I am a strong believer in Extensive Reading for language learning, and I have created this site as a resource for other teachers who want to know more about the available materials. If you are a teacher who is looking to build or maintain an extensive reading library for your school, this site is for you.
In his most recent survey, David R. Hill (2013) looked at more than 2000 books across 54 series from 14 publishers. There have been great improvements to graded readers as language learning resources, with tighter control of vocabulary and grammatical structures, better consistency within levels, and a wider variety of genres and topics. Although I will provide information about the readers as language materials here, my main focus is on their worth as literature.
What makes a good graded reader?
To reiterate, I believe a graded reader should be judged on two main criteria. Firstly, it should be assessed for its effectiveness as a language learning resource within an Extensive Reading Programme. If you would like to know more about ER, please click the ‘Links’ tab in the menu bar above. I am concerned here with the second criteria; is it good literature? I will define literature in its broadest sense… as something which entertains, enlightens or empowers the reader.
The writer of a graded reader operates within certain constraints. Not only is the vocabulary at his or her disposal reduced, sometimes quite considerably, but it is also necessary to tell the story within just a few pages. The writing should be clear, and the number and introduction of characters must be managed very carefully. Metaphor and imagery, however, can be used effectively. Repetition and redundancy, as well as supporting the language learner, can make for interesting writing.
The best graded readers I have read manage to be amusing, sweet, moving or creepy despite these constraints. I am looking for books which are consistent within the world they have set up, stories in which the characters are believable and developed, and writing which is clear without being dry or patronising.
There is one quirk in these reviews – you will notice I give each book a ‘Bechdel Test’. This test comes from Alison Bechdel’s comic strip ‘Dykes To Watch Out For’ and is usually applied to movies. To pass, a film should have a) two or more female characters, who b) talk to each other, about c) something other than a man. I applied this test to a number of books in a study I did on gender representation in graded readers. You can read more about that here.
Thank you for visiting!
Darren Elliott, February 2017.
Bechdel, A (1986). Dykes to Watch Out For. New York: Firebrand Books.
Hill, D. R. (2013). Graded readers. ELT journal, 67(1), 85-125.