I have a few phonics sets, from the very in depth but expensive "Hooked On Phonics" Programme, to the cheaper Bob Books, and the small but lovely Starfall Phonics. So when I first starting seeing "phonics" sets with popular characters like Curious George and Spongebob Squarepants, I really expected something that could be used to teach a child to read from scratch. I was very disappointed. By the time I ordered this set though, I had a better idea what to expect - and while it is not adequate to teach a child to read - it is a lovely little set of books with stories that are quite good, and would be ideal for a child has already developed some confidence in learning to read.
This set is very well illustrated, and it is the pictures which initially caught my children's interest in them. The text is very short, only one or two sentences in a clear, large, black print on white background. Of course this means the stories are incredibly short, as these books - or perhaps booklets would be a better word are only 6 pages long, held together in the middle by staples. They are also rather small. I have just measured one and it is exactly 5 cm's across, and 5 cm's high. But as short as they are, my sons do enjoy them. Even my oldest (age 7) liked them, and he often reads this to his little brother ( age 3). I had bought these simply because I got a very good price and intended to put them away until my youngest starts to read, but he likes them so well - I do hope to pick up the Spiderman set eventually as well.
These books are fairly cheaply put together, and packaged in a very flimsy box which is very easily damaged. The reason I got my set so cheaply is due to the fact that the it was damaged in shipping to the original purchaser from Amazon. They sent her a new set, and let her keep the old set - so she sold it to me. But where money has been saved in binding and packaging, the quality of the illustrations is very high, and the stories themselves are excellent for being so short. This is published by "I Can Read", a company I think very highly of, and really is a lovely resource to develop confidence in the emergent reader.
Whether you love or hate this set though, will depend very much on what you expect from it. If you are looking for a set of books to teach a child to read from - do not even consider this - you will certainly despise this set. If you are planning to teach using phonics you will be especially disappointed as these are not phonetic readers in any way, shape, or form. If you are expecting books in which your child will be able to sound out all the words ( something which is very difficult to find), these are not at all suitable. Instead, I would highly recommend the three phonics sets mentioned earlier, or perhaps something from Oxford. They can be nice as a little extra for a child learning to read with phonics though, either just for the parent to read out loud while focusing on the specific sounds, or as refresher later.
The term "phonics fun" stems only from the fact that there is a focus on one or two phonetic sounds for each book. For instance, book 11 features the sounds "sh" and "ch" and manages to pack 12 words with these sounds into a very short space on 6 pages. This is fine with an older child who is already reading. You can focus on the phonic sounds, and use this to help teach phonetic spellings. For this reason, this has even been helpful for my 7 year old, for whom spelling is a weak point.
This set is certainly not suitable to teach a child to read from a phonetic approach, but what if you are using whole language or sight reading? Again, I would not choose this set. For such a small amount of text, there is a very large number of long and difficult words for a brand new reader, such as "vehicles", "asylum", " Commissioner", and "criminals". There is very little repetition and no progression. I feel it would be much better to select a set of leveled readers such as Oxford Reading Tree, Oxford Project X, or even the old Ladybird Key Word Readers.
If however, your child has learned to read using the "look say", "whole language", or "sight reading" method - which are all different words for the exact same thing - and you would like to work a little bit on phonetic sounds to help improve their reading ability and spelling, then I would highly recommend this set. This is really a fun way to brush up on phonics while having a bit of fun. As most of the schools, at least where I live, do use the "look say" approach exclusively, I can really see this be a wonderful resource for a child who needs just a tiny bit of extra help. If a child is really desperately struggling though, it would be better to go back the the very beginning with phonics and choose a proper learn to read set with phonics set.
I always say I taught my son the basics of reading with phonics. I spent a fortune on it, and a lot of time. Then I picked up a cheap set of Oxford Reading Tree Books and later Oxford Project X and he picked them up and just started reading. He then just raced ahead of me in terms of reading, quickly devouring one level after another with Project X before moving on to Horrid Henry, young adult books, and graphic novels. He does have the basic foundation in phonics, but I have found these books very helpful for a refresher course to help with spelling.
I have no intention whatsoever of attempting to teach my 3 year old to read in the near future. He is only just learning his letters and basic sounds now, such as "Y" is for Yoshi and "B" is for Batman. I do believe trying to teach reading too early can do more harm than good, so while he will officially start home education in September, as he will have turned 4 over the summer, I will not attempt to teach him reading until he shows signs of being ready. That said with the short text on these books, and clear easy to read print, I expect he will pick out words on his own, as he can already find a few, like "Batman". I do think that frequently reading books like this to a very young child will make reading instruction come easier later.
I would recommend these even for very young children, perhaps even under 2, if they like Batman, and of course parents will be reading them. As for independent readers, if your child can read at level 3-4 with Oxford Reading Tree, then they should be able to pick these up easily enough with a parent helping the first time or two. There is a list of the words using the specific phonetic sound for each book. I see no harm in reading to a very young child, and have read this to my 3 year old son, emphasizing the the sound. I don't expect him to get it now - but you never know how much they pick up little by little over the years. I would recommend that parents of older children read this list with them as well and ask the child to look for words with the sound in the book.
There is also a list of the most difficult words in the book, which parents of younger readers can use to help them learn the word before starting the story, thus avoiding frustration with too many difficult words. But these books are so short, most children will have them memorised in no time, then they can view the words as they recite from memory, a practice which I believe does lead to fluent reading over time.
In terms of rating, if this set had made any claims to be a learn to read programme, or to be a complete phonics programme, I would have slammed them in the ratings here. The only claims the company makes though are that these books are fun with phonics and "Simple stories full of exciting Super Hero action. Builds a foundation for a lifetime of reading fun " ( quote from publisher's website). I believe the books more than live up to these claims. They are fun, they do help teach phonics, and they certainly are simple bit exciting stories, which I believe will help lay a foundation for a lifetime of reading. On this basis - and with the input of my boys who both recommend 5 stars for this - which is far more than the lunch I served today earned - I am giving this a full five stars.
This set contains 12 books and sells for £7.30 including postage from Amazon.