Books on Reading Instruction

Copyright © 2013 Karl M. Bunday, all rights reserved.

Two books have to go at the top of the page here, both of which I used to teach my oldest son to read. They are

Let's Read, A Linguistic Approach
Leonard Bloomfield and Clarence Barnhart (Detroit: Wayne State U Press, 1961). 465 pages; index. Superb book by a brilliant linguist, Leonard Bloomfield, who knew how to teach well and who used a draft of this book to teach his own son to read, and by Clarence Barnhart, the famous dictionary compiler. This book's authors know the English language and how to teach it. Let's Read is so effective in teaching young children to read that for years its publication was resisted by the United States publishing industry, which depends on school textbook sales for outrageous profits from taxpayers. I am delighted that readers of this site told me that this wonderful book, which eventually was published by a university press after Bloomfield's death, is in print and readily available from I bought the book (I had seen it in libraries before) and used it to teach my own son to read. The final story in the last lesson alone is worth the full price of the book as a motivation to independent reading. (Let your child discover the last line of the book for himself!) My son went from being almost a nonreader to being a fully independent reader after I helped him with this book and a few other books mentioned on this page. I especially like Let's Read because Bloomfield was the teacher of another brilliant teacher, John DeFrancis, author of the textbooks that taught me Chinese. Buy it, you'll like it. RECOMMENDED. KMBowns

Reading Reflex: The Foolproof Phono-Graphix TM Method for Teaching Your Child to Read
Carmen McGuinness and Geoffrey McGuinness (New York: Free Press, 1998) (ISBN 0-684-83966-0). US$30, xi and 353 pages; introduction by Diane McGuinness, glossary. I did not use this book exactly as the book prescribes while teaching my son to read, but I did read through it and used some of the phonological awareness exercises described in the book with him. Reading Reflex is the best book available so far for parents explaining how to build up a child's phonological awareness. The tone of the book, that the Phono-Graphix method is indispensable, is a tone you will find on the Reading Reflex Web site [link to a different Web site] too, but you can safely disregard that tone and still get good value out of this book. I find the analysis of English sound-spelling patterns ("phonograms") in Let's Read and in The Writing Road to Reading to be more accurate than that in Reading Reflex, and used those books to develop a better set of "sound picture" cards than this book provides. RECOMMENDED. KMBowns

Part 1: Other How-to Books on Home Reading Instruction

(Some items are listed with a publisher's suggested retail price; in many instances it is possible to order the listed items at lower cost.)
Shortcuts to Reading You Can Teach Your Child
Joan Beck (Mundelein, IL: Career Publishing, 1964?). Guide to teaching reading skills at home by author of books on early childhood education. First published as a newspaper series, a very popular reprint.

Alpha-Phonics: A Primer for Beginning Readers
Samuel L. Blumenfeld (1983) (ISBN 0-8159-6916-3). US$24.95 Easy-to-use first book on phonics skills for beginning readers.

Phonics for Reading: A Primer
Bonnie L. Dettmer US$49.95 Set includes primer, phonogram cards, phonogram cassette tape, student notebook for home schoolers. Phonics program for beginning learners, by the author of Phonics for Reading and Spelling.

How to Teach Your Baby to Read
Glenn Doman Not recommended book, mentioned only because people ask me about it once in a while. The overall approach is flawed. Stick with the recommended books from this list and use Doman's, if at all, only for laughs. Please write to me [mailto link] with detailed information about your experiences with the Doman materials if you disagree with me; I'm not the only person who has the opinion that Doman goes beyond the evidence in what he claims about his teaching methods, but I'm willing to listen to persons with a contrary opinion, especially an opinion based on personal experience.

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons
Siegfried Engelmann, Phyllis Haddox and Elaine C. Bruner (New York: Fireside, 1986 c. 1983) (ISBN 0-671-63198-5). 395 pages; parents' guide. Highly recommended, easy-to-use guide for teaching children to read at home, which has turned many four-year-olds into readers as they looked on while older siblings were taught with the book. Entirely true quotation, from the introduction: "After you complete the program you'll know more about teaching reading than most public-school teachers, because you will have carefully observed and participated in the step-by-step development of your child's reading skills." I made some use of the latter parts of this book while teaching my oldest son to read. RECOMMENDED. KMBowns

Why Johnny Can't Read:--And What You Can Do About It
Rudolf Flesch (New York: Harper and Row, 1955, reissued with new foreword 1986) (ISBN 0-06-091340-1). Includes reading instruction course. What started the "Great Debate" on reading instruction. Flesch's controversial book should be read not only for historical interest, but because it includes a phonics course that has spelled reading success for hundreds of former, frustrated nonreaders. Flesch was himself a skilled teacher (with a doctoral degree from Teachers College, Columbia U) and his skill as a teacher shows in his book. I used this book as a back-up to Let's Read[Link to Information about Book Let's Read on This Page] while teaching my son to read. RECOMMENDED. KMBowns

Home Guide to Early Reading: With Reading Readiness Games and Exercises for Your Preschool Child
Toni S. Gould (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1976) (ISBN 0-14-00.4567-8). xii and 189 pages.

