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Best Decodable Books for Boosting Kids’ Reading Skills

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Decodable books are an important tool for reading instruction aligned to the science of reading. How can you choose the best decodable books for your students? We’ve vetted lots of great options for you here.

What are decodable books?

Decodable books have intentional word choices to let readers use their growing phonics knowledge to read. Decodable books are not predictable texts like “I see the blue bird. I see the yellow lion” that include a haphazard mix of phonics patterns. Leveled books written to encourage students to guess at words using pictures or sentence context are also not decodable books.

(To learn more about decodable text, check out What Makes a Good Decodable Text? by phonics guru Wiley Blevins. For ideas about what you can do with all the leveled books you already have that aren’t decodable, see Rethinking Leveled Readers: 8 Ways to Use Leveled Books That Align With the Science of Reading.)

Choosing decodable books

Keep in mind: Books are only “decodable” for readers who have the skills needed to decode the words they contain. For instance, if a reader knows a few consonants and short ‘a,’ they can read decodable books that include only words with those consonants and short ‘a’—plus, probably, a handful of high-frequency words they’ve been taught. When they’ve also learned short ‘i’ and a few more consonants, their decodable books could have words with short ‘a’, short ‘i,’ and all the consonants they know. Series of decodable books progress systematically in a particular order, layering on new phonics demands as they go.

Many readers are ready to transition out of tightly controlled decodable text by sometime in first or second grade, but this isn’t the case for everyone. Decodable books are a crucial tool for older readers working with a specialized systematic reading program due to dyslexia or another disability, or any student for whom growing phonics knowledge is still a primary need. More-advanced decodable books will have a much wider range of words, but the same idea applies: For a reader to decode them, they must have the phonics skills the words require.

Questions To Ask When Choosing Decodable Text

We’ve listed our favorite options below, with notes about key features to help you choose which are best for your students. Some questions to think about include:

Do the reading demands match what students need to practice?

If you’re purchasing a series of decodable books, you’ll definitely want to look at the series’ phonics scope and sequence and how it matches up with any other curriculum you use. You’ll also need to look at which and how many high-frequency words the text includes. Some books do include outlier words that aren’t “decodable” given the book’s focus—for instance, nonfiction books that include some extra content vocabulary words. This can be OK for students if they’ll receive support to read them.

How natural does the text sound?

Yes, the controlled language of decodable text can sound stilted, especially at the very early levels. But it is definitely still possible to craft a sensical and compelling book from a limited word list, and some titles do it better than others. (Food for thought: Some critics think decodable text will bore kids, but many kids actually get very excited about how decodable text lets them experience real reading and make noticeable progress over time.)

Are the pictures and format engaging for kids?

It’s important that kids’ reading experiences feel authentic. Appealing illustrations or photos that enhance a book’s plot or information can make a big difference. For older readers, having decodable books that look and feel like traditional chapter books is key.

What vocabulary support will kids need to comprehend?

Some words chosen to fit the phonetic constraints of decodable books might be less familiar to kids, like “ill” instead of “sick” or “van” instead of “car.” Unfamiliar vocabulary shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for choosing a book or series, but you will need to build in time for teaching about word meanings. This is especially important for English-language learners.

What about availability and cost?

Some series have many more opportunities for repeated practice of the same skills with different books, while others pack more skills into fewer titles. Some books must be purchased through the publisher and others are available from major retailers. If you expect kids to move through books quickly, expensive titles may be a no-go. (There are also plenty of free options for printable or electronic books, or other formats like decodable passages. See our faves below!)

Best Decodable Books: Series

These are our top choices for decodable books purchased in sets from educational publishers.

Book covers for Half Pint Readers as an example of best decodable books
Half-Pint Kids

1. Half-Pint Readers by LuAnn Santillo

We love these for boosting new readers’ confidence. It feels great to be able to read real, colorful books independently. These have well-controlled, manageable text but enough of a plot to have meaningful comprehension discussions too. Plus, they are reasonably priced. Bonus: The titles can be read online for free!

Buy it: Half Pint Readers

Book covers for Just Right Readers as an example of decodable books
Just Right Readers

2. Just Right Readers

These are great for grade-level teams or intervention programs because they offer a large number of titles to review each phonics skill. Fifty books with CVC words? Yes, please! Kids love the fun content. Bonus: These titles can be read online for free!

Buy it: Just Right Readers

Book covers for samples of Geodes decodable books
Great Minds

3. Geodes Books

This series aligns with the Wilson Fundations phonics scope and sequence. They prioritize both phonics practice and building background knowledge. Because they include more content words, they are a bit less strictly “decodable” than other series, but the realistic art and high-interest topics are fantastic, as are the teachers’ notes. These are pricey but definitely a good investment.

Buy it: Geodes books

Book covers for samples of Flyleaf decodable books
Flyleaf Decodable Books

4. Flyleaf Publishing Decodable Books

These are popular for their extremely high quality. There are just a few titles for each skill, but they’re a worthwhile investment for a growing collection. If you’re new to using decodable books or just short on planning time (who isn’t?), the teachers guides are awesome for grab-and-go teaching. Bonus: All 89 decodable books are available to read for free for the 2023-2024 school year!

Buy it: Flyleaf Publishing

Example of decodable books from Charge Mommy Books
Charge Mommy Books

5. Charge Into Reading Decodable Reading System by Brooke Vitale

These are cute stories, and each book includes several pages of practice activities, making them great for small groups or for at-home practice. These were developed in consultation with an Orton-Gillingham-trained specialist, and the UFLI Foundations Decodable Text Guide lists this series as one choice to align to their phonics scope and sequence. Note that the scope and sequence moves quickly and some consonant blends are lumped in with short vowels. This gives more plot and vocabulary options but may be tricky for kids who need lots of teaching for each individual skill.

