Off to a Great Start | Early Readers Series Nonfiction

This fall’s selection of titles for young readers provide excellent phonemic tools to help them gain confidence, while delivering entertaining stories children will want to revisit over and over.

Learning to read is one of life’s seminal experiences. Many of us may not even recall how we first learned, but we probably remember from whom and how. We learned painstakingly, by rote, using foundational building blocks: phonics, probably. How else could we learn to “put together” the sounds that form the words, sentences, and paragraphs that eventually made sense of the pages before our eyes? This fall, publishers are issuing delightful books for young readers that provide excellent phonemic tools to start them off on a lifetime of reading mastery, help them gain confidence, and deliver entertaining stories that children will want to revisit over and over. Welcome, new readers!



Anderson, Shannon & Madison Parker. We Read About Kangaroos. ISBN 9798887353081.
––––. We Read About Orangutans.ISBN 9798887353050.
––––. We Read About Zebras. ISBN 9798887353074.
Bureau, Vicky & Madison Parker. We Read About Having Self-Control. ISBN 9798887353043.
––––. We Read About Maevis Using Her Manners. illus. by Flavia ZunchedouISBN 9798887353067.
Earley, Christina. & Madison Parker. We Read About Autism. illus. by Amanda Hudson. ISBN 9798887356327.
––––. We Read About Christmas in Italy.ISBN 9798887353029.
––––. We Read About Christmas in the United States of America. ISBN 9798887353012.
––––. We Read About Living with a Learning Disability. illus. by Amanda Hudson. ISBN 9798887353036.
Gaston, Stephanie & Madison Parker. We Read About the Mayor. ISBN 9798887356280.
ea vol: 24p. (I Read! You Read! - Level 3). Seahorse. Nov. 2023. Tr $27.93.
K-Gr 2–Young learners read for meaning in this series, which includes an eclectic mix of nonfiction topics. Informative texts stimulate and enhance vocabulary development. As the series title suggests, children and adults take turns reading aloud. The shared experience establishes close, warm bonds between partners, enables adults to offer children immediate reading assistance when necessary, and encourages conversation. Each volume opens with a “Parent and Caregiver Guide,” which touts the benefits of reading aloud to children. “During Reading” introduces the two symbols used throughout the series to cue adults and children about whose turn it is to read passages on every page. Texts are brief, clearly written, and informative; passages intended for children are shorter, containing two-to-three sentences per page with more space between lines. “Adult text” is wordier but succinct; fonts are slightly smaller. Occasionally, passages are “assigned” to children or adults only. New vocabulary is boldfaced and defined in the “Words to Know” feature. Some volumes feature high-quality captioned color photos; some, cartoon illustrations. Animal-themed books include maps, and non-animal titles portray racial and ethnic diversity. Back matter features include “Words to Know,” an index, and comprehension questions. Some quibbles: The Christmas titles might not be welcomed by all audiences, and the mayor title presents a former Chicago mayor as though she’s still in office, dating that book. VERDICT An interesting series comprising a varied assortment of factual subjects. Recommended for fostering child-adult reading.

Culliford, Amy. Apples.ISBN 9781039809734.
––––. Bananas.ISBN 9781039809741.
––––. Grapes.ISBN 9781039809765.
––––. Oranges.ISBN 9781039809758.
––––. Peaches.ISBN 9781039809772.
––––. Strawberries.ISBN 9781039809727.
ea vol: 16p. (Fruits You Love To Eat). Crabtree/Roots. Nov. 2023. Tr $25.27.
K-Gr 2–Each volume in this delectable, vivid series opens with a page entitled “School-to-Home Support for Caregivers and Teachers” that includes guiding questions meant to help readers build comprehension skills. The volumes’ brief texts are short and simple, containing one sentence per page, but include a lot of information. Every book opens with the sentence, “__ are fruits,” before going on to explain how said fruit grows. Sentences are accompanied by vibrant photos that clarify texts. Great photos also depict different colors fruits can be during different stages of growth. A final photo in every title depicts a racially/ethnically diverse child savoring the fruit. The series develops simple science learning, reinforces color recognition, and helps children understand nature’s role in food production as well as the different forms fruits can take. New vocabulary is boldfaced and defined in “Words to Know.” Back matter in each volume includes vocabulary as well as a picture glossary, and a full reprint of the text without photos, to allow children to reread the entire book. VERDICT Many kudos to this highly recommended “fruit salad” of learning opportunities and promotion of children’s healthy eating.

