Nail Phonics by Using Your Child's Favorite Characters

By calling on furry pals and cool superheroes, she helped her twin boys learn reading fundamentals in a way they absolutely loved.
By Megan Zander
Dec 19, 2019



phonics book sets

Dec 19, 2019

Whenever I ask any of my elementary school teacher friends for advice on what I should be working on with my 6-year-old twins at home, their answers are always the same: “Are they reading?” or “Focus on reading!” or “Read to them and have them read to you as much as you can.”

When I asked the teachers in my life why they seemed more concerned with my kids' ability to blend consonants over being able to add and subtract, the answer was pretty simple: Reading skills are so important because they’re foundational. For the rest of their education, they’ll read about concepts to learn them, so the sooner they learn the mechanics of reading, the better.  

As an adult, this makes total sense, but try explaining to a soon-to-be-first-grader that they need to turn off the cartoons and work on sight words because they’ll help with high school social studies later on. I had to find something they would relate to that would get them interested in figuring out what all these words on a page meant.

I’ve tried pretty much every technique there is — reward charts, begging, setting a reading timer, even flash cards — but nothing really got them excited about reading until I called on their favorite animated characters for backup. Luckily, there are awesome and affordable phonic box sets that feature kids’ favorite characters to help them master sounds and sight words, so they can start reading on their own. (Here are more box sets for a steal!)

Here are a few of my kids’ favorites, and why we love keeping each on hand. 

PAW Patrol Phonics Box Set

This phonics set is perfect for any little reader who loves to watch Rocky, Chase, Marshall, Skye, Rubble, Zuma and the rest of the gang in action. It comes with 12 softcover books that are the perfect size for small hands, and each story focuses on a different vowel sound or consonant blend, with review books halfway through and at the end of the series.

The first page of each book gives kids and parents a heads-up of what to expect inside. There’s a list of sight words used in the text, a list of words with certain vowels or letter blends in the book, and a list highlighting words from the cartoon, like character names. This primer page is super helpful! Logan loves to practice words before reading the story, and seeing how he does that with this page gives me a good idea of whether or not he will be able to read the story on his own — or if I should sit nearby to help.

Having the stories revolve around the familiar PAW Patrol pups also helps to boost my kids’ reading confidence! When Logan first saw how much text was in the review book, he said, “I can’t read that many words!” But when I encouraged him to give it a try, he quickly realized that he recognized all of the words (even "helicopter" or "truck"), partly from watching the cartoon. Once he realized he was familiar with what was happening in the story, he raced through the entire book on his own and asked to read another.

LEGO DC Super Heroes: Phonics Boxed Set

LEGO and superheroes are two of my kids’ favorite things, so I wasn’t surprised that they ripped this phonics box set open the second they laid eyes on it. What did surprise me is how much they learned from it!

The 10 stories feature a variety of DC characters with a heavy focus on Batman and Superman (give the kids what they want, right?). Each helps little readers practice a different long or short vowel sound. 

In this set, rather than the focus words being on the first page like other phonics readers, they are on the back cover of the book and bolded within the story. This seems like a small detail, but if your child is the type to get easily intimidated when they see how many words are in a book, like my son Remy, this makes a huge difference. With this set, we get to skip the “what to expect” part altogether and he doesn’t psych himself out. 

The set also comes with two superhero-themed reading and language workbooks. I’m not exaggerating when I say my kids have picked these workbooks up on their own every day since we’ve gotten them. Summer slide? Not in this house.


Pete the Cat Phonics Box Set

My boys love when I read the slightly more advanced Pete the Cat books to them, so they felt like big kids getting to read the books in this phonics set all on their own. The cat’s wry sense of humor is on point as always, leading to plenty of giggles — which can be hard to find in phonics sets!

Like the PAW Patrol set, the first page of each of the 12 books in this set gives a sneak peek of the sight words and focus words to expect. Ten of the books each focus on a different short or long vowel sound, and the other two books are meant for review. The final book is loosely set to “Old MacDonald Had a Farm,” which my boys enthusiastically sang long after they finished reading. 

Peppa Pig Phonics Box Set

Out of all the cartoons my kids watch, Peppa Pig is one of my personal favorites. Her accent is delightful, and the colorful animations always make me smile, so I was tickled pink as Peppa herself when I saw there was a phonics box set themed after her. “Mom, please open it!” Logan said when he saw it. If only he had said ‘mummy.’

With 10 books each focusing on a different vowel sound and two workbooks — one that reviews books one through five and one that reviews books six through 10 — this set would be a great addition to an at-home preschool curriculum or a fun way to keep kids learning over a school break.

The stories and text are simpler than some of the other boxed phonics sets my boys have read. There are one to two easy sentences per page, and it is great for beginner readers who want to practice reading without any adults helping. Focus words on the back of each book help keep track of what skills they’re working on. 


Star Wars: Phonics Box Set #1 and Star Wars: Phonics Box Set #2

True fans of the Star Wars franchise will appreciate how there are multiple parts to this intergalactic phonics learning adventure. 

Box Set #1 offers 10 books and two workbooks, focusing on short and long vowel sounds. The saga continues with Box Set #2, in which 10 more books and two workbooks introduce young Jedis to consonant blends. My kids are almost as excited about these as they are by the thought of getting their own lightsabers one day!

Fly Guy Phonics Box Set

My boys are huge admirers of the Fly Guy books, and have been reading them both at preschool and at home. They adore Buzz and Fly Guy, so they were super motivated to open these readers and try to tackle them on their own.

Like other phonics readers, this set highlights focus words in the story and lists them in the back of the book. Each of the 10 books tackles a vowel sound and there are two workbooks as well. While many other phonics readers tend to max out around three to four lines of text per page, these Fly Guy phonics readers have more words per page, and closer to a dozen lines of text.

At first Remy was intimidated, and told me, “Mommy it’s too many words!”  But because he’s such a Fly Guy fan, he decided to give it a try anyway. He was happy to learn that while there are more words in these books, they’re all at a level that’s perfect for advanced beginner readers. He sailed through the first book happily and went onto the next without my prodding.

As someone who’s usually trying to keep the house looking at least semi-presentable, I appreciate how all of these box sets are so easily organized. When my kids are done reading, every book slides right back into the box for easy storage. I also love how the kits have handles — my boys are always asking to bring toys along for car ride, but now they like to bring along these phonics sets, too. 

“Mom, we’re rocking this reading thing,” Logan said to me today as we got home from some errands, his box of Peppa Pig books swinging from arm. Yes, yes we are.

Alphabet Recognition
Age 7
Age 6
Age 5
Age 4
Age 3
Reading Support
Sight Words
Word Recognition
Alphabet Recognition
Phonemic Awareness