Learning and Development

High quality texts – Tried & tested Early Years recommendations

  • High quality texts – Tried & tested Early Years recommendations

Every child can develop a strong foundation in reading if given meaningful opportunities to explore high quality texts, explains Charlotte Hacking…

Sharing a book with children is one of the most important things we can do to build a sense of reading for pleasure. It not only supports children in learning to read and in sharing responses, but it strengthens the bonds between adult and child. The children feel connected to and comfortable with books, and this nurtures a motivation to read.

It is crucial, before we think of how texts are displayed, that we consider the choice of texts themselves. We need to ensure they offer quality, interest and appeal if we want our earliest readers to forge these connections.

This is where a culture of reading for pleasure truly begins. When selecting high quality texts, we must look at what they offer to support children’s developing skills and identities as readers.

Here are some aspects to consider when choosing books in your provision, with some tried and tested recommendations…

Develop book handling skills

Children’s very early engagement with books will be through listening to the rhythms and patterns of language in books read aloud. However, they’ll also have a physical interaction with the books they’re reading.

At the very early stages this will be through sight and touch – and sometimes taste, as they’re also great for chewing! Books need to be visually enticing, durable and designed to develop book handling skills like page turning. 

Board books are absolute essentials. Daisy Hirst’s Monster series, including Monster Clothes and Monsters Go, offers a treat for the eyes, fingers, and ears. Simple, bright illustrations are paired with text that introduces children to rich and distinct language patterns. This includes alliteration and rhyme and helps to develop children’s early phonological awareness.

In titles like This Little Cat, Hello Little Bird and Choo Choo, Petr Horáček plays with the pages to add to the storytelling, as well as the engagement. There’s holes to peep (and poke fingers) through, pages landscaped into the hills and mountains on a train’s journey.

The pages are alternating sizes and shapes, transforming a little white cat into a big stripy tiger. The descriptive text models language to extend children from utterances and phrases. It paves the way for the language and grammar expectations in primary. 

Make personal connections

At CLPE we do the work we do because we believe, and the research shows us, that being literate changes your life. If you are a literate child who reads for pleasure, this has more impact on your future life chances than any other factor.

We also know that to be successful you need to connect with your reading material. You need to be able to see yourself, in some way, in what you read.

The under-representation of Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic characters means that readers from a range of backgrounds do not always have the opportunity to make these connections.

“This has more impact on your future life chances than any other factor”

Our ‘Reflecting Realities’ research highlights the best high quality texts with quality representations of a diverse cast of characters. Titles of note in recent reports include:

Zeki and Lulu series by Anna McQuinn

Lenny books by Ken Wilson-Max

Big Bright Feelings series by Tom Percival

Use rhyme, song and poetry

Rhyme, song and poetry naturally ease the process of reading. They introduce children to the rhythms, patterns and structures of language.

Ken Wilson-Max’s The Drum and The Flute introduce children to the music of language. They support children’s early phonological development as well as enriching vocabulary.

Children with good initial rhyming skills tend to become better readers and spellers. Rhyming texts like Caroline Cross’s Sand Between My Toes are essential to support this developing awareness.

Poetry collections are also good for this. For the very youngest readers, Jane Newberry’s Big Green Crocodile contains helpful prompts for adults to interact with babies and small children while reading the poems.

Many poems are written in rhyme, but it’s also important to remember that poetry is about so much more than this. The following collections contain a broad range of poetry and show how it can help us describe experiences, express ideas and emotions, and entertain:

● Joseph Coelho’s Blow a Kiss, Catch a Kiss

● Matt Goodfellow’s Caterpillar Cake

● Michael Rosen’s Ready for Spaghetti

Develop print and phoneme awareness

Scheme books that are focused on introducing specific knowledge or vocabulary often don’t present meaningful or memorable stories. They don’t provide much emotional engagement either.

Look for books to consolidate children’s word recognition and knowledge of letter/sound relationships. Christiane Engel’s Baby’s First Words is a perfect opportunity to focus children’s attention on individual words. The illustrations put vocabulary into context and take children’s ideas beyond the words on the page, supporting comprehension.

