Here is a review of the very best paid and free emergent readers and emergent reading book sets that I used in my Kindergarten classroom to teach reading for many years! I have also included an explanation of why I used and valued each set of books.
It’s important to note that I used these book sets in combination with each other, rather than just one single set. I also mixed in other single books that I got in various places, but usually from the Scholastic Book Club, often with Bonus Points or with a combination of points, coupons, and cash.
How to Pick the Right Level of Book
If you are just getting started with supplemental emergent readers in your curriculum, you may be a little confused about where to begin. In that case, the best thing to do is simply pick one book that you think your child might enjoy and just try it! Have a few books of different levels on hand so that you have several to try out.
If your child is breezing right through the first book and it seems like he is learning almost nothing from it, then bump him up a level and try again. Keep moving up a level until you find a book that is not too easy and not too hard. If a child is stumbling over more than one word per page on these emergent readers, than you probably have a book that is too hard.
If the child is frustrated and unhappy, then again, you probably have a book that is too hard. On the other hand, if the child is enjoying it and wants to read another one, you probably hit the nail right on the head! Watch your child to see which one the child WANTS to read (probably because he is successful), and start there. From there, you can slowly move forward and teach your child more!
Let’s start with the free, printable books! You can certainly print out free books from many sites. The best site (and my current favorite) is The Measured Mom, which has GOBS of free printable books, and doesn’t charge for a single one!
AMAZING! (“The Measured Mom” is a former school teacher with a Master’s Degree in education who now stays at home with her children. ALL of the resources on her site are top quality, and they are ALL FREE!)
Here are some more suggestions from readers for other great free printable emergent readers:
Jennifer: My favorite free printable books are from Hubbardscupboard.org. They have word family books, sight word books, and cvc books, and more.
Rachelle: Have you checked out Reading the Alphabet by This Reading Mama? It is a free program online and I LOVE it! It focuses on a specific letter sound each week and is built around sight words that build on each other. She also has a plethora of free activities to go with each book.
You can also check my Pinterest Emergent Reader board, where I pin free printable emergent readers all the time! In fact, it’s rare when I pin anything there that is not free! Above is a preview of what my Emergent Reader board looks like. By the way, if you know if a great free resource I should pin to this board, please leave a comment below and I will certainly pin it! Sometimes I run out of time to search.
Commercially Available Books
We used the Houghton Mifflin language arts program at the school that I used to teach at, and then supplemented as necessary with other books. I think that supplementing is incredibly important, because it helps fill in the gaps that any language arts series might have, and what I found was that the children needed MUCH more practice reading real books than the Houghton Mifflin series provided.
This is a picture of a book from the series I used at the school where I used to work. The books are no longer in print, so far as I can tell. But I enjoyed using many of the titles in this series! I could almost always find a book that “featured” a certain sight word, but at the same time they were leveled from A-D, as I recall.
The picture above shows a book from the supplemental book set that we had. I liked that the pictures were in color and usually cute. Many of the easiest books had a repetitive pattern and featured one certain sight word to work on in each book. At the same time, they were leveled, so the length of the sentences and vocabulary got a tiny bit harder with each new section. Some of them had a few CVC words in them, too. It’s a shame that those books are now totally out of print!
However, these Reading Reading books pictured above are a very close match, and they actually look much better anyway! (The company is located in Reading, Pennsylvania, and hence the name!) The book sets pictured on the homepage all look great to me. I’ve seen them “in person” at conferences, and I spent some time thumbing through them, and I really wanted to purchase them, but we already had book sets at school to use and we had no budget for new ones.
If I had the budget for a nice set of emergent readers, the Reading Reading Books would be my choice! Here’s why:
A big advantage of the Reading Reading Books is the great readability of the lower level books, and the fact that it includes both fiction and non-fiction. The books are carefully leveled and planned out to be a part of a curriculum, rather than simply fun supplemental reading at home. I also really like that it has both photographs AND great illustrations for the children.
Because of this, I think that these books really are a cut above the rest, but they are much pricier than the other sets I’ve listed below. A typical six book set of readers is $27.50. One single book is $4.75. The very large set pictured above has got about 1700 books and 264 titles for $5965. (Gulp!) There are much smaller sets, though, for much less money. Unless these are going to be the only books that you teach reading from, you really don’t need to purchase that many.
