Monday, February 3, 2014

Flyleaf Publishing for Home School :: a Review of the Emergent Reader Series

One week old James was read to for the first time in his life! And it wasn't me who read to him...

At this time last year I wrote a pseudo-review of the Books to Remember Decodable Literature Series from Flyleaf Publishing. The Decodable Literature books are written for advanced Kindergarten, first and second grade students.  This is a review of the Emergent Reader Series, recommended for beginning and struggling readers, Kindergarten and first grade. 

image from

I first learned about Flyleaf Publishing and the Books to Remember series by Laura Appleton-Smith in The Well-Trained Mind: a Guide to Classical Education at Home, by Susan Wise Bauer.  I bought a few of the Decodable Readers because I was having a hard time finding material to use after finishing Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons with my son, Aaron.  I loved them, and then bought more.  Aaron and I enjoyed them so much that I decided to take the plunge and buy the 41-book set of Emergent Readers for Dominic.  (We use them as a supplement to the Catholic Heritage Little Stories for Little Folks reading program.)

Note: I have only purchased the books, and am not familiar with the additional materials available - teacher guides and learning cards.  

The Emergent Readers series appears to follow a fairly typical phonics-based approach to learning reading, starting with the CVC words you'd expect to see in any early reader.  What makes these books different though, (compared to the BOB books, for instance) is (1) the artwork is delightful and often beautiful and (2) though using simple words and sounds, the author has managed to avoid the halting, often awkward and disjointed text I'd become familiar with in other easy readers.  With the Books to Remember series, I feel like even my very early reader is reading a story, not just lines of rhyming words strung together in a bizarre order in an attempt to make a story.  

The books build on each other, adding new consonant and vowel sounds, sound  blends, compound words, and word endings as the series progresses. (I believe you can even print out the phonics scope and sequence here.)  Using the books alone does not provide information for instruction: ie: there are no instructions for teaching that "th" says "th" instead of "t...h"  (did that make any sense????)  The parent using just the books from this series will need to review letter sounds and blends, etc... with the child by her own method (parent-taught or via another phonics program.)  However, another of the great features of these books is that the back cover (or last page) of each book has all the phonics and vocabulary that will be encountered in the story. Each book has a Target Letter-Sound Correspondence that is featured in the story (ex: long /e/ spelled ee).  So I am able to review that concept with Dominic before we begin reading. Also provided are an entire list of the decodable words found in the story (words that can be "decoded (layman's speak: "sounded out") solely on the basis of the letter-sound correspondences or phonetic elements that have been introduced," and a list of High-Frequency Puzzle Words (layman's speak: "sight words").  The list highlights which Puzzle words are new to the student, so I'm able to easily create sight word flash cards for Dominic as new words are introduced and need to be practiced.  

Another nice "extra" that this series provides are "Companion Books" - books for the early readers that have a longer version in the Decodable Literature Series.  Dominic has listened to Aaron read The Sunset Pond,  and Just a Box, and Meg and Jim's Sled Trip, and others (from the Decodable Series) many times, so you can imagine how excited he was to see the same titles in his own series.  The same stories are presented in abbreviated text using words covered in the Emergent Series. Dominic was thrilled to be able to read the same stories his older brother was!

As I mentioned earlier, the things that truly set this series apart from other reading programs are the engaging stories and delightful illustrations.  There are no fat cats sitting on mats in this series, but there are cats who nap in camping equipment and a cat detective who investigates mysterious tacks and tan sacks. The stories are equally suited to boys and girls, they often convey wholesome childhood experiences (think running through a field to play fetch with your dog or going to the amusement park with the whole family).  Several of the stories also feature (without fanfare or overtones of trying too hard to be "inclusive") children of different ethnic backgrounds and blended race families.  (These are not themes of the stories, but are portrayed beautifully in the illustrations.)  There are a handful of artists who provided the illustrations for the books, all of which are lovely.  There are no stick figures or foolish cartoon characters here.  The artwork is such that the child reading probably feels like he's reading a "real" picture book instead of a meticulously researched and planned out phonics-based reader. Perhaps that's the point behind the Books to Remember, after all. Here is a portion of what author Laura Appleton-Smith has to say about her work:

