Book reviews - learning to read - Collins Big Cat

What is Collins Big Cat?

  • Over 800 books for 3-11 year olds.
  • From early phonic development to fluent reading, Collins Big Cat is a whole-school reading programme that provides complete support for primary reading.
  • Foster a lifelong love of reading with hundreds of book-banded readers featuring beautiful illustrations and stunning photographs for every step of a child’s reading journey.
  • High-quality fiction and non-fiction includes a variety of genres.
  • The range of targeted Big Cat strands ensures readers of all needs and abilities are supported. 
  •  Readers are matched to Reading Recovery and quizzed for Accelerated Reader.
Collins Big Cat Inform
Collins Big Cat has 7 bands for Key Stage 2, ages 7-11. With over 120 books each band has an equal amount of Fiction and Non-Fiction readers that support the 2014 curriculum. Different book sizes, illustrations, characters and genre helps Big Cat match the different interests in the classroom and engage all readers. The books I have reviewed are from the Inform range of non-fiction books. The range of titles is fantastic - there are books here to interest every child. Each topic has been carefully selected to fit with the National Curriculum for the year, and the engaging presentation and enjoyable text means that children will find real pleasure in reading these books. There are plenty of general interest books to get children reading for pleasure. All the books include a glossary, which helps to extend children's vocabulary, and an index to help them find their way round the book and develop their own research skills. The presentation is superb, with attractive covers, good quality paper, wonderful photos, clear diagrams and fact boxes, all laid out clearly. "Ideas for Reading" at the end of every book is packed with ideas get the full benefit from the book and to extend learning. The books get longer band by band and by Band 18, they are substantial (and highly informative) books of 80 pages. A fantastic classroom resource and also good for children to use at home. At March 2019, the bands contain the following:
Copper – 36 books in the band
Topaz – 36 books in the band
Ruby – 36 books in the band
Emerald – 36 books in the band
Sapphire – 36 books in the band
Diamond – 36 books in the band
Pearl – 40 books in the band

Lilac/Band 0 

Learning opportunities - Locate title and open front cover. Relate narrative to own experience. Retell narrative in own words.
Wordless books. Illustration provides full support for telling story/narrative.
16 pages. Approximate word count 0.

Pink/ A Band 1A

Learning opportunities - Locate title. Know that left page comes before right. Can turn pages appropriately. Start to match spoken word to printed word (one-to-one correspondence). Confirm this matching using a few known words or letters. Work out the storyline from the illustrations and repeated language patterns. 
Simple, highly predictable text with familiar objects/actions in the same place on each page. One repetitive, whole-sentence structure that includes at least one high-frequency word. Reasonably large font size with clear spaces between words. 1–2 lines of text per page. Illustrations that provide full and direct support for the text and are well separated from it.
16 pages Approximate word count 14–20.

  • Guinea Pigs: Where Do the Guinea Pigs Go At Night?
  • In the Garden: A simple story about two boys and the different places they to play in the garden.
  • Pam Naps: a simple story with a familiar setting. Each book has a simple sentence on one page, accompanied by a 3/4 page illustration and faced with a full page illustration; the illustrations help decoding and are attractive and relevant.
  • Map Man is a fiction story starring a superhero.
  • Pushing and Pulling This simple non-fiction recount demonstrates different types of pushing and pulling in a simple way for young children to start to understand science concepts.
  • Sip It, Dip It, Tap It is a simple well-illustrated non-fiction book with phonic suggestions to enhance learning.
  • Teeth has very simple text and colourful photos, plus phonic ideas for teaching.

Pink B/Band 1B

Learning opportunities: As Pink A but with the following progression: Use some letters together with meaning to read the text, including CVC words. Match spoken to printed word (one-to-one correspondence) across 2–3 lines of print. Show some awareness of mismatches between reading attempts and text.
As Pink A but with the following progression: Natural language following children’s speech patterns. 1–2 repetitive, whole-sentence structures that each include at least one high-frequency word.
16 pages Approximate word count 20 - 30.

