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Take 5 Phonic reading schemes!

Investing in children’s books for your business, school or home can be trial or error. Sometimes, it’s not a question of cost, but will the ‘life’ of the book sustain frequent handling from children? Has it got the recommended content for young readers? Can it be used in a cross curricular way and encourage developing reading skills?


Also with progressive phonic readers, it can be tempting to have all the books out on display and the children take a book, out of sequence and either give up trying to read, as its too hard or they have not learned the letter sounds yet. Equally, children may investigate the illustrations then make an assumption about the content and do not want to read the book again when they are learning the focus phoneme.


Phonic reading schemes are a good investment. I have used all of the publications below and the successes or failures can be measured in many ways. I have learned, not to rush reading, give the child time and make time for reading assessments. Some publications work well with one group and may not with another.



Songbirds Phonics

Published by Oxford Reading Tree


These are bright, very colourful books with information on how to use the book for parents and teachers on the first page. The last page also has tips to help check comprehension and phonics. The visual cues do provide possibilities for amplifying the story and asking questions. They have a nice clear font on the pages too.

The back of the book gives the ‘focus phonics’ sounds and each progressive stage is colour coded so children can pick the right book in the sequence.

The stories are full of imagination, fantasy and everyday life themes and there are a few plays in the series. Each book has a different style of illustration and the books in each stage are enough to help a child read but progress as well.






Big Cat Reading Lions

Phonics series.

Published by Collins


There are 6 levels in this series, from first reading to fluent reading. The Big Cat books do provide an explanation about synthetic phonics and about decodable and non-decodable words. There is also information on how the phonic readers work as well as suggestions on the back page on how to be a ‘tricky-word’ detective, ideas on how to extend activities from the book and games.

Most of the books have a ‘story map’ or sequence the images from the pages, so the child can retell the story using the visual cues. This is a wonderful way to develop oral story telling skills, using time frames (e.g. in the beginning, in the middle and at the end) and amplifying the story.

Each book uses different styles of illustrations and photo combinations. There is a good selection of fiction and non-fiction books.




Jolly Readers

Published by Jolly Learning


Jolly Phonics have revised their decodable phonics books and the newer editorials have features such as ‘say the sounds’, ‘tricky words’ and then several stories packed into one book. These vary into fiction and non-fiction categories and are presented as small stories within a book. This feature is appealing to young readers or ESL students as they can complete a short story with confidence, rather than struggle with a big book. The books have a ‘solid’ feel to them and therefore, durable.

The books are colour coded and there are four levels. Picture cues, parent’s information is included and to develop literacy and comprehension skills, there are questions to prompt a review of the content or link to topic areas in the curriculum. The sentence content in the stories are visibly extended as the books progress, so they have more of a ‘primary’ aged reader feel to them.

One feature that is extremely helpful with the Jolly readers is the change of font (to faint print) in the text, to indicate if the letter symbol is sounded.



Dandelion Readers

Published by Phonics Book Ltd


These phonics books are colour coded and the letter/word grid on the back page of the book provides information about the target letter sounds, vcc, cvcc, ccvcc words, digraphs and then syllables. There is a short ‘how to use this book section’ and a game page with suggestions at the back of the book.

The picture cues in all the books are a combination of photos and illustrations, which makes them look different and imaginative. There is a big variation with the story content, but mostly all fiction, with engaging stories.

These books are slightly different as the progression does highlight cvc, cvcc word etc formations as a separate unit in the range.

Nice easy to read and manage books with links to the ‘sounds-write’ reading and spelling programme.



BBC Fun with phonics

Words and pictures

Published by BBC Active


There is a book to accompany each letter sound (the focus phoneme) or digraph and a book that will cover a group of sounds in the series. The books have target high frequency words and tricky words (this set of phonic readers makes the distinction between HFW’s and tricky words). There is also the link to the Letters and Sounds program and vowel digraphs.

The book does allow some interaction before reading by introducing the characters and sounding out words with the target phoneme.

Also, there is a little introduction about the story, so that children have a context. So, this small context cue can help the child think about their own experiences in relation to the story.

The illustrations are bright and clear, with an easy to read font. Lots of visual cues to ask further questions about the content or punctuation etc.

At the back of the book there are activities that are levelled at the stage of reading, such as blending, talking about the story, say the sounds, read the words etc. Plus, tips for teachers and parents. There are a lot of books in the pack, probably one of the publications with the biggest selection.



Patience is needed! As children are trying to work out a word, by blending or segmenting, it can be tempting to say it for them or other children blurt it out! Also, make sure the child knows the target sound they are looking at in the book. As obvious as it sounds, some children mistake letter shapes or forget the letter sound association.


In a busy and full class, it is difficult to organise one to one reading and equally, if the children come from a non-native English speaking home, it may be difficult to send books home for reading reinforcement.


Please comment on your experiences of using these publications or recommend other books. This exchange of information is so important for teachers and parents.








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