Jenny's Library

Posts Tagged ‘easy readers

cover image for Lulu and the Dog From the SeaLulu and the Dog From the Sea by Hilary McKay, illustrated by Priscilla Lamont

When Lulu, her parents, and her cousin, Mellie, spend a week in a cottage by the sea they discover an unexpected guest – the kind that walks on four legs.

A cute story that is designed to appeal to the large number of newer readers that love animals.  Each of the characters has personality, and while the plot may be unlikely, the day to day discoveries and frustrations and interactions ring true.

It’s not the most spectacular writing, but it’s far from stilted, which is all too common in when books for this age group.

cover image for When I Grow Up: Sally RideWhen I Grow Up: Sally Ride by AnnMarie Anderson, illustrated by Gerald Kelley

A biography of Sally Ride, written at about third grade level.

Unfortunately, this particular easy reader does all kinds of things that are common to easy readers that I hate, especially nonfiction easy readers.

The first is that it’s just not very well done. The sentences make sense, but they aren’t memorable either.  The illustrations lack elegance and just don’t flow. Worse, the practice of using photographs, and then drawing images of Sally Ride into them rather undermines the idea that this is a real person.  It’s also written in the first person, as if Ride herself was talking to us, despite the fact that Sally Ride was a real person who died recently and wrote words of her own that could be quoted.

It’s not so awful that I wouldn’t buy it for the library, especially considering the topic, but it’s the kind of book that makes me wish we had higher standards for beginning readers.

cover image for Waiting is Not EasyWaiting is Not Easy by Mo Willems

Piggie has a surprise for Gerald.  The only problem is that it’s not ready yet, and waiting isn’t easy.  But some surprises are worth waiting for.

Another wonderful Piggie and Elephant book from Mo Willems.  I especially liked the way the word balloons grew so big that they became part of the action, rather than just text.  And, of course, Willems’ ability to surprise us all with the unexpected, even when we know it’s coming.

cover image for The Rainbow FishThe Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister (board book version)

Rainbow Fish was beautiful, too beautiful to play with the other fish.  Only, now Rainbow fish is lonely. What will he do?

That first sentence up there is almost exactly what the first page says.  Which tells you all you need to know about this book.  I suspect that there’s more text in the picture book version of this story, and perhaps the extra words are an improvement. But yikes! I think the moral of the story was supposed to be about sharing or being considerate, instead the lesson seems to be that you should give away parts of your body so that people will like you.

cover image for SnowSnow by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace

“I have always loved the snow.” Page by page, a young bunny talks about all the things she loves about snow and winter.

I always have such high hopes for Wallace’s books; she’s done so many on the kinds of topics that make for great preschool themes.  And yet…the text is always matter of fact, there’s no rhythm or elegance to it, and the illustrations are readable but lack inspiration or harmony.  They’re always just serviceable enough, but never really well done.

cover image for National Geographic Look and Learn: Opposites!Look and Learn: Opposites by National Geographic

Despite the page layouts being slightly busier than they ought to be for a board book, this is an excellent concept book for little ones.  National Geographic’s stunning photographs are put to good use (badly photoshopped cover notwithstanding), as they always are.  It also goes beyond the typical set up for such books; after each type of opposite is introduced in the traditional way (an image illustrating that particular pair, and the accompanying text) it doesn’t immediately move onto the next pair.  Instead, the following pages then present a similar, but more complicated picture, as well as questions that invite parents and toddlers to have deeper conversations about the concept.  The layouts on these pages could use some cleaning up, but they do an excellent job modeling for parents how to engage their children in dialog about the books they are reading.

cover image for My Lucky Little DragonMy Lucky Little Dragon by Joyce Wan

I adore Joyce Wan’s You are My Cupcake and We Belong Together, so I was very excited to stumble across My Lucky Little Dragon on display at the bookstore.  Just like the other two board books, My Lucky Little Dragon features a different endearment on each spread, this time focusing on the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac.  Wan’s illustrations are just as adorable as always and full of personality.  They also feature a variety of colors that pop! off the page, yet remain soft and almost pastel, rather than being limited to high contrast primary colors.

