Originally part of a mailing-list discussion, here's a brief but excellent summary of (all?) the available childrens-readers series. Note: the links to book websites are incomplete. If someone is able to track the missing ones...
I'm using mainly two series - Chatterbox readers from Longman and the new Springboard readers from Macmillan. Both series confusingly have the same names as textbooks but there is no relationship. I am familiar with and have used a few Literacy Street from Longman and also the Clifford and Cool Cats readers from Scholastic. I haven't used Story Tree mainly because Oxford won't send me any inspection copies (hopefully you guys are reading this and kicking yourselves that I can't review them ;-) and I went to a recent book fair to see them and they hadn't taken them!). I think you'll find you can get a "specially for Japan" set at around 20 thou though.
By FAR the cheapest and most convenient of the major publishers to buy are the Macmillan Springboards. They have 16 levels and 8 books in each level. Each level (ie 8 books costs Y2100 - from memory, around that much) so if you order them from DEH and get your 20% discount, we're talking really cheap. And you only need buy the levels that are appropriate for your students and can stagger your investment. They have downloadable or printable worksheets online too, which are free and I heard a rumor that there might be a very reasonable set of CDs coming with them soon too - don't know how reliable that was though. How are the stories? Pretty good. My kids like them. I question some of the vocab sometimes - a bit difficult occasionally. But usually well-supported by pictures. You can see all the books online at the Macmillan site where you can also download the worksheets free. The books are included in small picture size on the downloadable teacher's notes and worksheet pages. Here are the urls:
Another thing I really like about Springboard readers are the Benchmark kit which helps you see where your students are in the series and in general. That's an extra Y2000 and something low. Anyway, I'm planning to buy the entire set of Springboards.
Chatterbox are good. I think I got 36 books for around Y12,000, again and you have to order them that way. You get five or six levels in one stage and six books (from memory) in each level. I have the Emergent reader stage which I think is the second one. They are more expensive than Springboards but they are a slightly bigger and the graphics are really appealing for kids and especially the non-fiction are really strong. The kids love them and like the stories too. I don't have the teacher's packs yet so can't comment on those. But I'll be getting those and all the other stages when I can afford them too.
Scholastic Clifford you can pick up cheaply on Amazon and from Costco and places (packs of 12 at one level for about Y1,500). For that reason they are worth buying to swell your book numbers and the kids actually quite like them. I'm not a fan. They are nauseatingly moralistic for my taste and how much Clifford can anyone stand? Not much for me. Still I have about 3 levels.
For real beginner's Scholastic Cool Cats readers are nice. Pat is a cat type phonically regular stuff. Not color inside but the kids like the CoolCats and they're not annoying for the teacher either!! (well, not this one anyway). I think you'd have to make your own worksheets (for Clifford too) but they are about Y1,200 for 12 and again best to order from Amazon.co.jp I think there is only one level. I'd buy other levels so if you know better....
I've bought Bob's Books First too, but these are really small pamphlet type quality black and white books - again 12 for around Y1,500. Phonically regular and good for new readers but not really worth buying considering what else is available art a similar price.
You're Canadian right so it's really worth looking at http://www.starfall.com and ordering books from them if you've got someone in the US or Canada that can send them on to you - they don't ship internationally. Phonically regular too. Made for natives (as most are actually) but really accessible for Japanese kids too. Cheapest if you can get someone in the US. They are really cheap if you order more than 20 (about 50 cents each!!) and excellent too. You can see the Internet interactive versions at Starfall. Then if the kid's have Internet access at home, they can do all kinds of supporting stuff online at the site. If you do decide to order these, I'd really appreciate if you'd let me order with you as I have nobody to send them on to me from Canada or the US. Or if anyone else is going to order... onegai!
My favorite books so far and probably by far (aside from Starfall) are the Literacy Street books from Longman's. But they are too expensive in comparison with other similar ranges. My feeling is that they are probably similar to what I've heard about Oxford Story Tree. All the stories feature the same group of characters and are really funny and appealing for kids. The kids love learning more about the characters they've read about in other books. The kids really loved these stories (can't say this enough) when I tried them on them and I reluctantly bought one level but that was 8 books for Y4,500. I just couldn't justify that much money for more levels when my library numbers needed boosting and I had a limited budget. I'd like to suggest an email Longman campaign to ask them to rethink the pricing structure. They are high quality but the price is too far removed from reality. Come on Longman - rethink that price!!
