Decodable Books and Picture Books – Not an Either/Or!

Phonically decodable books are back in the spotlight since the DfE brought out the new Core Criteria for phonics and published The reading framework: teaching the foundations of literacy in July this year. I’ll be honest – I’m a fan of phonically decodable books. I’ve seen first-hand how closely matched phonically decodable books can help even the youngest children see themselves as readers. It’s a powerful thing to know a handful of GPCs and realise that you can blend them to make sense of words. We know from countless research that success breeds success. Children believing they can read and seeing themselves as readers are important milestones in their reading career.

However, we all know that most phonically regular books are not the most riveting of reads! There are only so many plot lines you can conjure up with s, a, t, p, i, n! In the hands of a skilled teacher and loving parents however, even the most basic phonically regular books can be brought to life through talk around the text. The main point of these books is of course to support decoding and to develop automaticity in reading. With books like these children are able to practise blending, develop fluency and gain confidence in reading.

A picture book of course is so, so much more. Sharing picture books is about engaging children in literature and encouraging excitement in reading. They are about discussions and interpretations. Picture books promote inference, deduction and nurture an emotional response to story. As the incredible author and artist Shaun Tann once wrote, ‘Picture books often include a lot of conscious gaps’. This is what allows for the range of interpretation and creative response we get from young children when we share a quality picture book. A good picture book encourages the imagination to walk and to wander.

Picture books and phonically regular books are not mutually exclusive. They both have crucial roles to play in developing our young readers. We need to remind visitors to our classrooms, parents and school communities of the importance of all types of books in our children’s lives. Picture books are important at every stage to inspire children to become voracious readers.

Phonically decodable books are a means to an end. Picture books are the beginning. The beginning of a lifelong relationship with literature. The beginning of a journey into the joy of reading and a deep desire to be drawn in to the spells woven by a good story.