Decodable books for short a – where to find them!


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Have you ever thought about how kids learn to read?

Phonics, right?  After all, I’m going to share some resources for finding decodable  books later in this post.

Actually, phonics is just one part of the puzzle.

Kids problem solve as they’re reading using three cueing systems. Here they are:

a) Semantics (meaning) — what makes sense

“The boy bought groceries at the store” makes sense. “The boy bought gorillas at the store” does not.

b) Syntax (grammar) — what sounds right.

“My friend came to visit me” sounds right. “My friend came the visit me” doesn’t.

c) Graphophonics (phonics) — what looks right.

When readers have a good understanding of phonics, they correct themselves when what they say doesn’ t match the print.


What should kids try first when they’re stuck on a word?

First, kids should think about what makes sense — using the first letter(s) as a clue. This helps keep the fluency of their reading and helps keep meaning at the forefront. Along with that, kids should correct themselves if what they read doesn’t sound right. Phonics is something kids should use when they still need help figuring out a word.


Use mostly leveled readers.

The bulk of the reading instruction I did in the classroom and now at home with my children is with leveled readers.  These books have familiar sight words and a lot of longer words that children may not be able to read in isolation but can read with picture and meaning cues.   Several systems exist for leveling books. I prefer the leveling system by two educators named Fountas and Pinnell.

For the very earliest readers, leveled books must be purchased online or in teacher stores.  As children become better readers, it is much easier to find leveled books at the library.  (For example, leveled books start at Level A. Frog and Toad, an easy reader, is level J.)

The books pictured above are from Scholastic book orders, The Wright Group, Newmark Learning, and Reading A-Z.

Use some sight word readers.

Sight word readers are similar to leveled readers when they are part of a leveled set.  Like leveled readers, children usually need to figure out a lot of the words by using context.  Unlike most leveled readers, sight word readers identify which new words are being taught in each book– words like the, a, what, etc.

The sight word readers pictured above are part of my free emergent reader collection.

Use a few decodable readers.

When I was teaching a parent told me that she was teaching her daughter to read before first grade, but lamented that she had such a hard time finding books that only had the phonics patterns she’d introduced.  My heart sank!

Decodable readers are very useful for building up phonics skills, but if they are used in isolation, children do not learn to correct for meaning or syntax.

Why the lesson on how kids learn to read?

I want you to understand that I use phonetic readers in limited amounts and as part of a well-balanced approach to reading instruction.

Now, disclaimer aside, let’s look at… 

Where to find decodable books for teaching short a 


1) Nan and Pap, A Nap and  a Map, Sam and the Sap, A Tap and a Pat, Dan the Tan Man, The Fat Cat, & A Fat Hat from Reading A-Z

You can find these printable readers for short a on Reading A-Z.   It’s hard to call decodable books “great” because there’s only so much you can do with a limited set of words.  But as far as decodable books go, these are pretty good.  The illustrations are cute and colorful.  The stories are all right.

Reading A-Z, however, is more than all right.  It’s a phenomenal website with all sorts of printable  books for kids learning to read.  The website has small collection of decodable books, a giant collection of leveled readers, and more. The best part? You can view every book before you download it.

You can get a free trial and download a few books every day for a week — or spring for the yearly membership at $90.

starfall reader short a

2) Zac the Rat (download on the Starfall website)

This book can be printed in black and white from the Starfall website.  I believe you can only find one book for the short a sound.  Zac the Rat is an okay story as far as decodable books go.

Starfall also sells its books in paperback and full color.  But the books quickly move to the next level, so you will not get a lot of reinforcement for each short vowel.


3) Scat, Rat! by Becky of This Reading Mama

I am using This Reading Mama’s reading curriculum for preschoolers called Reading the Alphabet  with both of my preschool boys.  We love it! Becky (a reading specialist and mom) has designed a curriculum that beautifully balances sight words and phonics.

She has a sight word reader for each lesson and a phonetic reader for each of the five short vowels.  Because she uses sight words as well as decodable words, this book is not stilted and strange like many phonetic books. You’ll find this book in Lesson 7.

hap and cap4) Hap and Cap, by Margaret Allen

This book is part of a series called Dr. Maggie’s Phonics Readers. As far as phonics readers go, these are pretty good.  The pictures are great and the text isn’t too bad.

However, you will not find a large selection for each short vowel.  The books advance very quickly — too quickly for kids just learning new words.

hap can see

5) Pam and Sam, Hap Can See, In My Hat & Jan and Dan – (printable books from Hubbard’s Cupboard)

These are free black-and-white readers made with MS Office clip art. They don’t tell much of a story, but they are short, sweet, and free.  They’re mixed with a few simple sight words so that your child does not have to laboriously sound out every single word.