Davies, Monika. Rice Farms.16p. $6.99. ISBN 9798765924228.
Neiley, Dani. Time to Cook.illus. by Jade Green. 16p. $6.99. ISBN 9798765924297.
Rice, Dona Herweck. Horse Play.16p. $6.99. ISBN 9798765924266.
––––. Pets Back in Time.20p. $7.99. ISBN 9798765924273.
––––. What Kids Did.20p. $7.99. ISBN 9798765924280.
Smith, Jodene. Go on a Trip.illus. by Surya Nair. 16p. $6.99. ISBN 9798765924112.
––––. How to Get a Smile.illus. by Kayla Lutz. 16p. $6.99. ISBN 9798765924143.
––––. Made with Paint.16p. $6.99. ISBN 9798765924181.
––––. What Is It?20p. $7.99. ISBN 9798765924129.
ea vol: (Decodable Books: Read & Succeed Level 1). Teacher Created Materials. Aug. 2023. Tr
K-Gr 2–An appealing nonfiction series for early readers, these nine brief volumes comprise an interesting mix of topics. Young learners practice reading skills by way of simple sentences and a broad range of phonemic tools. Occasionally, texts include questions to stimulate curiosity. These titles also engage children with a mix of bright, colorful photos and illustrations, helping to hone visual-literacy skills. Racial diversity is well-represented. Special back-matter features include “Phonics Focus,” listing words containing a phonemic feature covered in the book, e.g., suffixes, compound words, or final blends; “High-Frequency Focus” (or “Phonics Review”); and—almost always—“Challenge Words,” a list of harder words from the book that reflects the Phonics Focus. A fine three-part feature is “Family Engagement” that includes focuses on phonics, punctuation or writing, and visual literacy skills. Occasionally included is an activity section. Even when not specifically mentioned in the back matter or in “Family Engagement,” phonics practice always includes short and long vowels, vowel teams, consonant blends, and so on. Note: This publisher is simultaneously releasing Decodable Books: Read & Succeed Level K and Decodable Books: Read & Succeed Level 2, covering kindergarten to grade 2. VERDICT Recommended. This visually attractive series offers plenty of decodable reading practice, engaging topics, and stimulating child-adult engagement.

Doudna, Kelly. Adjectives.ISBN 9781098282752.
––––. Adverbs.ISBN 9781098282769.
––––. Nouns.ISBN 9781098282776.
––––. Pronouns.ISBN 9781098282783.
––––. Proper Nouns.ISBN 9781098282790.
––––. Verbs.ISBN 9781098282806.
ea vol: 24p. (Sentences). Abdo/Launch! Sept. 2023. Tr $31.36.
Gr 1-3–Despite the series’ title, volumes are about different parts of speech. A chart on the Table of Contents in each book explains the function(s) of the part and usually provides one or more example sentences, with the relevant part of speech printed in red. Generally, one or two sentences appear on every page, offering several examples of the speech part. In the adjective book, there are no example sentences in the TOC chart, and in the charts explaining “adjective” and “adverb,” the word “modify” isn’t defined. Furthermore, in the noun volume’s chart, a noun is described as being the “subject” of a sentence, but that term isn’t explained. High-quality close-up color photos feature racially and ethnically diverse children and families engaging in joyful activities; these accompany and clarify sentences. Back matter featured in each volume includes a word list and a picture glossary. VERDICT The basic building blocks of reading, writing, and understanding English are taught in this companion to the Punctuation series and should be used with it, since parts of speech are included in that series’ back matter.

