November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Something Old, Something New | Old Favorites and New Trends in Easy Readers

The slim, small-format books introduced in Random House’s “Bright and Early Books” with The Cat in the Hat in 1957, have been easy reader staples in libraries and classrooms for more than half a century. Titles by Dr. Seuss, P.D. Eastman, Arnold Lobel, and Cynthia Rylant line our shelves. More recently, Thing 1 and Thing 2, Dog, Frog and Toad, and Henry and Mudge have made way for Victoria Kann’s Pinkalicious, James Dean’s Pete the Cat, and Mo Willems’s Elephant and Piggie. While all of these writers and works remain popular, each year brings new writers and works for this audience. Some of this year’s favorites are listed here.

MY-DOG-IS-THE-BEST-coverA trend in early readers over the past few years has been fewer words per page. Laurie Ann Thompson and Paul Schmid’s My Dog Is the Best (Farrar, 2015), which features an imaginative little boy and his beloved, but lethargic, dog, is an example of that trend. With minimal text and hilarious illustrations, the book juxtaposes the child’s undaunted enthusiasm with the pooch’s sleepy oblivion. “He plays ball” depicts the curled-up dog snoozing…. “He plays tug” shows the pet lying on the boy’s blanket as the child struggles to free it. The boy’s imaginings get more and more elaborate as “He helps the fireman” offers a picture of the still-sleeping canine with a toy fire truck on his side as a toy fireman rescues a girl from a nearby block tower. After playing all day, the child yawns and conks out, draped over his best friend’s back, just as the pup awakens and spies the ball. “Woof!” He’s ready to play. Lots of white space, large font, and simple repetitive sentences will appeal to beginning readers, who will be rewarded with laughs spread after spread.

bear-hare-go-fishingEmily Gravett’s Bear & Hare Go Fishing (S. & S., 2015) also features a brief text with lots of repetition—and Gravett’s characteristic charming illustrations. “Bear LOVES fishing!” depicts Hare struggling with an oversize net, a tackle bag, an umbrella, a thermos, and a stool while trying to keep up with his large, unencumbered friend, fishing rod over his shoulder. As Hare patiently looks on, Bear manages to snag his friend’s hat, a frog, and a roller skate, before finally falling asleep. In the meantime, his bored buddy makes a daisy chain—until success—a giant catch gets a rise out of everyone.

i see Detailed watercolors invite children to join a young boy and see what he sees as he walks about town in I See and See written and illustrated by Ted Lewin (Feb., 2016), a new entry in Holiday House’s “I Like to Read” series. With a backpack on, the boy sets out, and what does he stop to look at? A dog, flowers, several trucks, a butterfly, and more. Each large pictorial scene occupies a spread with a simple sentence describing what the child spies. (“I see a dog.” “I see a truck.”) Readers, too, will want to linger—over Lewin’s watercolors of a construction site of heavy equipment, piles of steel beams, and chatting workers, or take a closer look at the man perched in a tree to determine just what he is about to do with the tools strapped to his belt. A small title-page image of crayons, tape, and paper provides a clue to what the boy will be doing when he returns home, which Lewin reveals in the artwork on the final pages.

twomicecoverWith only two to four words per spread, Sergio Ruzzier’s Two Mice (Clarion, 2015) manages to deliver a story full of action and surprises. The tale begins before the title page with “One house/Two Mice/Three cookies.” As one lucky rodent digs in, his indignant companion watches frowning, hands on hips. When the friends spy “One nest/Two eggs/Three ducklings,” one is dumbfounded, the other delighted. After three rocks cause a shipwreck, the duo find “One island/Two trees/Three tears,” as the “trees” turn out to be the legs and talons of a giant hungry bird. A narrow escape leads them to “One path/Two stars/Three cheers!” Readers will pause to locate the two stars—a starfish on the beach and the sun—and appreciate the reassuring ending as the two white mice arrive home to cook soup. The clever pen-and-ink on watercolor paper art speaks volumes.