cover image for Curious Baby Curious George:  My First Words at the FarmCurious Baby George: My First Words at the Farm by Greg Paprocki

Just as the title says, this board book is about farm related words, consisting of illustrations and the names of various nouns included in the pictures.  The illustrations themselves will likely delight it’s target audience, but the choice of font and words are questionable.  It’s not an awful book, but there are much better books out there available for the same price.

cover image for Baby ColorsBaby Colors by Rachel Hale

If you recall, Hale is also the author/illustrator of Baby Giggles, which was cute, adorable, and well put together – but extremely homogenous, in terms of the kinds of babies being photographed.  Baby Colors still treats white as the default, but manages to have closer to a quarter or third of the children pictured be children of color.  The rhyming text works, although the colors being discussed aren’t always as prominent as they could be.  Overall, a good book to have in the collection, despite it’s flaws.

cover image for The Day I Had to Play With My SisterThe Day I Had to Play With My Sister by Crosby Bonsall

A young boy and his even younger sister attempt to play hide and seek, but the younger sister doesn’t quite understand how to play.

For some strange reason I remember liking this book as a kid. Which makes me wonder about the overall quality of easy readers available at the time. To be fair, there is humor here, and it’s the kind of humor that your average seven year old with a younger (or older) sibling can relate to.  The illustrations in particular haven’t aged well though, and it’s a meaner type of humor than, say, what readers find in the Piggie and Elephant books.

cover image for A Big Guy Took My BallA Big Guy Took My Ball by Mo Willems

Piggie lucks out when he finds a ball to play with, until a big guy comes along and takes it from her!  It’s not fair – and Gerald isn’t going to stand for it.

Twists aren’t exactly expected in easy readers, seeing as they’re both rather short and meant for five to seven year olds.  But Willems manages to keep coming up with them anyway.  The jokes too, of course, Piggie and Elephant are as hilarious here as they always are. Best of all, though, neither the jokes nor the twists are the kind that rely on making other people the punchline – nor are the “lessons” imparted the kind that are full of saccharine and false promises.  Willems’ Piggie and Elephant books are simply funny and brilliant, and this one is no exception.

cover image for I'm A FrogI’m a Frog by Mo Willems

Ribbit! Piggie has turned into a frog! Gerald is shocked and amazed…and more than a little worried – will he turn into one too?

It’s the expressions on Piggie and Gerald’s faces, their movement and body language, that really make these books – this one in particular.  This is definitely one of the better Elephant and Piggie books, which is saying a lot, considering there isn’t a bad one in the bunch.

cover image for Click, Clack, Boo!Click, Clack, Boo! by Doreen Cronin, illustrations by Betsy Lewin

Farmer Brown does not like Halloween.  Instead of passing out candy himself, he turns out the lights and leaves the candy at the door.  But Farmer Brown can’t ignore the crunch crunch crunching or the creak creak creaking or the tap tap tapping.  What surprises lurk inside Farmer Brown’s barn?

This companion book to Cronin and Lewis’ award winning Click, Clack, Moo doesn’t quite capture the magic of the original book, but it’s clever and entertaining.  The repetition and onomatopoeia will appeal to it’s intended audience.  It should make a nice addition to families’ and libraries’ Halloween collections.

cover image for Sticks and StonesSticks and Stones by Emily Bazelon

Normally “fair and balanced” is code for believing in false equivalency – and is the opposite approach from what one might want in a factual book about bullying.  But Bazelon has clearly done her homework here, and her purpose in showing both sides of the bullying story is to reflect statistical reality (bullies are as unique as any group of individuals), point out that children’s actions are often being used to excuse misguided adult priorities (bullying is sometimes a contributing factor in many suicides, but untreated mental illness is a bigger contributor to the same suicides), and to explore what kinds of remedies are actually most effective (zero tolerance policies tend to make it harder to help kids).

