‘P is for Pterodactyl’: A Perfect Example of a Non-Decodable Text (2024)

4 min read


Dec 27, 2022


P is for Pterodactyl by Chris Carpenter and Lushlife is a mischievous alphabet book. It is factual and contrarian at once, a real paradox. The fun of the book is just how non-decodable the words in it are — I am sure many adults will have needed to Google the pronunciation of Bdellium straight away.

So should we read books like P is for Pterodactyl to kids? Let’s consider a few things …

Do all children need to read decodable books all the time?

No, but beginner readers benefit from decodable books being a large part of their ‘reading diet’.

In Structured Literacy sessions we teach children that English is full of sound patterns, and that by looking at where letters are within words we can predict the pronunciation. This is often true, but not always. When we teach children predictable sound rules, we give them ‘decodable readers’ to read. These little books include words which align with the patterns the students have learned, with a few exceptions. This is to keep things manageable for the children, reinforce the rule-based knowledge, and means they are actively using their letter-sound knowledge to figure out new words.

When do teachers introduce ‘whole language’ texts?

After students have learned a wide variety of ways to spell different sounds, when and why we use them, and read a whole lot of decodable readers, teachers will introduce ‘whole language’ books designed for children. This would most likely happen towards the last few stages of your child’s structured literacy learning (which will most likely look like a programme such as Little Learners Love Literacy or Ready to Read Phonics Plus).

Whole language reading books given out by schools (like PM Readers) are not designed specifically to be decodable, but will still be graded so that the content and length is appropriate and not too overwhelming for beginner readers.

Should I limit the amount of ‘whole language’ material my child is consuming?

This would be incredibly difficult because students are encountering whole language all the time in the forms of:

  • subtitles on videos,
  • labels of toys,
  • street signs,
  • advertising,
  • books they choose to read e.g. from the library,
  • and books they read at home.

We simply could not restrict children from seeing all this language.

If your child is reading out of interest and enjoyment that is great and we should encourage that. If they want to pick up a novel that you know is way too hard for them, I would take that as a positive sign that they are a keen, ambitious reader, and would not discourage them (I would perhaps encourage them to pick another story as well, so they have choices). A child who wants to read should always be encouraged to do so.

All children benefit from being read to as well. This teaches children how to use punctuation correctly, enriches their vocabulary, and gives children an idea of what fluent reading should sound like.

  • Following under words with their fingers.
  • Sounding out words:
  1. Looking at the first letter or letters which form a sound e.g. ch in chip should be read as one sound, not /c/ and then /h/ as that will not help the child decode the word. Say that sound out loud.
  2. Looking at the middle sound/s and saying it out loud e.g. i in chip would sound short — like bit or it — as it is a one syllable word.
  3. Looking at the final sound and saying it out loud e.g. p in chip.
  4. ‘Push’ those sounds together e.g. ch + i + p = chip.
  • If the child sounds out the first letter and looks overwhelmed, because this is a fun book for home (or because there are combinations of sounds in that word which are new to them) simply say the word and carry on.
  • If you wanted to give them a bonus boost of literacy when they come across tricky words, you could break it into sounds: “that word is neighbour: n + ay + b + uh.” This shows them that you use these strategies when you encounter unfamiliar words too (you probably do, even if subconsciously).

There is nothing wrong with giving children the word so that they can carry on enjoying their reading, especially if it’s something like …

‘P is for Pterodactyl’: A Perfect Example of a Non-Decodable Text (2)

My final thoughts:

Like most books, P is for Pterodactyl is well within ‘whole language’ territory. It celebrates exceptions to sound-spelling patterns in English by highlighting the /s/ sound in tsunami, the /f/ in sound photo, and the /w/ sound in ouija.

As adults, we can role model good reading behaviours: looking up pronunciation when we are not sure, carrying on reading despite difficulties, and taking time to comprehend what the words mean in context. This book is a great opportunity to show persistence towards reading.

P is for Pterodactyl is a very clever book which belongs on bookshelves everywhere, whether you’ve got someone learning to read at your home or not.

Here it is, enjoy!

‘P is for Pterodactyl’: A Perfect Example of a Non-Decodable Text (2024)


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