So … how do you feel about decodable books?
I admit it. I avoided them for a long time.
I felt that decodable books were boring, stilted, and would kill a love of reading.
I preferred to use leveled books with beginning readers. I thought that if I taught them multiple ways to solve words, their fluency and comprehension would be better than if they learned to read using decodable text.
But I changed my tune when I studied the science of reading.
Despite what I’d learned in graduate school, I discovered that our brains must connect the sounds to the letters when solving words. Having kids solve words by using the picture or context clues can actually teach bad habits for later on.
The good news is that there are some amazing decodable texts that are exactly what new readers need.
If you’re looking for the best decodable readers, you’re in the right place!
In this post I’ll share my favorite decodable books. I’ll also share some other choices that are not my favorite but are still popular with other teachers.
Finally, I’ll share some free decodable readers for those on a tight budget.
Favorite Decodable Books
Half-Pint Readers are fantastic for brand new readers. The books, created by a kindergarten teacher, are simple but engaging, and the books actually tell real stories with a problem and solution. The end of each book includes both simple and high level questions that build comprehension. Best of all, the books are affordable so you can easily purchase multiple copies.
Highly, highly recommended!
Great for: Level A is perfect for brand new readers who are just starting to sound out words. Level B introduces blends, digraphs, and simple word endings. Level C features long vowel sounds and more blends and word endings.
Price: Very affordable! Consider purchasing multiple sets for reading with small groups.
Reading for All Learners
We used the I See Sam books (Set 1) a lot when my little guy was first starting to read words. They start very, very slowly … gradually adding letters and sounds, and with very few words on each page.
The stories would not make sense without the (wonderful) pictures, because the text can feel rather stilted. “See Sis sit in it. See me. See me sit in it.” I can overlook the stilted language, though, because the pictures allow for wonderful discussion, and they truly are adorable.
Great for: Set 1 is perfect for brand new readers, but with six sets that get progressively more difficult (and 141 total books), you can go a long way with these.
Price: Very affordable! Go even less expensive and get the black and white editions.
If decodable books have a bad name, Whole Phonics will redeem it. The stories are creative and funny, and the pictures are the best I’ve seen. My only issue is that the verb tenses often switch (a pet peeve of mine), but the stories are so good I can overlook it.
The books are on the longer side, so you may want to start with a simpler set or read a book in more than one sitting.
Great for: Older struggling readers and kids who are past the very beginning stage (but still learning to sound out words).
Price: These are high quality books with a price to match (around $5 a book). Keep in mind, though, that these are full color, well-developed stories and worth every penny.
Flyleaf Decodable Books
These are the loveliest, highest quality decodable texts that we own. They are also on the expensive side, but definitely worth a purchase. The books advance rather quickly, and there aren’t a lot of books for each pattern, but you will love having them in your collection.
Great for: Kids who are advancing quickly. The books are incredible, but there are only a few for each stage.
Price: These are high quality books and priced accordingly, at about $4 a book. (When you think about it, that’s still a great price, but you need so many decodable books for beginning readers … and the cost adds up fast.)
This is a wonderful series of 120 books. I love that even the simplest stories have interesting plot lines. The books slowly advance, adding new phonics skills through six levels.
The illustrations are black and white, but they are still engaging.
Great for: Both brand-new readers and kids moving at a faster pace
Price: The books are just under $4 a book, which feels a little pricy for black-and-white readers. But the stories are high quality, so I think it’s worth it.
The Alphabet Series
This is another high quality series that slowly adds new sound-spelling correspondences with each book. Don’t let the black and white interior illustrations fool you … these are interesting stories with funny pictures.
Absolutely one to own, and a great choice for small group lessons!
Great for: Both brand-new readers and kids moving at a faster pace
Price: The price varies, but I was able to find them for about $3 a book (linked below).
These are a favorite of many reading teachers. For the first books, kids only need to know a handful of letter sounds. The books have a unique illustration style (photographed backgrounds with cartoons drawn on top). The early books are very, very short — making them a great choice for brand new readers.
Best for: All levels! The early books are ideal for brand new readers, but PhonicBooks has a variety of series, including books for struggling readers up to 14 years old!
Price: The Dandelion Launchers (pictured above) are sturdy, full-color books for about $3 each.
