The Five-Year-Old Conundrum

Josie Leavitt - September 14, 2015

I see this almost every day at the store: a child around age five comes in looking for a book. Their parent wants to get them an early reader, because they are learning how to read, but the kid doesn’t want “a baby” book. He or she wants a longer book, a book with a “story.” This brings up the interesting facet of bookselling: often the learning process of reading makes kids feel younger, and they don’t like that.
stinkLearning how to read is hard, we all know that. Kids don’t necessarily know that, yet. And for some kids it’s not hard, for others it’s a huge struggle. The books that teach kids about vowel sounds and consonant blends are not as interesting as “regular” books. They can’t be. They have a specific goal attached to them and it’s less about the story and more about the learning and repetition. Even at this young age, children are aware of the perception of the book they’re reading: is it a “baby” book or does it make the child feel older and more learned? Does this matter?
It does. If a child feels diminished in some way by the level of the book, she’s throwball far less likely to want to read it. So, how do we bridge the gap between learning to read and wanting to read or be read to? I think a lot of this comes from how the parents react to a book.
I think the early readers from Mo Willems, the ridiculously popular Elephant & Piggie series bridge the gap quite well. Though interestingly, my friend’s five-year-old son had two books: Watch Me Throw the Ball! and Stink Moody in Master of Disaster. He judged the books by their cover art and opted to start with the Stink book, claiming the other book looked too much like a baby book. But his mom persisted. She read Elephant & Piggie to him and he loved it. Perhaps children are too young to distinguish between learning to read books and books for pleasure. This is where adults have to guide the children. Let’s face it, learning-to-read books can feel like a step back to children who have been read chapter books and longer picture books.
So, I’m curious, readers: what books do you like to read/recommend to the emerging readers in your life that makes them feel engaged without making them feel like they’re reading “a baby book?”

5 thoughts on “The Five-Year-Old Conundrum

  1. Ellie Miller

    Somewhat bypassing your question (since I’ve no relevant experience in that area) more an observation based on my own experience. I’d taught myself to read by my fourth birthday ( I can date it because I can clearly remember asking my mother, “When can I have a real book with more words than pictures?” Her reply was, “When you can read it!” My much-cherished copy of “Alice in Wonderland” is captioned ‘To our little story girl with love from Mother and Daddy’ on that occasion.) Anyway…the hi-lite of my 5th birthday was being allowed to have my OWN library card which gave me the privilege of doing this kind of baby book vs. looks interesting(!) reads winnowing…as opposed to parental choices…on my own. Very helpful!

  2. Kathy Q.

    Humor or some sort of compelling story seem to be key for most of the kids I know, as well as for me. I will never forget catching on to the joke in LITTLE BEAR, and the line “You are not my mother! You are a SNORT!” still comes up in my house and gained new traction when my daughter started to read. I do think the quality of the art has something to do with it, too.
    I’d be curious to know if there are any Easy Readers in graphic novel format, where the art could be more sophisticated and might appeal to those looking for books that aren’t “for babies.”


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