  • The Boy Who Cried Wolf A witty retelling, in very simple language, of the shepherd boy who decides to play a trick on the people in his village.
  • Splash! A story with a predictable structure and patterned language about a mother and daughter out for a very rainy walk.
  • Wheels: This non-fiction picture book takes a look at all sorts of wheels.
  • GET UP, TOM! is a story with predictable text and patterned language, with plenty of ideas for reading plus a story map.
  • In the Sea is a non-fiction report with superb photographs.
  • Dig itis a non-fiction book, part of the Chant and Chatter Strand for phonics; again there are lots of reading suggestions which really extend the value of the book.
  • In the Net!A simple non-fiction book, with lots of excellent football skill photos plus teaching ideas.

 Red A/Band 2A 

Learning opportunities: Consolidate secure control of one-to-one matching on a wide range of texts. Solve simple words by blending phonemes from left to right and check for meaning, correct syntax, i.e. does it make sense and sound right? Begin to notice own errors. Start to read in a more phrased manner while maintaining track of the print.
Slightly longer, highly predictable text involving familiar objects and actions. Repetitive sentence/phrase patterns that include high-frequency words and simple words that children can solve by blending phonemes following children’s speech patterns. Simple story development (fiction text). Possibly more than one print format (non-fiction).
16 pages  Approximate word count 30–40.


Red B/Band 2B

Learning opportunities: As Red A but offering slightly more challenge.
As Red A but offering slightly more challenge.
16 pages. Approximate word count  40 - 60.


Yellow/Band 3

Learning opportunities: Follow print with eyes, finger-pointing only at points of difficulty. Take more note of punctuation for grammar and oral language rhythms.  Cross-check all sources of information while reading, and sometimes self-correct. Note familiar words and phonemes and use these to get to unknown words.
Repetition of phrase patterns, ideas and vocabulary, and variation of sentence structure.
Storylines include episodes in a time sequence and framework of familiar experiences.
Some literary conventions, familiar oral language structures, illustrations support the text
quite closely. Non-fiction texts use personal experience and children’s language patterns.
16 pages Approximate word count 50–100. 


 Blue/Band 4 

Learning opportunities: Move through text attending to print,meaning, and sentence structure flexibly. Self-correct more often, rereading to enhance phrasing and clarify precise meaning. Solve new words using print information and understanding of the text. Identify constituent parts of unfamiliar two-syllable words to read correctly. Discuss content in a way that indicates understanding. Manage a variety of genres.
Variation in sentence patterns and content. Literary language with natural language. Repeated language patterns are longer, or act as refrains. Up to six or eight lines of text on a page and more similar-looking words appearing. Stories have more events.Non-fiction has abstract terms/impersonal sentence structures. Pictures support storyline rather than convey precise meaning so closely.
16 pages  Approximate word count 90–170.


Green/Band 5

Learning opportunities: Read fluently with attention to punctuation. Solve new words using print detail, attending to meaning and syntax. Self-correct. Manage effectively a growing variety of texts, including non-fiction. Discuss and interpret character and plot more fully. Use contents page and glossary in non-fiction books, and locate information.
Varied, longer sentences, with little repetition of phrases. Repeated, unfamiliar words. More varied and larger number of characters involved. Events sustained over several pages with a larger number of words on page. Less familiar, more specialised vocabulary. Illustrations provide moderate support for fiction. Print may be located in captions, fact-boxes and diagrams in non-fiction.
24 pages.  Approximate word count 170–250. 


Orange/Band 6 

Learning opportunities: Get started on fiction after briefer introductions,without relying on artwork. Examine non-fiction layout, using contents pages to select sections of a book to read. Read longer and more complex sentences with a range of punctuation and text layout. Use familiar syllables to read longer words. Use appropriate terminology in discussion. Check information in text with illustrations and comment on content. Infer meaning.
Increased proportion of space allocated to print rather than pictures in fiction.  Illustrations support overall meaning of text. Longer stories with more literary language. Sentence structures more complex. Range of text provision, e.g. plays,simple poetry,simple non-fiction of different types. Non-fiction texts contain more formal sentences and unfamiliar terms and layouts.
24 pages  Approximate word count 250–300.