Reading and Writing Before School
Felicity Hughes (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1971). 172 pages; introduction by Glenn Doman. How and why of preschool reading instruction at home, by British mother and teacher. This book is better than the writings of Glenn Doman on reading instruction, with which Ms. Hughes was very familiar. KMBowns

Teach Your Child to Read in Just Ten Minutes a Day
Sidney Ledson (Toronto, Ontario: Stoddart, 1999) (ISBN 0-7737-6035-0). US$17.95, CDN$24.95, xii and 226 pages; appendixes, index. Step-by-step guide to teaching reading at home, by the Canadian author of the highly recommended Raising Brighter Children. The "silly sentence review" in this book, which I received while I was already teaching my oldest son, was a big hit with him and ought to be imitated by more reading instruction books. Includes thought-provoking material about the nature of schooling, well worth reading by anyone. KMBowns

Play 'N Talk
(Carlsbad, CA: Play 'N Talk [7105 Manzanita Street, Carlsbad, CA 92009]) Program includes books, reading test, audio cassette ($250 for complete set with LP phonograph records or audio cassettes, $350 for set with compact discs). Book-tape set, about as expensive as they come, preferred by many parents and reviewers to other reading instruction materials for young children.

Sing, Spell, Read and Write
(St. Petersburg, FL: International Learning Systems of North America [1000 112th Circle North, Suite 100, St. Petersburg, FL 33716]) Level 1 Kit includes books, audio cassettes, progress chart, home tutoring manual, instructor's video, and sing-along video ($175). Book-tape set preferred to you-know-what nationally advertised phonics course in comparative reviews, especially helpful for parents who have little grasp of phonics principles of their own. Expensive, but worth it for parents who prefer this approach to home reading instruction. RECOMMENDED.

The Writing Road to Reading: The Spalding Method of Phonics for Teaching Speech, Writing and Reading
Romalda Spalding (New York: William Morrow, 4th revised edition 1990) (ISBN 0-688-06634-8). 288 pages; foreword by Sylvia Farnham-Diggory, appendix, index, 33.33rpm phonograph record in back cover sleeve ($17.95). Acclaimed, comprehensive reading and writing course designed for classroom instruction by Romalda Spalding, who took it through multiple editions during the last several decades of her long life. Favorite quotation, from foreword by Sylvia Farnham-Diggory: "A pervasive error in current reading instructional theory is that children will inductively discover the rules of the written language if they are immersed in a written language environment (Goodman & Goodman, 1979; Smith, 1971)." I used the list of Orton phonograms in this book to supplement the meager list of phonograms in Reading Reflex. The late author has a hang-up about the reduced vowel ("schwa") sound in English which I don't have, because my first-grade teacher correctly taught me about the phonics of reduced vowels. This highly recommended book is thought by many to be more difficult to use at home than other titles listed, and some suggest using The Writing Road to Reading with

Teach a Child to Read with Children's Books: Combining Story Reading, Phonics, & Writing to Promote Reading Success
Mark B. Thogmartin (Bloomington: Grayson Bernard, 2nd ed. 1997) (ISBN 1-88379025-5).

Part 2: Books on the Theory and Practice of Reading Instruction

Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning about Print
Marilyn Jager Adams (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990) (ISBN 0-262-01112-3; 0-262-51076-6 [pbk.]). x and 494 pages; references, index. New "classic" work on the subject of reading instruction. Adams carefully examines the theoretical framework of reading instruction and the results of actual practice. Beginning to Read has an extensive list of recent references, is thoroughly indexed, and amply rewards reading and rereading. RECOMMENDED.