Nice for kids who know a few sight words but are just starting to sound out words.  And if you need more word family resources, Hubbard’s Cupboard has a ton!

jan and pam

6)  Jan and Pam & The Van (Sizzy books)

You can download these free black and white readers at  Fun Phonics has two books for each short vowel and a set of books combining all the short vowels.

Since the books use a small set of sight words, they are easier to read than some other decodable books that you find.  However, be aware that the stories jump around and are quite contrived. One book jumps from “Dad has a cap” to “Jan (the cat) has a bag.”

No real rhyme or reason, but they will give free phonics practice.

fat cat7) Fat Cat on a Mat (Usborne phonics readers)

Usborne phonics readers have cute, kid-friendly pictures and pretty good stories considering they’re phonics readers.


8) Beginner Phonics Book 1  (download at Progressive Phonics )

These I like!  What’s great about this series is that your child can read them together with you.  The short a words are big and red, so that your child chimes in when you get to them.

Since the adult reads the more challenging words, your child gets phonics practice and gets to read a story that isn’t stilted or contrived.  Love them! The best part? You can download them for free.

bob books

9) Mat, Sam, Dot, Mac (Bob Books set 1, beginning readers 1-4)

Bob books have a huge following and have helped many children learn to read.  So it might be strange to hear me say that I don’t really care for them.

I think the pictures are poor and plain, and the stories themselves often do not make sense.

One nice thing, though, is that there are a lot of books for each sound; the series doesn’t move too quickly as many phonics readers do.  I prefer not to own them, but I get Bob books from the library on occasion.


10) Rat Naps, Fat Cat, Crab Trap, The Plant (Now I’m Reading books, by Nora Gaydos)

These are quite challenging phonics books.  “A tan fat cat ran fast” and “The plant snaps and traps a ham, a clam, and the jam” can be laborious for a brand-new reader.

I wish the books had more sight words mixed in, because the pictures are wonderful and the stories themselves not too bad.  I actually own several sets of these books and recommend them for beginning readers who have been sounding out words for a while.

The link I provided gives you the first set, of which Rat Naps is one of the books. You would need to purchase additional sets to get each of the other titles.

So there you have it — over 25 books to help you focus on the short a sound. If you’d like some hands-on games and activities to do more word family work, be sure to check out my five free learning centers!


© 2013 – 2015, Anna Geiger. All rights reserved.


  1. Kristina says

    Do you have links to the leveled readers you use? I have been looking for some, but all I’ve been able to find start at around J (like Frog and Toad).

    • Anna Geiger says

      Kristina, they are almost impossible to find at the library or book stores. However, Reading A to Z is a PHENOMENAL website and such a fantastic deal ($90 / year for unlimited downloads) ! I recommend that as a starting point. You will probably not need more than that, but another place to look is the Ohio State KEEP Books – I bought a parent set. These are actually written by Gay Su Pinnell and others at the school. Very affordable to buy as individual books. If you buy through the big names like The Wright Group, you can expect to pay at least $4 per book. That adds up way too fast!

      • Jane Conway says

        For decodable stories with PROPER stories, which follow the story grammar structure with funny characters and quirky plots, go to SmartKids and order the Pocket Rockets stories. They have a story for all 44 phonemes and kids love them! There are no tricks where children have to resort to inaccurate guessing. No boring repetitive phrases where some kids just look at the ceiling and say the words. They can REALLY READ using their phonic skills to decipher new words (which is what SKILLED readers do and shouldn’t we be teaching them the skills of SKILLED readers not defective readers?) and as they decipher the words then they can use their lovely comprehension skills to access the meaning. Their spelling skills will really improve as well!
        There’s an app as well for the first 18 stories available on all devices-Learn to Read Pocket Rockets

        • Anna Geiger says

          Jane, I have to disagree that teaching kids to read words by what makes sense or sounds right is teaching them to be defective readers. As I stated above, good readers use a combination of cueing systems to read. Phonics is just one part. I do agree, however, that phonics is an important part, and I appreciate learning about the Pocket Rockets stories. In the future I plan to write another post about where to find phonetic readers for all the vowels. I will need to check these out so I can include them in my list. Thank you for the recommendation!

