Early Readers

Types of Beginning Readers

Characteristics of Early Readers

  • Grades K-2
    • Developing basic skills
    • Demonstrating an interest in books and reading
  • Need to hear books aloud as a positive example of reading skills
  • May need monitoring to ensure they actually understand what they are reading
  • Often enjoy books that:
    • can withstand repeated readings in order to gain fluency
    • have pictures supporting comprehension of the text
    • are patterned or predictable
Early readers are learning reading strategies. They will often use the first and last letters of unknown words to decode them. Early readers will rely on cues and prior knowledge to understand texts. They are also familiar with a limited number of words from sight. [1]

Characteristics of Transitional Readers

  • Grades 2-4
    • Reinforcing basic skills
    • Beginning to understand genres and enjoy humor
  • Likely can appreciate text far ahead of their reading level
  • May need help developing strategies for comprehension and in selecting appropriate books (for skill/interest)
  • Often enjoy books that:
    • have more complex texts (longer words, short chapters, less predictability)
    • include compelling characters
    • can be based in fantasy
    • they select themselves

Transitional readers are the next step up from early readers. They are able to read new texts more independently. Transitional readers are more aware of language cues and rules and use them to enhance their reading skills.
  • Grades 3+
    • Increase number of comprehensive strategies
    • Read for a variety of purposes
    • Focusing on reading to learn, not learning to read
  • Begin to be influenced by peers in reading choices
  • Often enjoy books that:
    • emphasize word play, puzzles, and humor
    • support learning facts/exploring new ideas/topics
    • offer multiple perspectives on past or ideas
    • can be collected

Issues for Early Readers

Issues of Early Readers/Early Literacy:

  • Issue 1: Developing and Using Early Literacy Learning Standards: "The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has provided guidelines for the content that children are learning, the planned activities linked to these goals, the daily schedule and routines, and the availability and use of materials for children." As with any approach, it is critical to develop standards wisely and with caution. "A major risk of any standards movement is that the responsibility for meeting the standards may be placed on the children's shoulders rather than on those who should provide opportunities and supports for learning."
  • Issue 2: The Early Literacy Focus of Effective Curriculum: "A major concern is ensuring that the curriculum addresses the overall learning and growth of the young child by continuing to stress the physical, social, emotional, and overall cognitive development of children and at the same time, strengthening the academic curriculum."
  • Issue 3: Accountability and Assessment: "Measuring children's early literacy development is an important part of a comprehensive early childhood program."
  • Issue 4: Teacher Education and Professional Development: "Today's early childhood teachers are expected to implement a more challenging and effective curriculum in language and literacy, and to assess and document progress in increasingly complex ways. Rising expectations coupled with an expanding number of early childhood programs have led to a major crisis in staffing, both in terms of the number of early childhood teachers and in the quality of their preparation."
  • Issue 5: Home-School Connections: "The link between supportive parental involvement and children's early literacy development is well established." Studies show that "children from homes, where parents model the uses of literacy and engage children in activities that promote basic understanding about literacy and its uses, are better prepared for school."

This full report can be found at:
Also referenced in this report are programs, such as Reading is Fundamental and Reach Out and Read:

Stumbling Blocks to Building Blocks.....

Although socioeconomic status plays a major role as a barrier to early literacy, a lack of parent-child activities and interactions that support children's language and literacy development is also a contributing factor. Some children may be able to name letters in a purely memorization pattern but may fail to have an understanding of how the letters function for reading and writing or fail to make sense of print in their own environment. The more limited a child's experience with language and literacy, the more likely he/she will have difficulty learning to read. "Language-poor" families are likely to use fewer different words in their everyday conversations (and the language that they are using is more likely to be controlling and punitive.) We need to get the message to low-income, low-educated parents that everyday activities of all sorts, accompanied by interesting talk with lots of new vocabulary words, can play an important role in their children's language and literacy development.

Activities and Solutions

Matching Books with Readers

When matching a reader with a book, it is important that the text is appropriately matched with the characteristics of the reader mentioned above. Of course, all children develop at different paces so it is important to look at the above characteristics as a guideline for average development, not as a expectation for every child. It is also important to match children with books that are complimentary to their interests. In addition to these guidelines, Marlene Asselin identified the following criteria for book selection to promote independent reading in her article, "Texts for Beginning Readers: The Critical Match Between Reader and Text":
  • Children should be able to relate to the text content, both fiction and non-fiction
  • Text should utilize children's natural knowledge of syntax (language order) and semantics (word meaning)
  • 70-80% of the text should be decodable
  • There should be more than one or two words per text exemplifying a particular graphophonic patterns
  • there should be a low ratio of unique (or infrequently occurring) words to total number of words [3]