This is the box with some of my Bob Books in them. As you can see, they are getting worn out!
I have also used Bob Books to practice CVC Words. In my opinion, the Bob Books are just “okay” -(the stories are not all that great,) but then the books are not very expensive, either. I used both Set One and Set Two with my students.
One of the things I don’t like about the Bob Books is that the illustrations aren’t great. They are just drawings- no photos- and everything is in black and white, or at least it used to be. These days, I have seen a little bit of color thrown into some of the newer editions, as in the photo above that I found online. Also, they are all fiction. There is no informational print at all that I have seen in my sets of books.
This is the first and easiest book in the Bob Book series. They are very easy to read and are based strictly on phonics.
The stories are written to include words that fall within basic word families, and they are totally phonics based readers. If you look at the titles of each book, it is easy to guess which word family the book focuses on.
This Bob Book is about halfway through the books in set one. I included the picture so you can see how difficult the books get.
There are a couple of Bob Books for each vowel sound that you might study, so a few for short A, a few for short I, etc. I wanted each child in my group of six to have a book, so I bought seven sets (one for each child and an extra book for me.)
This book comes near the end of the series of Bob Books, Set One. This is probably the most difficult book in the set.
There are 12 books in the box, and each box costs $9.99. So for about $70 I got 84 books. These work great for CVC words, but you’ll still need to find something for your students to practice reading with more sight words in them, though. I wouldn’t use this set exclusively to teach reading.
Here is another option that was suggested by a reader that is similar to the Bob Books:
Diane: “Our favorite fiction emergent readers are similar to the Bob books, but with cute illustrations and silly stories. They are called Playful Pals and you can check them out here. They are written by a kindergarten teacher. The first set has lots of CVC words (focusing on one vowel per book) and a few sight words. They get progressively harder and have a strong phonics base. I absolutely LOVE these and so do my kids.”
Biscuit Phonics Fun (My First I Can Read Books)
Similar to the Bob Books are the My First I Can Read Phonics Box Sets. I had a set of Biscuit themed books. They were called Biscuit Phonics Fun (My First I Can Read) books.
This is the very first, easiest book in the Biscuit series. Note how much harder this would be to read for a beginner than the Bob Books or even the Dick and Jane Books below.
There were 12 books in the boxed set, and I purchased seven boxed sets so that everyone in my group would have a book.
This is the sixth book in the Biscuit Books set. I included it so that you can see how hard the books get as you go along.
One boxed set of 12 little books is now $11.51 on Amazon. My kids liked them a lot more than the Bob Books because the illustrations and characters are a lot more appealing to most of the children. However, these books are a little bit harder than the Bob Books because they do use more sight words in them and the vocabulary is not as restricted as in the Bob Books.
This is the tenth book in the set of twelve. As you can see, the vocabulary does not seem to be put together in these stories in a sequential way so that the beginning books are easier than the final books.
As you can see, the vocabulary does not seem to be put together in these stories in a sequential way so that the beginning books are much significantly easier than the final books. In fact, the last book in the set was the easiest one to read of all, with nothing more than “I like ____,” sentences in the whole thing! It was marked as a “review” book. I’m pretty sure a K/1 teacher didn’t give much input on the text on this series.
If I had a group that was just boys (or girls that I thought would enjoy them,) I would certainly check those out. There are even people that are buying them USED on Amazon, and that would really be a big savings!
The all star line up of these Phonics Fun boxed set books included the Berenstain Bears, Fancy Nancy, Little Critter, Pinkalicious, and My Little Pony, in addition to SpiderMan and BatMan! I would venture a guess that they are probably all about the same quality, but if anyone out there has experienced anything different, I would LOVE to hear from you! I can easily update this post!
Scholastic Guided Science Readers
This is the Guided Science Readers Set of books that I got a couple of years ago from the Scholastic Book Club.
Because there are so many great beginning fiction emergent readers out there that can be purchased inexpensively (or even downloaded FREE!), one alternative is to purchase the non-fiction books separately. This set, called the Scholastic Science Readers, are a great choice for this purpose, and they are very reasonably priced!
