In my post How to Learn English, I talked about why reading is so important and how you need to find books at your level.
What if I told you that reading doesn’t need to be hard and it doesn’t need to give you a headache? What if I told you that you could learn new words, improve your listening and speaking skills, and it could be interesting and fun?
You’re going to think I’m crazy, but read this post until the end and I promise that you will want to start reading.
I want you to read children’s book series.
Why is reading so important?
This section is for those of you who think reading is a waste of time.
Reading is not a waste of time! Reading helps you learn a lot of new words in a short amount of time. You learn new words in context, which means you learn words by looking at the situation in which you find the words and by looking at the words around them. You learn how to use the words correctly in a sentence, without memorizing anything. Learning happens naturally, the way you learned your native language (your first language, your mother tongue).
Reading is not a waste of time IF it is “free voluntary reading.” This is an idea from a well-known education professor named Steven Krashen. (We are going to talk more about him later in this post.) Free voluntary reading means that you choose books that are interesting to you and at your level of reading.
You are not just learning words. While you are reading for fun, you don’t even realize that you are learning collocations and sentence structure. Here are some other benefits:
- Your confidence improves.
- Your grammar improves without having to memorize “rules.” You learn sentence structure instead of rules.
- It becomes easier to speak to and understand native speakers.
OK, this is nice, but how do you find books at your level* of reading that are fun and interesting?
(Please remember that “at your level” doesn’t mean that you need to know every word you read, just that the book is easy to understand and you don’t need to look up a new word in every sentence.)
What is a book series?
Books series are very popular in the English-speaking world. I read many books series when I was a young girl!
Think of TV series like the Big Bang Theory, NCIS, Modern Family, or CSI. Each series has the same group of characters and the same theme. NCIS, for example, is about a group of agents who investigate crimes involving the US Navy or Marines.
A book series is similar. It’s a group of books that all have the same characters and are about a similar topic. In each book, the characters experience a new problem.
How do you know that reading book series works?
That professor that we talked about earlier, Steven Krashen, published an article many years ago in the Journal of Reading. I found this article recently and I was so excited when I read it! It’s about real English students just like you who improved ALL their English skills by reading a book series called Sweet Valley Kids. (These books are no longer in print, but I recommend others below).
Here’s what happened: There were four women living in the U.S. and learning English as a second language. They were asked to participate in a reading program. Their teacher gave them books to read from a series called Sweet Valley Kids.
(At the time, there were many Sweet Valley series and they were very popular. I used to read Sweet Valley Twins and Sweet Valley High!)
The women loved these books! These were short books, less than 100 pages, and they were easy to read. They were able to read many of the books in a short amount of time. The more books they read, the more their English skills improved. They found that after reading several of the books in the series, it was easier to understand things on TV and easier to have conversations with native speakers!
You can read the entire article here: Acquisition of vocabulary from the Sweet Valley Kids series: Adult ESL acquisition
Where can I find these books?
Before I tell you about the book series that I recommend, I want to tell you that there are several places where you can find these English books:
Canada & the U.S.
- secondhand bookstores
- thrift stores (Salvation Army, Goodwill, Value Village, etc.)
- Amazon.com & Amazon.ca
Outside Canada & the U.S.
- English bookstores (in major cities)
- the English section of libraries (in major cities)
- Amazon.com or the Amazon in your country
Amazon.com sells “Kindle Editions.” These are e-books, or books in digital form. This is awesome! You can buy Kindle books from anywhere in the world! You don’t need Amazon’s Kindle device to read these e-books. You can download the Kindle app for your phone or tablet from the iTunes app store or Google Play. You can even read Kindle books on your desktop using the Kindle Cloud Reader!
(Strangely, you cannot actually buy Kindle books on your phone or table. You have to use your desktop computer to purchase Kindle books, but once you’ve bought them, the Kindle books will be available on all your devices.)
Here are the book series that I recommend:
(with links to Amazon.com*)
Before you choose a book, you can read the first chapter of each book in the series! Click on the image and then click on any book in the series. Click on the book cover where it says “Look Inside.”
Each of these series is available in Kindle (e-book) version.
I picked these first two series because the characters live in the real world. The stories are about everyday situations. There are no magical creatures!
1. Greetings from Somewhere
This book series is so fun. Ethan and Ella are twins. Their mother is a travel writer and their father is a professor. They get to travel around the world! In each foreign city, something happens and they must solve a mystery before they leave for the next city!
2. Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew
Nancy Drew is a popular character in the English-speaking world! Nancy is a detective. She and her friends Bess & George solve mysteries that happen at school and in their daily lives.
I chose these next two series because I wanted to recommend series with boys as the main character.
3. Tales from Maple Ridge
This series takes place in 1892 in a small town in the U.S. The main character’s name is Logan Pryce, and the books in this series are all about his daily life and the problems he faces, like his first trip to a big city or finding his brother in a blizzard.
4. Flat Stanley
Yes, Stanley is flat, as flat as a pancake! One night, while he is asleep, a bulletin board falls on Stanley and flattens him. He discovers he can do fun things because he is flat. He becomes a hero because he stops thieves from stealing paintings from a museum!
(*The links to Amazon.com are affiliate links. When you buy something at Amazon.com through these links, Amazon gives me a very small % of your purchase at no extra cost to you! You won’t even know that it has happened. This helps to keep EnglishTeacherMelanie.com free for everyone. Remember, you do not have to buy these books at Amazon.com! You can try to find them in your country, or buy them through Amazon in your country. It’s not about the money. It’s about helping you find the best resources to learn English!)