The Story of Monarch Readers
By Sara Cotner, Yolanda Romanelli, and Stacie Scheller
As Montessorians, we know how important the prepared environment is. But it isn’t just Montessori materials that constitute the prepared environment!
As we seek to help children grow into confident, joyful, lifelong readers, the decodable readers we offer them matter immensely as part of our prepared environments.
There are several different criteria we use to evaluate the decodable readers we bring into our communities:
PHONETICALLY CONTROLLED: Do the decodable readers isolate the difficulty for children? Do they include phonograms and sight words that children are familiar with?
RICH IN MEANING: As soon as you phonetically control text to scaffold reading for children, you sometimes start to lose meaning. It’s important for early readers to make sense in order to support the development of reading comprehension right from the start.
REALISTIC: As Montessorians, we know that children with an Absorbent Mind are trying to take in and understand the world around them, which is why we want to put realistic storylines and images in front of them.
BEAUTIFUL: The youngest children are absorbing the world around them while they construct their own personalities. The quality of the materials we put in their hands matters.
CULTURALLY SUSTAINING AND GROUNDED IN EQUITY: We know that books serve as “mirrors, windows, and sliding doors” for children, as Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop said. Books help them see themselves reflected in the world. Books help them see people who are different from themselves. And they help children see what’s possible for them out in the world. When children see themselves in books, they affirm their identities and see that their stories and families matter.
It is so challenging to find decodable readers that check all these boxes!
We found decodable readers that do a great job of being phonetically controlled but they aren’t rich in meaning, realistic, beautiful or culturally sustaining.
We found other decodable readers that are rich in meaning, beautiful, and culturally sustaining but not phonetically controlled enough or realistic.
The closest set of readers we found checked off 4 of 5 boxes. It is everything except culturally sustaining and grounded in equity.
As educators in a public Montessori school that is racially, culturally, and socioeconomically diverse, it was heartbreaking to not have books that reflected our children. After many years of “making do” with the available options, two of our teachers (Yolanda Romanelli and Stacie Scheller) decided it was time to write our own.
We hired a local, professional illustrator and got to work. The children at Magnolia Montessori For All helped provide feedback on drafts of our work. One of our children said, “If you find eggs in a tree, that’s going to be an exclamation mark, not a period!” And so now, in the book Under the Tree, you will see an exclamation mark at the end of this sentence, “I spotted five speckled eggs!”
How are Monarch Readers phonetically controlled?
Each level focuses on particular phonics skills in a sequenced, scaffolded way:
- Level 1 = CVC words
- Level 2 = blends and glued sounds with short vowels (an, am, -all, -ng + double consonants ff, ll, ss + ck), as well as 2-syllable phonetic words
- Level 3 = Consonant Digraphs and Beginning Vowel Digraphs (ch, sh, th, ee, oo as in book and oo as in moon)
- Level 4 = Vowel Digraphs (silent E, ay, oa, ie, oy)
- Level 5 = r-controlled vowels, open syllables, and inflectional endings (-ed and -ing)
Each set also comes with corresponding sight word flashcards, so you can help set up children for success.
How are Monarch Readers rich in meaning?
The very first book in Level 1 only has phrases: a dog, the bugs, etc. Even at that level, we include comprehension questions at the back of the book that push children to make meaning from what they read. What do you remember? What did you like? What do you think it meant when…?
All of the stories make sense, even when they are phonetically controlled.
How are Monarch Readers realistic?Each of the 27 books has realistic characters with realistic storylines.
How are Monarch Readers beautiful?We hired a professional illustrator to bring the stories to life in the most beautiful way possible and selected the nicest quality paper.
How are Monarch Readers culturally sustaining and grounded in equity?
The 27 books in the series feature a variety of characters from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. There are characters with different sexual orientations, different religions, different genders, and different family situations. There is also a child in a wheelchair, as well as a child who is deaf.
These elements of identity are not the focus of the books; instead, the focus is on beautifully diverse children and families engaging in real life.
There are also messages about non-violent communication and examples of friendship across lines of difference.
From start to finish, this project took us approximately two years. When a child wants to stay in from recess and asks, “Can I read as many as I want to?” our hearts swell with happiness. It was a labor of love that was totally worth it, and we hope your children enjoy them as much as ours do!
FREE PRINTABLE this week is matching big and small pictures. Place pictures around the room and have a basket of the smaller photos. Then have children move purposely to find all the pictures. A great purposeful movement work for the beginning of the school year.