February 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Fresh and Fun | Books for Emergent Readers


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Whether they are taking their first steps and beginning to sound out words or making leaps and bounds toward decoding longer sentences and more complex story plots, emergent readers benefit from high-quality books that grab their interest and support their efforts. These recently published easy-reader offerings combine well-written and appropriately leveled narratives with vibrant illustrations that enhance the text with visual details and contextual clues. Ranging from funny tales to nonfiction, these books are guaranteed to reel in readers and keep them turning pages.

Great Beginnings
Lushly illustrated and sized somewhere between a traditional easy reader and a picture book, the volumes in Holiday House’s “I Like to Read” series are just right for beginners. The texts incorporate high-frequency and easy-to-decode words, short sentences, and helpful repetition, and the generous format leaves plenty of room for large reader-friendly fonts and eye-fetching artwork.

Emily Arnold McCully’s Late Nate in a Race stars a “slow”-moving mouse who dawdles while his family eats breakfast and gets ready to go. After arriving at the park, his raring-to-go siblings jump into place at the race’s starting line. Nate is reluctant to join in (“No./I like to go slow”) until his mother insists, and, despite a sluggish start, he “zips” ahead of the pack to win (“Nate likes to go slow—/and fast”). Warm-hued watercolors depict the action, which builds to a satisfying and smile-inducing conclusion.

Rebecca and Ed Emberley’s color-drenched artwork depicts the adventures of a group of Mice on Ice  with bold lines and striking geographic shapes. As the critters soar blithely across a frozen pond, their skates leave behind a pattern that looks familiar: “What is that?/That is a cat/That is a cat with a hat.” Bursting to life in vivid reds and oranges, the grinning feline enthusiastically joins the mice on the ice (“Nice!”). In addition to providing visual clues, the bold illustrations expand the very simple text into an imagination-stirring fantasy, inviting readers to verbalize their own version of the events.

In Michael Garland’s Fish Had a Wish  (all Holiday House, 2012; K-Gr 2), the protagonist daydreams about taking on the unique abilities of various creatures (“I wish I were a bird!…I could fly high up/in the sky” or “If I were a bobcat,/I could have spots”). However, after gobbling down a tasty mayfly, the narrator remembers, “It is good to be a fish.” Filled with pleasing rhythms, the text is both lyrical and accessible. The earth-toned images provide realistic depictions of each critter, emphasizing the characteristics highlighted in the text and helping readers to match pictures to words. Use the author’s format as a template—“I wish I were…” followed by “I could…”—and have your students verbalize, write, and illustrate their own becoming-an-animal aspirations.

Funny-Bone Ticklers
Pig Has a Plan
(Holiday House, 2012; K-Gr 2) to take a nap, but the rest of the farmyard animals have other ideas—“Cat wants to pop” (puncturing helium balloons being blow up by frazzled mice), “Rat wants to mix” (a bowl of cake batter), “Hog wants to hum” (while spreading out a festive table cloth), “Pup wants to bop” (to music blasting from a boom box), and more. Fed up with the hubbub, the pig finds a clever way to get some quiet (submersing his head in the mud while breathing through a straw), just as his friends launch the birthday bash that they had been preparing for all along. Bubbling with humor, Ethan Long’s dynamic cartoon artwork adds plenty of zip to the text and keeps readers engaged in the happenings.

Combining colorful cartoon artwork with short-and-snappy dialogue balloons, Jeff Mack presents six brief tales about Frog and Fly  (Philomel, 2012; K-Gr 2). Most of the encounters between this predator-prey pairing end up with Frog extending a hot-pink tongue and gulping down gullible Fly with a satisfied “Slurp” (though Fly finally serves his nemesis his just desserts by orchestrating a meeting between the amphibian and “a frog-slurping bear”). Utilizing a limited vocabulary and simple sentences, Mack packs the text with witty wordplay and perfect comic timing, and the illustrations provide useful visual clues while topping off the slapstick humor. Kids will want to read it over and over again.