Activities for Early Readers

An important part of a child's literacy development includes early behaviors, such as "reading" from pictures and "writing" with scribbles. With an exposure to a literacy-rich environment, and the support of parents, caregivers, early childhood educators, and teachers; children can progress from an emergent to a conventional reading style. (Critical Issue: Addressing the Literacy Needs of Emergent and Early Readers) Additionally, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) provides tips that families/caregivers can try to enhance reading success with activities that help children "make connections between words and meanings." Here are some suggestions, for each stage in a child's life, to enable caregivers to create a "warm and safe environment for children and lead to a lifetime love of reading and learning."
  • Talk/Sing to your baby when you change their diaper, give them a bath, feed them, or join them in play
  • Introduce cardboard/cloth books with brightly colored pictures.
  • Help increase vocabulary by asking: "What's that?" or "Where's the teddy bear?" when looking at a book together.
  • Point out words on signs at the park, the zoo, or when walking or driving.
  • As children begin to notice letters on blocks or other toys, name the letters for them. Read words aloud and explain what they mean.
  • Reading stories before bedtime can make a good transition between active play and rest time.Toddlers can begin to make connections between the pictures they see and the words they hear. They can fill in the missing words in stories, and may ask you to read their favorites repeatedly.
  • Take short trips to new places, and talk about what is happening around you.
  • Have children help "write" shopping lists, and help you find products in the grocery store.
  • Give children magnetic letters for the refrigerator, and begin spelling out words and names as they are introduced to them.
  • Encourage children to carry out steps in a recipe, or to look at labels in a store.
  • At age 4 or 5, children may begin to ask questions about the print they see in books. (Books that have labeled pictures help children to connect words and objects more easily.)
  • Play picture-card games with your child.
  • Provide a variety of materials to encourage children to "play" at writing/reading (such as mail, menus, or greeting cards).
Primary Grade Children
  • Continue to read with your child, especially at bedtime(even if they have already learned to read.
  • Visit the library on a regular basis to make books a regular part of children's lives. Show children that you read books and magazines for information and enjoyment.
  • Listen to the stories that children write (as well as their jokes and riddles). Encourage them to write down their ideas.
  • Play word games such as Boggle or Scrabble with your child.
(Adapted from: Helping Children Learn About Reading. Early Years are Learning Years, National Association for the Education of Young Children.)

In order to increase reading skills and motive children towards independent reading, children should:
  • have frequent practice
  • practice with easy and supportive texts
  • have supportive feedback
  • have performance opportunitites
  • be assessed [4]

A Review of the Six Early Literacy Skills And Some Tips to Practice:

  • Print Motivation: the enjoyment of reading and books. Keep reading time fun. Have your child participate in the story, and read books on subjects that interest them. If your child is not enjoying it; take a break.
  • Vocabulary: knowing the names of things, concepts, and feelings. Practice vocabulary by naming the things you see during your day, asking them to point out shapes in the books you're reading together, and spending time just talking and reading together.
  • Phonological Awareness: being able to hear smaller sounds in bigger words, and being able to manipulate those sounds. This will make it easier to sound out words when your child is learning to read. You can encourage phonological awareness by playing word games with your child, singing rhyming songs, and reciting rhymes and poems.
  • Letter Knowledge: knowing letters, what sounds the letters make, and that letters are different from each other. Point out letters in books, on street signs, look for things that have the shape of a letter, or make letter shapes out of clay.
  • Print Awareness: knowing how to hold and manipulate a book, knowing that we read from left to right and top to bottom, and knowing that words and print are all around us. Encourage print awareness by pointing out words on signs, reading books where writing is part of the story, or running your finger along the words as you read.
  • Narrative Skills: being able to tell or retell a story, recount events, and give descriptions. Encourage narrative skills by having your child say repeated phrases with you as you read a book or do a motion for certain words or phrases in a story. Also, ask questions about a book, such as "What do you think will happen next?"

Series Books for Early Readers

Over the past three decades, the number of available books specifically targeted at emergent and transitional readers has skyrocketed. Every major children’s publisher and a large number of minor ones have contributed one or more series targeting this demographic. Designed using tightly controlled vocabularies and with the needs of the youngest readers in mind, these books often include some indication of the level of reader most likely to find them appropriate to her developmental needs.

At this point, such series exist at many levels of difficulty, featuring a host of familiar and even classic characters, and across an enormous range of themes and genres. While this is no doubt a boon to parents, teachers, librarians and students, this wide profusion of options can also seem overwhelming. It is important that school and youth services librarians keep up-to-date on the latest early reader books, in order to help children, parents and teachers to find the best available options in this ever-widening field.