Gebhardt, Amanda. Add It Up.ISBN 9781668927144.
––––. Count Up and Down.ISBN 9781668927106.
––––. Count Up from Six.ISBN 9781668927090.
––––. Guess the Shape.ISBN 9781668927137.
––––. More or Less.ISBN 9781668927083.
––––. Roll the Dice.ISBN 9781668927120.
––––. Sort the Beads.ISBN 9781668927113.
––––. Tell the Time.ISBN 9781668927151.
ea vol: 16p. (Little Math Stories). Cherry Lake/Cherry Blossom. Aug. 2023. Tr $11.36.
PreS-Gr 1–This series combines practice in reading with practice in counting and other mathematical skills, such as sorting and telling time. Children will have so much fun practicing math with the students in the books, they’ll forget they’re reading, and they’ll be so busy enjoying reading, they’ll forget how much math they’re learning! Brief, simple sentences employ “math language” throughout. Hands-on processes are depicted and described via photos and text. “Tell the Time” is especially useful, as it presents analog clocks with colorful, easy-to-read numerals and hands. High-quality color photos depict classes of enthusiastic, racially diverse students and teachers working together on math activities, using colorful, tangible objects and numerals and equations to figure out math problems. Readers see “math operations in practice,” e.g., kids counting on fingers and distinguishing shapes. Photos portray both group and independent activities. As readers flex math muscles, they’ll also have opportunities to practice their phonics knowledge of long- and short-vowel sounds, vowel blends, digraphs, etc. Back matter features include a word list divided into “math words,” “sight words,” and a word list representative of the volume’s phoneme(s) as well as a fun, theme-related math challenge. VERDICT A successful, enjoyable combination of math and reading skills and practice. Highly recommended.

Gottlieb, Beth. It Has Spots!ISBN 9781538284766.
––––. It Has Stripes!ISBN 9781538284797.
––––. It Is Big!ISBN 9781538284827.
––––. It Is Furry!ISBN 9781538284858.
––––. It Is Shiny!ISBN 9781538284889.
––––. It Is Small!ISBN 9781538284919.
ea vol: 24p. (What Does It Look Like?). Gareth Stevens. Aug. 2023. Tr $24.27.
PreS-Gr 1–This delightful “First Concepts” series centers on visual literacy and visual discrimination—essential pre- and early-reading skills. Titles focus on size, designs, and other physical features. Each book contains one sentence per page, except for the first page, which always includes two. Though the text is basic, children also practice reading skills with words containing common phonemes, including short-vowel sounds and vowel/consonant blends, etc. Texts are accompanied by excellent, close-up photos that display or embody the features highlighted. A quibble concerning the “furry” volume: Some depicted items don’t actually represent furriness but, instead, plushy fabric resembling it. Wrap-up activities in each volume challenge children to select, from among a group of three or four photos, the item displaying the target feature. Children could also be asked to comment on the other objects’ features. VERDICT A cheery series. Children should be encouraged to name what else in their environments embody these characteristics.