Interior image, Don't Throw it to Mo! (    )

Interior image from David Adler’s Don’t Throw It to Mo! (Penguin), illus. by  Sam Ricks

Though small in stature, Mo loves football as much as his taller, older teammates on the Robins. He gives it his all—practicing enthusiastically after school running, passing, and working out at the playground, but at game time, “mostly he doesn’t play. He sits on the bench with Coach Steve.” When the coach spreads butter on the football so Mo can practice holding a slippery ball, the competition thinks there is a reason Mo sits on the bench. But the boy is essential to Coach Steve’s secret strategy when the Robins play the Jays. The Jays don’t worry about any of the action going Mo’s way—until it’s too late and the diminutive boy wins the final play—and game— for the Robins. A feisty protagonist, a text based on sight words, and cheery illustrations bathed in green and red make David Adler’s Don’t Throw It to Mo! (Penguin, 2015), illustrated by Sam Ricks, a first choice for sports enthusiasts who are learning to read.

the cowboyHildegard Müller’s The Cowboy (Holiday House, 2015) is another work in the publisher’s “I Like to Read” series—easy readers by notable authors and illustrators. A little girl named Anna takes her dog Toto—a wooden pull toy on wheels—to the beach. “At the beach we pass a boy in a very silly cowboy hat” snoozing in a lounge chair. Removing his leash, the proud owner announces, “Toto will learn to swim today. Toto learns fast. Toto can swim!” But pride turns to panic when a big wave carries her beloved pet out to sea. Anna screams his name, sobbing, as he drifts further away. A crowd of concerned adults deliberate on the shore while the boy in the hat takes action. Climbing onto an adult’s shoulders, he throws his lasso around the pup’s neck and reels him in. After thanking Toto’s rescuer, Anna tries the lasso, while the boy plays with the pup. The digital art features brightly colored figures outlined in black line, reminiscent of the art of John Burningham. The text appears in a large, easily read black or white font, depending on the background. With few words, readers are delivered a dramatic story with beginning, middle, and satisfying end.

Whathisstory_piginawigMo Willems meets Dr. Seuss in Emma J. Virján’s What This Story Needs Is A Pig in a Wig (HarperCollins, 2015), the first in a new series. Beginning with a pink pig, each page adds details and characters until “the pig in a wig” is joined by a frog, a dog, a goat, a rat, a skunk, “a mouse, and a panda in a blouse.” At this point all readers see of Pig is her bright red beehive, the rest of her obscured by other passengers. “HEY!/It’s getting crowded in here,/don’t you think?/Off of this boat/before we all sink!” the pig demands. One by one, the other creatures abandon ship till there is only pig in a wig,/on a boat,/in a moat,/having fun,/in the sun,/on her own…all alone.”

As Pig eyes the others enjoying themselves on a nearby island, she realizes, “HEY!/I made a mistake/when I sent you away./Can you swim back/so we can play?/What this story needs now is…a bigger boat!” The flat, charcoal art painted digitally is reminiscent of the “Elephant and Piggie” series. While the rhyming text is somewhat nonsensical, the message of friendship rings true.

digdogsdigYoung truck lovers will appreciate James Horvath’s Dig, Dogs, Dig (HarperCollins, 2016), a level-one entry in the “I Can Read” series. Six construction dogs and their cat, Jinx, live and work together on the pages of this appealing rhyming reader: “Grab your gloves,/hard hats, and boots,/shovels, goggles,/and dirt-digging suits./Hop in your trucks./There’s work to be done./Get to the job site./Run, dogs, run!” Dump trucks, graders, loaders, and bulldozers are busy at work until the crew lifts a giant T-Rex bone from the eventual site of “Dinosaur Bone Park.” What could be better than trucks and dinosaurs? Horvath’s digitally created illustrations have a retro look, filled with bright yellow work trucks and appealing cartoon dogs in colorful work vests and hard hats.

katie fryYoung mystery lovers will enjoy Katherine Cox’s “Katie Fry Private Eye”—a new series about a little girl with “a big brain.” Katie loves to solve mysteries at home and in her neighborhood. With a Lucy Brown–style outdoor stand, a notebook for clues, and a magnifying glass, the clever girl tackles the mystery of the lost glasses (on Dad’s head); the case of the misplaced purse (on the hood of the car as Mom backs out of the drive), and others. In The Lost Kitten, a little bird helps the young sleuth rescue and return a missing cat to his owners. Along the way, girl and cat become fast friends, and Sherlock becomes her comical sidekick in future books. In The Missing Fox (both Scholastic, 2015) Katie’s little brother’s Fox is missing. After gathering the witnesses, questioning them, and jotting down notes, she solves the case—with little help from Sherlock, who is more interested in lunch and chasing birds. Bright, appealing illustrations by Vanessa Brantley Newton, mystery, humor, and a loving family make this a great choice for developing readers in grades one or two.

