If your child is learning to read through phonics - chances are they are starting out with the standard consonant - vowel - consonant or c-v-c method. This is by far the easiest way to teach a child to read phonetically, as they are starting out with very simple words that can easily be decoded using only three sounds for each word. While these words are quite easy to read - it is very difficult to write a story using only c-v-c words, or in fact anything that can remotely pass as a story. In addition to this - most children start out with only a few sounds. Different programmes use different sounds to start with, so if your child is learning through another series, this may present very slight difficulties in the first few weeks of learning to read. In short a phonetically decodable book is only decodable if your child already knows the sounds for each letter used.
This is book 3 in the Project X Phonics series, so assumes the child has already learned the short i and a as well as d,n, t, p and s sounds, but there are only a few simple words using these sounds The focus sounds for this book are meant to be g,o,c and k, so your child will need to know 11 letter sounds or phonemes to decode this book. Almost all of the words are c-v-c with only a couple of four letter words, the most difficult of which would be "stop". Although all children learn to read at their own speed, I would expect this book to suit most children from around the 3rd to 4th week of reading instruction onwards.
I do have an exceptionally large collection of learning to read books - in large part because I was terrified with my oldest that I mightn't be bale to teach him by myself - so I invested a small fortune. Even so, we did find most of the books for brand new readers with phonics a bit dull, so as I taught him to read with phonics - he taught himself to read with whole language using the Oxford Reading Tree, Project X and some board books. These phonics books from Project X are, without a doubt, the most enjoyable c-v-c books I have ever seen.
Theses books are highly visual, you can get the general idea of the story from the pictures alone. The illustrations are created using extremely advanced CGI, of the same quality one would expect from a Dreamworks film. They are bright colourful and very engaging. But the real difference in these books and other c-v-c readers is the additions of paragraphs for an adult to read out loud as well. The adult reads a paragraph in the upper left hand corner of each set of pages, then the child reads the very large simple text in text boxes over the main story. All text is in black print over a white background. This means you can actually have an enjoyable story, while the child is only reading c-v-c words. But even without this section, I would still class these as the most fun to read of any of the phonics sets we own for this reading level ( all phonics readers get better as the children learn more sounds).
In addition to the paragraph for parents to read in the left hand column, there are also two more sections for parents or teachers:
Talk - a subject for the adult to ask the children to talk about - such as asking them why dogs like to dig.
This is meant to help children develop reading comprehension.
Activity: These are phonics based activities, like carefully sounding out words or finding objects in a picture that start with a certain sound.
Finally, there is further support for parents and teachers on the inside covers.
While I do like these tips and activities - I limit it to one or two each time we read the story. I feel that stopping the story too often could take from the enjoyment of the book, and make this into too much of a lesson, rather than just fun.
My son is still in the prereading stage, so he can only pick out sounds at this point, or guess at words like "cog" and "dog". He does still enjoy this though, and since he is not old enough for formal education I do not push the issue. He also has fun with the activities such as finding everything that starts with c, and I feel this book is helping him develop reading readiness. I am also quite certain this will be a wonderful resource when he does actually begin reading, and I am little by little collecting a few of these for next year.
But what I really like about this book, is that despite being so educational, it is fun as just a story as well. The story is quite simple, Cat builds a robot dog out of cogs, and the dog gets into a bit of mischief, but it is still fun. Even my oldest enjoyed reading it on his once, and has read it a few more times to his brother. To find a book for children just starting to read that is this much fun is nothing short of miraculous. This earns 5 stars from myself and my youngest. My oldest says he would only give it 3 stars for children his age ( I wouldn't bother to buy it all for children his age), but he would give it 5 stars if he was learning to read.
I think this book could serve as a simple picture book from ages 2+, but the best ages for this would be 4-5. This is also best suited to children who are, or will be learning to read at least partially through phonics. I imagine a child using whole language only could benefit from this to some extent, but I think there are better books to practice the look say method with children just beginning to read.
This book sells for £3.30 on Amazon or £2.87 from the book depository. I currently have only 3 books, and these would be useful on their own because I have other phonics sets - but without other sets I would expect to buy a minimum of 12 books to get any real use in teaching phonics from these. I am hoping to collect more after we finish the CODE series ( only 7 left to go), but I could still use even one book as as a supplement to the other sets I own.