There are a few times when her language veers a bit too closely to the often victim blaming advice traditionally given to kids being bullied, but on the whole it’s a very humanizing and illuminating investigation.  The chapters on social media and effective anti-bullying programs are especially fascinating.  Most importantly, the emphasis throughout on the importance of considering entire communities (not just the most obvious problem children) and the whole child (not just their interaction with peers)  is an excellent example of what “fair and balanced” journalism should mean.  Highly recommended for everyone, especially anyone who is at all responsible for the care of children and teens.

cover image for Let's Go For a DriveLet’s Go for a Drive by Mo Willems

Piggie and Gerald are going to go for a drive.  Gerald has the plan, and Piggie has everything else they could possibly need – except for one, small, thing…

Have I mentioned lately how much I love this series?  They’re clever and funny, of course – this book in particular – but I also absolutely adore how Willems uses repetition to help new readers gain confidence with unfamiliar words and font and character’s body language to help children become more expressive readers.

cover image for Fat AngieFat Angie by e. E. Charlton-Trujillo

Fat Angie, according to her mother, needs to lose 29 pounds. At least.  Fat Angie’s therapist says that she needs to stop projecting her feelings of animosity onto others.  Her classmates think she should have followed through on killing herself.  As for Fat Angie herself, she just wants her sister to make it home from the war alive.  But maybe what Fat Angie really needs is someone who looks at her and sees someone witty and clever and beautiful.

For a good portion of this book I wasn’t sure what to make of it, especially as the third person narrative makes it unclear if Fat Angie is being referred to as such because of her own thoughts or because the author is presenting Angie only as other people see her.  What makes it work in the end, and part of what makes the book so good, is that how Angie thinks of herself and how other people see her is often the same thing.  That’s how lost and detached Angie is from her own life, and it’s also a measure of how much she has internalized the hatred directed at her.  That she can still function and move forward in the midst of all this is a testament to her strength.

cover image for Nothing Can Possibly Go WrongNothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks

Charlie’s ex-girlfriend has convinced their school to buy new cheerleader uniforms – with the money that was supposed to go to the science team. Nate has a plan though.  All they have to do is win the 6th annual Robot Rumble and collect their prize money.  But first, they have to build a battle bot that will crush the competition. And convince their parents to let them spend Thanksgiving weekend at the Robot Rumble in Atlanta instead of eating dinner with their families. Nothing could possibly go wrong…right?

I love love love this book. It’s hilarious. It’s about nerds. And evil cheerleaders – that turn out to be not so evil. And friends. And family.  And teamwork.

Also, ROBOTS. Robots THAT FIGHT OTHER ROBOTS.

cover image for Snorkeling With Sea-BotsSnorkeling With Sea-Bots by Amy J. Lemke

Kolten is having fun but typical day at the beach with his family when a robot appears out of the ocean!  And not just any robot, Rip is one of the robots that lives under the sea and make the waves that come crashing to shore.  Best of all, he’s here to show Kolton how they do it.

I wanted to like this story.  It’s a cute idea – both the premise and the idea of chapter book level comics as a bridge between picture books and graphic novels.  And the main character is delightlfully non-WASPy, which we desperately need more of in chapter books.  But the story – the text, really – just didn’t flow and the there was absolutely no logic or substance to the fact that it’s robots that are making the waves.

cover image for A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic NovelA Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson

I’m going to assume you all have read the original already (and if you haven’t, you need to – right now!) and so instead I’ll skip straight to analysis.

There are a few missteps in Larson’s adaptation; I’ve never been a huge fan of the faces she draws (Charles Wallace in particular looks creepy – long before he’s supposed to) and the panels are sometimes a bit text heavy, especially in the beginning.

pages 1 and 2 from A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novelpage 40 from A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novelpage 184 from A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel

That said, Larson totally gets Meg.  She also kept all the right bits in and many of the panels are just absolutely perfect.  Especially the first few pages and in the second half of the book, once the trio have made it to Camazotz and then later meet Aunt Beast.

cover image for WolvesWolves by Emily Gravett

Rabbit knows just where to get books on interesting topics: the library!  But when he checks out a book about wolves, he may just get more than he bargained for.

Wolves invites readers to imagine what might happen if non-fiction books were a different kind of “real.”  The sparse and straightforward text lets Gravett’s always excellent illustrations shine.  The three different styles of art (graphite pencil sketches for the wolves, pastels for Rabbit, and photography for the book) all expertly reinforce both plot and theme.