Hoeft, August. Discover B.ISBN 9781532444999.
––––. Discover C.ISBN 9781532446054.
––––. Discover C.ISBN 9781532445002.
––––. Discover D.ISBN 9781532445019.
––––. Discover F.ISBN 9781532445026.
––––. Discover G.ISBN 9781532445033.
––––. Discover G.ISBN 9781532446092.
––––. Discover H.ISBN 9781532445040.
––––. Discover J.ISBN 9781532445064.
––––. Discover K.ISBN 9781532445071.
––––. Discover L.ISBN 9781532445088.
––––. Discover M.ISBN 9781532445095.
––––. Discover N.ISBN 9781532445101.
––––. Discover P.ISBN 9781532445118.
––––. Discover Qu.ISBN 9781532445125.
––––. Discover R.ISBN 9781532445132.
––––. Discover S.ISBN 9781532445149.
––––. Discover T.ISBN 9781532445156.
––––. Discover V.ISBN 9781532445163.
––––. Discover W.ISBN 9781532445170.
––––. Discover X.ISBN 9781532445187.
––––. Discover X.ISBN 9781532446139.
––––. Discover Y.ISBN 9781532445194.
––––. Discover Z.ISBN 9781532445200.
ea vol: 24p. (Discover Phonics Consonants). Xist. Sept. 2023. Tr $26.99.
PreS-Gr 1–This series takes a picture-dictionary approach to introduce consonants, presenting 18 photo-word matches per book. A word corresponding to a colorful photo appears beneath each photo, with the target consonant highlighted in green. As intended, volumes provide practice in reading and consonants: Children will begin to understand consonants’ versatility seeing them in different positions in words. Each volume opens with an introduction for adults. Close adult-child partnership in this series is essential because many photos aren’t easily identifiable by children or are ambiguous. Occasionally, more readily identifiable photos aren’t included; e.g., “candle” and “carrot” are omitted from the C /k/ title. The Qu and X /ks/ volumes are troubling, as they include numerous photos/terms that even some adults may not recognize. Additionally, the photos portray little racial diversity, and some words may raise eyebrows: “cop,” “jailer,” “genius” (the latter’s photo depicts a spectacled white boy), “heaven.” A word list, minus photos, with the target consonant printed in green are included as back matter for each book, encouraging reading practice. Note: The publisher is simultaneously releasing Discover Phonics Vowels for kindergarten to grade 1. VERDICT The picture-dictionary approach works, and photos are colorful and appealing. However, this series is problematic overall.

Miller, Marie-Therese. Inside and Outside.ISBN 9781728486741.
––––. Near and Far.ISBN 9781728486727.
––––. Top and Bottom.ISBN 9781728486734.
Schuh, Mari. High and Low.ISBN 9781728486765.
––––. In Front and Behind.ISBN 9781728486772.
––––. Over and Under.ISBN 9781728486758.
ea vol: 24p. (Sesame Street: Directional Words). Lerner. Aug. 2023. Tr $29.32.
PreS-Gr 2–This winning series establishes its playfulness from the start. Covers and title pages feature lovable Sesame Street characters while describing what awaits readers inside. Besides delivering charm, this series offers plentiful learning opportunities as it helps children explore directionality, spatiality, and opposites. Each book’s first page describes its concept very simply, with the target word pair printed in different colors at the top of the page. A character speaks directly to readers, explaining the concept with a concrete example. Several subsequent pages define each word in the pair separately and feature vivid photos of characters and kids. Then comes the fun “Can You Guess?” section, asking readers to determine which word of the pair is featured with each again highlighted in distinctive hues. Five different photos, each with an explanatory heading, feature a racially diverse subject in some kind of “directional relationship” and are captioned with a question asking where the individual(s) in the photo are. Questions are always expressed in terms of opposites: e.g., “Are these friends inside/outside…?” Answers and character commentaries follow. A quick wrap-up activity concludes the guessing game. Back matter features check children’s understandings, offer picture glossaries and brief bibliographies, and include an index. VERDICT Highly recommended. Children will come to understand the idea of objects’ and their own relative positions in space—a fundamental math skill.

