Review: The Emergent Reader Series, by Laura Appleton-Smith


The Emergent Reader Series, by Laura Appleton-Smith. Manchester, NH: Flyleaf Publishing. $162 (paperback boxed set).

emergent-readerPractically everyone knows that reading is one of the most vital skills a child can learn, and many systems and products promising to teach the skill have been developed. Many parents, perhaps you among them, are looking to find the very best of these resources.

Unfortunately, among the many resources from which to choose, some are based on the anti-conceptual “whole-word” approach to reading, which (to put it mildly) makes learning extremely difficult and frustrating for a child, rather than relatively easy and enjoyable.

Adding to the difficulty of the search, even some reading programs based on a phonetic approach are poorly conceived and unnecessarily frustrating. Although some teach the child the sound each letter makes then show how those letters fit together to form words, they also include secondary sounds for certain letters before the child has been able to grasp the primary sounds.

For example, one popular series presents pre-readers with four words for each letter of the alphabet, each word beginning with the respective letter, and proceeds to use these words in a short story including pictures. So far, so good. This approach helps the child to learn the shapes and corresponding sounds of letters. However, each time the series introduces a vowel, for example “u,” it introduces both the long vowel and the short vowel sound at the same time—for example, via the words “unicorn” and “umpire.” This does the child a gross disservice.

Other systems and books present the different sounds of letters one at a time, introducing secondary sounds only after the child has grasped the primary sounds, but are poor in other respects. For instance, some fail to address important sounds (e.g., the “ng” in “sings” or the “er” in bigger”); some include unpleasant pictures or uninteresting stories, or both.

Parents looking for a system that includes the good and excludes the bad will be delighted to discover The Emergent Reader Series, written by Laura Appleton-Smith.

This series consists of forty-one short books the publisher, Flyleaf Publishing, sells directly to parents or schools.

The first book targets three sounds—those included in the word “Sam.” Each book thereafter builds upon and consolidates the letters and sounds introduced previously. For example, the second book targets the consonant “k” spelled with a “c” via a short story in which a crow named Cam meets the snake named Sam from the first book. And so on. This methodical, step-by-step approach holds throughout the series, but the number of words a child can decode based on his earlier understanding increases exponentially as he proceeds.

By the sixth book in the series—which targets the consonant “p” sound—the child is reading about a cat named Pam via sentences such as, “I can nap on Sam’s map. Can I nap in Sam’s pan? Yes I can!” By the twelfth book—which targets the “l” sound—he is reading sentences such as, “A pig and a dog . . . A cat, a rat, and an ant sit on a log.”

Later, in the thirty-seventh book—one of five written specifically to consolidate all of the letters and sounds learned to that point—the child is reading sentences such as “I sang a song to fall. My song was sung by kicking leaves along.” And, in the last book, the child is reading sentences such as, “I wonder whether the seeds will grow. I whisper, ‘Grow seeds, grow.’”

Given the boundaries within which Appleton-Smith had to write in order to make each story understandable and yet progressively more difficult, she did a remarkable job of keeping them interesting. She achieved this, in part, by keeping the books short, but also by making the characters, almost without exception, appealing, happy, and kind. The main characters know what they like; they talk about their interests; and they pursue their values with a straightforward, benevolent attitude that many children can relate to and enjoy.

The books also include well-done illustrations (by Preston Neel, Keinyo White, Meg McLean, Carol Vredenburgh, and Kate Hosford) showing beautifully rendered, realistic-looking kids, with smiles on their faces and eyes full of wonder, loving life and at home in their world.

If you have a child who is ready to begin learning how to read books on his own, I highly recommend The Emergent Reader Series. My child has loved the books and learned a great deal from them.

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