Here is a picture of all of the books in the set of Guided Science Readers I got from the Scholastic Book Club. As you can see, the topics are ones that are typically covered in most early childhood classrooms. There is now a “Super Set” of Guided Science Readers sold on Amazon with twice as many books included as I had.
I found the “Super Set” of Science Readers right here for $70.00, plus $3.99 shipping (that’s less than Amazon!) and it includes 144 books, with full color photos!
I was able to purchase this set from the Book Club with coupons and points, etc. at the beginning of my last year of teaching. So, I only had a chance to use them for one school year.
This is an example of a level A reader from the Guided Science Readers Set from Scholastic.
I really liked the Scholastic Science Readers ,and I especially liked that they are leveled and sequential. They have four titles written for level A, four titles for B, four titles for C, and four titles for level D.
This is an example of a level B reader from the Guided Science Readers Set from Scholastic.
There are six books of each of 24 titles in the “Super Set” on Amazon. I have a smaller set sold on the Book Club, but it seemed to be just fine, and my kids really liked reading about the science topics. It looks like you can get a set with just one book of each title on Amazon for $14.70.
Here is a book from Level C of the Guided Science Readers Collection.
And here is one more picture of the Level D book from the Guided Science Collection.
For kids that can read sight words, but struggle with phonics: pull out those old Dick and Jane Books!
Kids that know just a very few sight words (even ten or fewer words) can begin to read the Dick and Jane stories in this book. These stories are based on sight word instruction, rather than phonics instruction.
There is one other thing that I would like to mention. I also had a set of these books, called a Storybook Treasury of Dick and Jane & Friends. Now I know that Dick and Jane is now a “dirty word,” but the reason why I sometimes use it is because it focused exclusively on SIGHT WORDS ONLY, and ignores phonics entirely. If I could find a newer, updated book set that would do the same thing, I would certainly switch!
Here is the Dick and Jane Book Set that I own.
Since I always introduced sight words first through my Sing and Spell the Sight Word songs, I had children that might know eight or ten sight words, but couldn’t yet sound out any CVC words yet at all because it was too early in the Kindergarten year and we hadn’t introduced them yet! Yet the children could begin to read the Dick and Jane books knowing only those sight words. If you are not familiar with the HeidiSongs Sing and Spell series, here is a video below from Sing and Spell Vol. 5 so you can see what I’m talking about:
This is the very first story in the Dick and Jane book.
So even though the vocabulary is severely restricted in comical ways, such as a page with nothing but, “Oh, oh, oh!” and then another with “Oh, Dick!” and “Oh, oh, Dick!”, the children can figure out what is going on by looking at the pictures and still enjoy the story.
Here is another story that appears early in the Dick and Jane book.
The other good thing about Dick and Jane is that children that struggle with sounding out words in general often can STILL successfully read Dick and Jane books. And they are the only books I have found for which that is actually true. So I usually begin with these books, and then quickly switch over to the other phonics books later once the children had a handle on sounding out words. And would you believe: Some of these Dick and Jane books are now sold used on Amazon for only 40 cents, plus shipping! And there are LOTS of stories in each book.
I eventually switched to this tiny book set, which has exactly the same stories in it as the larger book, divided into smaller books for little hands. These books are now out of print.
I used to send the books home with the children to read for their homework, and would include a small paper note that also served as a bookmark. It said that the child was supposed to read pages ___ to ____, (etc.), and if the parent and child chose to read more, I could not supply something extra to read the following week. :0 I eventually switched to these small books so that they would get just one story per week, but these little boxed book sets are now out of print.
So! Remember: I used a combination of all four of these books, and rotated them in and out so that the children would get the best of all of the worlds in the classroom with me. Never once did we get a chance to read ALL of the books from one of the book sets.
1. I started with the Reading Reading books, just letting the children get used to tracking the print with their fingers, and finding words vs. letters and finding concepts of print.
2. Then I switched to the Dick and Jane series as soon as we learned just a few sight words.
3. Then, I switched to the Bob Books to work on sounding out the CVC words along with a few sight words.
4. After that, I alternated with the Guided Science Readers for Non-Fiction print and the Reading Reading books for Sight Words print.
I hope that helps! Let me know if you have any other questions for me!