History of Early Reader Series Books

Reading materials designed specifically for beginning readers are no new phenomenon. The first primers appeared as early as 813 CE , the first hornbooks by the fourteenth century, and the first abecedaria as teaching tools arrived no later than the fifteenth century (Patterson, Cormack & Green, 188-189). These, however, were intended to serve a wide variety of purposes, including religious education and teaching the alphabet, with reading instruction as such not foremost among their uses. Spelling books, which arrived in England in 1596, represented a small step forward, as did the addition of stories to primers in the 19th century (ibid., 193).

In America, the first significant homegrown text for school use was the heavily pietistic New England Primer. “Between 1749 and 1765 [Benjamin] Franklin and then David Hall printed over 35,000 copies of The New England Primer , or a little more than 2,000 annually” (Spero, 68), which for the time represented a wide pattern of use. Its most prominent successor was the McGuffey Reader series, introduced in 1836, which became for a century the standard text for American reading instruction, selling upwards of 122 million copies between 1838 and 2008 (S. Smith, 2-3). But it was not until the 1930s that “[t]he field of educational psychology began to provide a guide… to understanding the cognitive aspects of the reading process, and a focus on “child development”...resulted in the production of modern forms of school readers, with their “staged” or “developmental” approach.” (Patterson et al., 195)

This fresh interest in children and reading paved the way for a new standard basal reader. The 1930 Elson-Gray Reader saw the introduction of Dick and Jane, who by the 1950s would be part of the reading education of an estimated 80% of American first-graders (Toppo). By the mid-fifties, however, Dick And Jane, and books like theirs, were under attack. “Writing in Life in the spring of 1954, novelist John Hersey… asked why children “bog[ged] down on the first R” and answered the question with a searing critique of school primers—most notably the Dick and Jane readers” (Marcus, 206). The publication in 1955 of the bestselling Why Johnny Can’t Read (which excoriated the Dick and Jane books, calling them “horrible, stupid, emasculated, pointless, tasteless little readers” (Toppo)), “only served to intensify the [existing] debate… about the state of American literacy” (Marcus, 206).

Thus the stage was set in the late 1950s for a new kind of reader, and not one but two publishers simultaneously answered the call. HarperCollins’ I Can Read books, the brainchild of children’s publishing great Ursula Nordstrom, edged out the competition for the official title of the first easy reader series. I Can Read’s debut title was Little Bear, written by Else Homelund Minarik and illustrated by Maurice Sendak. It became an instant classic, selling upwards of 1.1 million copies in the first forty years of its print life (Lodge, 33). Little Bear was written “without resort to a controlled vocabulary list (as those promoting the book would later note with pride)” (Marcus 208), a feature which has continued to provide a talking point for those promoting I Can Read books in the many years since--in 1997, for example, HarperCollins editorial director Sally Doherty continued to preach the point that “she and her staff do things more instinctively… [without] “word lists or… strict rules for vocabulary”” (Lodge, 33).

That particular talking point was conceived, no doubt, as a direct response to HarperCollins’ foremost competitor. In 1955, in the wake of the Why Johnny Can’t Read controversy, director William Spaulding of Houghton Mifflin’s Education Department called for a meeting with his old friend Theodore Seuss Geisel. Spaulding sent Geisel home with “the list of 225 words that Houghton’s literacy experts had determined were the ones most easily recognized by six-year-olds” (Marcus, 206). The result was The Cat in the Hat, which was wildly popular as of its 1957 publication and has continued so ever since. While The Cat in the Hat’s publication predated Little Bear by a few months, the Beginner Books line technically kicked off in 1958 with four inaugural titles that included a sequel, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back (Marcus, 209), with Geisel acting as the line’s co-editor and under the aegis of Random House, not Houghton Mifflin. Regardless of which series claims the crown as the first early reader line, however, it is indisputable that both I Can Read and Beginner Books tapped into a huge and very profitable market that has kept both lines in print and selling well to this day.

Those two initial easy reader series “ran unopposed in the genre for a number of years” (Maughan, 40), until Dial and Macmillan launched lines of their own in the late 1960s. These four early series were all published exclusively in hardcover. The Step Into Reading series (also from Random House), launched in 1984, was designed to be the first paperback line of easy readers. The series’s creator, Random children’s editor-in-chief Janet Schulman, explained her philosophy: “Kids at that stage should be able to devour these books like popcorn, so I wanted to make them very inexpensive” (qtd. in Maughan, 40). The trend caught on hugely, leading to a vast boom in the number of easy reader series available throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. Prominent among these additions were “All Aboard Reading from Grosset & Dunlap and Hello Reader from Scholastic, both of which debuted in 1992” (Maughan, 40-41); Golden’s Road to Reading and Dorling Kinderley Readers, both in 1998 (ibid, 41); the 1996 rebirth of the Ready to Read brand, which began in 1969 at Macmillan but was acquired and re-launched by Simon and Schuster (Bean, 31) ; and, at the turn of the millennium, Candlewick’s Brand New Readers and Harcourt’s Green Light Reader series. By 2004, early reader series had proliferated to such an extent that Ellen Krieger of Simon and Schuster could claim that “as a category, everyone is struggling, but it’s less the economy and more the proliferation of the programs. So many publishers have jumped on the bandwagon, so there are a lot of people getting a part of a share of a market that is finite.” (qtd. in Bean, 31). Nevertheless, as of that date “sales for each publisher’s series remain[ed] steady” (Bean, 31).