Rathburn, Betsy. Baby Elephants.ISBN 9798886874044.
––––. Baby Kangaroos.ISBN 9798886874051.
––––. Baby Sheep.ISBN 9798886874068.
––––. Baby Tigers.ISBN 9798886874075.
ea vol: 24p. (Too Cute!). Bellwether/ Blastoff! Beginners. Aug. 2023. Tr $25.95.
PreS-Gr 1–Children will love this endearing series and learn much about some favorite animals. Information is presented via simply written sentences, generally one to three per page. A Table of Contents is a sophisticated element for this audience and, facing it in each volume is an alphabetical list of sight words found in the book. Each volume presents its featured animal’s life stages, explaining growth, development, and body changes as the animal gets larger. New, boldfaced vocabulary is defined in the glossary and in context, with new words used as captions on photos: In the elephant volume, “herd” is the label on the photo of an elephant herd. The series includes excellent graphics, with “too cute” color close-ups on covers and throughout. In some full-page photos, arrows connect words to specific parts of images, e.g., in the elephant volume, an arrow points from the label “mom” to a photo of an elephant mom with her calf; other photo-arrow “connections” in that book are for “trunk” and for a calf “drinking milk.” Large type and ample white space facilitate easy reading for young learners. Back matter includes pictures sharing more baby facts, a photo glossary, recommended resources for further learning, and an index. VERDICT Children will come away knowledgeable, charmed, and delighted. Highly recommended.

Ruping, Gong. How Does Panda Pee?ISBN 9780716652861.
––––. Where Should Elephant Poop?ISBN 9780716652878.
––––. Who Farted?ISBN 9780716652885.
ea vol: illus. by Zumin Wang Ying Wang. 32p. (The Smelly Book). World Book. Sept. 2023. Tr $21.99.
PreS-Gr 1–After reading this wildly funny series, kids will become experts in some animals’ bathroom habits—without ever having asked! Each volume opens with a three-part section that advises adults on guiding children and encouraging questions. Adults are also urged to ask children questions and discuss children’s own healthy bathroom habits after reading. A link to World Book resources follows the tips. Each story is made up of two parts: A riotous picture-book tale and a fascinating, one-page nonfiction photo segment explaining how the featured animal relieves itself. In all stories, the main character’s and other creatures’ witty dialogue is intertwined with colorful, dynamic artwork. Curiosity, excitement, and anticipation build from the outset in the panda story, as it incorporates “Gingerbread Man” elements when a growing accumulation of animals joins Panda’s search for the perfect tree upon which to do his business. In the elephant story, other animals ask him questions that are grossly humorous but also quite practical. In the final tale, the bewildered characters can’t possibly imagine the loud noise they hear is anything but an explosive expulsion of wind, and the denouement is uproarious. VERDICT Ewww, gross—and hilarious. In a unique format that combines picture book and nonfiction elements, children will learn fascinating facts while laughing uproariously. Highly recommended.

Salzmann, Mary Elizabeth. ai.ISBN 9781098282820.
––––. ea.ISBN 9781098282837.
––––. ee.ISBN 9781098282844.
––––. oa.ISBN 9781098282851.
––––. oo.ISBN 9781098282868.
––––. ou.ISBN 9781098282875.
ea vol: 24p. (Vowel Teams). Abdo/Launch!. Aug. 2023. Tr $31.36.
K-Gr 2–Vowel teams are building blocks that comprise numerous words. This series provides children with good opportunities to practice their reading skills by introducing many new words featuring six common vowel teams. A chart on the Table of Contents page identifies the team, names the sound(s) the team makes, and lists six or nine words that include the team’s sound(s); children are invited to read the list’s red-highlighted words to hear the sound(s). If a vowel team makes more than one sound, as in the case of “ea” (eat, bread), this is noted. The remainder of each short book focuses on sentences in which two-to-four words containing the vowel team are highlighted; the team is also highlighted in red in a yellow box at the top of text pages. Occasionally, there are questions among the sentences, with answers including words reflecting the vowel team. Where a team makes more than one sound, sentences feature words including both. Accompanying text pages are excellent color photos portraying racially diverse children and/or families having fun. The photos are great comprehension aids; photos whose names contain target vowel-team sounds also appear on covers and title pages. Back matter features picture glossaries with definitions as well as lists of every included vowel team word —defined, pronounced, and organized by parts of speech. VERDICT Recommended for providing plenty of phonemic practice.

