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Children’s Literature

By Rodney Everson • Updated Jul 27th, 2023

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Both the 4th and 5th editions of The Writing Road to Reading contain recommended reading lists. At the time the lists were composed, the books were readily available in bookstores and were considered good examples of excellent children's literature. Today, some of the books are difficult to obtain while others have content that some would consider inappropriate due to changing sensitivities over the years. To cut through some of this, and make getting started easier for a parent, on the last half of this page I've listed several of the books that are available and that still appear to be suitable today, although suitability is definitely a subjective issue.

Before getting to the lists, however, there's an important issue that deserves consideration.

Possible Misconception Concerning the Ayres List Dictation Process

In a Foreword to both editions, S. Farnham Diggory writes:

When about 150 words are in the spelling notebooks, reading begins. A major shock for new Spalding teachers is that reading is never taught. It just begins. After hours of phonogram learning, sequential word analysis, and graphic marking, children can read. They simply pick up a book and start reading. (It is, of course, a pretty exciting day.) - page 17 of the 4th Edition; page xv of the Foreword of the 5th Edition

From the above quote, it would be easy to infer that all of the words your child will encounter in the recommended books will have already been learned during dictation. This, however, is far from the truth. In fact, for a while your child will encounter a number of words in nearly every book he reads that have not yet been dictated from the Ayres List. Over time he will encounter thousands that were never dictated, and never will be.

For example, in the first book on the 4th Edition list, Ten Apples Up On Top, if you have finished dictation through the words in Section H, as instructed, your child will encounter about 25 words (out of a total of about 75) that have not been covered in dictation. What are we to make of this?

Here's what Ms. Spalding had to say about the matter, from page 259 of the 4th Edition:

Words that do present a difficulty are sounded out as they are met. However, in reading no sounding out should be done aloud unless the child's silent sounding does not produce the correct word. Many teacher's manuals tell the teacher to present any new words to the class before they are met in the story to be read. They say that the one important thing is to get the meaning from the story. Children should get the meaning, of course, but their habits of mind should be considered too. They should work out the new words as they occur. No one is going to solve all their problems before each assignment when they are a little older.

Contrasting Philosophies?

If the above quote from Ms. Spalding appears somewhere in the 5th Edition, I've been unable to locate it. Instead, however, you can find, on page 131: "If spelling words have been taught a year ahead as provided in spelling lessons, there will be few words that interrupt fluency and comprehension."

And on page 160 we find the additional comment: "Children cannot focus on meaning while struggling (emphasis mine) to decode words."

Note the difference. Ms. Spalding expects unfamiliar words "to be sounded out as they are met," whereas the committee that produced the 5th Edition endorses the concept that the process of decoding to be something a child will be "struggling" to accomplish, to the detriment of comprehension, and would lead you to believe that nearly every unfamiliar word should be anticipated and, by implication, pre-taught.

Why is this distinction important? Ms. Spalding's approach assumes that your child, properly trained thus far, will willingly accept the challenge of attacking the various unfamiliar words encountered during the first reading of almost every book he is likely to pick up. The philosophy of the 5th edition inclines one to attempt to pre-teach as much as possible, thereby removing the prospect (and the challenge) that a child will encounter those unfamiliar words at all. Of course, that's nearly impossible, but if you're not aware of this issue, you might be tempted to pre-read every book, note words not covered, devote extra time to teaching them ahead of time, etc., doing exactly what Ms. Spalding warns against in the quote above. And, in fact, the 5th Edition has had about two dozen additional words added to Sections A-H, possibly reflecting this apparent change in philosophy.

And now, on to the lists. Just keep in mind Ms. Spalding's admonition above, repeated here for emphasis: "Words that do present a difficulty are sounded out as they are met. However, in reading no sounding out should be done aloud unless the child's silent sounding does not produce the correct word." If you have done a thorough job teaching your child the code, and have practiced writing simple sentences using the dictated words thus far, he should be prepared to work out, on his own or with your coaching if necessary, the new words he will encounter. In doing the work himself, he will consistently be adding to his reading vocabulary the thousands of words not found on the Ayres List.

Author’s Note

The books on this page appear on the recommended reading list in both the 4th Editon and the 5th Edition of The Writing Road to Reading. I've attempted to link to hardcover versions that are similar to the original version, but might not always be successful in doing so. Be aware that board books are usually abridged, sometimes quite severely.

Beginning Readers for Kindergarten and Grade One

Ms. Spalding, in the 4th Edition of WRTR, recommended that the following five books be read after completing dictation of Section I of the Ayres List, and that they be read in the order listed. The 5th Edition lists several additional books by Laura Appleton-Smith, most of which are only available at what I would consider prohibitive prices.

The Next Level

Read any of the books in this group after dictation the words in Section M. I've linked to the hardcover version of each, but Amazon prominently displays other choices as well.

Many of these books are considered classics. As classics, they sometimes introduce risk of danger and even death to very young children. It's important to remember that one of the purposes of storytelling has often been to introduce these risks in a palatable way to children, all while, frankly, putting a scare into them so that they won't blunder naively into doing something foolish when on their own. That said, you might want to read both the five-star reviews and the one-star reviews at Amazon before deciding to purchase a particular book. In fact, I have purposely left a few of Ms. Spalding's recommendations off the list below after reading and considering some of those reviews.

That's all for now, but I'll continue to add books at this early reading level for a time yet. The next section covers the rationale for the various changes to the WRTR curriculum that I've advocated here, beginning with the reason for changing the treatment of the phonograms y and i.

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