On many occasions, especially at conferences, teachers have said to us, “You have gone ahead and done what I always dreamed of doing!” They describe how every lesson they write decodable stories for their pupils and thought what a good idea it would be to actually publish them! Well, that is how Phonic Books got started. We were all working with struggling readers, writing our own decodable stories, when we had the same thought. Luckily for us, one of us was an illustrator. Clair Baker designed a unique style of illustration style of imposing her drawings on a photographic background. Teachers and pupils alike loved this style from the very beginning!
So, where do we get ideas for our stories? The stories for our very beginner readers are always restricted to a list of words with target sounds/letters. For example, Unit 1 (Stage 1) has only five sounds /s/, /a/, /t/, /i/,/m/, so inevitably, there will be a ‘Sam’ and ‘Tim’ in these stories, and at some point they will have been told to ‘sit’ and they will have ‘sat’ on a ‘mat’. When the text is limited by the few words that the reader can decode, the illustrations need to fill in the story gaps. So for example, in the the page below from our Dandelion Launchers series, we can see that Sam is in the park on a skate board, jumping skillfully, but that is not in the text. All this is inferred from the illustration.
The wonderful thing about this style of illustration is that it really engages children who try to figure out what is drawn and what is photographic. And engagement and motivation is the first step towards the focus of attention which is a precondition for learning.
We wanted the stories to reflect home life. Many of them came from our own experience as parents. Remember the time identical backpacks got mixed up in the classroom/bus/swimming pool/ballet class/football/judo practice? The image above has this fun story about such a mix up.
As the children learn more of the alphabetic code, possibilities for story telling grows because the lists of words we can use grows. Remember that time when somebody got a new scooter/bike and there was a race and it didn’t end well? This familiar story appears in our Dandelion Readers, Level 2, ‘The Blue Scooter’, that introduces spellings for the sound /oo/ (see image above).
At the time we launched Phonic Books, we were working at The Bloomfield Learning Centre. Many of our pupils were older, so we began to think about decodable books for this age range. We knew that our pupils hated reading any materials that looked babyish. They already had low self esteem and these baby books exacerbated this sense of failure and shame. My son, Adam, was a teenager at the time. He had struggled with reading throughout primary school. Reading only took off when he was about 9 or 10. I approached him and asked him what he thought a 10 year old would like to read. He came up with the ideas for our first fantasy series, ‘The Talisman’. I wrote his ideas into stories, with a phonics sequence. Drew Wilson illustrated them with a unique, slightly edgy style that would appeal to older readers. That was how our very first fantasy series was born. We put lots of added features in this series – short manageable chapters for struggling readers, a reading practice page and vocabulary page. We put thumb nail images of all the books in the inside covers to hook the reader. Drew added some wonderful decorative details to the pages and back cover that got children pondering what the next story would be about. Which animal would Zak shape-shift into in the next book? Now we have six different fantasy series to engage and motivate older struggling readers.
We realised that not all children wanted to shape-shift into animals and that we needed some feisty girl heroines. Using the same idea of strong narrative with an over-arching story across the whole series, Clair Baker wrote the action-packed ‘Alba’ and ‘Rescue’ series. We wanted our heroines to be active and resourceful so that older girl readers would feel empowered by them.
Now we can offer older readers series with a fantasy, adventure, dog lovers and ecological genres. We wanted to provide all children with decodable books that will not only help them learn to read but that they can’t wait to read!
To check our decodable books for beginner and catch-up readers visit:
UK editions www.phonicbooks.co.uk
USA editions www.phonicbooks.com
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