Salzmann, Mary Elizabeth. Apostrophe.ISBN 9781098282684.
––––. Comma.ISBN 9781098282691.
––––. Exclamation Point.ISBN 9781098282707.
––––. Period.ISBN 9781098282714.
––––. Question Mark.ISBN 9781098282721.
––––. Quotation Marks.ISBN 9781098282738.
ea vol: 24p. (Punctuation). Abdo/Launch! Sept. 2023. Tr $31.36.
Gr 1-3–Each volume opens with a chart on the Table of Contents page explaining how the mark is used, with sample sentences given. The mark’s name is also highlighted in red in example sentences and in a yellow box at the top of text pages. Missteps occur throughout. For instance, in the apostrophe volume, pages with example sentences don’t remind readers of the “missing words” apostrophes replace. The TOC chart in the question-mark volume omits sentence examples of that mark’s use; it also misleadingly defines one use as “takes the place of a period” and omits that it requires a change in vocal intonation. In the quotation-marks volume, only one example appears for any of its three listed functions; furthermore, children will find that example complicated to grasp. The series fares better visually: High-quality photos accompany texts, featuring racially and ethnically diverse children and families engaged in enjoyable activities. Back matter includes a lengthy word list organized by parts of speech and a picture glossary. VERDICT Provides basic information children must know to read and comprehend printed English. However, titles include errors and often omit important information. Recommended with caveats.

Xu, Han. Happy Birthday, Mr. Octopus!ISBN 9780716653363.
––––. It’s Raining, Mr. Octopus!ISBN 9780716653370.
––––. Let’s Dance, Mr. Octopus!ISBN 9780716653387.
––––. Let’s Make Art, Mr. Octopus!ISBN 9780716653394.
––––. Let’s Make Music, Mr. Octopus!ISBN 9780716653400.
––––. Let’s Play, Mr. Octopus!ISBN 9780716653417.
––––. Take a Picture, Mr. Octopus!ISBN 9780716653424.
––––. Where Are You, Mr. Octopus?ISBN 9780716653431.
ea vol: illus. by Han Xu. 40p. (Fun with Mr. Octopus). World Book. Sept. 2023. Tr $21.99.
PreS-Gr 2–Each title in this delightful, comical series begins with a helpful “Reading Tips for Grownups” page that features three sections: “Before Reading” guides adults in doing an activity with young readers related to the book’s topic; “During Reading” contains questions children are encouraged to answer about what’s happening in the book; and “After Reading” includes theme-related activities for adults and children to do post-reading. Hands-on activities are included in the back matter of each title; other activities may involve critical thinking, visual literacy, or movement. Occasionally, there’s a theme-related “Try This!” activity, e.g., a recipe occurs at the end of Book 1, which is about food. A World Book resources link is located at the bottom of the tips page. The lively stories are character- and dialogue-driven; cheery, orange, black-hatted Mr. Octopus and his animal friends are very expressive. The brief, charming stories exude messages of friendship, kindness, helpfulness, and cooperation. Onomatopoeia is used liberally throughout, arousing interest and heightening children’s awareness of reading expressiveness, vocal intonation, and punctuation such as question marks and exclamation points. Some of the skills students will practice include number matching and one-to-one correspondence; fruit identification; color awareness/matching; and sound dynamics, e.g., loud and soft. VERDICT This series is highly recommended for its many learning opportunities, exuberance and charm, engaging humor, and warm messages of close friendship.


The engaging “Decodable Books Read and Succeed Level 1” series (TCM) offers an appealing blend of nonfiction stories and rich phonemic-skills practice. Promoting healthy eating, reading skills, and science learning are on the menu in Crabtree’s colorful “Fruits You Love to Eat.” Kids will befriend a cheery cephalopod in World Book’s “Fun with Mr. Octopus” series. Math learning plus reading practice add up to a perfect equation in Cherry Lake’s charming “Little Math Stories.” With some adorable characters’ help, kids will learn how to get to understandings of spatiality and other important concepts in Lerner’s “Sesame Street Directional Words.” Irresistible animals and lots of fascinating facts go together in the winning “Too Cute!”series from Bellwether.



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