No Quick Fix: Rethinking Literacy Programs in America's Elementary Schools
Richard L. Allington and Sean A. Walmsley (New York: Teachers College Press, 1995) (ISBN 0-8077-3389-X). ix and 278 pages; references for each article, index, [notes] about the contributors. Thought-provoking collection of articles describing various reading programs used in United States primary schools. Dismaying quotation about school-based reading programs, by the editors in their afterword: "Another concern is that none of the programs discussed in this book--nor any others we have read about-- achieve the goal of having every child become literate (by any definition), and it looks as though even the most intensive approaches fail to meet the needs of between 3 and 5 percent of the population. On the other hand, since failure rates run in the 20 to 50 percent range in some school districts, lowering them to even 5 percent has to be regarded as a remarkable accomplishment."

Children's Reading Problems: Psychology and Education
Peter Bryant and Lynette Bradley (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985) (ISBN 0-631-13683-5). viii and 166 pages; references, index, photographs. Discussion of several interesting research approaches to children's reading problems--and how to help children avoid or overcome them. Very valuable for discussing definitions of "dyslexia," noting that "comparisons between poor readers and acquired dyslexics should also include details about the skills and behaviors of normal children. Otherwise one will have no guarantee that the studies have anything to do with 'dyslexia' at all. The child whose progress in learning to read is smooth and untroubled might none the less at various stages show just the same oddities as the child who is said to be dyslexic." RECOMMENDED.

Visible Speech: The Diverse Oneness of Writing Systems
John DeFrancis (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1989) (ISBN 0-8248-1207-7). Brilliant study of all the writing systems of the world by an unmatched thinker on how to teach languages. DeFrancis wrote the textbook series that taught me the Chinese language, and I am in his debt for a lifetime for that alone. Professor DeFrancis has done us all a favor by dispelling mythical notions of how writing works that are promoted in many books by "whole language" authors. DeFrancis notes on page xii of Visible Speech that "The view of Chinese as a nonphonetic system of writing has been used to buttress the demand that should be taught to read by 'the whole word' method rather than that of 'phonics.'" By the end of DeFrancis's book, you'll know more about Chinese writing than most persons who have written books about it, and you'll know why the Chinese experience reinforces the case for phonics instruction in initial reading instruction. Indeed, my wife and I are now using DeFrancis's Beginning Chinese Reader as our primary textbook for teaching our son to read Chinese while we live in Taiwan. RECOMMENDED. KMBseen_MNU

Facts and Fads in Beginning: A Cross-Language Perspective
Dina Feitelson (Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing, 1988) (ISBN 0-89391-507-6). Bilingual author's thoughtful examination of reading instruction, which provides valuable perspective on reading instruction in other countries and other languages. Facts and Fads in Beginning Reading puts to the test of reality many theories about reading instruction. RECOMMENDED. KMBseen_MNU

Why Johnny Still Can't Read: A New Look at the Scandal of Our Schools
Rudolf Flesch (New York: Harper & Row, 1981) (ISBN 0-06-091031-3). Shows how little ever changed after the publication of Flesch's earlier book Why Johnny Can't Read, and accurately describes the current practices of classrooms throughout the English-speaking world. RECOMMENDED.

Phonological Skills and Learning to Read
Usha Goswami and Peter Bryant (Hove, East Sussex: Lawrence Erlbaum Assocs., 1990) (ISBN 0-86377-150-5). (Essays in Developmental Psychology series ISSN 0959-3977). xiii and 166 pages; references and indexes. Thoughtful book by authors throughly familiar with the literature on reading instruction, who have pioneered important experimental research in the field. Favorite quotation, on the importance of phonological awareness: "The effect of this [phonological] skill [of children] on their progress in reading is considerable both in a quantitative and in a qualitative sense. Children who are sensitive to rhyme eventually do much better at reading (although not at mathematics), and children who are taught about rhyme are more successful at reading than those who are not given this training. This shows that there is a link between children's awareness of rhyme and alliteration and their progress in reading. But the link itself explains quite a lot about the way that young children read."

Preventing Reading Failure: An Examination of the Myths of Reading Instruction
Patrick Groff (Portland, OR: National Book Company, division of Educational Research Associates, 1987) (ISBN 0-89420-252-9). Valuable point-by-point demolition of mistaken dogmas about reading instruction. Full of extensive references to research articles on reading instruction. RECOMMENDED.