The last decade has seen publishers of early readers attempting to carve out niches that distinguish themselves in that ever-more-busy marketplace. TOON books, for example, has become a leader in the burgeoning field of comic books for beginning readers. TOON’s editorial director, Françoise Mouly, explains that “kids love comics, so they are the perfect point of entry into the world of reading, enticing children not only to read but to love to read” (qtd. in R. Smith 2, 39). Non-fiction easy readers have also been expanding in recent years, with Scholastic Books’ Welcome Readers and National Geographic Readers, among many others, addressing subjects like animals and weather for the youngest class of reader.

Notable Contemporary Series for Early Readers

No easy reader series in recent years has received such widespread, consistent attention and praise as Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie books, printed under their own imprint by Disney-Hyperion. Told entirely in dialogue, friends Elephant and Piggie are drawn in a clear, expressive style, and their humorous adventures offer beginning readers the delight of being in on the joke. Speaking of his forays into the easy reader category after a Caldecott-winning career in picture books, Willems has said that

“‘Easy Readers’ are also known as ‘Hard Writers,’ which is part of the fun. My primary goal is to create real stories that are as funny and exciting as possible—stories that don’t feel like early readers. After having written what I hope is a good story, I check my dialogue against a list of words organized by their grade levels, attempting to keep every word at a first-grade level or below (although I’ll let a second-grade words slip through if I feel it can be discerned in the context of the story). The subsequent draft is vetted by an actual, living language specialist and, where possible, an actual, living early reader.” (qtd. in R. Smith 2, 38)

In the nearly 50 years since its inception, the Beginner Books series, which includes work from such luminaries as Stan and Jan Berenstein as well as Seuss’s timeless classics, has remained a staple of young readers. Likewise, the I Can Read series has maintained its consistent quality. Perennially popular characters like Little Bear, Frog and Toad and Amelia Bedelia have been joined by current favorites imported from read-aloud picture books, like James Dean’s Pete the Cat, Victoria Kann’s Pinkalicious, and Ree Drummond and Diane deGroat’s Charlie the Ranch Dog.

When selecting among these and similar books, however, school and youth services librarians should be aware that characters in easy reader books can be more prone than their picture book cousins to fads that quickly pass out of date. Alyssa Satin Capucilli and Pat Schories’ Biscuit books, for example, very popular a decade ago, have somewhat lost their vogue in the years since. While providing parents, teachers and children with the books they want and need should of course be a priority for every youth services librarian, we should carefully consider the likely staying power of a book before, for example, rushing out to buy multiple copies of every book featuring a well-known character.

Recognition like the Theodore Seuss Geisel award, given to books for excellence as beginning readers, can help a librarian in making that kind of judgment. Robin Smith, who serves as a judge on the award committee, provides this list of question that she uses while making book selections both for the award and within her second-grade classroom:

“Is the vocabulary accessible or easily decoded? Is there ample white space around a largish, dark font? Do the sentences break in the right places? Does the story work with a young (not baby) reader? Will a child want to read it over and over? If there is a rhyme or rhythm, is it consistent and reliable? When I answer “yes” to most of these questions, I know I have a book I must add to my classroom library.” (R. Smith 2, 38)

Bibliographies can also provide an excellent method of keeping up-to-date on the best in early reader books, especially in specific categories or sub-genres. Lo and Cantrell, for example, list multicultural books for the youngest readers in their “Global Perspectives for Young Readers”; Karp gives an excellent introduction to the relatively new genre of comics for emergent readers in “Graphic Novels for Beginning Readers”; and Lempke details “Nonfiction Series for Young Children.” Two more general bibliographies of excellent recent early reader books can be found in Munson-Benson’s “Exploring the World of Print: Books for Emergent Readers” and Robin Smith’s “New Friends for New Readers: Groundbreaking Beginning Readers.”