Mo Willems’s “Elephant and Piggie” series continues to inspire new readers—and an abundance of giggles—with Let’s Go for a Drive!. Always a careful planner, Gerald the elephant enlists the aid of his ever-enthusiastic porcine sidekick to assemble all of the essentials for a successful jaunt (map, sunglasses, umbrellas, etc.), before realizing that they are missing a key ingredient: a car. Luckily, Piggie comes up with a plan of his own. In The Duckling Gets a Cookie?! (both Hyperion, 2012; K-Gr 2), the short-fused Pigeon throws one of his trademark temper tantrums—accompanied by dramatic color shifts and appropriately large-font text—over the fact that a tiny, adorable duckling has received a cookie from the reader, just by asking. Like the other offerings in this good-as-gold series, this book’s simple text and exuberant cartoon artwork blend laugh-out-loud moments with heartwarming themes of enduring friendship to encourage and electrify emergent readers.

Friendships and Families
Two feline friends, one cheerfully upbeat and the other a curmudgeon, return for another lighthearted adventure in Mac and Cheese and the Perfect Plan (2012). It’s a hot day, and Mac is determined to get his best pal out of the alley where they live and off to the seashore. However, by the time the grumpy Cheese agrees to go—and assembles a truckload of must-have items (“A kite. A dish./A chair. A fish” and much more)—they miss the bus. Never fear, Cheese finds a way to ease Mac’s disappointment and save the day. As in Mac and Cheese  (2010, both Harper; K-Gr 2), Sarah Weeks artfully utilizes repetition and rhyme to tell a tale filled with gentle humor. Jane Manning’s watercolor artwork delineates the setting, supports the text with clear details, and offers depictions of the characters that emphasize their very different personalities—as well as their true affection for one another.

Kevin Henkes, creator of Lily (of the purple purse), brave Shelia Rae, blanket-owning Owen, and other enchantingly child-like mice, has introduced another endearing character. In Penny and Her Song, the spirited protagonist arrives home from school excited to sing her just-made-up ditty, but has to wait until the time is right before sharing it with her family. It’s love at first sight between Penny and Her Doll  (both 2012), just arrived from Grandma, and the mouse must think carefully before deciding upon the perfect name for her new playmate. In Penny and Her Marble  (2013; all Greenwillow; K-Gr 2) the youngster finds a dazzling object in her neighbor’s yard and is instantly captivated; later, feeling guilty about taking the marble, she decides to return it to Mrs. Goodwin, and is met by a wonderful surprise. Ranging from impatience, to joy, to remorse, Penny’s emotions ring true, and readers will empathize with the familiar challenges she faces. From the pastel-colored covers, framed with borders of spring-hued blooms, throughout each book’s interior, the artwork overflows with buoyantly depicted action, text-elucidating details, and warmhearted charm.

It’s Time to Read
Two lively offerings provide opportunity to combine reading fluency practice with a lesson on telling time. Margery Cuyler’s Tick Tock Clock  (Harper, 2012; K-Gr 1) uses terse, toe-tapping rhymes to describe the hour-by-hour doings of a pair of energetic twins as they keep their grandmother busy throughout a fun-filled day. Activities include painting (“Tick tock./Ten o’clock./Tick tock./Messy smocks”), a trip to the park (“Tick tock./Two o’clock./Tick tock./Chase a flock”), and dinner (“Tick tock./Five o’clock./Tick tock./Cook in the wok”). Robert Neubecker’s jaunty artwork imbues the characters with sparkling personality.

Traveling via bus and train, Bear Takes a Trip  (Barefoot, 2012; K-Gr 2) from the city to the mountains, where he and a friend hike, sail, and have a great time. Stella Blackstone’s rhyming verses describe each leg of the journey (“He makes his bed and washes his face./He eats his breakfast and packs his case”) while Debbie Harter’s breezy artwork depicts details and jewel-toned scenery. The time—presented in both digital format and on a clock face—is indicated on each spread.

Use a large demonstration clock and/or smaller student-held mini-clocks to represent the times featured in both of these tales and have your students practice reading the hands. Discuss typical morning and afternoon activities, make a list on the board, and compare to the characters’ actions in both stories.