BlueChameleonBlue Chameleon by Emily Gravett

Chameleon is blue. Or pink. Or yellow. Or brown.  It all depends on who or what is nearby.  But mostly, Chameleon is blue – because Chameleon is lonely.

The story structure is very similar to Lionni’s A Color of His Own, but Gravett’s illustrations and humor really makes this tale hers.  Chameleon doesn’t merely wander from place to place, changing only colors, he works hard at becoming just like a snail, sock, or shoe.  Making his new friendship at the end of the book not only comforting but triumphant.

This was the week we read about bears during preschool story time.  Which led to me reading lots of (new to me) picture books about bears. And so week four Reading Round-up has been divided up into two parts.

cover image for The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry BearThe Little Mouse, the Red, Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood

Little Mouse has found a nice, red, ripe, yummy strawberry.  But can Little Mouse keep the big, hungry bear from taking the strawberry for himself?

This book is definitely a (modern) classic, and it’s not just because it get kids giggling.  The authors have managed to create a story that is clear and simple enough for very young children to follow, while telling it in a way that encourages analysis.

The text turns the reader into a character in the story: a narrator speaking to the small mouse.  The mouse in turn answers not with words, but with actions shown in the illustrations.   The basic story of a mouse scared of a bear is incredibly easy to figure out, but understanding all the small jokes requires that children see the cause and effect between the words and the illustrations.  Also, that they think critically about the fact that the bear is never seen.  This clever set up not only allows the story to work for a wide range of ages, it also provides children with much needed practice in comprehension and critical thinking.

And, of course, it’s funny and cute.

cover image for Otto the Book BearOtto the Book Bear by Katie Clemenson

At night, Otto the Book Bear steps out of his book and plays and talks with all the other book characters.  Until one day he goes off exploring and comes back only to discover that his book is gone!  In a plot reminiscent of the many stories about lost, forgotten, or outgrown toys, Otto sets off in search of a new home – and finds it in a library.

This was one of my favorites among all the bear books I read recently that were new (to me); mostly for personal reasons that should be quite obvious.  I haven’t yet read it aloud to the kids, but I expect it will work well, especially as the illustrations are cute, pleasant, and easy to see from a distance.

cover image for Bear Has a Story to TellBear Has a Story to Tell by Phillip Stead

A circular story that will likely never become a classic (it doesn’t have quite enough personality) but is nevertheless a good, clever read with very pretty illustrations.

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

My first introduction to this book was a former bookstore coworker complaining to me about how awful it is.  Oh, silly adults with no sense of humor. * shakes head *

cover image for I Want My Hat Back(That said, the humor does work better with children in primary grades, rather than preschoolers or toddlers.)

This book is brilliant.  Even if you never ever ever read picture books, grab a copy to flip through next time you are in a bookstore with a children’s section.  (It’s a recent award winner, so most stores should carry it – even Mysterious Galaxy had a copy on display last time I was there.)  You will not regret it.  I’m not going to ruin the punchline for you, but I do want to point out that the awards are in recognition of not only the clever plot and sublime yet distinct illustrations but also because of the way that the structure of the story is leveraged into repetitive yet far from boring text that works for newer readers.  Also, Klassen’s use of space and color and repeating elements is just first class.cover image for This Is Not My Hat

This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

Sequel, of a sort, to I Want My Hat Back.  Same humor and art style, similar set up – but different enough to make it interesting, equally brilliant, and also an award winner.

cover image for I Miss You Mouse cover image for Thank You Bearcover image for Good Luck Bearcover image for Make A Wish Bear

I Miss You Mouse by Greg Foley

Thank You Bear by Greg Foley

Make A Wish Bear by Greg Foley

Good Luck Bear by Greg Foley

These adorable books are perfect for toddlers and younger preschoolers.  All four stories follow the same pattern of following Bear around as he interacts with the other animals, each exchange echoing all the others in both sentence structure and futility – until Bear meets up with mouse, who provides a solution.  The art is nicely graphic and manages to be simplistic without looking flat.

I Miss You Mouse also has flaps and thicker pages, making it especially appropriate for the toddlers these books will appeal to most.