Reading Development and Dyslexia
Charles Hulme and Margaret Snowling, editors (San Diego, CA: Singular Publishing Group, 1994) (ISBN 1-897635-85-0). xiv and 246 pages; references and index. Selected papers from the third international conference of the British Dyslexia Association, with a conference theme of Dyslexia: Towards a Wider Understanding, by authors including Marilyn Jager Adams and Usha Goswami. Favorite quotation, from the paper "Reading Difficulties Can Be Predicted and Prevented: A Scandinavian Perspective on Phonological Awareness and Reading" by Ingvar Lundberg: "Phonological awareness can be developed by training outside the context of formal reading instruction. Such training seems to facilitate the acquisition of reading and spelling in school. Even more important, children at serious risk for developing reading difficulties benefit from the early training to the extent that they reach a normal level of performance in reading and spelling. Thus, the research presented leads to rather optimistic educational conclusions. It also gives strong support to the hypothesis that phonological deficits are core symptoms in dyslexia without denying that there might be other factors involved (Breitmeyer, 1989; Lovegrove and Slaghuis, 1989; Stein, 1989)."

Whole Language: Beliefs and Practices, K-8
Gary Manning and Maryann Manning, editors (Washington, DC: NEA Professional Library, 1989) (ISBN 0-8106-1482-0). 240 pages. Example of what goes wrong when instructional programs are designed to please teachers rather than to help learners. Articles by most of the leading whole-language authors make clear that whatever whole language is about, it's not about beginning learners learning to read better or sooner.

Preschool Prevention of Reading Failure
Richard L. Masland and Mary W. Masland, editors (Parkton, MD: York Press, 1988) (ISBN 0-912752-14-9). xiii and 240 pages; speech and hearing checklist, index. Proceedings of an Orton Dyslexia Society conference in which several researchers from different countries reported what sort of home experiences could prevent reading failure. Favorite quotation, from Lynette Bradley's paper "Rhyme Recognition and Reading and Spelling in Young Children": An appreciation of rhyme helps children learn to read and to spell for three reasons. Let us consider them one at a time. The first is that rhyme helps children develop phonological awareness. . . . The second and third reasons go beyond phonemic awareness. When we come to learn to read and to spell it is useful if we can learn to read and write all the words that are in our vocabulary. If each of these words was unique we would never be able to accomplish such a daunting task. . . . But fortunately we have several ways of categorizing words so that we can reduce this learning load. Some of these ways depend on being able to read and to recognize words, but we can also learn to group words together through spoken language. We do not have to wait until we go to school or until we begin to read or to spell. . . . To sum up, an appreciation of rhyme gives children a powerful advantage when they come to learn to read and to spell. Through their rhyming games children learn to analyze words within the syllabic unit at the level of the phoneme, and this is essential if we are to learn to use the alphabetic code. Hearing rhyming connections also gives children a way of categorizing words and so reduces the number of words they have to learn when they come to read and spell. Children who then make the connection between these rhyming categories and the letter string patterns that these words also share can generalize from one word to another when they try to read or to spell new words."

Why Our Children Can't Read: And What We Can Do About It: A Scientific Revolution in Reading
Diane McGuinness (New York: Free Press, 1997) (ISBN 0-684-83161-9). $US25.00; xv and 384 pages; foreword by Steven Pinker; notes and references, glossary, indexes. Truth about how writing systems work, how reading instruction works when it works optimally, and how little good reading instruction there is in United States schools. Summarizes the latest research on reading instruction and clearly explains its implications for helping all children read. Especially it brings to readers the latest how-to information on increasing children's phonological awareness, updating several of the older books mentioned elsewhere on this page.

The Complete Handbook of Children's Reading Disorders
Hilde L. Mosse (Beaverton, OR: Riggs Institute Press, 1982) (ISBN 0-942311-00-0). 713 pages. Published only after Dr. Mosse's death; explains the vast array of causes of children's reading problems, and what instructional approaches are most effective for preventing them.

Scripts and Literacy: Reading and Learning to Read Alphabets, Syllabaries and Characters
Insup Taylor and David R. Olson, editors (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic, 1995) (ISBN 0-7923-2912-0). (Neuropsychology and Cognition series volume 7). vii and 389 pages; index. Diverse collection of articles on a great variety of writing systems by scholars of many points of view. Favorite quotation, by the editors in their introduction: "In reading text, however, scriptal differences tend to disappear. Readers, in whatever script, may resort to phonetic coding to store linguistic items in working memory during comprehension. . . . Good readers in one language-script tend to be good readers also in another language-script."

Facets of Dyslexia and Its Remediation
Sarah F. Wright and Rudolf Groner, editors (Amsterdam; New York: North Holland, 1993) (ISBN 0-44489949-9). xxiii and 646 pages; illustrations. (Studies in Visual Information Processing series). Conference papers from the the eighth Rodin Remediation Conference on Reading and Reading Disorders, held at the University of Bern Childrens Hospital, Switzerland in 1991, with discussion of many aspects of dyslexia from many, sometimes contradictory, points of view.

[Last revision 9 March 2013]

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