Mind the Gap: Demystifying the transition from early literacy to reading

By Jamie Holcomb, Denver Public Library

When my older son started kindergarten, he had been in public preschool for two years–about the same length of time that I had been working as a librarian. Despite these enormous advantages, I still felt bewildered when he aged out of storytime. Library school had had nothing to say to me about the beginning reader section and a couple years’ part-time experience hadn’t given me much knowledge, either. I saw a bunch of different colored stickers and knew they corresponded loosely to grade levels and that was about all I had to offer.

boy and older woman reading together at a table
Grandma sharing Dick and Jane with a new kindergartner

Fortunately, around that time in my professional life, one of my wonderful colleagues launched a training on beginning readers that started giving me the tools to understand and explore this section. (If you lack such a colleague, be this person yourself! A wonderful starting place is the beginning reader chapter in K.T. Horning’s book From Cover to Cover.) I launched myself full-force into beginning reader knowledge, co-leading trainings and joining DPL’s Best and Brightest team for beginning readers in 2017.

Meanwhile, I’ve continued to be a storytime provider and I’ve worked on, well, doing for my storytime families what I wished someone had done for us: Demystify this transition! Here are some easy ways storytime providers can help storytime families feel supported–not dropped like a hot potato.

Read picture books that double as early readers

Picture books with supportive features like a large, clear font, short words and sentences, picture clues, and repetition can be very appealing to some kids learning to read. I remember the delight with which my older child picked up They All Saw a Cat and the eagerness with which my reluctant-reading younger child went for Bark Park. Why not use them in storytime and incorporate a parent tip? You could mention the books’ supportive features, that memorizing favorite picture books is often a step in learning to read, or that pointing to words as you read helps preschoolers understand the connection between written words and spoken language.

Not sure what books to try? Look for picture books on the list of past Geisel Award winners and honor books or try the Guessing Geisel blog for the freshest possibilities.

book cover: "I Like the Farm", by Shelley Rotner. Photo shows smailing young girl holding two chickens in her arms

Read beginning readers in storytime

If you haven’t used Elephant and Piggie in storytime, you’re missing out! The use of speech bubbles in place of “she said” and the like makes for a brisk pace, with only a few different voices needed. You could also try a very-first reader like Holiday House’s I Like the Farm, with concrete picture support, and let your little friends finish your sentences. (“I like the…” “KITTEN!”) Let parents know it’s “okay” to include these books in the ones they bring home for their preschooler.

Read beginning reader nonfiction in storytime

I’ve talked about this before in my blog post about using nonfiction in storytime and it remains one of my very favorite strategies. Growing kids’ background knowledge and educating about learning to read at the same time? Yes please!

I was excited to learn recently that Jump! Books, the makers of the Bullfrog books that I love so much, have a new, even earlier series for even younger kids–Tadpole books! These are more like level A readers–tons of repetition, just one word changing per page. Seasons, animals, opposites, community places and helpers; the first entries into this series are tailor-made for adding to storytime!

Want to learn more about beginning readers and using them in storytime? Jamie Holcomb (that’s me) and Amy Forrester, both of Denver Public Library, will be presenting on this topic at CLEL’s 2018 conference! Registration is open until September 21.