Haven't seen Potato Pals yet.
Well, that's my reader round-up. Hope it was useful.
I have been testing out several readers for the past 6 months or so. It's kind of a long list so I'll give you the list without too much comment on each.
School zone-I think these are sold exlusively through DEH. Past tense in some of the beginning levels made it seem like they were written for native children.
Oxford Reading Tree- has no words in the first levels Oxford story tree- has words. Pricey. my 3rd year and above classes could all finish the first complete red series in under 7 minutes. Fastest time was 5 minutes. I would use them with my 2nd year students if they didn't cost soooo much. Resemble pamphlets with the first few books only being 6 pages. Also I think they say it is American Engish but they use Mum.
Brown bear and Polar Bear etc.- books that I read to the kids when they were younger. Now they read them to me. Lots of repetition the kids love the rhythm.
Britannica Read Master- Sturdy set of 30 books. Gradually approach. The dictionary that goes with it is great and the kids use it a lot. The pictures aren't particularly colorful but the don't seem to mind. The stories are sometimes a bit quirky but they hold the child's interest fairly well. Don't know if they are available anymore.
Sesame Street text books- Stage d and above. Lots of interesting topics that you can do a lot with.
RCDS (Phonics-in-reading) - got the first two sets from Jelly beans Ed. They are from Taiwan or Malaysia? The letters are introduced very similar to the finding out series. Good fairly decodable readers. Focuses on sounds and combinations. Love the exercises after each story.
Dr. Seuss. Pretty long and the kids sometime tend to tire after several pages and on the difficult side but the kids love them for the most part.
Up and Away- a little long 1A is 23 pages long. Kids like it though.
Let's go readers- Only two books per level. I'm not a big fan of let's go but I love the readers, just wish there were more of them. The new word pictures at the bottom of the page are great and the excersizes at the the back of each story are well done
Houghton Mifflin-they publish books that are used in elementary schools in the states. The kids seem to take pride in being able to read the same books that American kids do. Lots and lots of good ideas to expand the content. Teacher book. Always requires more preparation than the other books. I will probably have the kids each buy a copy. Very sturdy book.
Smart readers- Got these from DEH as well. Good for the lower levels. I don't know if I would have the students buy them though. Level is a bit high with words such as firefighter and astronaut in one.
Longman readers- I only have one of their books. The Magician. Excersizes are very very weak. The kids liked the story though
I tried to categorize them, don't know how accurate I am: Leveled readers- Oxford Decodable phonetic readers-readmaster, rcds, Houghton, school zone Poetry- Sesame street, brown bear, Dr Suess High frequency words- smart readdrs, sesame street, ost Houghton, let's go, up and away.
Dictionaries- Disney dictionary-kids only are interested in their favorite characters. Read Master-Goes well with the series. Very useful and easy to understand Sesame street ABC123- more of an abc book than a dictionary Longman picture dictionary-Could actually be used as a course book which is why I was hesitant to use it but the kids liked it the best and loved the CD. I may get each of my students one.
I know this topic has already been run into the ground a few times but any comments, additions or suggestions would be welcome. Gordon
Another worthwhile series: "Brand
New Readers". About 20 sets, each set comes with four books plus a
case, phonics-based, very colorful/cute, about US$4-$5 per set.
Another set of readers not mentioned yet are the Joy Readers written by the New Zealand children's author, Joy Cowley. DEH has a small selection of them, but there are over 100 in the entire series. Very beautiful illustrations, interesting and humorous stories and simple, achievable language. Highly recommended, IF you can get your hands on them.
Also, not really readers or stories, but for those of you using David Lisgo's Blending a Hand CD, you might want to have a look at the dialogue cards. There are some hilarious exchanges in there. I've been using these voraciously ever since I got the latest CD and the kids LOVE acting out the (sometimes bizarre) dialogues. It wasn't until I tried writing my own similar dialogue cards (with horrible results) that I realized just how difficult it must have been for David to think of texts which were both meaningful, decodable AND engaging. Fit perfectly with Finding Out as well. I hope to see more in the future.