Not-so-easy ‘easy’ readers

My son is six. He needs to read. Look for a book! It must be short. It must be simple. It is fun to read. We read every day.

(See?! Short little sentences are permeating my brain!)

Grade 1 means nightly reading homework, and it’s the very first homework we’ve had in our household so it’s exciting. Well, it was exciting for the first few nights. Now I twitch a little at the thought of listening to our son sloooooowly re-read one of the very, very simple books called “easy-readers.”

Don’t get me wrong — it’s awesome to hear him read. It’s like a miracle, sitting on the couch and listening to the speech therapy kid who communicated exclusively in sign language for nearly three years of his life reading me an entire book!

All throughout Primary, I was in awe every time he learned to read and write a new word (The! At! In! Me! Go!) and it almost felt like witchcraft. He’s an even better reader now, and that means instead of pointing to words on a list, he’s settling in to read a book from cover to cover. Mind-blowing.

It’s just that … well … the books are terrible …

I get it. The books have to be simple at this age. It’s really just the parent who suffers.

There aren’t a lot of plots that can be explained using single-syllable words — three or four words to a page — and, as a result, the stories suck. They also don’t always make sense. We have an easy-reader Cat in the Hat book where Nick and Sally mix jam and ham to make disgusting purple cupcakes. It bothers me as a writer and a baker.

We get three easy-readers sent home in a baggie every Tuesday and they’re read in approximately 52 seconds. Then it’s time to find more to fill those nightly reading sessions, and 95 per cent of the books on our shelves do not quality as easy-readers.

We go to the library weekly, but easy-readers are confusing to pick out because each publisher has a different system for categorizing them. I can pick up a Level 2 book that’s full of words he knows, and pick up a Level 1 book where he’ll struggle over every second word. Some of them are five pages long and too easy, and others are 25 pages long with tiny text and lots of bizarre words he won’t know. 

I don’t want to get him something so easy it won’t be helpful — or he’ll just memorize it and that’s not reading — but I also don’t want to frustrate him. So if you see me standing for ages in front of a shelf of “easy-readers” in the bookstore or the library, that’s what I’m doing: reading dozens of the most boring books in the world, determining if I should bring them home.

I couldn’t handle another Mercer Mayer reading last week and decided to try something different. I flipped open the laptop, bumped the font up to 48 and typed a simple sentence on the screen for my son to read. He loved it and I continued, line by line, until he’d read aloud the full story (which can never see the light of day since it’s about the Berenstain Bears getting a pet frog and I don’t want to get sued.) 

We’ve been playing around with writing our own easy-readers ever since, and he’s loved the chance to type them out himself on the computer. They make me laugh (“I want to be 10. I love my Grade 6 class.”) and he’s practicing reading and writing, so I’m calling it a win. 

The only trouble is how I’m going to record them in his reading journal — “The Unpublished Works of a Mom Sick of Easy-Readers”?


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