"You don't just hand a book to a child and say, 'Okay, buddy, it's time to read.' You plant the seed by reading together, by making books available, and by reading yourself and showing your child that reading isn't a chore, it's a wonderfully pleasant pursuit in its own right." --Valerie Garfield, vice-president and publisher, novelty and licensed publishing, Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing
You may have walked into children's bookstores and seen those slick spinner racks of colorfully illustrated early reader books, categorized by reading level, so promisingly straightforward. The trouble is, most publishers' early reading programs have different coding systems... so all Level 1 books are not created equal. A 3 could be a 4 or even a B. This "leveling" can be bewildering, and adults worry about making a mistake that will put a child off reading forever, whether their choice is too easy or too challenging. "I understand the hesitation people feel about choosing a 'just right' book for their child," says Garfield. "And a child's first reading experience can color his or her perception moving forward, so there's something to it. But it's not always a matter of a perfect level; young readers will toggle between levels until there's comfort in staying at a higher one. And sometimes they need to go back to a lower level for some relief or to build confidence. There's always a balance."
Still, finding the right level can be tough. One way that Simon & Schuster's Ready-to-Read line distinguishes itself is that its early reader books are not labeled with specific age designations. The philosophy is that there are no "shoulds"--and certainly no shame--in reading at any level, at any age: "I'm not comfortable with a fixed idea of where someone should be reading at age six," explains Garfield. "We like a more flexible approach, reinforcing that wherever you are, you're a reading star. Ready-to-Reads celebrate the fact that you're reading, period. Attributing stars to all our levels--Rising Star (Pre-Level One), Star Reader (Level One), SuperStar Reader (Level Two) and MegaStar Reader (Level Three)--was intentional. The truth of the matter is that kids learn to read at different times in different ways."
Simon & Schuster's Ready-to-Read books--in hardcover, paperback and e-book formats--are designed to build reader confidence and to entertain, whether through popular branded characters like Daniel Tiger and PJ Masks or stories by award-winning storytellers and artists like Cynthia Rylant (Annie and Snowball; Henry and Mudge; Brownie and Pearl), Marion Dane Bauer (Wonders of America), David Milgrim (The Adventures of Otto), Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin (Click, Clack, Moo), Alyssa Satin Capucilli and Henry Cole (Katy Duck), David Carter (Bugs), Jon Scieszka and David Shannon (Trucktown), James Howe and Melissa Sweet (Pinky & Rex) and Eric Carle (The Tiny Seed, among others).
High-interest, energetically illustrated nonfiction series about topics from the history of pizza to the science of super powers provide an underlying educational hook to the program. "Each year Simon Spotlight, the imprint under which all Ready-to-Reads fall, introduces a new series to the line, from Science of Fun Stuff to the geography/world culture series Living In... to the upcoming Secrets of American History," explains Siobhan Ciminera, editorial director of Spotlight. "We are always exploring ways to expand the program so that our books span a wide array of interests," she adds. "But the glue that holds everything together is that all the books are fun to read."
In 2017, Simon & Schuster is launching a new Ready-to-Go! level for children who may need a stepping stone to Ready-to-Read's Pre-Level One stories. "It's important to us to make the beginning reading experience as exciting as possible," says Garfield. "And to that end we are cognizant that some children will take a flying leap and some will need a more gentle path to reading independently."
"The underlying motivation behind our 'Star System,' behind taking the ages off the books, and really behind the line in general, is to be the cheerleader of the beginning reader," says Garfield. "We want to applaud first steps in reading and we want to encourage children to read more. We know that when a confident reader leaves the beginning reader section we've done our job well, and we're sending a reader off into the rewarding world of books, hopefully for life." For extra cheerleading help, downloadable certificates and e-cards to print, post or send blossoming young readers are available on the Ready-to-Read website (readytoread.com).