Dr. Seuss and Learning to Read

Posted by Big Universe on Jan 7, 2013 5:30:48 AM

This post is an excerpted and modified post I wrote for the PBS Parents blog Booklights in October 2009. I have tweaked it and also updated it with additional resources for finding great easy reader recommendations.


Do you know the story of The Cat in the Hat? Not the one about hat-wearing mischievous feline, but how he came to be the world's most recognized cat. In 1954, Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist John Hershey wrote an article for Life magazine called "Why Do Students Bog Down on First R?"

In his article, Hershey said that the primers given to kids to help them learn to read were "antiseptic." For one thing, the children were "unnaturally clean." He said what they needed were better illustrations ... like the kind Walt Disney and Theodor "Ted" Geisel created.

As a result of the article - and Rudolf Flesch's book Why Johnny Can't Read and What You Can Do About It (1955) - publishers Random House and Houghton Mifflin joined forces and hired Ted Geisel, who at the time was known only for his illustrations, to create a primer using new-reader vocabulary.

The result was the 220-word story known the world over as The Cat in the Hat. This is the book that catapulted the writing career of Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss.

green_eggs_and_ham.jpgThrough repetition and rhyme, Dr. Seuss' books not only have given us hours of pleasure reading with our kids, but they helped many of us become accomplished readers. Many of the Dr. Seuss books we love sharing with our kids are, in fact, what we now call easy readers.

Today, many of the boos designed to help kids become readers have a banner or label that says "learning to read" in some form, but others look like picture books ... as many of Dr. Seuss' books still do.

Oddly enough, 50-odd years after Hershey's article and Dr. Seuss' success you can still find "antiseptic" books that take the fun out of learning to read. Luckily, there are authors and illustrators who have followed in Dr. Seuss' path, creating engaging books that help kids grow as readers and have fun learning, too. Here are few places you can go to find some of the best, recommended easy readers available.

American Library Association (ALA) Website

2012 Geisel Award Winner 2012 Geisel Award Winner

Each year, the ALA sponsors the (Theodor Seuss) Geisel Awardto recognize and celebrate the legacy created by Dr. Seuss.The award, first presented in 2006,

"recognizes the "the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States during the preceding year."

In addition to a medal winner, the ALA commemorates honor books, too. For 2012 there are three Honor Books: I Broke My Trunk (Elephant and Piggie Series) written and illustrated by Mo Willems; I Want My Hat Back, written and illustrated by Jon Klassen; and See Me Run, written and illustrated by Paul Meisel.


Children's and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards (Cybils)

Children's Book AwardsSince 2008, the Cybils have had a category just for easy readers and early chapter books. The 2012 list has just been winnowed from 35 nominations to just five finalists.

One of the reasons the Cybils lists are a go-to resource for me is because each of the nominated book was loved by the readers (adult and children) ... they have read-tested the book and the really like it. Yes, there is ultimately a winner, but that list of five finalists is a sure-fire group of books, too. Here are the finalist lists for 2008 to 2011. All are printer-friendly PDFs, with blurbs ... and since Easy Reader is the top of the category alphabet, you'll find them on page 1!

Social Book Sites

The social book site Goodreads is a platform for readers to share their book lists and book recommendations. Goodreads has a list of Popular Children's Easy Readers. Not surprisingly, you'll find lots of Dr. Seuss, there. You can also find a similar list on LibraryThing.
Although I don't usually use "best selling" as a criterion in evaluating a book's quality, I did find the Best Selling Books for Beginning Readers to be an incredibly valuable list. Sorting the books into categories like animals, parent / family relationships, funny books, and values can help locate books within the interest range of their budding reader.

In closing, when you are ready to for new stories to sit side by side with The Cat in the Hat and his friends, you can't go wrong using these resources to find recommendations. Do your young readers have a favorite Dr. Seuss book or easy reader? I would love to hear about them!

Topics: Classroom Ideas, Reading Lists, Literacy

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