Even though he is approaching four and half years old, The Boy still adores Peppa Pig in any format. Therefore when Ladybird asked me if I'd like to review some of the books from their newly revamped 'Read It Yourself' series, and mentioned that they had titles from the pink porcine in their range, I jumped at the chance.
The Boy has been reading CVC words (consonant-vowel-consonant, e.g. cat, dog, mum) for several months now and has a developing sight vocabulary for high frequency words like 'and', 'the', 'this' or 'from'. I was sent two Level 1 books and two Level 2 books:
- Level 1: For children who are ready to take their first steps in reading;
- Level 2: For beginner readers who can read short, simple sentences with help.
The books do the right thing in that they provide an introductory page with the keywords on it, and there is also a parents' guide at the front explaining how to use the book.
So far so good.
Looking specifically at a Level 1 book here, the stories are simple and attractively presented with picture cues which can help the reader to ascertain the context of the text. Many of the high frequency words like 'this' or 'little' are repeated throughout, alongside the key vocabulary. But then into a sentence there will be a 'house' or a 'snail', or the one that really flummoxed me earlier was 'says'.
Those are not first stage readers' words.
First stage readers words are CVC words with some of the very highest frequency words, like the books we were reading together tonight which has sentences like 'Biff and Chip set off'. The Boy could work those out because the blends were easy. Segmenting and blending 'house' and 'snail' are not easy; that requires an understanding that 'ou' makes an 'ow' sound (but it can also make an 'oh' sound) and that 'ai' makes a long 'a'. Likewise knowing that 'ay' makes an 'air' sound when put into 'says'.
That's not easy. It is not for children 'who are ready to take their first steps in reading'.
In the Level 2 Peppa Pig book 'Sports Day' there are even more complicated sentences like '"Ready, steady, go!" says Madame Gazelle.' Again, this is supposed to be a book for 'beginner readers who can read short, simple sentences with help.' It's not, this is a tricky book, and although the sentence structures are repeated, the vocabulary requires working out in the first place.
I may seem overly critical here, but I think that labelling these books as Level 1 and Level 2 is not helpful to parents. I'm lucky that as a teacher I have a fairly decent understanding of phonics and how to teach reading. I would hate to see a parent buy these books for their four year old child, pressure them into trying to read it and then put them off the joy of reading.
Most schools seem to use the Oxford Reading tree reading scheme which starts off at Stage 1 or Stage 1+. They will be the books that most Reception children will start to read, and they contain sentences like, 'Dad got on it.' or 'Kipper put on a rug.'
So why the discrepancy with these 'Read It Yourself' Level 1 books?
The added complication is apparent when on closer examination of the back cover, under the bar code, there is a label 'Book banded for school use: Book Band 5 (for Level 1) or Book Band 6 (for Level 2).'
Book Banding is a system that was created to ensure that all the different reading schemes on the market could be compared realistically.
- The Oxford Reading Tree Stage 1 books which I gave examples from above are Book Band 1.
- The Ladybird 'Read It Yourself' Level 1 books are Book Band 5.
These books are beautifully presented and attractive. And I am sure that they are enticing and engaging for children to read, but the fact that they are labelled Level 1 is deceptive as it implies (and states) that they are for beginner readers and they are not; they're far more developed than that.
I was sent these products for the purpose of this post. My opinion is honest and unbiased, and based on my professional experience.