Turquoise/Band 7

Learning opportunities:  Extract meaning from the text while reading with less dependence on illustrations. Use punctuation and text layout to read with expression and control. Sustain reading through longer sentence structures and paragraphs. Tackle a higher ratio of complex words with known vocabulary, phonics and syllables. Monitor own reading, checking and self-correcting while considering text meaning. Navigate around texts such as indexes, glossaries, and dictionaries.
More extended descriptions and use of literary phrasing. More print, more illustrations and layout with elaborated episodes and events. More unusual and challenging vocabulary, particularly in non-fiction. Illustrations provide a lower level of support in fictional texts, and include graphs, maps, and diagrams in non-fiction. Non-fiction texts contain longer, more formal sentences. Some repeated terms.
24 pages. Approximate word count 300–500. 


Purple/Band 8

Learning opportunities: Adapt to a variety of fiction, non-fiction and poetry with growing independence. Read silently and rapidly. Use punctuation to keep track of longer sentences.
 Solve most unfamiliar words by blending less common digraphs and recognising alternative spellings to read longer and more complex words. Predict content/layout/ story development. Take more conscious account of literary effects and the formal language of non-fiction. Begin to consciously use reading to extend speaking, writing, vocabulary and syntax.
Sentence structures becoming longer and more complex. Wider variety of genre but still
illustrated. Storyline may be more involved and reflect the feelings of the writer.  Some books with short chapters for more sustained reading. Characters are more distinctive and rounded than at earlier levels. Non-fiction texts cover an increasing curriculum range and different text formats. Alphabetically ordered texts, i.e. dictionaries and simple encyclopedias, glossaries, indexes.
24 pages. Approximate word count 500–750.


Gold/Band 9

As Purple, but offering slightly more challenge.
24 pages. Approximate word count 700–900. 


 White/Band 10 

Learning opportunities: Read silently, sustaining interest in longer text, returning to it easily later. Use text more fully as a reference and as a model, and find information in texts more
flexibly. Notice the spelling of unfamiliar words and relate to known words. Show increased awareness of vocabulary and precise meaning. Express reasoned opinions and interpretations about what is read, and compare texts.
Storyline or theme sustained over a longer period of time with chapters or subsections. Sentence structures may be longer, with more subordinate phrases or clauses. Characters may be more fully developed with more than one point of view expressed. Information/action implied, not spelled out. May contain more metaphorical or technical language. Non-fiction texts in a broader context and include more detailed information.
32 pages. Approximate word count 1200


Lime/Band 11

Learning opportunities: Recognise text type and predict general content, returning easily to them after a break. Read silently, adjusting speed to suit material and monitoring the meaning. Rerun to make different interpretations of dialogue, complex sentences etc. Make use of blurbs, glossaries, and indexes to locate information quickly and accurately. Express reasoned opinions about what is read, and compare texts. Sustain meaning over many phrases for comprehension due to complex sentences.
Storyline or theme may be sustained over a longer period of time with chapters or subsections. More unfamiliar, sophisticated terms including a greater range of verbs to suggest precise meanings. Widening range of layout, genre, and writing style. More metaphorical or technical language. More technical vocabulary not supported directly by illustrations.
32 pages. Approximate word count 1500.

