Four groups of children in first grade were compared on early literacy tasks. Children in three of the groups were bilingual, each group representing a different combination of language and writing system, and children in the fourth group were monolingual speakers of English. All the bilingual children used both languages daily and were learning to read in both languages. The children solved decoding and phonological awareness tasks, and the bilinguals completed all tasks in both languages. Initial differences between the groups in factors that contribute to early literacy were controlled in an analysis of covariance, and the results showed a general increment in reading ability for all the bilingual children but a larger advantage for children learning two alphabetic systems. Similarly, bilinguals transferred literacy skills across languages only when both languages were written in the same system. Therefore, the extent of the bilingual facilitation for early reading depends on the relation between the two languages and writing systems.