Best apps for new readers

Best apps for new readers
Reading doesn't always have to involve books. We've rounded up the best apps for children who are learning to read, ranging from traditional tales to interactive games that will improve their reading as they play.

Best for simplicity

PocketPhonics Stories, free trial then £1.49 per month, Apple

PocketPhonics Stories combines PocketPhonics’ award-winning phonics app with stories pitched perfectly for each phase of phonics learning.

The app introduces phonics in the order in which they’re taught at school, starting with s, a, t, p, i and n. The phoneme appears on screen, and your child is encouraged to say it aloud then trace it with their finger.

They then gain access to an interactive story that uses the phoneme. These start with simple one-word stories, and increase in difficulty as children progress through the app.

Using the microphone of your tablet or phone, your child reads the story aloud, karaoke style. Tricky words appear in red; if they click on them, they’re encouraged to sound them out. The stories also introduce high frequency ‘exception’ words that don’t follow the rules of phonics.

There are 43 stories in total, and you can also set up more than one player profile, which is handy if you have two or more children at different stages of learning to read.

Best for complementing school reading

Me Books: Biff, Chip & Kipper, first book free then priced individually, Apple and Android

Biff, Chip & Kipper books are used in 80 per cent of primary schools. These interactive titles, available on the Me Books app, tie in with the school reading scheme, and focus on encouraging children to read aloud.

Each story is introduced with notes for parents, explaining how to use the book, what questions to ask your child, what to discuss after reading it, and so on. Tap the text to hear it read aloud, with cheerful music and sound effects, and tap the rainbow in the corner to reveal ‘hotspots’ with extra features.

The best feature is that your child can record themselves reading the story, and play it back to themselves, you or their teacher: a great way to track progress.

The first Biff, Chip & Kipper book, Oh Floppy!, is free, with another 27 to buy. And once you’ve created a Me Books account, you can buy hundreds of other popular digital children’s books and comics, including Peppa Pig, Thomas the Tank Engine, the Beano and many more, and collate them all in your child’s own library.

Best for tracking your child’s progress

Reading Eggs, first month free, then £6.99 per month, Apple

Reading Eggs is designed by literacy experts to help children learn to read, using guided reading tasks, activities and e-books. There are three different stages: Reading Eggs Junior (ages 2-4), Reading Eggs (ages 3-7) and Reading Eggspress (ages 7-13). It progresses from introducing phonics letter sounds, to sight words and building vocabulary, to reading e-books and then to reading comprehension.

The app starts with a ‘placement test’ to establish your child’s reading level through a series of graduated questions. It then gives them access to a map with bundles of activities matched to their reading standard; these include animations, games, songs and more.

Once your child has got through all the activities in a section, they unlock an e-book, ranging from simple texts with one per page through to stories with a wider range and depth of language. There are over 2,500 e-books in total. They can choose to read the book themselves, or have it read to them.

Your child’s progress is rewarded with golden eggs, and you’ll receive detailed reports of how they’re getting on. There are also lots of extras, including songs in the Music Café, games that they can get credit for by cashing in eggs, and story writing competitions.

Best for familiar characters

CBeebies Storytime, free, Apple and Android

This app is a virtual library of books to share with your new reader. There’s a huge range of stories, from traditional tales to books featuring favourite CBeebies characters such as Mr Tumble and Sarah and Duck.

Your child can choose whether to read the story by themselves, or have it read to them as they follow the words on the screen. Many of the books have interactive features that also test comprehension – hiding Peter Rabbit and his friends from Farmer McGregor, for example. Stories are written in a clear, easy-to-read font.

You can have up to 12 books at a time in your collection, and return them to exchange for new ones. There’s a handy parents’ guide with information on how to make reading fun and helping your child develop language skills, plus tips on learning to read.

Best for reading aloud

Axel Scheffler’s Flip Flap collection, 99p each, Apple

This series of virtual lift-the-flap books for children who are beginning to read is beautifully illustrated, as you’d expect from the man behind The Gruffalo.

Flip Flap Farm features a range of farm animals, split into two; your child can swipe the top and bottom to create crazy mixed-up creatures, such as a ‘chirrel’ (a chicken crossed with a squirrel) and a ‘heep’ (a horse crossed with a sheep). These made-up names are a good test of your child’s phonics knowledge, as they can practise sounding them out.