Susan M. Ebbers’ power readers are incredibly affordable because they are made of thin paper and are meant to be disposable. That’s because the front of each book includes (quality) worksheet-type activities that students can do to prepare them for reading. Even more activities are in the back, including comprehension questions.
Great for: Teaching beginning readers in small reading groups (Before and after reading activities are built right into the books!)
Price: Since these are flimsy, write-in books, they are just over $1.50 each.
Full disclosure! I did not expect to like these books. I am not a fan of the Comic Sans font, and the illustrations are much less professional than other books I’ve reviewed.
But when I got my hands on them, I fell in love very quickly. These books are very sturdy with thick pages. I love that the text is nice and big, on the left side of the page. Each book has quite a few pages, and the best part is that they tell good stories that make sense. My little guy certainly didn’t notice that the pictures are less professional. He laughed at them and loved that he could find the little fly on each page. These are on the pricier side, but worth it.
Go Phonics offers spiral bound decodable books with multiple stories in each book. The stories are funny and hilariously illustrated (though black and white).
My little guy has read the simplest book (the tiny one pictured in the center of the pile above) at least 15 times!
Great for: Using as reading books for small groups; turn to a new story for each lesson. Or use them for homeschooling since each book contains multiple stories. Start with short vowel stories and move up to words with long vowel pairs.
Price: On the pricey side; All 7 phonics readers cost $127.00. You can buy individual readers for about $19 each. They are high quality and sturdy.
Junior Learning decodable books
I wavered about whether or not I should include these in my favorites list because the quality varies so much. The illustrations and physical quality of the books are always good, but some of the stories are so bizarre and contrived that it was impossible to have a good conversation about them afterward. And yet … so many good ones too! You certainly can’t beat the selection.
Great for: Beginning readers and learners with advancing skills
Price: Extremely affordable; you can often get them for around $2 a book. A good thing, since in a set there may be several books with such odd storylines that you won’t want to use then.
Other Decodable Books
Jelly and Bean books are from the UK and look amazing! I haven’t gotten my hands on them, but I’d love to. I’m impressed by the samples on the website.
Primary Phonics are vintage decodable books that are quite popular. I can’t in good conscience put them on my favorites list because I really didn’t like them. In fact, I purchased the full set and returned them after previewing them. The stories were strange and hard to follow, and because the books are almost 100% decodable, the stories are very stilted. I appear to be in the minority, however; many people love these books.
BOB Books are another popular choice, likely because they are so affordable and so easy to find. I don’t care for the stilted language (“He did get it”), and the illustrations leave much to be desired. But they will do the job.
Check out Little Learners & DSF Decodable Readers from Australia. The stories themselves are set in regional Australia and look wonderful.
Dog on a Log books look strange to me; the author has taken public domain images and slapped them together. The sample books I have read do not appeal to me, but many people say that their learners with dyslexia love Dog on a Log books and report great success using them.
Little Learners Love Literacy are decodable books from Australia. I haven’t used them, but they look fantastic … such great pictures!
Sunshine Decodable books are from New Zealand and look wonderful; I’ve heard great things.
Spalding has a variety of decodable books that look promising.
High Noon offers decodable books that are appealing to older learners.
Reading A to Z is mainly a source for leveled books, but they do have a decent decodable section.
Simple Words offers decodable chapter books.
Apparently Geodes has amazing decodable texts. My guess is that they are quite pricy.
SuperBooks are vintage decodable books that have a special charm. The stories are often interesting, though the text can feel stilted. You cannot beat the price; these are sturdy, full-color books for just over $1 a piece.
Bug books are short vowel decodable books that you can purchase.
Free decodable books
Core Knowledge has free decodable readers that you can read online. They’re absolutely lovely! You do need to do a little digging to find them.
You can also check out my decodable books that feature high frequency words. Each free book comes with a lesson that explicitly teaches a high frequency word. Find them here.
Starfall has free decodable books that you can print. (You can also purchase full-color editions.)
Have you seen our short vowel decodable passages?
Decodable Passages: CVC Words
This affordable set features 23 passages to help new readers develop fluency with CVC words. Each page includes blending practice, a short reading passage, a comprehension question, and spelling practice.