New in Nonfiction

Red pandaBoth Scholastic and National Geographic offer numerous nonfiction choices of varying levels for beginning readers. Laura Marsh’s Red Pandas (National Geographic, 2015, Level 1) is ideal for newly independent readers in grades one and two. Filled with beautiful full-color and captioned photos, this entry also has a table of contents, diagrams, and “Panda Words” (in lieu of a glossary)—all nonfiction features that the Common Core State Standards promotes seeking in nonfiction texts for all readers, including the youngest. Jokes sprinkled throughout (“What does a ghost say to a red panda?…Bam-boo!”), and the entertaining spread for review at the book’s end, will be appreciated by kids. That spread includes six “up-close views of things in a panda’s world” along with hints and a word bank. Children need to match the word with the corresponding picture. Youngsters can also go online to earn prizes, play games, and take quizzes to become a “National Geographic Kids Super Reader!”

the spiderLess traditional nonfiction choices are entering the market and include such titles as those in Tundra’s “Disgusting Critters” series. Graphic endpapers feature smiling black spiders with long legs in a pattern alternating right side up and upside-down critters in Elise Gravel’s The Spider (2015). While the text is informational, the simple, digitally rendered illustrations are silly and irreverent. One spread informs readers that “After some spiders mate, the female spider will EAT THE MALE.” A slight, terrified male sits at a table in a restaurant with his wife while she orders “YOUR HUSBAND” from the menu and exclaims, “I love romantic dinners!”

We Dig Worms! By Kevin McCloskeyFilled with information about earthworms and their important work and many touches of humor, author and illustrator Kevin McCloskey’s We Dig Worms! (2015) is an entry in the Toon series offering first comics “for brand-new readers.” For starters, readers learn that there are tree worms, sea worms, river worms…and gummy worms. A comical bluebird relentlessly invites the worm to lunch, who is far too busy to accept the invitation. The illustrations, painted on recycled grocery bags, feature pink worms and inquisitive children in the park. A labeled diagram, “Map of the Worm,” gives a detailed look at the inside and the outside of an earthworm. A sure choice after a rainstorm when these invertebrates appear to proliferate on roadsides and sidewalks, in gardens, and in fields.

FC_BC_9780545757140.pdfFans of Tedd Arnold’s “Fly Guy” titles will be pleased to discover Fly Guy Presents: Insects (Scholastic, 2015),chock-full of facts and photos of everyone’s favorite buggy-eyed fly’s six-legged relatives. Aside from the beginning and end, which show Buzz and his pet hunting for insects, the text is purely informational. In an effort to further integrate the fictional characters, there are four full-spreads of Buzz’s handwritten notes held in his hands at the bottom corners of the spreads. Also, the comic duo appear on most pages with speech bubbles; in one, Buzz says, “Long ago insects were much bigger than they are today” while his bewildered pet imagines a giantFly Guy beside a much smaller Buzz. Longer sentences, challenging vocabulary, and varying font style and size make this series for developing readers in grades one and two. Other field trips in the series include titles on sharks, space, dinosaurs, and firefighters.

heavydutytrucksHeavy-Duty Trucks by Joyce Milton (Random, 2015) is a more challenging read (it’s a Step 3 title in the “Step Into Reading” series) than Horvath’s Dig, Dogs, Dig, but trucker lingo, including terms such as semis, reefer, and grapple, is explained within the text. The book is jam-packed with full-color, action photos sure to please enthusiasts. Among other images, children will catch a glimpse inside a 10-gear truck equipped with a CB radio and a sleeping box. Tractor trailers, garbage trucks, cherry pickers, fire trucks, bulldozers, dump trucks with eight-foot high wheels, and cranes are just some of the vehicles introduced.

For earlier round-ups of first readers, see Joy Fleishhacker’s “Great Beginnings | New Books for Emergent Readers” and “Fresh and Fun Books for Emergent Readers.

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