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Barron's Reader's Clubhouse Series, Level 3 (set of nine books) Review by Donna Campos

Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
250 Wireless Blvd.
Hauppauge. NY 11788

Barron's Reader's Clubhouse books are designed to assist parents and teachers in the teaching of reading through a phonics-based approach. Level 3 (designed for first and second graders) consists of nine books, each containing a separate story that teaches different vowel combinations and words ending in "y." Level 3 builds on the skills presented in Levels 1 and 2, but completion of the early levels is not a prerequisite for using Level 3. All are softbound with color illustrations. In addition to a story, each 24-page book includes Fun Facts, an Activity, and a Word List (divided into Challenging, Decodable, and High-Frequency words). The last three books, which are nonfiction, include a short Glossary and an Index. Here is a list of the Level 3 titles and the letter combinations covered in each:

  • Sailor Taylor Sets Sail ("ai" and "ay")
  • Sweet Dreams ("ea," "ee," and "ie")
  • Kirby's Circus ("ir," "er," and "ur")
  • Coach Bo Will Show You ("oa" and "ow")
  • Queen Sue Loved Blue ("ue" and "ew")
  • Fly Guy and Spy Guy Stop Byron Fry ("y" as long "i")
  • How Can You Tell How People Feel? ("y" as long "e")
  • Land Turtles, Sea Turtles (review of books 1-4)
  • Mixing Colors Is Fun (review of books 5-7)

Our homeschool found the books to be adequate visually, with bright colors and fun illustrations. The opening letter to parents/educators gave an overview of the basics of phonics instruction and also highlighted the letter combinations presented in that particular book. The Fun Facts contained interesting information connected to the story line. Fly Guy and Spy Guy Stop Byron Fry had great information on popcorn that lit a bit of interest in my son for more knowledge about one of our favorite snacks. Queen Sue Loved Blue included instructions on mixing colors, and the concepts were expanded later in the final book of the series, Mixing Colors Is Fun. The nonfiction books of the series (books 7-9) contained more observation and thought-provoking questions. These final three books also included suggestions for researching the subject matter further--other books to read as well as websites to explore. We appreciated this additional information and enjoyed the nonfiction books more than the first six in the series. The Reader's Clubhouse website is a good resource for printable games and activities, and it includes a printable, personalized certificate that pictures up to all nine of the books read. We found the certificate to be an incentive as most children would want to have all nine of the book spots filled. The website also provides tips for learning activities, which we found to be helpful.

Although our homeschool does not hold completely to the idea of reading only high-quality books and absolutely no "twaddle," we unfortunately found these books to contain very little enjoyable reading. The three nonfiction books were adequate reading, but the first six were obviously written with great effort to include words that contained specific vowel combinations with little actual focus on the story itself. Story lines did not flow or simply did not exist at all. The frequent blending of fantasy and reality resulted in stories that made very little sense. For instance, in Coach Bo Will Show You, a father teaches his daughter how to bowl, row, and tow; however, he supposedly could also teach her how to row a boat in cocoa! Though the story contained plenty of examples of "ow" and "oa" combinations, it resulted in no real sense at all. (Sweet Dreams and Queen Sue Loved Blue were the most acceptable of the first six books as far as story line.) It was disappointing to see pointless writing for children when the books could have easily contained quality stories to teach the letter combinations.

Another disappointment was the complete lack of correct punctuation for dialogue. Quotation marks were simply not used, even though the words "asked" and "say" were used, among others. For first and second grade readers, this was simply not acceptable. We would like for our children to see proper quotation marks used. There may be a mindset that considers quotation marks unnecessary for early readers, but we prefer our children to read quality writing as it should be written in all of its accuracy, including punctuation.

The Barron's Reader's Clubhouse Level 3 books contain many qualities we hope to see more often in children's readers. The Fun Facts and the various activities were a great way to reinforce subject matter and allow for greater discussion with our children. The breakdown of letter combinations and the phonics-based approach are mainstays in our reading program and were well presented in this series. Unfortunately, the stories themselves were lacking any real substance, which was extremely disappointing as the additional materials in each book held great educational possibilities.

Product review by Donna Campos, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, June 2007