Bite-sized Parenting: How To Pick Just-Right Books For Early Readers

How To Pick Just-Right Books For Early Readers
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When your child is ready to start reading on his or her own, there are some things to consider when selecting books for early readers just like him or her.

How do you pick books that will hold his or her interest? What kinds of books will build early reading skills and confidence? How should these books look like? How do you know your child is ready to read?

Preschoolers beginning to read on their own with light support from parents are ready for books commonly known as early readers, easy readers or beginner readers. We look at some things to consider when picking just-right books for budding readers.

What To Consider When It Comes To Books For Early Readers


Just like potty-training, the mantra is “every child is different” – there is no fixed age to when your child should start independent reading. It depends on his readiness.

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For my five-year-old, I noticed he was ready to start reading when he started quizzing me about words he saw at the supermarket when he was three years old.

“Mama, what is that word: f-r-o-z-e-n?”

After that day, going out with him held many fun surprises in learning new words. He was eager to find out what words sounded like and what they meant.

He was interested – and ready. At about four years old, he started reading on his own with a little help from me. Now, he enjoys reading independently (sometimes!) and devours book after book in one sitting. He still loves to snuggle in my lap, asking me to read to him. At times, he declares “I don’t like reading!” and runs out to play. Oh well.

Ages and Stages

Books for Early Readers
Image: Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Babies and toddlers are attracted by brightly coloured pictures, and even textures. Cloth books with textures, large pictures with one word on each page, and even wordless books will stimulate their minds and eyes. At this stage, cloth books (for texture) and board books (for durability) are suitable.

Preschoolers love to listen to stories – repetition, rhyme, and good rhythm are enjoyable for them. They also love to interact meaningfully with books, so colourful picture books, lift-the-flap books, pop-up books or books with activities are great fun for them. They will also start to recognise words in the books you read to them – encourage that. They will soon read on their own.

A few kids may learn to read before they reach Primary 1. Many pick it up during their first year of primary school, and even later. Every chid is ready to read independently at different ages.

Look for Reading Levels

Penguin booksMany early reader books indicate the reading level, for example Level 1 or Level 2. This may sometimes loosely correspond with age.

Many publishers have established reading programmes. Make use of them! Scholastic has a Book Wizard to help you sort out a suitable book for your child’s age, reading level and interests.

Some of our favourite early reading programmes include Ladybird, Robin, Penguin, and Usborne – most of which have robust sorting options according to genre, age and level.

Here is a useful resource for early reader book lists.

Of course, there is always Amazon – especially useful for its book lists on award-winning children’s books.

The Five-finger Vocabulary Check

Ask your child to read one page of a book as he holds up five fingers. For every word he doesn’t know, put one finger down. If all five fingers are down by the end of the page, the book is probably too difficult at this time.

The Comprehension Check for Early Readers

Pause every now and then after your child reads a few pages. Ask him to talk about what he has read. Does he really understand the book for early readers? If he doesn’t, it is likely he isn’t quite ready to read that book on his own just yet.

Explore Interests

Get books that explore your child's interests

No one – not even an adult – is inclined to read something that he is not interested in. Whether it’s topic or genre, your child will have his favourites. Find out what his interests are and pick books that excite him.

Is he crazy about vehicles? Get him a book about things that go. Is he interested in soccer or sports? Get him a book on his favourite sport. Does he love animals? That’s an easy one! Or even characters from favourite cartoons like Peppa Pig, Wild Kratts, Disney and more.

My five-year-old loves both fiction and non-fiction books – animals (Gruffalo, farm animals, wildlife); sharks and ocean animals; soccer; transport, food and more. He also enjoys books written by local authors, especially those about places he has visited. Dr Seuss, classic staples like Gingerbread Man, Mo Willems’ pigeon series, stories about famous world landmarks are also particular favourites.

Age Suggestions on Books

That’s exactly what they are – just suggestions. Every child’s readiness, ability and interests are different.

Don’t despair if your six-year-old does not have the ability or is not interested to read a book suggested for his age. It could be a topic he does not care about. Or his vocabulary bank is not ready for it yet. Return to the book later on when he’s ready.

Don’t hesitate to select a book that suggested for an older child. He may surprise you and rise to the challenge. Or if it’s currently beyond his ability to read, he can pick it up later. Or you can read it to him.

Don’t ditch the toddler books just yet – they are key to building confidence in children who are just starting to read independently. You may find your preschooler reaching for the comfort and familiarity of his toddler books every now and then, even after being able to tackle books for early readers independently.

Most Importantly, Have Fun

Enjoy reading with your child. Make it fun with song, role-playing, going outdoors and more. After all, children learn through play.

Look out for our other stories on encouraging early literacy skills and fun topical book lists!

SHOP: For children’s books to consider, click here.

READ: Books For Under-5s – Start Building Up Your Child’s Library

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