See Dick, see Dick zoom

Miss Brave, a reading specialist in New York City, asked William, a second grader, what he likes: motorcycles, bikes, cool cars, airplanes, skateboards, scooters and the New York Mets (especially Carlos Beltran). She went in search of easy-to-read books about things that go zoom and found Dick and Jane books in the Easy Reader section of her local library. If you have tips about high-interest (especially for boys) but low-level books, let her know.

About Joanne


  1. After a kid understands that “letters don’t have sounds, sounds have letters” and you’ve practiced with readers that only introduce one or a few letter sound correspondences at a time so that they practice all the possible combinations repeatedly I move into easier unscripted books with the child reading a page and me reading a page. They don’t get worn out that way.

    Cynthia Rylant’s Mr Putter books are fun and my son also enjoyed the Dorrie the little witch books by Patricia Coombs. Boys love a mischievous character.

    At the same time read lots of wonderful stories to them with uncontrolled vocabulary and wonderful artwork so they appreciate why it’s worth the work to achieve mastery. Childhood’s not quite complete unless someone introduces you to Bill Peet’s wonderful books and sits down in the 398.2 section of the library where the wonderful fairy tales and international folk tales can be found. One of my kids became a fluent reader in record time so she could read the Catwings books to herself.

  2. speedwell says:

    I was an early reader. When I was in the fourth grade, I was reading at college level. My little brothers, underserved first and second graders, were struggling with reading in school. I would often read to them out of the books I liked, but both little boys had short attention spans and we all got pretty frustrated.

    The older of the two got the idea the next summer that he would like to read the books I read. So we sat down on his bed and picked up a book (IIRC it was Michael Moorcock’s “Elric of Melnibone,” a pretty darn serious and difficult sci-fi novel) and I let him puzzle through it as best he could, supplying the words he hesitated on. By the end of the book I was supplying only a few words per page.

    Then my youngest brother asked for a somewhat easier book he was interested in (Asimov’s “I, Robot”) and we worked on that, more slowly, but steadily. By the end of the summer, both boys were reading freely several grades above their level. Now the boys are 38 and 40, and the older one designs web-based instruction courses for a living.

    I asked them recently about why they were able to learn so quickly, and they said it was partly about being jealous of me being considered the “smart” sibling because I could read so well. Then the older one admitted that he had been bored and confused by the sanitized approved reading material in school and had been to some extent resistant to learning it. Simply having interesting material to learn, even though it was miles above his grade level, made most of the difference.

  3. “Interesting material to learn” – that fits with the recently posted comment that the usual boy/girl verbal/literacy gap doesn’t exist in the homeschooled population. Not only my sons, but my daughter, hated the endless touchy-feely stream of books (and the associated artsy-crafty “book reports”) that were dished out at their schools.

    We kept the rebellion under control by having lots of good literature and non-fiction books at home. My older kids literally wore out the Usborne series on world history (cartooned, but still good stuff) and I had to get a new set for the younger ones. They knew the Egyptian/Greek/Roman history/architecture and the explorers/voyages of discovery long before they were covered in school. Rosemary Sutcliff has great versions of the Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid, Arthurian legend, Beowulf, Boadicea, Tristan and Iseult that can be read to young children or read alone by slightly older ones. She also has many good historical novels, often in Roman Britain, with young male protagonists. We used that kind of stuff for book reports as often as we could.

  4. I second the Usborne series. Also the Eyewitness books, lovely non-fiction titles like “Castle,” “Shark,” “Mummy,” “Skeleton.” Things that appeal especially to boys. Stephen Bietsy cross-section books are fantastic, as are David Macaulay’s books. The photos and drawings in these books compel the young reader to decipher the text and learn vocabulary and concepts far deeper than what is offered in beginning reader fiction. The Step-Into-Reading series offered a few non-fiction books, Balto and S-s-s-nakes pop into memory. I wouldn’t be discouraged by the vocabulary in the Eyewitness, Bietsy and Macaulay books: the subject matter is so interesting that the student will persist and decipher the accompanying text. Ellen Levine’s history series “If You Were There” is a bit drier but in much the same vein, for a bit more accomplished reader.

  5. wahoofive says:

    Who could with good conscience recommend the Dick and Jane books, those poster children for the discredited “Whole Language” pedagogy, to anyone for any purpose?

  6. Margo/Mom says:

    wahoo–I was exposed to Dick and Jane, (and Alice and Jerry) and many of my generation assume that we were taught phonics. in fact Dick and Jane is neither whole language, nor whole language, but something more like “see, say.” The basal series was built on the introduction of words, gradually building a “sight vocabulary.” This is why the language is so stilted: See Spot run. Run, Spot, run.

    Reality is, most of us had perhaps one primary teaching method with lots of other influences (“sound it out!”).

    I have a son who is a reluctant reader, and the challenge of finding material that engages his interest sufficiently to make the effort worth it for him has always been a challenge–although his enjoyment of being read to continued long. Books with lots of pictures and good artwork have always been helpful–encyclopic types of non-fiction (Question and answer formats, science, mythology)–even a 50/50 mix of text and graphic, especially if the text is caption-like and tends to explain things about the pictures.

  7. Margo/Mom says:

    Sorry, that should be “neither whole language nor phonics”

  8. What caught my kid, now reading Harry Potter fluently, was Captain Underpants. And, anything with fart jokes. What caught me was Mad Magazine.

  9. I can remember my 2nd grade classroom having a set of basic science-oriented books, each covering a subject like dinosaurs or how airplanes work. Those were the first to come to mind just now. That and Space Cat.

    The last time I saw a Mad Magazine it contained condom jokes.

  10. Eric Jablow says:

    These might be a bit too martial for his parents’ tastes, Osprey Publishing publishes a large collection of military books, including these aviation books:

  11. Not real helpful, but this reminds me of a story that always makes me laugh. When my son was about 9 he came up to me and said, “a lot of times I wish that fire came shooting out of my hands when I did this” and he thrust his hands forward, palms out.

    I said, “you wish this a lot?”

    “Yeah. Or wind. Wind would be cool to,” he answered.

    I said, “wow Noah, it must be very exciting to be a boy.”

    “You have no idea, Mom,” he answered.

    I just laughed and laughed. Boys can certainly be different!