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Book Reviews

Phoebe Sounds It Out (A Book Review)

Phoebe Sounds It Out by Julie Zwillich, illustrated by Denise Holmes

Publisher: Owlkids Books
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 32
Age Range: 3 – 7 years old
Grade Level: Preschool – 2
Available for pre-order now!  Publishes April, 2017.

Meet Phoebe. Unfortunately, her name doesn’t look quite like it sounds. At school, her classmates practice writing their names, but Phoebe struggles. Her teacher tells her to “just sound it out.” Phoebe doubts herself and procrastinates before resolving to try. Readers are privy to her funny, endearing interior monologue and little-kid rationale as she writes the result: FEEBY.

Told in a relatable, introspective voice, this school story conveys the feelings and worries of a 5-year-old and supports learning about sounds and letters. Readers will see from Phoebe’s fellow kindergartners’ attempts that everyone makes mistakes, and that we can take pride in effort and not just perfection.

I am stickler for using good grammar and spelling words correctly so my initial reaction to 5 year-old Phoebe spelling her name as “Feeby” made my toes curl.  I was thinking why didn’t the teacher correct her spelling mistake? Isn’t that what teachers should do?  I guess the answer to this question depends on the teacher’s preference and their approach.  Although I would think many Kindergarten teachers are more interested in children trying their best than spelling every word correctly including their names.

In reading about this topic before in the past I’ve learned in the early grades many educators encourage inventive spelling, also known as temporary spelling — where the child makes his/her best guess on the spelling of the word, rather than stopping to find out the correct version.  Studies have shown that kids who are allowed to use inventive spelling learn to write more quickly, more fluently, and with a richer vocabulary than those who work under more rigid spelling expectations.  It isn’t until the later grades where spelling becomes more important and is enforced more frequently.

I love how creative Phoebe is in this book.  She knows her name starts with the letter ‘P’, but she comes up with her own way to spell it that sounds correct to her.  She figures her mother must have made a mistake the way she spelled it because let’s face it, mams make mistakes too.  When the assistant teacher Ms. April tells Phoebe to “sound it out” she proudly writes her name ‘Feeby’.

I don’t remember how I spelled my name in the early years, but I’m sure I didn’t always get it exactly right just like Phoebe. I appreciate the fact that the teacher didn’t point out Phoebe’s errors and her classmates didn’t make fun of her.  It’s clear spelling is not a priority for this particular name writing assignment or at this particular stage. Instead, the teacher praises Phoebe’s content and says, “What a great start.”

When you think about it, producing a finished piece of writing is a lot like putting on a polished musical performance. Learning how to write takes a lot of mental work and trying to spell or write every word perfectly can slow the whole process way down.  I’m glad little Phoebe didn’t let this slow her down.  As you can see from some of the illustrations in the book, some of the kids write their letters backwards which is perfectly acceptable at this age.

Overall, we enjoyed this book.  The pencil illustrations are darling and show a diverse group of children and teachers throughout. Phoebe’s outfit is so cute and seems to match her personality.  A great book for embracing inventive spelling, teaching children how to spell their names, building confidence, and teaching children it’s okay to make mistakes.  Be sure to check this one out when it publishes in April 2017!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

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