Finally, School Library Journal’s yearly “Best Books” series of articles usually contains at least one or two exceptional easy readers. In 2012, for example, they had this to say about the newest installment in Kevin Henkes’ widely acclaimed Penny series:
“Penny absolutely adores the doll that Gram has just sent her, so she must pick the perfect name for her new playmate. Pairing inviting text with buoyant spring-hued artwork, this easy reader stars a charmingly childlike mouse whose emotions and actions ring true.” (Jones et. al, 29) Even reviews as brief as these can help the busy librarian begin the search for the newest promising titles for early readers.

Issues and Controversy Surrounding Leveled Readers

The 1984 launch of the Step Into Reading line from Random House marked the first appearance of easy readers marked with reading levels on their covers (Maughan, 40). Since then, almost every publisher of easy reader series has fallen in line with the trend. Unfortunately, these leveling systems are inconsistent from one publisher to the next. As Robin Smith puts it , “Random’s Level One Step into Reading book isn’t necessarily the same as Grosset and Dunlap’s Station Stop One All Aboard Reading book” (R. Smith 1,1902). She goes on to add that “[c]hildren can become frustrated if librarians or teachers organize readers by levels printed on the jacket” (ibid.). Amy Ehrlich, editor-at-large of Candlewick press, agrees. Candlewick does not level its Brand New Readers series. She says of leveling that “[i]t requires a lot of judgment, and the other publishers’ levels are all over the map” (qtd. in Maughan, 41-42).

This inconsistency and its resulting frustrations are not the only concerns that have been raised about the leveling of easy readers. For example, some leveling systems imply a very specific age range, which can drive away other common users of easy readers, such as ESL students. DK publisher Neal Porter hints at this issue when he says of his company’s easy readers that “at the request of many teachers and librarians, we’ve taken the age levels off the covers of the books... The nonfiction topics and sophisticated look of the books make them suitable for older kids, or even adults with reading difficulties” (ibid, 42). Perhaps the most significant criticism to be considered by a school or youth services librarian is given voice by Chauni Haslet of the bookstore All For Kids: “I don’t want to see kids feeling left behind because they are not reading at the level they ‘should’ be” (ibid.).

In a process like learning to read which can already be stressful or intimidating for young readers, we must be particularly conscious of the messages we as instructors send. While leveled readers can be a valuable tool for matching the right book with the right burgeoning reader, the number on a book’s cover is not a substitute for familiarity both with the book’s contents and with the child into whose hands we put it. Standardization of books does not imply standardization of children, and care and attention on an individual level will always be a crucial part of the process of learning to read.


Bean, Joy. (May 31, 2004). In Search of New Readers. Publishers Weekly, 251(22), 30-31.

Jones, Trevelyn & Toth, Luann & Charnizon, Marlene & Grabarek, Daryl & Philpot, Chelsey & Diaz, Shelley & Dar, Mahnaz & Fleishhacker, Joy. (December 2012). Best Books 2012. School Library Journal, 58(12), 28-35.

Karp, Jesse. (April 2013). Graphic Novels for Beginning Readers. Book Links, 22(3), 16-19.

Lempke, Susan Dove. (May 2012). Nonfiction Series for Young Children. Book Links, 21(4), 20-23.

Lo, Deborah Eville & Cantrell, R. Jeffrey. (Fall 2002). Global Perspectives for Young Readers: Easy Readers and Picture Book Read-Alouds From Around the World. Booklist, 79(1), 21-25.

Lodge, Sally. (October 27, 1997). ‘I Can Read’ Books Turns 40. Publishers Weekly, 244(44), 33-34.

Marcus, Leonard S. (2008). Minders of Make-Believe: Idealists, Entrepreneurs, and the Shaping of American Children’s Literature. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Maughan, Shannon. (May 22, 2000). Readers for Early Readers. Publishers Weekly, 247(21), 40-43.

Munson-Benson, Tunie. (June 2010). Exploring the World of Print: Books for Emergent Readers. Book Links, 19(4), 44-47.

Patterson, Annette Joyce & Cormack, Phillip Anton & Green, William Charles. (April 2012). The Child, the Text and the Teacher: Reading Primers and Reading Instruction. Paedagogica Historica, 48(2), 185-196.

Smith, Robin. (July 2003). Too Easy? Too Hard? Finding the Right Easy Reader. Booklist, 99(21), 1902-1903.

Smith, Robin. (June 2011). New Friends for New Readers. Book Links, 20(4), 37-40.

Smith, Samuel J. (2008). McGuffey Readers. Faculty Publications and Presentations, Liberty University. Paper 101. http://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/educ_fac_pubs/101.

Spero, Patrick. (Winter 2010). The Revolution in Popular Publications: The Almanac and New England Primer, 1750-1800. Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 8(1), 41-74.