Just the Facts: Quality Nonfiction
Part of National Geographic’s lineup of beginning readers, Laura Marsh’s Caterpillar to Butterfly  (2012; K-Gr 2) blends simple, clearly written text with outstanding color photos to outline this insect’s amazing metamorphosis. This attractively laid-out book not only grabs readers’ interest, but also provides them with a solid introduction to informational texts: scientific terminology is employed throughout the narrative (along with definitions and pronunciations), points are illustrated with well-chosen images, species featured in the photos are identified, and captions effectively expand upon the content. The volume ends with additional facts, advice on making a butterfly garden, and an identify-the-images quiz. Kids and educators can visit the “National Geographic Super Readers” website part of a program designed to support and rev up emergent readers, to browse other titles in the series, download bookmarks and incentive badges, play games, and more.

Nic Bishop Spiders (2012) pairs easy-reading sentences with astounding up-close images to introduce arachnids. The writing is simultaneously accessible, fact-filled, and animated: “…the spider oozes digestive juices on its meal. This turns the prey’s insides to goo, so the spider can suck them into its stomach” (digestive juices, prey, and other terms are defined in a glossary). The pictures are spectacular, and a photo index identifies species and encourages readers to flip back through the book and practice locating information. Nic Bishop Butterflies is also available (2011, both Scholastic; Gr 1-2).

David Macaulay, author of numerous nonfiction classics such as The New Way Things Work (1998) and Cathedral (1973, both Houghton), applies his genius for conveying information through an inviting combo of illustration and text to a new series of easy readers. Focusing on high-interest topics, two offerings immediately engage readers by addressing them directly with second-person narratives. Asking, “Are you friend or foe?,” Castle  first takes youngsters within the “tall towers,/thick stone walls,/doors of wood and iron” to tour the structure and investigate its workings, and then pulls back to describe a siege by enemy soldiers.

Jet Plane  (both Macmillan, 2012; Gr 1-3) puts readers into a passenger seat and explains the mechanics of an airline flight from takeoff to landing. Written in a dynamic tone and warmed with touches of humor, both texts incorporate vocabulary appropriate to the subject matter and end with “Words to Know.” Detailed indexes facilitate information seeking. The appealing artwork utilizes a variety of viewpoints, close-ups, cutaways, and diagrams to aid in decoding the text and to expand upon the content.

Folklore Fun
Most children know the story of “The Three Little Pigs,” and Claudia Rueda’s Huff & Puff  (Abrams Appleseed, 2012; K-Gr 2) provides an opportunity for students to utilize their familiarity with the tale to support their reading efforts and appreciate the entertaining spin on the plot. Peering through the cut-out hole on the book’s cover, youngsters take on the role of the big bad wolf, watching each pig “building a house,” standing “inside the house,” and then “huffing and puffing” to blow the structure down (“First pig is not happy”). So it goes until the third pig’s brick home proves indestructible (and a look within the dwelling provides a delightful “SURPRISE!” for both the wolf and readers). The simple text, high-spirited artwork, and interactive element add up to a satisfying experience for emergent readers. Enhance comprehension by having your students discuss the plot of this upbeat retelling and make comparisons to other renditions.

Melissa Wiley retells and expands upon an Aesop’s fable in Fox and Crow Are NOT Friends (Random House, 2012; Gr 1-3). Three entertaining chapters describe how these two enemies repeatedly—and humorously—try to outwit one another to earn bragging rights along with a tasty piece of cheese. Sebastien Braun clearly depicts the animals’ antics with lighthearted artwork in sherbet hues. The straightforward text, amusing illustrations, and hilarious rivalry will encourage developing readers to persevere. Expand the reading experience by sharing other fables, and having your students come up with “what happens next…” scenarios.


The activities suggested above reference the following Common Core State Standards:

RL. 1.1. Ask and answer questions about key detail in a text.
RL. 1.9. Compare and contrast the adventures and experiences of characters in stories.
RL. 2.3. Describe how characters in a story respond to major events and challenges.
RI. 1.5. Know and use various text features to locate key facts or information in a text.
RF. K.4 Read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding.
RF. 1.4. Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.

Related TeachingBooks.net resources »»»

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Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.

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  1. […] Library Journal, “Fresh and Fun | Books for Emergent Readers“: Melissa Wiley retells and expands upon an Aesop’s fable in Fox and Crow Are NOT Friends […]

  2. […] also gets a mention in this SLJ piece: “Fresh and Fun Books for Emergent Readers“: Melissa Wiley retells and expands upon an Aesop’s fable in Fox and Crow Are NOT Friends […]