          • Jane Conway says

            Thank you for your comments Anna, but the scientific consensus on learning to read shows that the “whole language approach which incorporates the “cueing systems” is inefficient. The work of neuro-psychologists, who have carefully accumulated their scientific knowledge using brain imaging and a great many classroom experiments has clearly shown that all children have similar brains. Their cerebral circuits are well tuned to systematic grapheme-phoneme correspondences and they have everything to gain from phonics which is the only method which will give them the freedom to accurately read any text.
            You state that, “Decodable readers are very useful for building up phonics skills, but if they are used in isolation, children do not learn to correct for meaning or syntax.” Are you saying that ‘decodable texts (which in effect are just texts containing the parts of the code already learnt) have no meaning or syntax? After all, ‘the cat sat on the mat” is decodable for a beginning reader AND has meaning and syntax as does any sentence with the words in the correct order.
            You also say that levelled readers contain “a lot of longer words that children may not be able to read in isolation but can read with picture and meaning cues.” This is guessing and extensive research has shown that only defective readers use these methods. Looking at a picture or coming at a word by what might sound right is NOT reading! When you come across an unfamiliar word I’ll bet that you sound it out. How could you guess a word if you’ve never seen it before??? Your meaning ‘cues’ WILL come into play however once you’ve sounded out the word. You will then try to use the context of the text to arrive at the MEANING of the word.
            I hope you will consider what I’ve said because I can see from your website that you are passionate about helping parents and I hate to see you giving inaccurate and outdated information.
            I suggest you read Stansilas Dehaene “Reading in the Brain” for more information or Elaine McEwan’s (an American principal) “Teach Them All to Read” which clearly explains why the ‘cueing system’ philosophy is just plain wrong.
            Jane Conway

        • Anna Geiger says

          Hello Jane,
          I stand behind my balanced approach to literacy, but I appreciate your input. Thank you for the book recommendations!

          • jane conway says

            But what evidence do you have to support your balanced approach? There is an overwhelming amount of evidence in favour of teaching children to read by explicitly instructing them in the Alphabetic Code and principles and then providing them with texts that match their alphabetic knowledge and decoding skills. This frees them up to concentrate on the meaning of the text without having to waste valuable time and brain space making guesses on words outside their phonic knowledge.

          • Anna Geiger says

            Thankfully, Jane, I offer countless phonics resources on my site. Just because I promote a balanced approach does not mean I don’t give fair time to each component.

  2. says

    I just found your website through KBN! I LOVE this reading post and your graphic of How Kids Learn to Read- fab for parents!

    • sarah says

      I’m from Australia too and was going to suggest reading eggs! It’s awesome. They also have free sight word apps for iphone and android.

      • Anna Geiger says

        Hi Sarah — I have heard that it’s great! I guess I’m old fashioned though, because I prefer to do learning apart from the computer whenever possible. I’m glad it’s worked for so many people, though!

    • Anna Geiger says

      Hello Fathima – thanks for that recommendation! I have heard about that website from my sister-in-law. Is it all online learning? I guess I’m old fashioned because I prefer my kids to have very little time on the computer. My daughter in particular gets very moody and demanding after too much time on the iPad. But I’m glad it’s worked for so many people!

    • Anna Geiger says

      Hi Katie! Yes, I do plan to do the other vowels… but it won’t happen as quickly as I’d like. Just not enough time in a day! Currently I’m starting to create the word family printables for short i… and when those are done and shared I’ll create another post like this one for that vowel. Moving all the way through — I’d love to be done with all the short vowels by the end of the school year. But a lot depends on what kid of temperament our new baby brings to the mix! Am trying to be real productive before January :)

    • Anna Geiger says

      Thanks so much for that link, Dawn! In the next couple months I hope to put together a more detailed post of decodable books for all the short vowels — I’ll be sure to reference the site you shared with me.

  3. jane conway says

    Thank you for that Anna. Your resources are very useful. But my question is why do you promote guessing as a reading strategy? Research the world over shows that this is the method struggling readers use.

    • Anna Geiger says

      I would not define it that way, Jane, but I’m afraid I cannot continue a pedagogical debate with you. My time is limited, and I have to focus it on caring for my five children and maintaining this site. I very much respect your opinion and appreciate your thoughts.

  4. says

    My kid goes to a pretty good school but the big priority wrt sending him to school is his social and emotional development! To sing, dance,play sports, things that I may not cover. But when it comes to specific learnings, such as alphabets or learning to read, i want to be on top of it! I don’t think he learns it well and preschool is such a crucial age- the foundation and I don’t him want to get the foundation wrong! When I teach him, grasps it quickly and *really* learns, so it’s a little teaching every now and then, nothing heavy duty.

    So thanks so much for the excellent resources you’ve provided! I’ve just downloaded some of your sight word books, and have gone thru progressive phonics and reading a-z for leveled books. The leveled books available in bookstores are for ages 5 & above, at least that’s what it seems like, but the ones available on these websites have level aa,a etc that can be used for 3.5/4 year olds

    Let’s see how the next few months progress!

    • Anna Geiger says

      Sounds like you have a wonderful plan in place! I agree that the leveled books in libraries and bookstores aren’t usually appropriate for our youngest readers. Reading A-Z and Progressive Phonics are two wonderful resources!

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