Toppo, Greg. (February 26, 2004). See ‘Dick and Jane’—Again. USA Today. http://search.ebscohost.com.proxy2.library.illinois.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nfh&AN=J0E306791919504&site=ehost-live.

Technology and Early Readers

It is undeniable that we live in an increasingly techno-centric world and digital medias have become an extremely important and pervasive aspect of modern life. This increase in the kinds of technology available and its growing uses can be overwhelming at times, but also offers many opportunities for libraries when working with early readers.

Though the use of technology and digital media with children is a much debated topic with organizations such as the AAP recommending no screen time for children under two and limited screen time for older children, a recent report by the National Association for the Education of Young Children took the position that today “screen time” encompasses many different activities and the amount of time spent in front of a screen is not the most important thing, rather it is the content of the activities performed on the screen. NAEYC points out that while “passive viewing” activities, such as watching television should certainly be limited for older children, interactive activities on a screen can in fact have positive educational effects (3). When determining screen activities for children, duration should not be the only consideration, the quality and purpose of the content on the screen should also be taken into account.

Six Domains to Assess when Considering Digital Media for Use with Early Readers

Evaluation criteria for determining the quality of digital media and whether or not it supports early literacy.
  • Interactivity-Is the child necessary for this activity? Does it encourage creative and critical thinking?
  • Digital Literacy- Is this media teaching the child how to use digital technology? Does it teach them to safely explore the digital universe?
  • Global Citizenry- Is this media reflecting a global perspective? Does it respect other cultural values? Does it model the importance of both the global community and the individual?
  • Appropriateness- Is this digital media made for young children? Does it allow the child to experience multiple domains such as emotional and social? Is it at the appropriate developmental level and not too challenging or frustrating? Does it present a positive virtual world?
  • Results- Does this activity provide understandable results for the child? Is there a clear connection between the child’s actions and the results of the activity? Is there regular feedback and is that feedback interpretable?
  • Participation- Does this media allow others to interact with the child and the activity? Are there ways for invested adults to learn about and share the child’s experience? Is the experience enhanced when adults become involved in the child’s activity? (Hillman and Marshall)

Integrating digital media for early readers into libraries can be difficult due to issues that young children can have with navigating text-based programs and the challenges of implementing control over certain forms of digital media. However, if librarians carefully evaluation the content and interface of the different media before implementation, they can be fun and educational tools to assist early readers.

The Preschool Literacy and You (PLAY)room recently built in a branch of the Cleveland Public Library system is one example of how technology, imaginative play, and reading can all be integrated into one library space. When building their new children’s room, the Cleveland Public Library incorporated four AWE Early Literacy Stations, touch screen workstations that hold many educational games and books that are easily navigated independently by children (Dickerson). These computers are not connected to the internet so all the content is carefully controlled and education focused. Even if your library does not have the funds to purchase special technology, there is a great deal of educational software geared towards early literacy as well as subscription access databases such as Bookflix that are available for use in libraries.

Digital Literacy

Integration of technology in the classroom is increasingly important in the digital age. Digital texts and the inclusion of technologies in classrooms and libraries offer children a multitude of opportunities to develop literacies for reading and technology, but because they offer different challenges to children, teachers, librarians, and parents should explain to children how to use them. It is important, however, that children become literate in digital text as well as physical text in order to become fully literate in the age of new literacies that have emerged as a result of new ways to read and write.

The inclusion of new digital technology in a school or library is obviously dependent upon the resources of the institution. Budgetary concerns are increasing around the country, and purchases of new technology might be impossible for institutions that have smaller budgets. Costs for teachers and librarians also include time constraints – many institutions might be strained for time, making it impossible for teachers and librarians to properly integrate new technology into their collection, teach children how to use it, and offer technical support. Even teachers and librarians with proper time and funds to collect and integrate new technology might not know how, as this technology is still relatively new and there are only so many studies on it that have been conducted so far to tell teachers and librarians useful ways to use it. In order to be truly useful for students, it would be more useful to integrate technology to further curricular goals, instead of just to use as add-ons to instruction.[1]

IPads and Tablet Technology
It is argued that including technology in classrooms as early as preschool can help children with not only digital and literacy skills, but social development as well. Within the classroom, teachers using iPads as educational tools have noticed problem solving and sharing among students. Some children have knowledge of the internet and digital tools for reading and writing simply from being exposed to them around the household. This is related, but different than, children’s awareness of text, and their awareness of text may increase their ability to understand text on different forms of technology.

Tablets have the capabilities to hold both audiobooks and eBooks, both of which can help early readers with developing crucial reading skills. Interactive, touch-screen interfaces have made tablets increasingly accessible for young children to use. The applications (apps) developed for tablets can engage children with reading, writing, and general communication in multiple ways, appealing to children with various learning styles.

