Thursday, June 30, 2016

Let's Start at the Very Beginning

Our guest blogger today is Susan Kusel, a librarian, children's book buyer and selector at an independent bookstore, and the owner of a children's book consulting company. She has served on the Maryland Blue Crab Young Reader Award committee, the Cybils Easy Readers and Early Chapter Book Awards committee, the 2015 Caldecott Medal selection committee and she is currently a member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award committee. She blogs at Wizards Wireless.

There’s a genre of books for children learning to read. They are usually (but not always) a certain size and shape. They are often leveled.

What should we call this type of book? 

I often hear the term Easy Readers, which implies that these books are easy to read. They aren’t easy for the children reading them for the first time. Calling them easy diminishes the work of a new or struggling reader. 

I would call them Beginning Readers, which is what the Geisel Award criteria calls them. Everybody starts at the beginning. These are the books used when starting to read. I have met so many parents and kids who take the levels printed on the books very seriously. They tell me they can only read Level 2 books, for example and they resist books at other levels. The tricky thing about the levels, and why it is important not to get tied to them, is that they vary completely by publisher. A reading level marked Level 2 by one publisher could be marked Level 3 by another. 

Where to shelve these books? Typically they get their own section, in both libraries and bookstores. I think the way that makes it easiest for readers to find them is to create beginner, intermediate and advanced categories. This system ignores the levels and helps to place books that have no levels. 

One of the wonderful things about the Geisel Award is all the non-traditional Beginning Readers that have been honored. A book doesn’t have to look like a reader in order to be a helpful tool for children learning to read. Take a glance at previous Geisel winners and you’ll see books of poetry, non-fiction, graphic novels and picture books. 

The Geisel criteria states that the award recognizes winners with “literary and artistic achievements that demonstrate creativity and imagination to engage children in reading.”
That’s the key. Good, well written and illustrated books that help children learn to read.

That’s a very good place to start.

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