Earlier this week, I read an article by Jodie Rodriguez about the Elephant and Piggie series. Rodriguez wasn’t happy with her children learning to read. She wanted them to be fluent without the stumbles and the starts and stops. She wanted them to grasp what they were reading. As I read her piece, I realized I was reading about what makes a top-notch beginning reader.
- Dialogue dependent. Much of the text in the Elephant and Piggie books comes in the form of dialogue. There’s just enough to pull readers into the story but not so much per page that they have to spend too much time decoding unknown words.
- Pictoral support. In a picture book, the illustrations expand on the story. In an early reader, they help the reader decipher various words. The illustrations provide visual cues. Yes, this is something that the publisher has to do but knowing this is part of an early reader can help you craft your story.
- Performance. Elephant and Piggie can be acted out. When a reader gets stuck and another reader acts out the text, inflection and emotion can help identify the tricky word.
What does it take to create a story that can be performed? Actions are verbs. In a story that benefits from being acted out the verbs are active. WHen someone gets stuck, another reader has something clear to act out. The text doesn’t say Rose solved the problem. Instead it briefly says what Rose did.
As the author, you also need to limit the number of words you use to create your story. Words that have been decoded are old friends. The reader knows these words. Words that are unfamiliar create an ongoing struggle. Yes, you want the reader to expand their vocabulary but you want them to stick with the book until the end.
Elephant and Piggie does all of this and more. One of my favorite characteristics is that no matter how silly and “out there” these two characters are they are obviously real children. They do real child things. They express real child emotions. All of this adds together to create a story that pulls young readers in. As they read these books, young readers build the confidence they need to grow into the next stage of their reading experience.