By using iPads, children are able to develop text awareness and increase their ability to use pictorial icons and symbols, and were able to transfer what they learned between apps. There are even apps available for children to develop writing skills, and can write messages using letters and/or drawings. While there is a keyboard available on iPads, children using the interactive, touch-screen technology can also write on the app directly on the screen. Because of the variety of apps available, the iPads can provide the experience of having writing, reading, and speaking skills within the context of the same app.[2]


Buying and storing print texts take a considerable amount of money that may be reduced by purchasing electronic texts instead, due to the fact that more books can be stored in a smaller space, in addition to increasing accessibility to the materials. More publishers are developing digital copies of textbooks, which are extremely expensive for schools to purchase. Licensing issues also pervade the realm of electronic books, so libraries and schools need to be aware of how they can use the electronic books when they buy them.

Because of the formatting on digital books, people need to develop new literacies to understand how to read these texts. Because of the prevalence of digital text, it is important for children to develop these digital literacies as early as possible. Children need to be taught the new format of eBooks and the technology required to access these texts, either in class by teachers, at home by parents, or in the library by librarians. These new eBooks come with a variety of options, including moving pictures and audio, as well. They can highlight text and help kids read along word for word, and can pronounce words aloud. Because of this, eBooks can help children develop reading fluency and vocabulary comprehension.[3]

With the increasing forms of reading technology, it is important for children to learn how to read texts on a multitude of platforms, including eBooks on computers, using ereaders, using cell phones to read, and more. While children experience wider forms of reading at home, schools could do a much better job at incorporating this type of multi-modal reading in lesson plans. Children these days learn how to read text on a screen very early on, and teachers would be wise to embrace this new type of reading due to the prevalence of digital forms of text. Today’s eBooks are more than just images and text – they now include multimedia aspects such as moving pictures and soundtracks, which can appeal to multiple learning types and actively engage readers.

Being introduced to new technologies also increases the digital literacy of students, which is becoming increasingly important, and more children are being introduced to new technology at earlier ages. Children are, in general, excited to figure out new technology, preferring to play around with a system themselves instead of looking at manuals. When they learn how to be literate in new forms of technology, these new skills become transferable to even more technological developments. This is especially relevant when it comes to pictorial icons and symbols on computer screens.

While children in one study were capable of comprehending text within the context of computer screen text, they lost confidence with their comprehension of the print. This is connected to visual cues that children pick up from texts that help with meaning of the text, but not with the actual comprehension of vocabulary. As teachers incorporate digital literacy in the classroom, children will learn how to use context cues and learn how to read the text itself.[4]

One study on kindergarten students showed that, while using audiobooks on iPods did not increase the literacy skills of the students compared to students reading quietly, the new technology did increase the motivation of the students. It has been proven that children learn to read more effectively when being read to by an experienced reader, and this sort of technology makes this education more accessible for children who do not have consistent access to a reader at the level who could help them learn, which is crucial for beginning readers. As motivation is a large impediment to children learning to read, this is significant information for librarians, educators, and caregivers to be aware of.

This access to audiobooks can also help with multilingual families. Children can listen to books in a new language that might not necessarily be fluent or spoken consistently at home, in order to learn the language. It is important that English Language Learners (ELL) have the correct technological skills to operate this type of technology and have the appropriate technical support. Using audiobooks on iPods provide a number of key learning aspects to early readers: they increase motivation, the technology increases technological skills, and readers listening to an audiobook can easily rewind or repeat books.
Being read aloud to as an early reader is a key component in learning crucial literacy skills, including comprehension and vocabulary acquisition. If a student does not have a home environment where this happens consistently, they run the risk of falling behind in reading comprehension, which can negatively affect their studies throughout the rest of their time as a student. Using audiobooks on iPods in school, at the library, and at home can help assuage this problem. While there was little to no change in vocabulary acquisition when students used audiobooks instead of silent reading, the increased motivation in students cannot be understated.[5]

[1] Hutchison, Amy, Beth Beschorner, and Denise Schmidt-Crawford. 2012. "Exploring the Use of the iPad for Literacy Learning." Reading Teacher 66, no. 1: 15-23.
[2] Beschorner, Beth, and Amy Hutchison. "iPads as a Literacy Teaching Tool in Early Childhood." Online Submission (January 1, 2013).
[3] Felvegi, Emese, and Kathryn I. Matthew. 2012. "Ebooks and Literacy in K-12 Schools." Computers In The Schools 29, no. 1-2: 40-52.
[4] Levy, Rachael. 2009. "You Have to Understand Words...But Not Read Them": Young Children Becoming Readers in a Digital Age." Journal Of Research In Reading 32, no. 1: 75-91.
[5] Boeglin-Quintana, Brenda, and Loretta Donovan. 2013. "Storytime Using iPods: Using Technology to Reach all Learners." Techtrends: Linking Research & Practice To Improve Learning 57, no. 6: 49-56.


