Developing a picture book and novel spine

As much as I would love you to read my entire post about the ins and outs of picture book and novel spines, I appreciate that some of you would just like to see the list and be done with it! Here is the PDF version of my school’s picture book and novel spine, straight from our detailed English Operational Plan. I encourage you to use this as an example only and devise your own spines with consultation from the teachers you work with, and consideration of your context.

If you find the spines useful, I would appreciate you providing some feedback to the blog!

In quite a few of my previous blog posts, I have discussed the Reading Rope and The Simple View of Reading. I talk A LOT about the role of decoding, and Structured Synthetic Phonics and how we can’t have READING comprehension without fluent word recognition AND oral comprehension. For more details on this model, please see my post here…and my post here.


When we bake a cake, we don’t start off with a perfectly iced chocolate mud cake; we start with a set of ingredients that need to be prepared and then baked for some time, before our end goal is achieved and everyone can enjoy a piece of delicious mud cake. If we forget to include a key ingredient, the cake will most likely result in a underwhelming mess. This is similar to reading. We need to ensure we have the necessary ingredients (oral language and word recognition ) so that we can achieve the final product of automatised and fluent reading comprehension.


Today I am focussing more on the ‘comprehension’ side of things- both oral comprehension (a key ingredient), and reading comprehension (the CAKE!). As detailed in the Reading Rope visual, one of the crucial ingredients for reading comprehension is ORAL comprehension. Oral comprehension (as well as fluent word recognition) must come first in literacy instruction. It is extremely important for emergent readers that they receive evidence-based structured and systematic synthetic phonics instruction and practise these skills using decodable texts. We also must provide HIGH quality ROBUST instruction to develop oral language (both expressive and comprehension). This is why, at my current school, I have led the creation of a picture book spine, to ensure that each year group has access to rich literature to develop the students’ oral language skills, particularly in the area of comprehension and narrative. These are by no means the only picture books used within each year group, it is just providing the ‘essential list’ that must be used so that students have access to a range of different literature from one year to the next.

In a pre-primary setting (Western Australian first year of compulsory schooling following a year of Kindergarten), we do a Narrative over two weeks. This provides enough time for the students to develop a strong understanding of the text and have multiple opportunities to learn the new vocabulary, identify the macrostructure elements (story-grammar), and practise retelling the story using macrostructure icons and story mapping.

In addition to this, we also implement Talk for Writing which has a large focus on oral comprehension and expression- the basis of both reading and writing. Please see my blog posts here about implementing Talk for Writing and Talk for Writing: Aboriginal Perspectives.


We also have a novel spine. This novel spine is for students who already have fluent word recognition (i.e. can fluently decode the entire initial and extended phonics code using the Dandelion Readers) and have automatic word recognition. The focus of the novel study is READING comprehension. See my previous blog post here about how to target reading comprehension once fluent word recognition is established, with a focus on developing vocabulary and topic knowledge.

These novels have been selected by myself and my teaching colleagues for each grade. There is no expectation that every novel is done each year but it provides a selection so that teachers have some autonomy is the novel/s they choose for the students to study based on their own teaching preferences and the students’ interests. I encourage you to use this as an example only and devise your own novel spine using teachers (and student) opinions and ideas.

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