Each animal has its own short poem describing its characteristics: a good early introduction to rhyme. Your child can read by themselves, or have it read to them in Read and Play mode; in this setting, each word is highlighted as it’s spoken so they can follow the text.

Flip Flap titles are available to buy individually or as a collection, and include Ocean, Safari, Jungle and more.

Best for Dr Seuss fans

The Cat in the Hat: Read & Learn with Dr Seuss, £2.99, Apple and Android

It’s a little-known fact, but Dr Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat was originally written as a primer for new readers, using a very specific range of vocabulary and a strict 220-word limit. This app brings the classic story to life, and continues the theme of helping new readers.

Children can choose to read the story themselves, or read along with the highlighted words, karaoke style. They can tap on any word to hear it spoken aloud, and tap on objects in the pictures to hear their names. As they work through the book, they can look out for stars which unlock mini games that help them practise literacy skills.

The app also tracks your child’s reading stats, telling you how many minutes, pages and per cent of the book they’ve got through.

Many of Dr Seuss’s other early reading books are available individually or as part of a bundle, including The Lorax, Green Eggs and Ham and Fox in Socks. Note that narration is in American English, although this doesn’t seem incongruous given that the books were originally published in the States.

Best for reading variety

Epic!, first month free then £5.99 per month, Apple and Android

If your child is a new but voracious reader, Epic! Is well worth its monthly fee. Children have access to around 25,000 books, including recent and bestselling titles like Rosie Revere, Engineer and National Geographic non-fiction books.

When you create your child’s profile, you can input their age, the categories of book they’re interested in (such as adventure, history, pets and sports), as well as the type of book they want to read – including whole collections of early readers and first chapter books. You can add up to four children, and create a separate library for each.

Some books are for your child to read themselves (or for you to read to them), while others are narrated, with the text highlighted so they can follow along: a green ‘Read to me’ banner appears on the cover of these. Bear in mind that the narration is in American English; if this bothers you, you can mute your phone or tablet.

Children are rewarded for their reading progress by collecting badges. They can also rate each book when they finish it, and see other children’s ratings, too.

Best for traditional tales with a twist

Nosy Crow Fairytales, £4.99 each or £19.99 for the collection, Apple

Traditional tales are great for new readers, as their familiarity with the stories aids reading and understanding. Nosy Crow’s collection gives these tales a whole new lease of life with brilliant interactive features that will make your child want to read them again and again.

Each app incorporates a well-known fairytale, plus an all-new story based on the original: for example, Goldilocks features the story of what Little Bear is up to while Goldilocks is in the three bears’ house. Rotating your device through 360 degrees enables you to switch from one story to the other, at the same point.

In Read by Myself mode, you can choose how long the text appears on screen for, so your child has enough time to read it. In Read and Play mode, words are highlighted as they’re spoken so your child can read along. Your child can interact with the story, for example by tapping the characters to reveal their speech bubbles and move them around the screen. Every scene has interactive features to explore.

The full collection includes Goldilocks, Snow White, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and The Three Little Pigs.

Best for shared reading

The Monster at the End of this Book starring Grover, £4.99, Apple and Android

The lovable Grover of Sesame Street fame is the star of this app, designed to promote shared reading and help children get to grips with the physical conventions of reading, such as reading speech bubbles and turning pages.

The book follows frightened Grover as he does everything he can to stop your child turning the pages and getting closer to the monster at the end of the book, including nailing the pages shut and building a brick wall. Defying Grover by turning the pages is guaranteed to make your child giggle, and with interactive features to engage them in the story.

Although your child can use the app independently, with Grover reading the story aloud (in an American accent, as per the TV series), it’s designed to be enjoyed together, with a comprehensive parents’ section giving lots of tips for shared reading.

Best for interactive learning

Teach Your Monster to Read, £4.99, Apple and Android

This BAFTA-nominated app was developed for children who are in the early stages of learning to read. Children create their own monster, then take it on games-based adventures that cover phonics phases two (simple letter sounds) to five (reading short sentences).

Children are challenged through a range of reading games, with rewards to keep them motivated. By the time they’ve reached the highest level, Champion Reader, they’ll be reading short sentences using their phonics knowledge, and be tested on tricky words, too. There are also mini-books for them to enjoy on their own or with you.

The app has been given the seal of approval by teachers, and is used in many classrooms. There’s also a free computer version that your child can play on a laptop or desktop computer.