Collins Big Cat Band 12/Copper Year 3 Ages 7 -8

• Copper/Band 12 books provide more complex plots and longer chapters that develop reading stamina.
• Text type - An information book.
• The books are organised into short chapters to help children practise the skills of locating and identifying important information.
• The glossary and index can be used to develop children's information retrieval skills further.
• Curriculum links - each book is linked to the curriculum.
I received five books in this band. There are many more,  with an equal amount of Fiction and Non-Fiction readers - the books reviewed in this section are all non-fiction. The non-fiction books cover a wide range of subjects, all matched to the National Curriculum, so children are enhancing their learning at the same time as improving their reading skills. Each topic is described on a two-page spread, with carefully selected language to match the book banding. Ideas for reading are found at the end of each book. Parents will find these books excellent for furthering their child's interest in specific subjects.
Roman Life in Britain shows how dramatically life for people in Britain changed when the Roman Emperor Claudius invaded in 43 AD. Learn how people in Roman Britain lived, travelled, ate, dressed and even washed themselves. Find out why the Romans came to Britain and why they had to leave.
Mega Plants takes a fascinating look at huge plants from around the world, including trees that grow larger than the Statue of Liberty or weigh ten times as much as the Blue Whale. Superb photos will really capture children's attention.
The Stone Age has an appealing approach, with some slightly cartoon-style illustrations depicting everyday life; it's a nice friendly approach. The photos show plenty of artefacts, and the text is easy to read and very informative.
Great Architects encourages children to look around and appreciate the fact that every building they see was designed by someone. Many of the buildings standing today were either designed or influenced by architects working thousands of years ago; they can see the impact on their own world.
Super Boats will really interest children, as they love to learn about vehicles, and especially ones that are super-fast or super-sized. Children will be amazed at the vast variety of boats and the amazing features they have - and the photos show this all to them.

Collins Big Cat Band 13/Topaz Year 3 Ages 7 - 8

Topaz/Band 13 books offer longer and more demanding reads for children to investigate and evaluate.
Leisure and Entertainment since 1900 Children can find it hard to imagine life, especially entertainment, without TV, films and all manner of electronic devices. This colourful book will help them learn about how music, dancing, film, television, sport and computing have changed since 1900, and the different things people used to do in their spare time.
Underwater Treasure looks at the amazing discoveries that have been made under the sea, including giant statues and a drowned city. Captions for the photographs add additional information.
Caribbean Carnival fits in with the curriculum that requires children to learn about celebrations and, as this book shows, the Caribbean has some of the most colourful and exciting to be found anywhere. The vibrant colours will enchant children.
In Plants, Pollen and Pollinators children will learn that it's not just bees and butterflies who pollinate flowers - beetles, lizards and small mammals are also good pollinators? A fascinating book to support the science curriculum.

Collins Big Cat Band 14/Ruby Year 4 Ages 8 -9

• Ruby/Band 14 books give increasing opportunities for children to develop their skills of inference and deduction.
The Water Cycle We all need water to survive – without it there would be no life on Earth! Find out how the Earth recycles water, and what we can do to help. The text is accompanied by an excellent mix of photos, captions, fact boxes, lists and diagrams to introduce children to the many ways in which information can be presented.
Early Kings of England supports the new history curriculum by looking at the changes in Britain between the departure of the Romans in 410 and the Norman invasion in 1066. Readers will find out who ruled the many British kingdoms in that time, and what life was like for the ordinary people living on farms and in towns and villages.
Greatest Ashes Moments helps children understand why there is so much passion about the tiny trophy known as the Ashes. When England and Australia play each other at cricket, there is a lot at stake and contests between these two nations have been full of great moments. Find out which ones stand head and shoulders above the rest!
Food Chains shows how living things find the food they need to survive, who eats whom, and how we all link together to form a food chain.

Collins Big Cat Band 15/Emerald Year 4 Ages 8 - 9

• Emerald/Band 15 books provide a widening range of genres including science fiction and biography, prompting more ways to respond to texts.
Changing Land shows how to be a landscape detective and how land use has changed over time. The book features Colchester in Essex and Portree on the Isle of Skye and children will learn skills to help them interpret their own area.
Mapping Australia explains how people have mapped Australia – from songs that recorded what the landscape looked like, and early explorers’ drawings, to modern maps and satellite images. Interesting artwork records lively historical scenes.
Boudica The warrior queen of the Iceni tribe, is famous for leading her people into battle against the Romans about 2000 years ago. Learners will find out who she was Boudica, and why she took on the mighty power of Rome, written in a lively and engaging style.
Super Stars features superb photography and explores the fact that space scientists believe there are billions of stars in our universe. It travels deep into space, discovering how stars are born, what they’re made from, what they do, and what happens when they die.