Orange, Pear, Apple, Bear by Emily Gravett is perfect for supporting 1:1 correspondence. It will help children track print and ascribe meaning to printed words, while engaging them in language play.

As children begin to understand that written words represent the spoken sounds within them, books such as Lucy Cousins’ Peck Peck Peck allow them to see learnt grapheme phoneme correspondences in context.

As children embark on a programme of phonics teaching, texts like Em Lynas’ The Cat, The Rat and The Hat invite children to use and apply their knowledge in the context of an exciting and hilarious story. This builds motivation.

Empower your readers

Predictable and patterned texts help children to behave like readers. They encourage children to chime in and take control of their reading.

This begins with classic texts that children commit to memory easily, like:

● Michael Rosen’s We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

● Martin Waddell’s Owl Babies

● Trish Cooke’s So Much

As children’s listening and reading stamina increases, the following books are hugely engaging and offer perfect patterns of storytelling:

● Malorie Blackman’s We’re Going to Find the Monster

● Chris Haughton’s books, such as Don’t Worry Little Crab, Oh No! George and Maybe…

They both enrich language and allow children to commit narrative patterns to memory. Goodnight Everyone by Chris Haughton offers a different pace and tone, with all the perfect ingredients for a bedtime or quiet time story. There’s opportunities to join in while winding down.

Choose stories to develop creative and critical thinking

There are books which lend themselves to being talked about, thought through and returned to. They’re engaging for children for a variety of reasons.

They tend to be texts with powerful stories which stir ideas and feelings, exciting the reader’s interest and imagination. These are the kinds of texts we build sequences of lessons around in our ‘Power of Reading’ project. Texts include:

● Rebecca Cobb’s Hello Friend

● Linda Sarah’s On Sudden Hill

● Petr Horáček’s Blue Penguin

These books invite children to put themselves in a character’s shoes, to develop empathy and to lift them to the level of a book which they might not be able to access independently.

Such books invite reading aloud, rich questioning and discussion. This will encourage children to think deeply about what they have heard and read.

Link high quality texts to wider experiences

It’s vital that books in Early Years go beyond the book corner. Reading shouldn’t be confined to certain times and spaces.

Books and reading should feature throughout your provision, enriching vocabulary and learning, and contextualising and mirroring experiences.

Choose and use books that inspire the imagination in specific areas:

● Construction area – Jabari Tries by Gaia Cornwall

● Water area – Help children to see water in all its forms/uses with Antionette Portis’ Hey, Water!

● Creative area – Alborozo’s Let’s Paint

● Maths area – Support subitising, estimating and 1:1 correspondence with Viviane Schwarz’s Counting with Tiny Cat

● Writing area – David Lucas’ A Letter for Bear

Pick rich information texts that model how the language of non-fiction sounds. The Walker Nature Storybooks series is perfect for this.

Consider how story texts can make sense of outdoor learning and experiences, contextualising concepts and vocabulary for a greater depth of understanding. Examples include:

The Big Alfie Out Of Doors Storybook by Shirley Hughes

● Ed Vere’s Bedtime for Monsters

If we can provide young readers with the skills and motivation to read, as well as emphasising the pleasure and benefit, we are well on the way to developing a lifelong love of reading. This will lead children towards academic success and socio-economic advantage.

Finding the texts that connect with your children and lighting the flame of a love of reading is the key. 

Five more brilliant high quality texts

Monster Clothes by Daisy Hirst

Zeki Rise and Shine and Zeki Sleep Tight by Anna McQuinn

Blow a Kiss, Catch a Kiss by Joseph Coelho

Hey, Water! by Antoinette Portis

Don’t Worry, Little Crab by Chris Haughton

Charlotte Hacking is the learning and programme director at the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE). She is an experienced Early Years practitioner and leader.

For more high quality texts, CLPE’s Corebooks resource is designed to support schools and settings choose the very best children’s books to suit readers of all ages and stages of reading development. The Power of Reading programme supports practitioners to choose and use texts effectively to develop engagement and attainment in reading, talk and writing.