’ compared to picture books (but please promise that you’ll still read picture books together at home). Their controlled vocabulary and frequent repetition add to the ease of access. Just stroll into your bookstore or library and ask to see the Learn to Read and/or Ready for Reading sections.
Here are three of my favorite ‘easy reader’ series:
- Elephant and Piggie by Mo Willems “Gerald is careful. Piggie is not. Piggie cannot help smiling. Gerald can. Gerald worries so that Piggie does not have to. Gerald and Piggie are best friends.”
- Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold Wacky cartoon art compliments a simple but funny, action-packed chapter-book formatted text.
- Henry and Mudge by Cynthia Rylant What’s not to love about a boy and his 180-pound dog? These sweet and simple friendship stories are powerful.
You can usually find Phonics Fun type boxes of little books, too, featuring popular characters like Batman or SpongeBob.
And don’t forget about the classics:
- Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
- Go, Dog, Go! by P. D. Eastman
Easy to Read Comics
Check out the Toon into Reading Leveled Readers because they are full of energy, humor, and illustrations, but lite on text.
- Little Mouse Gets Ready by Jeff Smith
- Benjamin Bear in Fuzzy Thinking by Philippe Coudray
I love these series (They are all heavily illustrated – think graphic novel-ish – so kids who struggle to read may comprehend these outrageous, funny books easier.):
- Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel
- Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
- Big Nate by Lincoln Peirce
- The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (2013 Newbery Winner!) This gem of a book might be just the ticket for kids who aren’t thrilled about zillions of words on a page. The chapters are super-short with lots of white space, but the story is big on emotion.
- The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (2008 Caldecott Winner!) Illustrations help tell the story and every page turn counts so this heartfelt mystery might not be too difficult to read, even though it is 550 pages.
Check out these series:
- Hank Zipzer by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver Hank has a hard time reading, writing, and spelling, but his learning difficulties are not the focus of these stories. And perhaps best of all – these books are FUNNY!
- Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos These books capture the humor, intensity, and challenges that life presents to a kid dealing with hyper-activity and related disorders.
Please don’t forget about exploring true stories. Sometimes books with real photographs of things that actually happened can really get a kid going. Whatever your child can’t get enough of – sports, trucks, dogs, Legos – there are sure to be books about it.
Reference books are usually a good bet, too. (Although these books are usually text heavy and may be difficult to read, they provide amazing information that might spark a desire to learn. Maybe you and your child can work on reading photo captions instead of entire paragraphs or pages. Also, kids usually like carrying such huge books around in the never-ending quest to appear grown-up.)
- Guinness World Record books
- Ripley’s Believe It or Not! books
- National Geographic Kids Almanacs
Have fun, good luck, and happy reading!
Kate Dopirak (www.katedopirak.com) is a reading specialist who writes books for kids. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two sons.