Collins Big Cat Band 16/Sapphire Year 5 Age 9 - 10

• Sapphire/Band 16 books offer longer reads to develop children's sustained engagement with texts and are more complex syntactically.
Time-Traveller's Guide to the Bronze Age Over 4000 years ago, people started making things from bronze. Take a world tour, locating places with the maps featured on every page, discovering some of the brilliant Bronze-Age wonders.
The Railway Revolution had a huge impact on every aspect of life in nineteenth century Britain. In 1804 the first steam train set out on a nine mile journey. Within 50 years, there were 6,000 miles of railway across the country.
The Arabian Desert will amaze children with the plants, animals, and people who live in this beautiful landscape.The sandy Arabian Desert stretches for hundreds of kilometres in every direction and many different living things call it home. Fact boxes and captions help understanding.
How to Build a House is an excellent way to encourage children to think about the place they call home - and about others' homes too. Travelling around the world, there are homes made of mud, stone, wood, glass, metal, concrete and even recycled plastic. Building materials can be strong, flexible, mouldable - and even beautiful.

Collins Big Cat Band 17/Diamond Year 6 Ages 10 - 11

• Diamond/Band 17 books offer more complex, underlying themes to give opportunities for children to understand causes and points of view.
The Story of Football Children will enjoy finding out how the game developed from mediaeval times, when it was a highly dangerous street game involving rival mobs and hardly any rules, into the world’s most popular spectator sport, loved by fans and players all over the world.
The Story of the Electric Guitar explains their contribution to music over the last century. How were they invented, who were (and are) the greatest guitarists and what makes this amazing instrument so versatile and exciting?
Light What is light and how does it work? Did you know it was the fastest thing in the universe? Learn about the different properties of light and the importance of the sun, as well as the potential for using light in the future.
Creatures from the Past discusses the animals that ruled the sea, land and skies from before the time of the dinosaurs until humans appeared. Evolution (a topic from the National Curriculum) is uncovered through examining fossils and remains, from dinosaur poo to shells to deep-frozen mammoths.
Technology in the Battle of Britain takes a topic children are interested in - technology - and shows how it played a role in in every aspect of the war: from code-breaking computers and radar to faster, more agile fighter planes.

Collins Big Cat Band 18/Pearl Year 6 Ages 10 - 11

• Pearl/Band 18 books offer fluent readers a complex, substantial text with challenging themes to facilitate sustained comprehension, bridging the gap between a reading programme and longer chapter books.
Spotlight on Russia Readers will learn about life in Russia - a huge, varied country with big cities, small villages and wildernesses full of wildlife. It has an amazing history of Tsars and rebellions and bloody revolutions, as well as being a major power in the world today. The Battle of Passchendaele In 1917, during World War I, the battle of Passchendaele was fought on the Western Front in Belgium. Find out why the battle was important and what life was like for the soldiers who fought and died there. Contemporary photographs really bring history alive. Charlotte Bronteë loved to create imaginary worlds and make up stories with her brother and sisters. Find out what life was like for Charlotte growing up, and how these games led her to become a best-selling author. The book is also very informative about the period. Coral Reefs are some of the most amazing habitats on earth, home to exotic fish, colourful corals, turtles and even sharks. Explore the reefs like a diver, and learn about how they formed, how they work, and how we can keep them safe for future generations to enjoy.You would expect a book on coral reefs to have stunning photos and this book does not disappoint.




Big Cat Reading Lions help you to support your child’s reading development at home. Each book in the series has been created by leading children’s authors and illustrators, and carefully levelled by educational experts, meaning you can enjoy reading with your child at every stage in their reading journey. The Reading Lions series contains six clear levels from First Reading to Independent Reading, allowing you to select the right books for your child. It works alongside any reading scheme used by your child’s school and each book features talking points to extend your child’s understanding.