Early Reading Success in Action (in the Public Library):

The following are examples of individual libraries that are building up their early literacy programs; with increased services to children ages birth to six:
Ripe to Read in the Rockies
Book-ready in the Buckeye State
Minnesota's early literacy database

More Programs/Resources For Early Readers:

"Books for Babies is a national literacy program that acquaints parents of newborns with the important role they play in the development of their children."
"Born to Read, It's Never Too Early to Start! is a project aimed at providing resources to library staff as they help expectant and new parents to become aware that reading to a baby from birth is critical to every baby's growth and well being."
"Every Child Ready to Read formed through the Public Library Association (PLA) and the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) states that libraries could have an impact on early literacy through an approach that focused on educating parents and caregivers."
"Striving Readers--research on early literacy and brain development indicates that it is never too early to prepare children for success as readers. Libraries play a key role in their communities, disseminating early literacy information to parents, child care providers, educators, and decision makers."

"Children with good word knowledge usually have good world knowledge."

Christyn Dundorf, of Portland Community College created a simple diagram on "How the Six Skills Contribute to Skilled Reading"
In this article, she sees print motivation as the key skill. She believes that youth librarians must instill a love of books in children, and make reading fun in the early years in order for children to become skilled readers. She says children must "learn that symbols on a page have meaning, and represent words (print awareness)." Recognizing individual letters of the alphabet (letter recognition), and the sounds the letters make helps a child "decode" or read a printed word. (Decoding involves phonics and sounding out words.) Dundorf says that phonological awareness (the understanding that words are made up of combinations of small sounds) "must come before phonics, because the understanding of the sounds is the first step." Additionally, "strong vocabulary skills can work with narrative skills (undrstanding how stories work, with events happening in a logical sequence) to help children make sense of the words they are decoding and understand how those words fit together." "Skilled reading" is the result when children have the ability to both decode and comprehend what they are decoding.

"The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children." (National Commission on Reading)

The following is a short list of recommended books on Early Literacy:
Also, here is a link that provides suggested activities, for use in the classroom or at home, that correlate with each of the six early literacy skills: print motivation, print awareness, phonological awareness, vocabulary, narrative skills, and letter knowledge:

Online Sources

Critical Issue: Addressing the Literacy Needs of Emergent and Early Readers
The Early Years Are Learning Years
Roots of Reading
Six Early Literacy Skills
Coloring a Child's World With Literacy
The Really Big Six: Early Literacy Skills
Early Literacy and Libraries
Birth to Six-Early Literacy
Simple Crafts for Early Literacy Skills
Early Literacy: Policy and Practice in the Preschool Years
Reading is Fundamental
Reach Out and Read
The Link Between Public Libraries and Early Reading Success


AAP. "Media Education." Pediatrics 104.2 (1999): 341-343.

Dickerson, Constance. "The Preschool Literacy And You (PLAY) Room."Children & Libraries: The Journal Of The Association For Library Service To Children 10.1 (2012): 11-15.

Hillman, Margy, and James Marshall. "Evaluation Of Digital Media For Emergent Literacy." Computers In The Schools 26.4 (2009): 256-270NAEYC and Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media at St. Vincent's College. "Technology and Interactive Media as Tools in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8." http://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/PS_technology_WEB.
  1. ^ Debra, Johnson, and Sulzby Elizabeth. "Critical Issue: Addressing the Literacy Needs of Emergent and Early Readers." Critical Issue: Addressing the Literacy Needs of Emergent and Early Readers. NCREL, 1999. Web. 20 Nov. 2012. <http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/content/cntareas/reading/li100.htm>.
  2. ^ Debra, Johnson, and Sulzby Elizabeth. "Critical Issue: Addressing the Literacy Needs of Emergent and Early Readers." Critical Issue: Addressing the Literacy Needs of Emergent and Early Readers. NCREL, 1999. Web. 20 Nov. 2012. <http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/content/cntareas/reading/li100.htm>.
  3. ^ Asselin, Marlene. "Texts For Beginning Readers: The Critical Match Between Reader And Text." Teacher Librarian 28.2 (2000): 58. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts. Web. 28 Nov. 2012.
  4. ^ Asselin, Marlene. "Texts For Beginning Readers: The Critical Match Between Reader And Text." Teacher Librarian 28.2 (2000): 58. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts. Web. 28 Nov. 2012.