Buy it: Charge Into Reading Decodable Books at Charge Mommy Books or on Amazon

Sample book covers for ReadBright decodable readers, set 1 as an example of decodable books
ReadBright

6. ReadBright Decodable Readers

These titles are part of the comprehensive ReadBright curriculum, though they can definitely be used on their own. Other coordinated materials like classroom posters, dictation books, and homework books are also available. The books are sturdy and the stories and illustrations, while cartoon-like, give children plenty to think and talk about while they practice applying their phonics skills. The scope and sequence includes a set of titles to hone in on different syllable types in multi-syllable words, which is a helpful option as kids progress.

Buy it: ReadBright Decodable Readers

Book cover for Moon dog Wet Day in Spain as an example of decodable books
Phonic Books

7. Phonic Books

This publisher’s series for early readers, Dandelion Readers, is affordable, reliable, and has lots of titles. The “Catch-Up Readers” are a fantastic resource for older striving readers. The illustrations and topics are not at all babyish, but they give upper elementary kids plenty of supportive decoding practice.

Buy it: Phonic Books

Book covers for Whole Phonics Level 1
Whole Phonics

8. Whole Phonics Decodable Books

These are sturdy quality books with fun cartoon illustrations and diverse characters that kids like. They are helpful for building kids’ stamina—many of the books are longer than comparable titles from other publishers. This also means there is more to talk about in the stories and lots of repetition too.

Buy it: Whole Phonics

Book covers for Little Learners Love Literacy books
The Reading League

9. Little Learners Love Literacy Decodable Books

These Australian titles are now available in the United States from The Reading League. They have a range of cute and appealing fiction titles, but we’re most excited about their decodable nonfiction series, “Little Learners, Big World.” Such a great option to have decodable informational books available for kids!

Buy it: Little Learners Love Literacy Books from The Reading League

Book covers for Heggerty LIbrary Kindergarten Series 1
Heggerty

10. Heggerty Decodable Books

Heggerty is a trustworthy and teacher-friendly curriculum source that’s continually expanding its offerings. It has multiple decodable book collections and a downloadable decodable library option. The high-quality, durable books include more varied words and more skills per book than other decodable series; this will be a good fit for some students and tricky for others. You’ll want to look carefully at each series scope and sequence and not rely only on the listed grade levels. Each book includes an easy-to-follow lesson plan.

Buy it: Heggerty Decodable Books

Saddleback Educational Publisher Twerl Phonics set
Saddleback Educational Publishing

11. Saddleback Educational Publishing TERL and TwERL Phonics Books

This publisher specializes in hi-lo books for older striving readers. Their phonics books are absolutely fantastic for tweens and teens still working on building and applying phonics skills. They’ve got great photos and age-appropriate topics and humor too.

Buy it: Saddleback Educational Publishing TERL and TwERL Phonics Books

Best Decodable Books: Trade Books

These choices don’t have the same extensive scope and sequence as those from educational publishers, but they are available from mainstream book retailers. They’re good choices if you have gift cards, only want to buy a couple books to try out, or want to give suggestions to families.

Bob books as an example of decodable books
Amazon

12. Bob Books by Bobby Lynn Maslen

Bob Books are a time-tested choice that’s easy to get your hands on. Older students often dismiss these as babyish, but we do like them for very young kids who are eager to flex their reading muscles and like the silly stories.

Buy it: Bob Books on Amazon

Book cover for The Yak Pak Comics & Phonics
Amazon

13. The Yak Pack: Comics & Phonics series by Jennifer Makwana

Hooray for decodable comics for kids! The four books in this series cover short vowels, digraphs, blends, and silent e. They are great for supplemental practice. Or suggest them to families to read at home—they include lots of helpful adult guidance.

Buy it: The Yak Pack: Comics & Phonics series on Amazon

Book cover for Jax and Ren Are Pals series as an example of decodable books
Amazon

14. Jax and Ren series by Lina Miller

These cute books feature a bear and a fox who have friendly adventures. They don’t progress in a systematic sequence, but mostly contain words with standard consonant and short vowel spellings. The caregiver note at the start of each book introduces any outlier words. These are a great substitute for more varied early reader trade books.

Buy it: Jax and Ren series on Amazon

Book cover for Meg and Greg book 1
Amazon

15. Meg and Greg books by Elspeth Rae and Rowena Rae

This is a unique choice for shared reading. These books have a fresh and fun chapter book layout. The stories themselves are not controlled for phonics content, but they do have lots of boldface examples of words with the target phonics pattern. Each chapter has several added comic book–style pages that are decodable for kids to read.

Buy it: Meg and Greg books on Amazon

Book cover for Dog on a Log chapter book 1
Amazon

16. Dog on a Log Chapter Books by Pamela Brookes

These books are great for older striving readers who want to feel like they are reading chapter books of a similar size and length as their peers, but still need structured practice applying phonics knowledge. Yes, the stories are a bit contrived, but the strategic captioned illustrations add engagement. The caregiver tips are helpful for families using these books at home.

Buy it: Dog on a Log Chapter Books on Amazon

Low-Cost and Free Decodable Books and Texts

If you’re looking to download decodable books or shorter text, these are some top-notch options!

17. The Measured Mom decodable books and decodable nonfiction readers

18. TextProject’s Decoding + Knowledge Program

19. Decodable Comics by PhonicsPlay

20. Mrs. Winter’s Bliss decodable passages and decodable books

21. The Literacy Nest’s decodable passages

22. The Reading Elephant printable phonics books

What are your favorite decodable books to use with students? Come discuss in the We Are Teachers HELPLINE group on Facebook!

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