Level 1: First Reading (Collins Big Cat Reading Lions)

First Reading contains 6 phonic readers supporting how children learn to read at school. The 3 fiction and 3 non-fiction books will help your child learn to decode simple, short sentences and practice limited, specific phonemes, with very few tricky words. Includes Got It by Charlotte Guillain; Pet Cat, Big Cat by Alison Hawes; Pond Food by John Townsend; Sam and the Nut by Sheryl Webster; Ant and Snail by Paul Shipton; We Are Not Fond of Rat Emma Chichester Clark. The guide age for this set is 4 to 5; as always, do remember that all children learn at different speeds, so always be guided by your child's ability and encourage them to work at their own pace; take advice from their teacher too.

Level 2: Practice Reading (Collins Big Cat Reading Lions)

Building on the previous pack in a progressive and confidence-building sequence, the books include longer sentences with new phonemes, and direct speech with more tricky words. Includes ; The Sun and the Moon by Paul Shipton; The Rainforest at Night by Nic Bishop; Gorillas by Teresa Heapy; The Singing Beetle by Linda Strachan; Zog and Zebra by Mal Peet & Elspeth Graham and A Day Out by Petr Horacek. Guide age 5-6. I well remember, and I am sure many others do, reading very dull readers with my children; these books are a far cry from that. To take the example of The Rainforest at Night - the book is packed with stunning photography and is highly informative. 'Getting Creative' extension activities are full of inspiration for parents. These aren't just school readers branded for home use - great efforts have been made to ensure they are packed with hep for parents.

Level 3: Supported Reading (Collins Big Cat Reading Lions)

The next step in helping your child learn to read with adult support, these books include longer, less illustrated texts, with paragraphs, literary language and distinctive characterisation. The set includes: What’s that Building? by Richard Platt; Unusual Traditions by John McIlwain; How to be a Knight by Scoular Anderson; Chewy Hughie by Jane Clarke; Twinkle, Twinkle Firefly by John Agard & Grace Nichols and Mountain Mona by Vivian French. Guide age 6-7. Each book has a helpful introduction which aids parents to get the best out of the book and explains the new words that will be encountered; phonics are explained too. It's all ideal for parents who want to do their best for their children but aren't quite sure where to start and find the range of books in the bookshop very confusing.

Level 4: Confident Reading (Collins Big Cat Reading Lions)

By this stage, children should be able to read confidently to an adult. This set moves learning to read on with texts with complex sentences including subordinate clauses and figurative language. The books included are Your Senses by Sally Morgan; Cloud Forest by Nic Bishop; How to be a Viking by Scoular Anderson; Class Six and the Very Big Rabbit by Martin Waddell; Oliver by Hilary McKay and The House in the Forest by Janet Foxley. Guide age 6-7. The range of books in each set is well-balanced and the subjects for the non-fiction are appealing to children. The texts are good and the engagingly presented facts will be of interest to children.

Level 5: Independent Reading (Collins Big Cat Reading Lions)

Continue to help your child learn to read independently with these books which contain longer texts, with more complex themes and characterisation. The titles are How to be a Roman by Scoular Anderson; Extreme Sports by Adrian Bradbury; My Olympic Story by Kwane N. Acheampong; The Gargling Gorilla by Margaret Mahy; Brother Aelred’s Feet by Gillian Cross and Great Expectations by Hilary McKay. Just look at the authors' names - Collins have made sure all the books are written by top-class authors and it's impressive to see how this continues throughout the series. Guide age 8-9.

Level 6: Fluent Reading (Collins Big Cat Reading Lions)

This final set in the series will help your child learn to read freely and without difficulty, complex chapter books and non-fiction texts. The set contains 6 books: The Traveller’s Guide to the Solar System by Giles Sparrow; Michael Rosen: All About Me by Michael Rosen; My Journey across the Indian Ocean by James Adair; The Hedgehog Mystery by Ally Kennen; I Have a Dream by Levi David Addai and Project Bright Spark by Annabel Pitcher. Guide age 9-11. This progressive reading scheme is excellent for parents to use as it guides them right through helping their child from early to confident reading. The balance between fiction and non-fiction in this series is a really excellent feature; we know many children prefer to read non-fiction and the quality of these books is exceptional, with descriptive text and superb photography.



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