During my teaching years, I felt strongly about the importance of systematic phonics instruction, but I was dissatisfied with the decodable books that were available. The only decodables I could find were low quality and contained controlled texts that lacked meaning and comprehensibility.
I wanted decodable books that would enable students to successfully apply phonics skills while enjoying meaningful reading experiences. If I was going to introduce children to the important world of reading and books, I wanted to motivate them with beautiful literature that they could read independently. I wanted " real" books with decodable texts.
I founded Flyleaf Publishing in 1998 with a mission to create fine-art illustrated, authentic, and engaging decodable literature to help students and teachers bridge the gap between phonetic decoding and fluent independent reading.
(taken from the Flyleaf Publishing website.)
Thus far, I have been beyond happy with all of the books we've used from Flyleaf Publishing.  Perhaps even more importantly, I have never heard a complaint from either of my boys when it's time to do reading. They enjoy them as much as I do.  I highly recommend both the Emergent Reader Series and the Decodable Literature as valuable supplements to any phonics program that you may already be using in your home school.  It is my hope (and my plan) that I will be using these books for all my other little ones when they are ready for "learning to read" and loving the process!  


  1. Ok, how cute are those pictures? Love them! Thanks for the review - always good to hear about different programs.

  2. + Hello Theresa, thank you for the book recommendations! I was just looking for something to jump into after 100 Easy Lessons and Bob Books! My question, though, actually doesn't refer to this post, but a previous one--about how each mom is doing the best she can, even if making different decisions from her 'neighbor', Catholic or not! I have a question about sleep training. Baby #6 is due in March, thanks be to God!, and I'm really looking for a different sleeping situation. After co-sleeping with the five previous babies, and not having any sleep in 11 years, and waiting until around 3 years old to have a normal sleeper/schedule, I'm just OUT OF ENERGY. Will you let me know, briefly, when you begin sleep training and how? Because on most of the other points, you and I would agree to take a gentle but firm approach, based on what's good for mommy, family, baby, so I trust your advice. Thank you kindly.

    1. Hi Kimberly! Is it any wonder that a mama of five - soon to be six! - is out of energy?!?! I think fatigue is one of the great sacrifices of parenting - it's not fun but it's a fairly typical cross for mothers. I know what you mean, though, about wanting better night-time sleep :) We pretty much allow our babies to dictate their sleep/feeding schedule until about 3 months old. I'll nurse throughout the night if that's what a newborn wants, but once they hit three months, mama needs to reclaim her bed and energy, and so we start to be more intentional with encouraging/teaching nighttime sleep. Honestly though, we have had SO much success with the sleep "training" method in the book "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child" by Dr. Marc Weissbluth, three of our children were sleeping 7+ hours through the night in their own bed (not in our room) by 4 months. Both of my daughters never even cried themselves to sleep (literally!) because they "learned" to go to sleep and stay asleep (again, following the method in the Weissbluth book.) My sons we did have to let them cry, but my oldest cried for three nights and then never cried or woke up overnight again. We also follow Dr. Weissbluth's recommendations on napping. My husband and I will both admit we make a lot of mistakes in parenting, but we're both very happy with the decision to make healthy sleep a priority for our children and for ourselves. I HIGHLY recommend the book and could go on and on about how great I think it is! But I'll spare you (!) and leave you with the amazon link! Best wishes to you, Kimberly, as you await your newest little one! Thank you for stopping by and commenting here!!

    2. + Thank you so much! I think I actually have that book back from when my oldest was a baby. I need to pull it off the shelf and put it to practice! I like the idea of letting baby dictate for the first three months, as he/she adjusts to life outside the womb, and then helping him/her to learn to sleep afterwards (and reaping the benefits oneself). Many thanks for your blog--the time, love, wisdom put into it. God bless you.

  3. I love Flyleaf books and am teaching my K students remotely with them. I desperately want to get actual Flyleaf books to them and am seeking used Flyleaf books I can afford. Any suggestions? So far I cannot find any.

  4. Thanks for your review! I picked up the full literature library (Reading Series 1 & 2) at my local homeschool consignment place for a good price, and was wondering if I need to buy the extra "teacher" materials online for my 1st grader. Sounds like I don't need to. Thank you!


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